No one could have predicted that Nelisiwe Khumalo’s life would turn out the way it has – not even her. From the outside in, her life is the closest thing to perfect. She’s married to a successful man in business, she has a choice of three luxury cars in her driveway, a multi-million rand mansion, two holiday homes in Durban and Cape Town – yet, she is miserable inside.
She remembers the morning she and a group of other hopeful matriculants got up early to buy the newspaper with their matric results at their nearest BP garage… A smile crosses her sad face as she starts reminiscing about Itumeleng, his gentle face, his smile, laughter and words of encouragement to the nervous Nelly. Those were happy days. How she wishes she could go back to that era.
Itumeleng Mogale was Nelly’s first love. They lived in Soweto, just down the road from each other. Their friendship started when Nelly moved into the neighbourhood at the age of 10 with her mother. Itumeleng was incredibly intelligent, a strong character and very good looking, the kind of man any father would be happy to see his daughter marry. Both families were happy about their children’s friendship and had good relations with each other. She and Itu, as she called him, remained inseparable since.
Everything was like a fairy-tale till just after they received their matric results when Nelly found out she was pregnant. She battled about how she would deliver the news to Itumeleng but opted to tell her mother first. Her mother, unbeknownst to Nelly, informed the Mogales. Itumeleng’s parents were immediately against the pregnancy, especially Itumeleng’s mother. She cried and pleaded with Nelly to abort, claiming that the pregnancy would destroy not only Nelly’s but also her son’s life.
Itumeleng had been accepted to study Medicine in Cape Town, a lifelong dream he always had.
“But mom,” Nelly pleaded with Mrs Mogale, “you know me, you know I would never let Itumeleng abandon his dreams for me or the baby.”
“But you know what a responsible young man my son is. He will drop everything and stay by your side. What about his dreams? What about your dreams? Please, my child, nothing good can come from having a child at seventeen. Do this not only for Itumeleng but mostly for you.” She cried.
A letter came in the mail for Nelly that week; she was accepted to study Radiology at WITS.
That same week she, her mother and Mrs Mogale went to the clinic and she did ‘it’.
Having Itumeleng leave for Cape Town lifted a huge burden from Nelly’s shoulders, the guilt of having to lie to the boy she loved was killing her. Overtime, their long distance relationship weakened but she knew in her heart that she would always love him.
Over the years, she met Tumisho Selebano. He had come to the clinic she worked at to visit his father. Now, don’t get me wrong Tumisho was a handsome man as well, but nothing like Itumeleng. No one would ever take Itumeleng’s place in Nelly’s heart. Tumisho was slightly older than Nelly, a bit of a dark horse with dark looks and a presence that commanded attention wherever he went.
He was highly influential in the business world and owned a couple of companies which he built himself from the ground and sold for multimillion rands once the sense of a challenge wore out and he had ‘bigger fish to fry’ as he would say. Tumisho asked Nelly for her hand in marriage just six weeks into their relationship. Her decision to marry the man came from a sense of utter fear, fear of being alone and unloved. She was scared the only man she ever loved would never love her if he had to find out about the abortion. The possibility of dying alone scared her too. Her mother, though unhappy about the union supported her daughter and wished her well.
She’s standing by her bedroom window staring outside into the streets, it hasn’t stopped raining since yesterday and she has to drive to Soweto to housesit for her mother who had to go to a church seminar. For her, it’s more of a way to get away from Tumisho. He has turned into a stranger right before her eyes, lying, jealous, possessive, controlling…the list goes on. He should be home soon, from one of his many business trips, all the more reason to get going.
She grabs her purse and hurries out the door. By the time she reaches Dobsonville, Tumisho has called her three times already. As soon as she parks the car outside her mother’s house, she sends him a short text informing him of her whereabouts.
As soon as she enters her old bedroom, which looks exactly the same way she left it the last time she came for a visit, a sense of joy, love and calmness overwhelms her and she throws herself into bed and dozes off into a deep and much needed sleep.
She is woken up by her ringing cellphone from what felt like a coma like sleep to her.
“Hello,” she answers and it’s her mother on the other end.
“Nelisiwe, where have you been? Why haven’t you been answering your phone?”
“What time is it? I went to sleep.” Nelly explains.
“It’s after 12:00 pm…Saturday. You didn’t answer your phone the whole day yesterday. I was worried sick.”
It dawns on Nelly that she slept through Friday, is that even possible? She asked herself. Nonetheless, she assures her mother that she feels fine but just to put her at ease, she will make an appointment to see her doctor when she goes back home. She has eleven missed calls from Tumisho and three voice messages. She ignores them.
