I find him waiting at a petrol garage across McDonalds.
“Are you okay? How’s you cheek?” that’s the first thing I ask.
He looks like he got over that a long time ago.
“I’m fine, I’m a man, a few slaps from a man who raised my lovely woman are nothing,”
The charmer that he is!
I don’t want to let go, I want to hug him like this forever, but we have to go, in different cars.
“I want to go with you,” I say.
I’m serious. I don’t think I can spend another hour without touching or smelling him.
“What about the other car?” he asks.
I don’t care about that.
“Make a plan, I want to drive with you,”-me
I see a slight smile on his face, like he’s impressed. He likes me needy and clingy, I see that.
It could be that episode we had last night, him being tough and putting me in my place, it has made me vulnerable and has me feeling like he is above me. It’s a dangerous place for me to be emotionally.
“Okay, if you insist,” he says and dials on his phone.
I go inside the store to get energy drinks. I slept for only three hours.
“Let’s go,” he says opening the car door.
I look at my car. Actually his car.
“We’ll leave it here, someone is already on the way to fetch it,” he says.
Does he like leaving his cars at garages? What if it gets stolen? And even though I didn’t want it at first, I’ve fallen in love with it. I’ve become known as that doctor who drives a Maserati in Kimberley. Oh, life can be unpredictable.
He’s driving with one hand because I’m holding on to the other. I did say I had become clingy.
“I love this dress,” he says
It’s that one I wore at the baby shower. We had our first kiss on that day, it wasn’t consensual but you know…..
“I do too, it reminds me of that time when you were still stalking me,” I say.
“It’s not stalking it’s pursuing,” he says.
That was not pursuing, that was persisting.
“How is it at the bottom? Can I see it?”
What? My dress?
“Lift it up. I want to see how it looks at the bottom,” he says.
Okay. I do as he says.
He quickly slips his hand under my dress! He’s such a crook.
“Okay you can drop it now,” he says smiling, hand still on my thigh.
Dad should have added some punches and kicks too.
But I’m not complaining.
“You have to stop drinking those things, they’re not good for you,” he says.
I know, I’m the doctor here, but if I don’t drink energy drinks I’m going to fall asleep as in now.
Urghhhhh I hate this car loudspeaker thing! Tsietsi has it in his car too!
“What do you want?” he asks.
That’s how he answers the phone?
“Where are you?” the person on the other side asks.
There’s noise all over this car. I can hear everything.
“Why do you want to know?” he asks.
It sounds like there are two people.
“We haven’t seen you in days man, and you’re not at your house, what’s going on with you? And whose car is this? You have a 1-Series now?”
“What? Are you inside my house? What is wrong with you fools?”
“We’re hungry. Where are you and when are you coming back?”-another one asks.
“How did you get inside my house?”-him
They totally ignore him.
“This is nice, how old is it?”-another one.
“Mqoqi! Leave my whiskey alone! Get out of my house!” he shouts.
“How long has this meat been in this fridge? Did you cook it or did you buy it?”-another one.
They sound like they’re settling down somewhere. I assume on the couch with his food and his whiskey.
“Where are you? Are you okay?”-one asks, he sounds serious now.
“On my way to my house and if I find somebody there I’m going to shoot them,”-him.
“Are you okay man?” one asks, he sounds concerned.
“Yes, I was beaten up by my girlfriend’s father earlier but I’m fine now,” he says squeezing my thigh.
And then loud laughter!
“Where? Why? Okay let’s start here…..you have a girlfriend?”-another.
He hangs up.
“Nx! These fools,” he says, he’s smiling.
“Your brothers?”-I ask.
“Yes, younger ones,” he says shaking his head.
They sound like a chaotic lot.
“How did they get in?”
“Errrrrr those two could probably break into the moon if they had a chance,” he says.
I laugh. He’s funny.
