A captivating story of migration, desire and sexuality and their intersections in urban Johannesburg.
It’s 2008 and the blood of xenophobia’s stench is etched on the streets of Johannesburg By day, the solitary figure of ABEN, an Indian South African (23) runs his restaurant in the viby, predominantly Muslim, Indian community of Fordsburg. But by night, Aben is haunted by a childhood memory in the soft, silent swathes of Durban’s sugar cane fields.
TARIQ (22), an intense, Pakistani immigrant scrapes a living from his mobile cart, selling freshly ground sugar cane drinks which he perches, daily opposite Aben’s restaurant. Tariq’s presence from across the road begins to infiltrate Aben’s world. An undercurrent of unspoken, sexual confidence builds within the safety of distance between them.
That distance is shattered when one Friday afternoon, as the community pray in the Mosque, an angry mob heads to Aben’s shop, the only one open. Terrified, and with some relief, they run towards a vulnerable and exposed Tariq . As Aben watches through his blinds, the mob attacks Tariq swiftly, ruthlessly. Their eyes meet.
In Aben’s flat, he gently attempts to dab Tariq’s wounds, their first intimate encounter. For the first time, he speaks to Aben – telling him of his wife, child and family he must support in Pakistan. Aben listens. Riddled by guilt, by desire, by the need to heal, he reaches out to Aben. They touch and finally, they surrender to each other. As the night ensues, and love making builds to its crescendo, Tariq re-enacts the act of violence, sexually, that Aben failed to deliver him from. And Aben is transposed back to the sugar cane fields, the tumbling of bodies, of laughter and joy of falling in love with his best friend, Cane – touching, caressing, and the consequences of that joy – Cane’s suicide in those same fields.
The night is one of catharsis, but as daylight breaks, and Aben wakes to an empty bed, the call to prayer highlights the beginning of a new day, a day like all the rest, or perhaps, not quite.