I don’t know why I thought about him this morning, Lewis Nkosi. Perhaps it was an early morning inventory of my life. that reflective state in which we evaluate the years spent on this spinning ball of mud and water. Or it perhaps it was the sound of the African Jazz Pioneers in my head. Whatever preceded the thought, I touched down in 1994 slap-bang in the middle of a quiet bar filled with coffee smells and Jazz to the sound of Lewis Nkosi’s startling greeting, in the midst of a budding democracy still filled with the lightness of heady dreams.
I was a bartender then at what is today known as Daddy Long legs hotel in Long street. It used to be called The Metropole Hotel & was owned by a German whose name I forget. One morning cleaning shelves in that beautiful bar, drinking loads of coffee, as I did back then, I heard this voice coming from down the hall. He was singing, a little drunk but more on happy-to-be-home than liquor. I had the African Jazz Pioneers on top volume. It was either that or Sting, at the time. We hit if off immediately!
It was hard not to hit it off. He was infectious, life oozing from his pores and roguish charm with a fine intelligence. He had dreamer written all over him. After that he came in every evening, he was staying at the Met. We would talk and listen to music. He would dance on his side of the bar and me, on mine. The Met wasn’t a very busy bar since it was more or less a guest bar and not many outsiders knew about it. The latter lent itself to some mischief and I remember we spent one evening sampling the untouched booze you find on the top shelf in a bar. You know those fancy bottles with fancy names no one ever orders.
We eventually met each other outside of the bar & did what we loved doing, went to listen to Jazz, sang, talked & got drunk. I remember waking up in his hotel room on more than one occasion. And no, it wasn’t like that. He was just the most interesting, charming, intelligent, super fun human to hang out with. I adored him.
We met a few times post then when he’d visit our ‘New’ South Africa. He would mention his girls, the twins daughters fondly and his stay in Vermont. We never spoke politics and we never spoke about his books. I sensed that he didn’t want to and so we hung out, enjoyed the malaise of newness in our democracy, happy to allow ourselves to dream of a better tomorrow and celebrate life. Once, we did try and take it to that place of more-than-friends but it wasn’t for us. I adored him as a friend. I didn’t know him very long and probably not as deeply as most of his long-time friends did, but I can honestly say he was worth meeting. Lewis was like the sun, when he shone on you it felt good. It’s almost 10 full years since your crossing on 5th Sept 2010. Rest in peace dear human.