He hated her. He resented everything about her. He glanced at her and cursed the ancestors for not warning him in his dreams. It had been eating him for days. He was now determined. He could not stand looking into the mirror and seeing his eyes that had turned into red balls of fire. His skin looked like smoked biltong.
The last time he had stood in front of the mirror, he had seen a ghost in himself. He vowed not to look into it again. What he had seen had terrified him. He could not tell if this was an illusion or reality. He was convinced that what he had seen in that mirror was not himself. He blamed her. What hurt him most was the thought that she had not taken the news seriously the day they had discovered it. She had simply accepted it and resumed her life as if everything was fine.
Where was her remorse? He had expected her to kneel down before him and plead for mercy.
Vimbai cracked a joke and laughed but Tatenda did not find anything funny. He gave her a quick glance. Who was she? He blamed himself for his ignorance. He blamed himself for not seeing what was clear. The script was etched across her face, ‘I’m a bitch’.
Beitbridge was a place for business. The busiest, ugliest and dirtiest border town. Where was the revenue collected going? It was those faggots, in the ruling party lining their pockets he concluded. Maybe her heart was dirty and smelly, infested with flies and maggots like Beitbridge or she was Beitbridge herself, he thought.
In that town entrepreneurs come in various shades and she was an ‘entrepreneur’ of course. Maybe everyone everywhere was laughing at him for priding himself and parading a woman of flawed morals all over the city. He had seen their mocking looks. He had seen it in their eyes. It was the pity in their eyes when they looked at him, which he did not like. He should have known better.
Maybe it was curiosity, but curiosity kills or does it now?
The woman he had seen in her had vanished. He had told himself that she had forged her identity and created a character. It sounded true, like movie stars who do it time and again. He brushed off the idea and thought; after all we are all actors in our lives.
He thought of what his friends had once argued women simply want security in men. But this was not the case. He was a starving writer, living on the shadowy pavement of the literary landscape. The Exodus Down South, a novel he had recently penned, had sold for pennies. A dying culture for reading books in his society was like a noose hanging over his rich well of literary thoughts.
She was an eminent marketer, not like some other miserable gold diggers. He looked at her across the car seat, for the last time, he told himself. He loosened his seat belt and tightened his grip. He wanted it to be done on the spot. He slowly closed his eyes, uttering silently his last prayer. He bit the nips of his lips as he lowered his right leg on the accelerator. He drove furiously from where the car was standing. The screeching tyres left the air pregnant with the aroma of burnt thoughts.
A cloud of smoke covered the whole area. He was determined to hit anything that came in sight. There was nothing, completely nothing, not even the stubborn donkeys that used to stand in the road. It was just an empty, long stretch of road.
“Babie, we must start to eat healthier and be more cautious. I went to see the doctor yesterday. I got the list. We must do the shopping later on,” she said.
It was this motherly and caring voice which struck him. It hit him again. Maybe she was caring after all, he thought. He gave her a quick glance. He did not see what he had seen earlier on. What he saw was the honest and caring woman he had fallen in love with. He could trace the innocence in her voice. It reminded him of the time he had first approached her at school.
She was still green or was she feigning ignorance? She had presented to him the image of an amateur in the world of love. But this had boosted his confidence around her mostly because all the decision making was left in his hands. She had rarely raised her head in their relationship and had carried this respect in their marriage.
He looked into her eyes but could not read anything. He did not possess the knack of reading women’s eyes. Was she playing her tricks on him again? But the thought blew out as quickly as it had it had blown in. He looked at her again and saw a strong woman, a shoulder to lean on; a reason to live. It had not been easy for her but she had seen his fragility. She had made her decision, to give him the support he needed. And here, she had served him.
He stopped the car and rested his head on the steering wheel, remembering the past. He realised that he had always been weak, even in his childhood. In all the fights he got into there was always someone whom he ran to or who stepped in. It was always someone.
Maybe I’m not equipped with enough tools to face life, he thought. He remembered how his brother would stand up for him. There was an incident that was still tattooed in his mind. He still recalled the embarrassment he faced. He had loved Tsitsi but never found the courage to open his heart to her. One day on their way home, back from school, Tsitsi was engaged in a physical fight with one of the most feared, plump girl in their class. Her being plump was the centerpiece of the conflict.Tsitsi and her friends had made fun of her plumpness. He decided to intervene and show the love he had for her.
