Zandile was woken by her cellphone ringing. She was still half asleep when she answered.
“Zandile speaking, hello.” Her voice sounded husky from sleep as she had put yet another all-nighter in on her business plan.
“Good morning, Zandile. This is Pamela Ntethe calling, how are you?” The woman’s voice was soft but she sounded so professional. Zandile sat up in bed. She needed to sound professional too.
“Uh, I beg your pardon?” she had managed to say after a long pause. She wasn’t sure she had heard correctly. Could this be the Pamela Ntethe?
“Is this Zandile Ntlapho?”
“Yes, this is she. Who am I speaking to?”
“Pamela Ntethe, I got your number from Nikiwe Sibiya, your cousin,”
And then Pamela offered Zandile a job, a sleep-in job as a nanny. Zandile was too shocked to decline or accept, so all she kept saying was YES. Pamela mentioned that Nikiwe had gone away and had recommended Zandile as a stand-in.
But why? Zandile thought. Why hadn’t Nikiwe said anything to her?
When she tried to call her cousin there was no answer. Nikiwe had pulled a disappearing act on her.
Her aunt was still not talking to her since Friday’s little incident. Thando, her nephew, had told his mom that Zandile had left him stranded forever. “She only came when you came, Mama. She must’ve seen you at the corner and ran home to open for me,” Thando had said between sobs.
Zandile didn’t stand a chance against Thando’s story. He was a gifted eight-year-old exaggerator whose only entertainment was watching his mother yell at Zandile. Nokuzola hated it when Zandile called Thando a liar; her child didn’t tell lies. Zandile didn’t understand why this little boy hated her so much. She had always been nice to him.
She finished her cup of rooibos and went outside to catch the sun. It was Sunday morning and her aunt had gone to church and would later go to her stokvel, so Zandile had the house to herself. The plan was simple; clean the house spotless and then cook Sunday lunch. She had already washed Thando’s school clothes and her aunt’s the day before.
Mrs Ntethe had said that Nikiwe had gone to the Eastern Cape to tend to her sick aunt. This worried Zandile.
Why had Nikiwe left without telling her? What bothered Zandile the most was that she knew Nikiwe had lied to her employer about why she had to quit. Zandile would have known if her mother was sick; she would’ve called her.
She had tried calling her cousin again, but her phone was switched off.
Pam had never thought she would ever be in an abusive relationship. She always thought that women who found themselves in them were weak. She couldn’t understand why a woman would stay and take the endless abuse. Why not pack your bags and go when the husband was not at home? Why not just pop your kids in the car and drive to a village somewhere and start a new life?
She had tried leaving once, but had only got as far as Gugulethu, her home. She should’ve run to the Transkei where her parents were from. She should’ve run to Port Elizabeth where her brother stayed. She should’ve run to Joburg where most of her university friends lived and had respectable jobs and businesses. She should’ve just run; where to didn’t matter.
“If you ever left me, I would find you and kill you. I would kill all of us. Do you hear me, Pamela? I would kill you!”
The sound of Ndumiso’s voice echoed in her head, playing over and over like a stuck record. She knew he was capable of it and that’s why she was afraid. She looked at the long purple box lying next to her on the bed. It contained the evening gown Ndumiso had just bought her: yet another gift, another bribe.
She loathed him – hated everything about him, from his beautiful round face to his soft hands. From his charismatic smile, to his contagious laughter. From his brilliant mind, to his selfish brown eyes. She loathed him.
As he came into the bedroom, she wondered how many of her antidepressants would be a fatal dose for him. She watched his lips moving as he spoke. She wondered what lies he was trying to convince her of this time. She wondered if she would ever get her hearing back in her left ear.
She turned so she could hear him. His faint apologies were like the distant waves of the ocean. She didn’t need to hear them; she already knew what those words were.
“… I don’t know what comes over me, I’m sorry. But you shouldn’t provoke me like that. You know I hate it when you laugh with other men. So why do you do it? Why do you like making me angry, Pamela? Do you think I enjoy hurting you? Pamela, you are my wife, the mother of my boys. I love you. To show my love I bought you something …”
The gifts were always the same. Because of him, she now had over 200 evening gowns, jewellery worth a million rand, shoes, bags, clothes, and everything else that made him happy. She had all the material things, but not the source that you could trade for them. He gave her no money; he had full control of that.
As if on cue, she got up and followed him downstairs to the door. It was her wifely duty to kiss him goodbye in the driveway, where anyone who cared to watch could see this open charade of affection. She watched him drive off.
She had an hour to get ready before the new nanny came.
* * *
Tell us what you think: Why do you think women stay in abusive relationships?