I have a picture of them in my head sitting there making themselves comfortable. I wonder if I’ll ever meet them, and if so, when. It’s still early in the relationship to be meeting family, although he has forcefully introduced himself to mine already.
And those wives, I’m nothing like them, they look…perfect, like that type that crosses its legs until the toes touch the heel.
And what will I talk to them about? They look like they shop and do their hair for a living.
“My dad asked a lot of questions about you,” I say.
He frowns. Why? He didn’t expect him to ask?
“He did? What did he ask?”
“When I met you and if you’re good to me, your surname and all that,”
He widens his eyes. I think he wants me to tell him what my answers were.
“Oh and he says he’ll hit you again if he sees you,”
He really didn’t take this thing to heart did he?
“I know. We’re men, we’re communicating, you won’t understand,” he says.
He’s right, I don’t understand.
“He told me my mother’s father set dogs on him and chased him down the street with a sjambok, but he kept going back,”
He looks surprised but there’s a smile stuck on his face. And then it fades, slowly. He takes my hand and kisses it.
Something is going on.
“Talk to me,” I say.
I know him too well.
“I think I know where she is,” he says.
He looks into my eyes.
No! No! No!
I pull my hand away from his.
“Don’t get mad, I asked around and…..”
“I told you Chawe! I told you not to do it…” – I can’t even shout at him. I don’t even know if I’m angry or sad right now.
“Can we not fight? Please not today Naledi. Don’t get mad, just let me explain,”
What’s he going to explain?
“It’s not that I’ve found her, yet. But I did get a lead. I have someone who might be able to find her, when you’re ready. If you never get to a point where you are ready then it’s fine, we’ll never talk about it again,” he says.
I wish he had respected my wishes. I wish he had done what I asked him to.
I can’t even look at him.
“Baby please come on, I didn’t mean to upset you,”
I’m looking out the window. I’m emotional. I’ve never been emotional about my mother before. I don’t even know her.
“Is she alive?”
“I don’t know. I just have her last address and workplace, I haven’t gone further than that,” he says.
Why did he even start?
It’s the afternoon and almost dark when we get to Alberton. I fell asleep on the way, it doesn’t seem like those energy drinks worked at all.
I can just tell that someone was here, the couch cushions are all over. There are food crumbs on the kitchen counter and one whiskey glass.
They really drank his whiskey?
I’m still clingy. I was mad and sad earlier but I’ve forgiven now. I’m still feeling a bit down but I don’t want to fight with him, I want to be needy and vulnerable and I want extra attention.
“I’m going to make food,” he says.
That’s if there’s still food in the fridge, his brothers sounded like they were having a feast.
“Okay, I’m going to shower and get comfortable,” I say
He pulls me to him just as I take the first step.
“I’m sorry,” he says.
I’m past that.
I walk up the stairs with my bag and his. I know someone comes here four times a week to clean and do laundry. When he told me about it he sounded like he believed it won’t be long until he doesn’t need that person anymore. I got the feeling he thought that will soon be my responsibility. I’ve heard a lot about Zulu men, in fact, I’ve heard they don’t even have to be rich to want to turn you into a submissive. I’ll have none of that.
I walk down that passage. My heart sinks. I had forgotten. It’s still there and it’s still the largest. There’s no picture of me, or should I say not yet.
He’s standing behind me scratching his forehead.
He touches the picture.
“No,” I say.
He looks at me.
“Don’t take it down,” I say.
His face is blank.
“Leave it there, I’m fine with it, you have to heal Chawe. I’m not here to replace her, keep her in your heart as long as you want, there’s enough space in it for the both of us,”
He’s looking at me as I say this. His eyes deep, his face intense.
I’m trying very hard to suppress what I’m really feeling. I think he believes me.
“Now, I’m going to shower, go be a great chef that you are,” I say smiling.
He kisses my forehead.
I turn around walk on.
Blink Naledi…….blink……don’t let them flow.
She’s still the one.
And maybe she always will be.
I had to do that. I had to lie.
