I run up to meet him under our tree. It’s far away from our village and big enough to hide us. I see him waiting for me. As I approach I feel the constraint of my long sleeves and doek. When we were younger I never had to wear these, and I know he misses those days of us running together as equals. He misses the young sweetheart he used to get into mischief with.
And he would miss more, shortly. I am walking up to say goodbye.
“Siziwe, s’thandwa sam, why don’t we run far away and never come back?” he asks, gently pushing aside a strand of hair that had escaped my doek. “This is cruelty!” He’s referring to my parents pawning me off to the king. “What we have is true love,” he whispers in my ear. “How are you going to live? How am I?”
“Lizo, no!” I say, pulling away from his grip. Though every part of me wants to grab his hand and run, I know it would be useless. “How would we fend for ourselves? Where would we go?” I ask, hating that I have to be the rational one.
“Anywhere, Ziwe! We’d start a new life where we would be able to show our love and be free to do as we please,” he says, pleading with me to see his side.
“I need to study, Lizo. And so do you. Be realistic. We’re too young.” I look away.
“That old man is crazy! Does he think his money will buy your heart and make you love him? Screw his money! I don’t need it. I love you!”
He says this now, but we both know there is no other way for us both to get an education. The king knows how I feel about Lizo and he wants him out of the village. But he’s made himself look like the good guy by paying for Lizo’s education, in addition to mine.
“Lizo, please! Please accept his offer and go to the city to study further. If you don’t … he’ll probably kill you,” I say. I grab hold of him, pleading with him to see my side. “I couldn’t bear it if you were to die because of me.”
“I’d rather die, Ziwe. I refuse to sell you, like your father has.” He is truly disgusted by my parents’ decision to give me in marriage to a man three times my age.
“I have to honour my father’s wishes and marry him. I can’t bring disgrace on my father’s name. Please take his offer. It’s the only way you will be able to come and rescue me one day. Please, Lizo. I need you to do this. For me.”
He starts to speak, but I cut him off.
“No ‘buts’. I have to go,” I say, anxious that someone will come looking for me. “Please take good care of yourself and make me proud. I love you.” I look up at him, pausing, making sure he hears me. “I will always love you,” I say finally, and kiss him.
He leans forward to grab hold of me, to stop our kiss from ending, but I break away and run towards the village. With every step I resist the urge to turn and look at him, just one more time.
Tell us what you think: Is Ziwe right to choose respect for her parents and family pride over her own feelings?