Barnaby called me in.
“Dlamini, there’s a job opening. War zone cameraman up north. DRC, Mali, rebel-held territories. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Are you interested?”
I didn’t ask why there was an opening. I knew. My colleague JP Dube had been shot: right now he was laid up in the ICU of some hospital in Jozi.
I went home and packed. I left without a word to Joy. What could I say to her? “I’m doing this to save your life, my angel. I love you enough to leave you.”
It wasn’t worth the risk. If I told her, she would find a way to make me change my mind. “What nonsense, Daniel. You know I don’t believe in that stuff. Neither do you!”
But later? If we married? Every time we had an argument, would she look at me with fear in her eyes? Whilst I lived in daily torment that she might fall in love with someone else and push me over the edge? In daily terror that somehow, somehow the vision might come true?
No! This was the only answer. Yes, she would be broken-hearted and confused. But at least she would be alive. At least there was no chance she would ever need to say the words: “Daniel, I can’t help it. I love him, not you. Don’t hurt me, Daniel.”
I headed north with my cameras: to flying bullets, to scenes of carnage and suffering. Burnt out villages and massacred villagers. Lost refugees, stumbling down dirt roads with cooking pots balanced on their heads, as they searched for a place of safety – that didn’t exist.
I filmed the faces of men who had lost all compassion. And the faces of young boy-soldiers crazed and dazed by drugs and death.
There were whole days I managed to get through without thinking of Joy. Whole nights when I forgot about the gaping hole in my heart.
Once in a while I checked my emails.
Joy wrote: “You get yourself back here, Daniel Dlamini, you coward! You look me in the eye and tell me it’s over. Then I will believe it.”
I didn’t answer her. I didn’t answer Tshepo’s emails either.
He wrote: “Dude, have you gone crazy? You must be crazy giving up a class lady like Joy. She’s almost as class as my Lola. But she’s in a terrible state. I saw her the other day. It was bad.”
I caught a bullet in the shoulder. I lay in a dirty, cockroach-infested clinic, delirious. I had nightmares and day-mares: Joy burning in a purple fire, screaming like the village women in rebel-torched villages. But at least the pain of my wound overtook the pain of my broken heart. When I recovered, I returned to the frontlines.
John Barnaby sent emails: “Son, you are a genius. The New York Times has put in an offer for your latest series. You are becoming famous! How does that make you feel?”
I thought of Joy, of how we were supposed to become famous together. How was she doing? I felt dead inside for every day of those two years. Sometimes I found it hard to remember exactly why I had decided to leave her.
Tell us what you think: Will Joy be able to recover and get on with her life?