I want to be the one and only one in his heart.
But sometimes you have to sacrifice yourself, that is how these things work. I’m going to hide this truth for as long as I can.
Oleta, it’s a beautiful name. Who are you and what did you have that I don’t? Let him go. Please. I promise I’ll take good care of him”.
The doorbell rings…
There’s someone outside.
“It’s take-aways,” he shouts.
I thought he was cooking…
Oh well, let me go take my shower. I still don’t know if I’ll make it to work tomorrow morning but who cares, I’d rather be here with this man I love so much that I’m willing to lie to him about how hurt I am.
I want him to get over her, in fact I need him to get over her. He’s held on to her for four years, that’s too long. And I refuse to believe I’m just another girl passing by, it can’t be, I know he loves me, I can feel it. I see it in the way he looks at me. No man has ever looked at me like that, like I’m all that matters.
I have to call my dad and lie about where I am. No actually I’ll SMS him. No actually he might only see that SMS tomorrow because he is bad with technology like all people his age.
I wonder if he’s kept my mother in his heart for all these years like Qhawe has done with Oleta, maybe that’s why he never married again.
My mother, I’d rather not think about her. I don’t miss her because I don’t know how it is to have a mother anyway, but I’m curious.
I must remove this weave soon.
I put on that robe, the one I wore when I came here the first time. I haven’t been out to the balcony since that morning. I laugh to myself thinking about the abuse I suffered on that balcony, first he forced me to agree to be his girlfriend and then he forced me to stop smoking, right on that balcony.
Let me go there.
That fresh air again, I love it. The water in the lake is still.
Oh there he is out on the yard.
He’s smoking? No ways!!! This can’t…….
Oh! Who is……….?
This is a bit freaky. I can’t see their faces but they look like one person, even the way they walk. They’re the same height too. They both have their hands in their pockets too.
They’re walking towards the pool. They go inside the pool-house. It must be one of his brothers. I think then I shouldn’t go downstairs because he told me it was take-aways, obviously he doesn’t want me to meet his brother.
Why am I bothered by that?
She sounds like she’s on the road.
“Talk fast, there are cops all over,” she says.
I’m sure she has tickets and warrants of arrests, that’s why she doesn’t want traffic cops even looking her way.
“Just wanted to tell you we travelled well, we’re in Joburg. You’re still on the road?” I ask.
“Yes, I had to stay at home a little longer, I needed to talk to dad about something,”
“Is everything okay?”
“Yes everything is fine Ledi, where is Chawe? How is he doing?” she asks.
I think she’s hiding something from me.
“You didn’t ask me how I’m doing,”
“I don’t care about your broke ass. So how are his brothers? Are they nice like him?”-her
I have no idea.
“I haven’t met any of them. I haven’t met anyone from his family at all,”
It hurts just saying it.
“And he’s met almost all of us,” she says. And she says it like it’s a joke.
She laughs, I don’t.
“Hey, don’t take it seriously, it’s still too early to be meeting family, it doesn’t mean anything that you haven’t met his,” she says.
I don’t need comforting or assurance.
“He has an ex Tshedi, her pictures are still on the wall,”
She’s quiet for a few seconds.
“Is that the ex that died?” she asks
She knows about that?
“I read about it in a newspaper Ledi, it was years ago. She died, there’s no reason to be threatened by her,” she says.
The truth is, I am threatened by her, and I’m about to cry.
“I think he still loves her,” I say.
I hear her sigh.
“Ledi, listen to me. You are not in that man’s life to replace anyone. You are not there to erase his past and if he didn’t want to move on he would not be with you. You say her pictures are on the walls? It’s fine, let them stay there. It won’t be easy but let them stay there. He will remove them when he is ready. Don’t push, allow him to get over her because you know, you can’t force him to do that,” she says.
She doesn’t understand.
“But how Tshedi? How am I going to be in this house when there’s a constant reminder that I’m not the only one in his heart? What if he thinks about her when he’s with me? I just want to be the only one, like he’s the only one to me,”
I hate crying over these things.
