Eshowe is a one-street town, Osborne road. Yet the cool hilltop position, and abundance of the Dlinza Forest have always attracted human habitation. No fewer than four Zulu kings – Shaka, Mpande, Cetshwayo, and Dinuzulu – have, at some point, called Eshowe their home.
It is also home to the army headquarters SANDF reserve force, Group 27. It is here that Nhlanhla worked as a corporal. He joined the army soon after 1994, after having failed to complete his secondary school education.
It had been 48 hours since I laid my eyes on him. No contact. Am I afraid to keep my promise, I wondered. I summoned enough courage and sent him an SMS at midday. I told myself: one cannot discover new oceans unless you dare to lose sight of the shore.
So I texted him:
Hi. Bhuti, u S’mangele. As promised,
a message. Thinking of you.
Just before midnight, a reply came through.
S’ma, mntanomuntu, izintaba zingumasithela
ngoba zingifihlela wena, s’momondiya sami.
Ngizokuthinta emva kwenyanga,
ngiku-Operation Jumbo 3, eMkhuze.
S’ma, my beloved, I hate the faraway mountain for hiding you from me
For keeping us apart, my sweetheart.
I will contact you after a month,
I am currently deployed as part of the crime-fighting operation: Jumbo 3, in Mkhuze.
I started hyperventilating. Does he mean that he will come and see me? Does he mean he misses me and hates the mountains for keeping us apart? In the heat of the moment, I didn’t trust myself, so delayed responding until the morning.
Hey, morning Bhuti, my heart hurts.
I’m longing for a chat, but I understand,
if ngiyazenzela ngabe ngikubhalela incwandi encane.
If I had a way, I was going to write you a love letter. Bye.
A month later, I received the phone call that changed my life. Yep, Nhlanhla kept his promise. It came through on a sunny Friday morning.
“Hello, uS’ma, lowo?”
“Yebo,” I said timidly.
He launched into Zulu poetry, like a man possessed:
“Injobo enhle ithungelwa ebandla (A good loin-skin is sewn in the company of others.)
Nkosazana, inhliziyo yami ilangazelela wena (My heart has been longing for you.) Uthando enginalo ngawe ludlula izihlabathi zolwandle (Let me confess, I love you beautiful one. My love for you is greater than the ocean’s sand.)”
Well, he swept me off my feet. I had my confession to make, yes: I loved him. We agreed to meet the following day, a Saturday.
He came at midday; a quiet spring day. My first glimpse of him revealed a man walking confidently, like a landlord. He wore nondescript blue jeans, a white shirt and what looked like a heavy, brown SANDF jacket. He was checking out all the house numbers until he spotted house number EZ 1013: my place. He suddenly stopped and surveyed the surroundings, like a solider on a reconnaissance mission. Yes, you know rule number one of combat: establish location, know the place and secure it.
It was surprising that he hadn’t phoned me to say he was in the neighbourhood, as agreed. As soon as he had established that he was in the right location, he took his phone from his jacket. As he did, I came out from behind the washing line where I was observing.
Tell us: Do you think Nhlanhla is beautifully romantic, or over-the-top with his poetic words?