He charged furiously towards the plump girl but unfortunately he stepped into a pit and fell headlong to the ground, soiling his crisply ironed white shirt. She fired punches furiously on his vulnerable face. Someone in the crowd shouted his brothers’ name, announcing his arrival and everyone dispersed, leaving him lying, groaning and moaning in pain. His brother did not say much but just pitied him.
He refused to go to school until he had fully recuperated and his poor show of fighting earned him a nickname ‘sisi’ which he hated to the bone. As a result he had admired his brother, his tenacity, and his aggressive confidence. The way he used to easily handle things. He wondered if he was going to survive in this dog eat dog world, where the strong survive and the weak perish. It had to start with him and her. They had to work together.
“What’s wrong sweetheart,” she inquired.
It had always unsettled him. There she was again, determined to pull him out of this problem of self-doubt he had fallen into. He started the car silently, pretending as if he had not heard her question. He drove straight home, pulled up in the garage and rushed to the bedroom. He did not want her to know what he had planned.
How was he going to face her if she had known that he wanted to commit suicide with her in the car? That he had wanted to kill her? That he had blamed her for everything?
He looked at the dressing table and his eyes caught sight of the poem he had written experimenting with the new genre he had just discovered. He looked at it with disinterestedness but it was the words in the second verse that really caught his eye ‘a heart that knows how to love’; they caught him by surprise because it was the words of his heart.
He suddenly looked at them with interest. It was plain words that speak volumes. His eyes moved upwards and stopped at the metaphor he had used ‘clay pot’. It really captured the beauty of his wife. She had a curvaceous body that goes well with the dresses she wore, always wearing her ethnicity hair, holding her head high up. He loved her natural looks and was proud of her for that fact.
His eyes shifted to the right side of the mahogany dressing table and there it was where he had left it. He had avoided typing it because he did not want to complicate things. He did not want them to trouble his family, scratching for some information. He took the note and sat on the bed, reading it. He read it over and over again.
He did not believe that he had written the note with his own hands. He did not recall sitting down, emptying himself all those accusatory, infuriating and ugly words to that sort scribbled on the piece of paper. The handwriting too, seemed to be the craft of the hands trained to write Arabic words. He did not remember ever writing with such a terrible handwriting.
The thought that he was trembling when he wrote it floated into his head but he could not come to the conclusion with this fact. To him, someone had written it and placed it on the table. It was those fearless unthinking buffoons who wanted him on his knees. He had seen them conspiring against him. He had seen it in their look. He resented their hateful looks. He did not see her entering the room. She had, like ghost, walked stealthily to where he had planted himself.
“Darling, your favourite song is playing,” Vimbai reminded him.
It surprised him that he had not heard the song that was so loudly playing. It seemed like the squawking voice spewing unintelligible, irritating words. He tried to make out the words of the song but couldn’t. She was disappointed by the look on his face.
Vimbai stood rooted like a gum tree, deep in thoughts, arming herself with questions. How could he? How could Tatenda forget Oliver Mtukudzi, the superstar? An award winning Afro-jazz musician. It was his music he always blast every morning before leaving for work. His prophetic and poetic words inspired him. It was his music they had danced to at their wedding. The wedding that was still on the lips of many people in the community.
People were still talking of the excess food, dance and the music. It was him who had a moment that sparked joy to the crowd when he pulled Rose to the dance floor and broke into dance, mimicking the artful Oliver Mtukudzi. He had stiff joints that did not allow him to move his body rhythmically to the sound of the mbira, drums and music. But this had inspired those who had doubts with their dancing abilities to rise on to their feet, sending the ceremony into celebrations.
Tatenda looked up at her and he realized that she was staring at their wedding photo, in a polished portrait nailed to the walls. Him in the intimidating blue-black suit and Vimbai in that long white-laced dress that gave her a mermaid-like look. He did not know for how long she had been staring at it. He turned away avoiding her eyes.
Outside the dog started barking. It barked ferociously to the cranking sounds of metals made as his friend unchained the gate. It was unusual because his friend was like a resident of his house, spending more time at his place than at his own, especially weekends. It was at that moment when it dawned on him that it was Saturday and his friend was there to fetch him for a drink.
Suddenly he felt that beer was the last thing he wanted but what could he do, Nyasha was already at the doorsteps. He started for the door and Vimbai went to the kitchen where she had left a heap of unwashed plates in the sink.