“Mmmmm I think you’re asking for too much. Patience, that’s all you need to have. It’s not like you have some crazy ex drama to deal with. You have a man who is trying to move on from a traumatic loss. He’s proven that he wants to be with you hasn’t he? So forget her, be you, those pictures will come down, you’ll see,”
I’m not sure if I can do that. He hasn’t been patient with me at all. He started changing things and taking over my life the moment he came into it.
“What if he never gets over her? I don’t want to be second best to anyone,”
She takes a deep breath, again.
“Don’t act like a spoilt brat, everyone has a past and it stays with them sometimes. That man lost that woman without a warning, when was he going to get over her? He didn’t have a reason to try, now he does, allow him to do it on his own pace,”
I don’t respond.
“Ledi please, don’t end up like me, married with a man you don’t love…….”
“Hands over your ears!” she shouts.
I know she’s talking to her daughters. She makes them do that every time she’s about to insult their father.
“See Naledi, you don’t want to end up with a man you don’t love just because you allowed fear to defeat you. You’re worried about the dead ex? Okay, that’s a challenge, what did I teach you about challenges?”
“You taught me to take them head-on, you said it doesn’t matter if I win or lose, running is not an option,” I say.
I’ll always remember that advice from her, it has helped me through so many situations.
“Good, this is another one of those, now go get your man. If I had done the same when I was young I’d be with the love of my life right now…………. Who said you could uncover your ears?” she shouts to the kids.
“Love of your life?”-me
“Yes, Maradona,” she says.
Maradona??? Who the heck is Maradona?
Wait a minute!
“Maradona? The bus driver?”
“Yes…oops! Cops, bye!” she says and hangs up.
The weight on my shoulders.
Oh shit!! He heard all that!
I feel his body covering mine from behind.
His chin is on the top of my head. I don’t feel his hands, they’re in his pockets I think.
He’s quiet behind me. I stopped crying, but I’m still emotional.
We’re standing here looking at the lake. I’m not going to be the first to speak. I know he heard that whole conversation. I don’t know how to explain it to him. So I stand here quietly with his chin on top of my head and my hands holding on to the balcony rails.
“It’s not love anymore. It’s guilt,” he says.
I’d rather not have this conversation, because then I’m going to have to explain why I lied earlier.
“I want closure Naledi, desperately, I need closure. I’ve tried, I’ve tried really hard for all these years but it’s not happening,” he says.
I wish I knew what to say to him. Am I supposed to stand by him on this too? How?
I keep quiet.
“I don’t think about her when I’m with you. I used to think about her all the time but not lately, not since I met you. Not since that day you came in here screaming like a mad woman asking why I left you,” he says.
I feel like that was the day it all started.
“It wasn’t your fault Chawe, her death wasn’t your fault,” I say.
“You know, death happens. It is not decided entirely by the person who kills, it’s fate, pure fate, it’s determined by where you are at that particular time and what you are doing and…..
“I don’t get you,” he says.
I’m also not sure if I’m making sense at all.
“Chawe, what I mean is everything that happened in her life on that day led to that moment, her last moment. Your whole life, from when you are born, is a build up to that last moment where you take your last breath. You can’t avoid it….”
I hope I don’t sound insensitive.
“I disagree,” he says.
“I’ve taken lives, it was my decision, it was at a time decided by me and it was in a way I chose to do it,” he says.
I feel a cold rush in my stomach. I try to turn and face him but he presses his chin hard on my head and stiffens his body behind me.
I want to speak but I have to catch my breath first.
“What do you mean you’ve taken lives?” I ask.
Can he say he was joking! Please please please……
“I’m saying that I’m not a saint. I know more about death than you do. And I know that one should never have happened, everything that my father did, everything that we did to survive led to that moment,”
He doesn’t get it does he?
