Mrs Phiri wakes in a panic. It is 4.30, still an hour before her cellphone alarm will go off. Outside, the cold winter night is still dark. Only a single streetlight shines through the gap in her curtains.
And there is silence, except for a police siren screaming in the distance. Far in the distance, thank the Good Lord.
Mrs Phiri wakes in panic every morning these days. And always long before her alarm rings. It takes her a few seconds to understand why she feels such fear, why her chest is pressed down with such terror.
And then she remembers: Tshepo! Her beloved and only son, Tshepo.
Is he home safe in his bed yet? Or is he still wandering the dark, cold streets in his hooded jacket? Or perhaps sitting huddled in some all-night shebeen, drunk and unable to find his way home? Or lying on the side of some dark street, knocked over by a hit-and-run driver? Or worse? Worse than she can even imagine?
Mrs Phiri pulls on her dressing gown. It was a present from Tshepo long ago. From back in the good old days when all was well. Back when Tshepo often smiled that golden smile of his, that smile that made her heart overflow with joy. Back in the days when Tshepo had a steady job at the garage and was studying at night school. Back when he was safe in bed by eleven most nights.
Those good old days before Angelique destroyed his life.
“Angelique!” Mrs Phiri hisses the girl’s name aloud, there in her dark room. “She should not be called Angelique. She is no angel. She is a demon from the fires of hell, that one! Yes, a she-devil!”
Quietly, without putting on any lights, Mrs Phiri makes her way down the short passage to Tshepo’s bedroom. Gently she pushes open his door to see the glow of the streetlight falling across his bed. Relief floods through her. Yes, he is there, safe and warm in his bed. Cuddled up, like an innocent young child, under his duvet.
“Oh my son, my beloved boy!” she whispers. Her love for him overcomes her as it often does, love stronger than life itself. From the moment he was born, twenty-one years ago, this love has been there – filling up every empty space in her heart.
“You spoil that child too much! You spoil him rotten!” That’s what her husband Mr Phiri used to say. Often. With great anger. “You let him do whatever he wants. You give him everything his heart desires. You never punish him when he has done wrong – and you won’t allow me to punish him either. You will be sorry one day, wife. You will live to regret this.”
But Mrs Phiri ignored her husband. She knew it was just jealousy that made her husband say such things. And how can a man be jealous of his own son? A man should be glad that his son is so loved and cared for, not so?
In the end Mr Phiri walked away. “I have had enough,” he said. “You are on your own now, you and that spoilt son of yours.”
Mrs Phiri didn’t much care that her husband was gone. The house was a happier place once it was only her and Tshepo together. And what a bright, happy boy Tshepo was! When he smiled his golden smile, the whole world brightened. Once in a while he cried, and then Mrs Phiri felt her heart would break. But he didn’t cry much, not back then. Not until Angelique came into his life and wrecked everything.
Mrs Phiri goes through to the kitchen now. She cooks porridge for Tshepo, soft and creamy, just the way he likes it. She puts it into the microwave so that he can warm it when he wakes up. Then she makes breakfast for herself: just a dry crust of bread and a cup of tea.
The TV is on, low volume, while she eats. She half-hears some news item about some young girl found dead in Extension 6. Extension 6 is quite close by, but Mrs Phiri pays little attention.
“This is the sixth body found in similar circumstances,” says the newscaster. “Once more it is the body of an attractive young woman of above average height. Once more she has been strangled. But police cannot say what was used to strangle her. And, just as in the earlier cases, the victim has been sprayed with a specific perfume. Police are withholding the name of the perfume so as not to jeopardise their investigations.”
Mrs Phiri washes her cup and plate while the newscaster continues.
“The police suspect that a serial killer is on the loose. Young women are warned not to go out alone at night. The six victims have now all been identified. They have been named as…”
Mrs Phiri hears the list of names, but doesn’t recognise any of them. She switches the TV off and goes to get ready for her day at the factory. It is hard and monotonous work. But she is grateful for the wages, especially now that Tshepo no longer works. She walks out into the cold morning with a smile because her beloved son is safe and still sleeping peacefully.
Tell us what you think: Who is Angelique and how has she destroyed Tshepo’s life?