Celebrating East African Writing!
Whenever Zukiswa was in front of the camera, everyone focused on her behind. It didn’t matter that she had an arts degree from the country’s prestigious university. It didn’t matter that before taking on any role, she read psychology papers and studies about people who displayed qualities similar to the character she would play. That she meditated before recordings each morning, to assimilate Zandi, the character she played, also mattered very little. They could only see her behind.
The first week she appeared on The Show, social media was flooded with comments and posts about her figure. The flash writing had attached itself to hashtags and littered every timeline. She sat in her chair in the dressing room, and slid her fingers over the comments she read on her phone.
I will never miss an episode of #TheShow now that Zandi is on – one post read.
Zandi’s #PowerAsset is so big- it doesn’t even make sense for her tiny waist! #TheShow – read another.
When you’re watching #TheShow and Zandi’s #PowerAsset comes on but you are sitting next to your girlfriend – another sniggered.
At first she was flattered. It was her first week on The Show and ratings had already increased ten percent and the director was certain it was because of her. He decided to cancel scenes with other actors to increase the number of times Zukiswa appeared on The Show.
He took her out for lunch to celebrate and told her no actress had ever caused such a stir. He also confided that The Show was in trouble and her appearance could buy him, and the writers, time to improve the script and rebuild its following.
She told him she was not comfortable with the excitement being about her #PowerAsset instead of her craft. But he told her that the excitement about her #PowerAsset would fade, because it was really her craft that people appreciated.
Zukiswa watched the animated excitement on the tall man’s face. He reminded her of her father. His shoulders had a slight curve just like her father’s. His skin was the texture and colour of dark velvet, and some parts were etched with wrinkles and others were darker, the way velvet looks when you run your hands over it. Zukiswa thought of the people who may have run their hands over the man’s skin; a wife, children and maybe grandchildren. She watched as he wiped the celebratory liquor from his lips and looked at her with both pride and attraction. She felt uncomfortable about the old man’s excitement.
The week the ratings increased fifty percent, the atmosphere at The Show changed. Zukiswa’s character, Zandi appeared more often than the original lead actors. They walked past her silently in the studio. They refused to greet her, but never missed an opportunity to look back. Zukiswa would sit alone in the dressing room. Her fingers slid over more social media posts that had ‘The Show’ attached to a hashtag, trending for a second week.
If #TheShow does not show me Zandi’s behind, I am boycotting it – the comments continued.
Some were simple – #Zandi #TheShow #PowerAsset OMG!
The third week, The Show was moved to the prime time slot of the channel. This was in an attempt to garner more advertising revenue from brands selling male products and services. Zukiswa’a character had evolved to become the lead of The Show. When she was in front of the camera, its controller made sure to take a side or rear view. The script also evolved her into The Show’s vixen. Zandi, who had started out as a personal assistant, was now the head of a company in The Show and embroiled in passionate affairs rather than any leadership.
The day The Show’s ratings doubled, the director changed her wardrobe. The wardrobe was rolled in by one of the cleaning ladies who reminded Zukiswa of her grandmother.
The lady’s legs were full like her body and bulky, all the way to the ankles, not by nature’s design but from the strain of standing on them all day. Zukiswa knew this because her grandmother had the same problem. The lady hobbled all the way to the far end of the room rolling the rail, while Zukiswa clicked her heels next to her and pushed the silky ends of her long weave behind her shoulders with both hands. At first it was exciting. The clothes dangled by the mouths of hangers on the rail. There were prints of floral, red and white.
“Hello madam, I’m Petunia, these are for you?” the lady said.
Zukiswa was not comfortable being called madam by Petunia. She couldn’t bring herself to refer to the woman who reminded her of her grandmother by first name either. Zukiswa had grown up calling her grandmother Makhulu. She only learnt that her grandmother’s first names were Regina Nyameka when she was adding her to her medical and life plan.
“Thank you Mam’ Petunia” Zukiswa responded.
Zukiswa ran her hands over the material of each dress inspecting it. The dresses and skirts were one size small. They would fit, but hug her body tightly. Zukiswa realised they were intended to have viewers tongues hanging from their mouths.
Petunia looked at her and the dresses, which seemed to get shorter as Zukiswa paged through them. She trid to remember the script and in which scenes she would be expected to wear them. Petunia’s large eyes looked like they rested on the edge of their sockets and they absorbed Zukiswa with an examining look. She thought she saw glass sheets forming over the young actresses eyes.
Zukiswa walked over to the dressing table and took out a pair of scissors from one the drawers. She began to slice through the material of each dress with the two joined pieces of metal…
(Read Part Two)
By: Onke Madikizela
Onke is a creative writer and freelance journalist from South Africa.