She slowly gets up, trying to somehow figure out what could have caused her to sleep for more than a day. She doesn’t get an answer. After taking a shower, she heads to the kitchen. She’s starving… Before she could even think about what to eat, there’s a knock on the door.
Tumisho wouldn’t come here, he hates the township, she thinks to herself.
She opens the door and doesn’t believe her own eyes.
“Hello gorgeous,” it is Itumeleng, still handsome as ever, wearing a crisp white shirt and simple blue jeans. His smile is white as the toothpaste commercials on TV. His eyes full of life and sparkle, like always. It felt like he never left.
“Aren’t you going to open for me?” He asks jokingly.
Nelly opens the door and just stands there, eyes staring straight to the floor.
“I didn’t know you were in town,” she says.
He just laughs and pulled her close to his warm body, for a short while they just stood there like that, by the door.
“I just came for a short visit … It’s good to see you Nells.”
As if she had been holding back the emotions for a long time, she starts weeping and tells him about the pregnancy, abortion, unhappy marriage and life in general. Itumeleng uses his hands to wipe her tears off.
“I know, and I don’t blame you. I love you and I always will.”
It turns out Itumeleng’s parents told him everything shortly after Nelly got married and they asked him not to confront her as she was now ‘happily married’.
“Itu, I’m sorry, I was young and scared. I didn’t know what to do.”
“Shhh!” Itumeleng says covering her mouth, his hands soft, warm and loving.
They had been sitting and talking for a couple of hours when their ‘high school reunion’ is interrupted by what seemed like a loud bang on the door than a subtle knock.
She gets up to open and is greeted by a livid Tumisho… compliment.
“Where is he?” he starts searching the house. “You disappear without telling me, you’re not taking my calls. I know you have a man in here!”
He is met by Itumeleng by the kitchen door.
“Nell’s, is everything OK?” Itumeleng asks.
Tumisho stops and looks back at Nelly.
“After everything I’ve done for you, this is how you repay me? You don’t work, you don’t lift a finger but you live an opulent life and this is how you repay me?” Tumisho says.
“You didn’t find me destitute Tumisho, I have a degree. I had a career. You begged me to stop working because of your own jealousy and insecurities.
“What did you say to me?”
Before Nelly could finish, Tumisho had struck her hard across the face and that sent her flying across the room and landed on the floor with a loud thump. She faints.
She wakes up from her bed with a throbbing headache and when she looks up, an angel is looking down at her. An angel called Itumeleng. She can’t feel one side of her face and her forehead has acquired a new bump.
“I’m sorry you had to see that, where is he?” Nelly asks sitting up on the bed.
“Marry me, leave him Nelly. Marry me!” Itumeleng pleads.
“I’m going back to Cape Town tomorrow, come with me. Please Nelly.”
The next morning, Nelly walks into the house she shares with Tumisho and heads straight to his office. That’s the one place he spends most of his time in when he’s in Johannesburg. The smell of liquor in the room is indescribable. His face is a little swollen; she smiles inside thinking about how it got to be that way.
“I want a divorce. I want nothing from you, not your money, cars, clothes!” Nelly shouts. “I’m walking away from this marriage – and you, with just the clothes off my back. You’ll be hearing from my lawyer. Goodbye Tumisho.”
As she turns away to exit the office she hears the sound of a cocking gun behind her and turns back to investigate. When she turns around, Tumisho is pointing the gun right at her.
“I told you once before that only death can separate us.” Tumisho says as he gets up from his chair.
“I’d rather die than be married to you any second longer.” She opens the door and hurries to their bedroom. She takes just a few of her personal things, drops the wedding ring on the bedside table and walks out. A heavy weight feels like it has been lifted off her shoulders, she smiles as she runs towards the gate where a taxi is waiting to take her to the airport.
All of a sudden the taxi driver starts screaming at Nelly, “Lady, watch out!”
Tumisho fires a few shots at her and she ducks and runs to the taxi and the taxi driver speedily takes off.
At the airport, Itumeleng is anxiously pacing up and down awaiting Nelly and hoping she makes in time for the flight. He breathes a huge sigh of relief when he sees her but his smile quickly turns into a frown when he sees her staggering towards him, taxi driver helping her walk. She falls into his arms.
“Nelly, what happened, who did this to you?”
“I’m sorry Itu, I tried …” She tries to explain.
“Baby stay with me please, Nelly!”
A crowd of people starts gathering to see what’s happening as the boarding call for flight MN114 to Cape Town is announced…