And still Mrs Phiri waits, there at her kitchen table. But at last her waiting comes to an end.
The front door opens and there stands Tshepo! Her beloved son Tshepo! And he is smiling his golden smile, the smile that can brighten the whole world.
“Oh my son! Welcome home! Can I make you some food? Are you free now?”
Tshepo nods his head. “Yeah, Mama. Free and with all the charges withdrawn. Isn’t that something? It seems I can’t be the Perfume Serial Killer after all.”
He sits opposite her at the kitchen table. Playfully he taps the bottle of Angel Child against the wood.
“Yeah, Mama, it is a strange thing. It seems last night there was an eighth victim. That’s what the wardens told me. Exactly the same modus operandi.”
“Modus operandi – what is this modus operandi?” asks Mrs Phiri. It is not a phrase she is familiar with.
“Well, last night’s killing followed the same pattern as the ones before it. Again a tall and attractive girl murdered. Again by strangulation. Again in an area of Extension 6. And once again the self-same perfume was sprayed onto her as before.”
Mrs Phiri just nods. She can feel her son’s eyes on her face. He knows, she thinks. For sure he knows the truth. He knows what I did last night. And that I did it out of love for him.
“The self-same perfume, Mama. So the detectives said it can’t be a copycat killing. Because the police never gave out information about which perfume it was. So only the killer knows the right perfume to use. So – so that means, Mama, the serial killer can’t be Yours Truly. So there is no reason for them to keep me in jail.”
“That is good,” says Mrs Phiri. “That is wonderful.”
Tshepo puts his arms around his mother. He is suddenly serious. “Thank you, Mama. It must have been very hard for you to do this. Thank you for saving me.”
Mrs Phiri has tears in her eyes. This is all she needs, her son’s arms around her. She says, “Perfect love casts out fear, my boy. I told you, I would do whatever it takes.”
She gets up now, full of energy. As if life is beginning all over again. For her and for her son. “Let me make you some food now, Tshepo. Nice food. Not horrible prison food. And then after that, Tshepo, you must take this perfume bottle and these black pantyhose and bury them deep in the back yard. And your jacket too. You understand? Very, very deep. Where no-one can ever find them.”
Tshepo laughs. “Fine, Mama. I don’t need them any more. I have learned my lesson, I think. So now you cook me some food. Chicken curry, I think. Yes, that will be good. And meanwhile I will go check my cellphone. That is the worst of prison. No cellphone.”
Mrs Phiri hums while she prepares the chicken curry for Tshepo. All is well now. All the bad times are over. Tshepo will once again be the happy, smiling young man he used to be. Maybe soon he will find a new girlfriend, someone sweet and loving and devoted to him. At last, this Angelique nightmare is finished.
Tshepo comes rushing back into the kitchen with his cellphone. “Mama! Just listen to this. Oh it is the best SMS ever. In my whole life. Yes, it came just yesterday afternoon.”
Mrs Phiri smiles. “So who is it from?”
“Angelique, Mama! Isn’t that wonderful?”
“Yes, Mama. She says: ‘Hi Babe. I’m missing you bad. Your mom says you have a new chick. But you wouldn’t do that to me, would you? Any chance we can get back together?’”
Mrs Phiri is putting chicken pieces into the pan. They sizzle in the hot oil. She sees that her hands are shaking once more.
“I must phone her. Right away.” Tshepo is already pressing the call button, staring at the TV while he waits for an answer. Waits and waits.
But Angelique’s phone keeps going to her voicemail. “Hi. You have reached the number for Angelique Neo Mokgosi. Hopefully I am busy on a photo shoot right now. But you leave a message. And maybe, just maybe you’ll be lucky and I’ll get back to you.”
So Tshepo leaves a message.
“Hi, my Angel Child! Call me soon as you get this, OK? My life has been hell without you. I nearly went crazy longing for you. You won’t believe the things I did! I can hardly believe them! But hey, if we’re back together, everything will be magic again. I’ll make you the happiest woman in the world. Can’t wait to hear from you.”
The newscaster is speaking about the latest murder. So Tshepo turns up the volume.
“An eighth victim was discovered in the early hours of this morning behind the taxi rank of Extension 6. Family members have identified the young woman as Angelique Neo Mokgosi. She was twenty and an up-and-coming model.”
Tshepo screams. He is beside himself. “Angelique?! Mama, why Angelique? Why did she have to be the one? You could have killed any girl and that would have been enough to get me freed. But no! You had to choose her! How could you? She was the love of my life. She is the only girl I ever wanted. Why, Mama? You have destroyed me.”
And Tshepo picks up the black lace pantyhose and walks towards his mother at the stove.
“You did this out of jealousy, right? You couldn’t stand me loving anyone but you! I will never forgive you. Never!”
Darkness is closing in on Mrs Phiri. Darkness and coldness worse than she has ever known. She is struggling to breathe, struggling to stand upright. Her life is flashing before her. But it has been such a happy life, filled with the joy of raising Tshepo and the delight of seeing his golden smile. Such a joyful, happy, worthwhile life!
Even now, in her final moments on earth, all that Mrs Phiri can feel is her boundless, overwhelming love for her son.
Tell us what you think: Can a mother love her son too much? What do you think will happen to Tshepo now?