“I put last the signature Chawe, I confirm people’s deaths. I’ve seen people die from choking on a peach seed, falling from a chair, a headache…….it’s unstoppable,”
I think we have different opinions about this issue, maybe I should just leave it.
We stand there in silence.
“Chawe, what do you mean you’ve taken lives?” I ask.
“I mean that we’ve had to defend ourselves from many things. On that day that Oleta died, six other people died with her,” he says.
He doesn’t have to explain further, I think I get what he’s saying. But that’s different, they were defending themselves.
Let me move on from this.
“You really loved her didn’t you?”
I’m opening myself up to heartbreak again.
“I did. She understood me, and she was a good person in general, a strong character. She laughed and talked a lot and she was, I don’t know, different, it was like she saw no evil in this world………..” he says.
That’s a total opposite of me.
“She was different from you. I mean, you do talk and laugh a lot and have a strong character, hectic character actually, but you two are different. I feel different with you from how I felt with her. You Naledi, you drive me crazy, literally! You wake every kind of feeling and emotion I have in me when you are around. You can make me angry, happy, insecure, emotional, fearful all in just one hour. And you don’t even try, it just happens naturally. I feel like I’m naked, like you turn me inside out and find every little hidden corner of me. You make me alive,” he says.
That’s what he does to me too.
“When did you figure that out?”-me
“When I couldn’t stop thinking about you after you made me stand in the rain for two hours and made me miss my flight and on top of that, you turned out to be a broke doctor, and I don’t remember you paying me back my R350,” he says.
I laugh. This is the first time I’ve laughed since I felt him behind me.
He wraps his arms around my waist.
“You know, on that day, I was meeting a police captain for lunch at Nando’s, I was going to sign a restraining order against my ex,”
That seems like a long time ago now.
“Mmmmmmm,” he says.
He said that when I told him my ex was dead.
“I do love you Naledi, you are the only one in my heart. It’s just that I have baggage, too much baggage,” he says.
I have baggage too.
“No crazy exes who are going to walk in here and try to kill you?” I ask.
I hope he’ll get me.
“No. I did see a few women after Oleta but you know, nothing serious. I’m a man, I have a penis, I need…..”
“What?” he asks. Does he really see nothing wrong with what he just said?
“I don’t want to know,” I say.
He’s still behind me but I know he just shrugged.
“Who was that?”-me
“Who was who?”
“The person that was here, he stood there smoking, the one you went to the pool-house with,”-me.
“It was Mqhele, my supposed twin, I called him last night when we left your father’s house,” he says.
Oh. There’s also that problem.
He kisses my shoulder.
“Naledi, you are not anybody’s replacement. You have nothing to do with her,” he says.
I did say he heard that whole conversation.
“I have a suggestion,” I say.
Tsietsi once told me this works.
“Write her a letter,”-me
“Yes, everything you feel, write it all down. Tell her you’re sorry and you wish you had protected her and tell her about your life now and where you want it to go, what your future plans are…….”
He feels a bit stiff behind me.
“Write it all down. You can read it to her when you’re done,” I say.
I expected him to call this mumbo-jumbo but I think he’s listening.
It’s getting a bit chilli here.
We have to go back inside.
He’s not in bed?
He never leaves me in bed alone in the middle of the night.
He must be here in the house because his phone is there flashing a light on the charger.
It’s 2am and I need to pee.
I’m naked. He never wants me to put my sleepwear back on after we have sex. He always says my skin is soft and he wants to feel it.
Where could he be?
He’s not that type that takes work home, like me.
I’m going to find him. What if he took that conversation we had really hard. Maybe he’s somewhere crying. Okay crying is a bit extreme but what if he’s not okay?
There’s light downstairs. I can see the whole of downstairs from here.
There he is in the dining room table. He has a pen and paper. He’s writing.
I tiptoe back to the bedroom.
So he listened to me?
I wonder what’s on that letter, but me reading it would just be wrong.
I hope it’s going to help.