7 days ago at 10:30pm on a Thursday night I walked into a rustic eatery two blocks away from my home in Observatory. I was tired, and a little annoyed at my husband for invoking the power of our relationship to convince me to come and meet the owners of the place.
Fabio, a happy-go-lucky Italian economics major and Wesley, an ex-programmer from Durban, had just opened their vegetarian-only restaurant that Monday and they had big ideas for converting the space they had rented into an open Artists Collective and Cultural Exchange such as Observatory had never seen.
They drank strong coffee and talked into the wee hours... by the time I arrived the topic was deeply philosophical and ranged between Anarchy vs. Capitalism, the importance of community and the ethics of vegetarian cooking.
I only had to spend a short amount of time with these charming and attractive young men to realise that we were all kindred spirits, and that much of our beliefs and ideas overlapped. I was hooked!
They needed people to help them run the shop because they were short staffed, but they were frank about the fact that money was too tight to mention. Arno and I felt so powerfully about the worth of the idea they were trying to establish that we joined their cause without reservation and in exchange for our meals.
It very quickly transpired that our biggest value would be in the realm of the kitchen. Arno's incredible cooking very quickly became a hit - customers wistfully commented that his food made them miss their mother's home cooking and dozens of people expressed amazement at the fact that such simple and un-fucked up food could be so good. Arno and I brought our belief in eating what you think smells good (within the basic boundaries of basic balanced meals) to the menu, and it was soon decided that we would not have a fixed menu but rather simply offer a set meal of the day (as chosen by the chef who cooked it) and a selection of bespoke smoothies alongside the usual coffees and teas.
Very soon Arno and I were both practically living in the shop. Every single one of our team members did their level best to be on duty as long and often as possible, usually at least 12-16 hours a day. We all believed so passionately in this collective dream of ours that we were willing to sacrifice whatever we could muster to help our dream survive.
Unfortunately this was not enough. Not one, but two of our financial backers abruptly absconded without so much as an explanation, and suddenly Wesley and Fabio were left high and dry having spent their investments on renovations, fittings, furniture and equipment. Suddenly left without a cent of running expenses to float our company through the difficult early months, we floundered. Before we knew it the dream had been scuppered, and all seemed lost.
But this is where the story really starts.
In the seven days that we grew to know each other better we became a family. The pure unselfish sacrifice that each of our team members brought to the project was inspiring. Fabio, while working a day job to help float himself financially, would come in the evenings after a long day at the office and still work until closing time. Wesley gave up almost every cent he had trying to keep us in running capital, and would often be awake from 5am until after midnight, and ended up doing the dishes most of the time. Bianca, a Swiss language teacher, would come and help out on her off days after working a 12 hour shift as a barmaid. Arno and I did our best to show them the good Afrikaans Protestant work ethic. For those seven days I learned what it meant to have a group of people who could work together almost seamlessly. In those seven days there was not one cruel or harsh word spoken between us, despite us all being under undue pressure to make ends meet. We had meetings often, and everyone's opinion was respected and valued. We debated new ideas and made decisions as a team, often unanimously. We all knew what was at stake, we all had a shared vision, and so we all just got on with the work at hand. Most evenings we would end the day by sharing the leftover dinner from our day's preparations and drinking our signature fruit water ( water with a slice of whatever fresh fruits were available. My favourite was Melon and Mint)
When it finally came to the day when Wesley, who held the lease in his name, had to inform our landlord that we would default on our rent in January and request a cancellation of our contract, the weather chose to tell the whole of the neighbourhood of our sorrow - it was cold and dark and wet all day. Everyone in the store could sense the change in our mood and it seemed things were to be as dark and grey as the weather.
However, the following day, exactly one week after we first met, we decided to have a ceremonial drunk. We all sat around the table with glasses of red wine and played poker with dried chillies for chips. Then we had a rather wonderful philosophical discussion about Polyamory, after which we all sat down to what would likely be our last meal together as the Fabilus team. We had fantastic potjiekos with fresh ciabatta and rice; to a man, every one of us overate.
We had, in a way, survived a great challenge together - even though in the end we lost - and through this loss we were bonded together as friends. The love I came to feel for my teammates will never be lost, and the joy of our shared experience will never be taken away. I will always have the wonderful music that I copied from Fabio's iPhone - beautiful jazz that became Fabilus' signature sound and will always remind me of how uncomplicated and kind Fabio was. I will always remember the way that Bianca smoked her vanilla rolled cigarettes and would help steer our meetings when they went off track by bringing out her detailed little notebook. Wesley's cheerfulness and willingness to always be the first to help out even when he was visibly dead on his feet. I'll remember the madness of us having cold showers in the back yard while someone held watch at the back door; of braaing potjiekos on a simple brick fireplace in the back yard. Watching people play chess through the front windows on our hand-painted board, and having the umbrellas make Cape Town Flowers when the wind got especially strong and nearly lifted them out of our make-shift mountings. Buying vegetables with Wesley at the market, buying malva pudding with Fabio, hugging Bianca after she changed her mind about needing a hug after Lucas (our arch enemy and one of the investors who pulled out) visited the shop briefly. Falling asleep on the hideous green couch with the pink cloth over it. Making hummus for the first time. Eating gourmet food every day for a week. Drawing the menu in chalk on the wall, a different dish each day. The dress that Hans gave me that he thought couldn't possibly be his own design because it was too bohemian. Making our own chocolate ice cream. Seeing Arno more happy than I've known him to be in years - more even than a vacation could have achieved.
So what if we will be entering the New Year not a cent richer for the work we did for Fabilus? We have nevertheless been enriched by the experience; our hearts are lighter and more at peace than they have been in years.
Thank you, Fabilus. We will miss you.