On that fervent night, I slept next to a lover. Knowing the next day she wouldn’t wake up in my covers. We made the best of that moment before it evaporated. My lady was in heat like a cactus in the dessert, and I was engulfed by a passion that saw me flaming up like the human torch. Stimulated to find the wishing well underneath her sandy dress when our desires urged us to obey the thirst.

We changed the room temperature and showered the white satin with a wet type of weather. Existing in no other instant, except in that romantic dimension where Venus and Mars collided to cause a coital cataclysm in the vast darkness. Sound waves reverberated beyond the four walls of our private galaxy. But one of us was living a lie, and only the moon could sit outside my window staring at the naked truth.

Despite the deception, I will always remember the tantalizing pressure that came from the soft lips that kissed mine. I will never forget the braille on her body as my blind hands read her deepest desires. The need to be wrapped in the warm embrace of love and solace that would last forever.

When the alarm clock rooster came alive at 6 a.m., I knew that it was time to put last night in the dusty recesses of my mind. I also thought about pressing the snooze button and sleep some more, but it was the smell of sausages that stirred me out of my slumber. They brought me back to life. Even though, technically speaking… I was still a dead man. A walking corpse.

I opened my eyes. Found myself in one of their bedrooms. My head hurt a little, so I got up slowly to introduce my newly found feet to the wooden floor beneath me. My eyes caught the unfamiliar reflection on the left wall of the room. The man in the dressing table mirror had changed. Of course, anyone else would be freaked out, but I knew this was going to happen. Every assignment had its own identity.

I spent fleeting moments moving my palms over the features of my new facade. Heaved a mental sigh as I took it all in. Black with that Limpopo tan. Wide, flat, flaring nose and a hard jaw. Tall. Dark. A little low on handsome. Not bad right? But I didn’t think so at first. That’s when I decided to go the kitchen and give them a piece of my mind. Right after I had a piece of whatever that was being baked in there.

Coming down the hallway which disappeared at an angle, I heard her hum some type of gospel tune. But instead of being lost in song, she turned around just in time to see me come into her pastry workshop. The large beaming African woman flung her arms around my neck, and cried.

“Thulani! It’s so good to see you again!”

Her big mama body instantly wrapped me up with gentle warmth. The grey hair had been combed, pushed to the back of her head. It smelt of the Pam spray my real mother used on her hair. She didn’t look like much, nor did she appear more important than a nice old lady. But this woman is the reason we all exist. She was God’s first born. The first flame. This woman’s name was Nompilo, the goddess of life in mortal form.

“Smells nice in here,” I said to her. “Sit down,” she said, pulling up a chair. “Let me make you some breakfast.”

“Do you know what today is?” she continued, placing two buttered slices of bread on a plate with two sausages and scrambled eggs. “It’s your anniversary. Happy death day. Ah yes, I remembered. I remember how you used to be this hot-shot estate agent and troubled 27 year old bachelor suffering from depression. With drinking, smoking and womanizing problems that led to your tragic demise when one of your vengeful ex-girlfriends loosened the car brakes on your sports car.”

That was me in a nutshell. Thulani. An egotistic, alcoholic and vain brother who thought the world was his oyster. I was too big headed for humility’s helmet to fit. The heart was made of sponge, but I was far from fragile. It just meant that I was self-absorbed.

As if my conscience wasn’t a cancer enough all on its own, eating me inside out, there was someone else who could really sink my soul in self-loathing. He came in as I ate my food. Appearing out of thin air as a skinny old man with a bell pepper nose. He stood by the door and said, “Stop reminding the man.”

He spoke with a voice that was sure to shift a good mood to gloom. That’s the type of effect he had on people. He was the godfather of the grim reaper. The son of the first sin. The kill-joy. He was the god of death, Lefu.

“Surely he hasn’t forgotten that we gave him a second chance. An opportunity to bring happiness to ten distraught women who needed companionship. Changing your identity with every successful mission. The lives of all the women you have assisted to date are impacted by having their love-related woes erased along with the memory of you.”

And that’s the story of my life. I thought I was a smooth operator that can work any babe. A playa with a lot of game, breaking hearts just to see what’s inside. A lot of women labelled me a dog. In fact, one of them had me put down. I drove her crazy, but I guess I am the one who should have kept my eyes on the road. But not all dogs go to heaven. Life and Death resolved that I first be put on a leash. They found me on the side of the highway in tatters like road kill. They wanted to punish me for my deceitful deeds before giving me a chance to atone for my wrongdoings. Correct the error of my ways.

What incited incest for me, was that they took turns to set mission stipulations. Nompilo picked conditions that amounted to valuable lessons. Lefu, on the other hand, gave terms that only seemed to appeal to his sick sense of humour. A raw deal. But these two were all I had in the world. They were the closest thing to family now. We lived in a modest setting. A postcard perfect five-room house with a nice vegetable garden behind its picket fence.

The breakfast was fantastic. But the question that nearly gave me indigestion was… “So, why did you bring me here?”

Nompilo held a tray filled with pancakes.

“Your next mission, my dear,” she said, placing one plate in front of Lefu.

“Case number nine,” Lefu added. “Your new alias is Tiro Mokhele. Today is your first day at the District Offices of the Department of Education. That’s where you’ll meet the subject.”

“Her name?” I asked.

Nompilo looked at Lefu, trying with some difficulty to maintain a smiling face.

“Please tell him, Lefu?

“NO.” he dipped a fish finger in some chili sauce before biting hungrily into the spicy treat, rolling his eyes in delight. “It’s a surprise. I don’t want to ruin it.”

Nompilo leaned in and planted a kiss on her morbid man’s cheek. Hoping to appeal to his compassion… or whatever that was left of it.

“But honey, the boy has the right to know.”

But the man of the house put his foot down, and his palm hit the table.

“Woman, I said NO. And don’t forget that it’s my turn to set the stipulations. I will do as I deem fit. He will find out soon enough. That’s final.”

When Lefu lifted his hand, it had left a mark. A metal mark. Car keys with a VW logo. His gaze met mine. “And I don’t want you to be late.”


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