Nkateko Masinga is a medical student, poet and writer who lives in the east of Pretoria, South Africa. Her first poetry collection, ‘The Sin In My Blackness’, was published in August 2015. Her second book, ‘A War Within The Blood’, was published in September 2016. Her poems are forthcoming in the U.S journal ‘Illuminations’ in 2017 and in UK pamphlet press ‘Pyramid Editions’ in 2018. In 2015, her work was shortlisted for the ‘Respond’ Human Rights Poetry Award 2015/2016, organized by the United Human Rights Student Network (UHRSN). Nkateko is currently working on an audiobook to accompany both her poetry collections.
‘The man I love lives off borrowed truths. He is a hoarder of facts. He reads anthologies. He quotes entire Bible verses verbatim. He collects the realities of strangers. He struggles with his own truth. I bring him food from home so he can fill his mouth with something other than words. I tell him stories. I ask him to tell me about his past. He tells me that he doesn’t have a father. He says I am too beautiful to know the rest. The man I love is a liar.’
I close my notebook as tentatively as I opened it. I scan the room for a friendly face. The facilitator of the group therapy session gives me an encouraging nod.
‘It was… Uh… It was supposed to be a poem.’ I say, glancing around the room. ‘But I guess I read it too quickly.’
‘A poem?’ asks Dee, one of my fellow inmates. ‘Shit doesn’t even rhyme.’
‘Please mind your language, Diane,’ the facilitator says.
To my surprise, the room slowly erupts into applause. For a split-second I close my eyes and imagine that I am sitting on a rickety stool reciting my poetry to the inebriated patrons at some dingy, badly-lit pub. The applause stops. Back to reality. I am in prison.
‘This scholar lover of yours,’ another inmate says. I look up. The voice belongs to Shoni, the petite yet feisty woman who shares a cell with Dee. ‘Is he the guy you…’ She slides her thumb across her throat to demonstrate.
The facilitator stares at her for a second but says nothing. Instead her head turns towards me. I suppose when you join a therapy session for women who are capable of murder, you need to be open to the possibility that the topic will come up eventually.
‘Yes, Shoni,’ I say, feigned bravado dripping off my tongue. ‘He is the one I killed. And although I am grateful for the imagery, I did not slit his throat.’
‘Then please enlighten us,’ Shoni replies, snickering.
I sigh. The last time I had to re-live Andy’s death, I was under oath in a court of law. Now I am in a group therapy session with ten other women who, like me, know only too well what it’s like to be bound by a truth that cannot be altered.
I close my eyes again. This time I go back to the last time I was ever free.
I was holding the phone in one hand and a hazy grey picture of my unborn baby in the other.
‘I have the scan right here. I’m about eight weeks along.’
There was silence on the other end of the line.
‘Andy, are you still there?’ I asked.
‘Yes, I’m here. I’ll schedule an appointment for you tomorrow. Don’t tell anyone about this.’
I was confused. What did he mean?
‘An appointment for what?’ I asked, feeling perturbed and very annoyed with him.
‘For an abortion.’
My heart sank to my heels. He wanted me to abort our baby.
‘I will NOT be having an abortion. Are you insane? I am going to tell your wife about us, and I think she needs to know about the baby as well.’
‘There is no way in hell that my wife will find out about anything that happened between you and me! It’s over!’
‘So you are just going to leave me as if nothing happened?’ I asked incredulously. ‘If you don’t tell your wife, then I will,’ I said defiantly, grateful that he could not see that I was trembling.
‘Why does she need to know?’ he asked. I could sense that he was scared too. At this point, neither of us knew what the other was capable of.
‘I won’t allow you to make me disappear into the shadows as if I never existed,’ I answered. ‘I’m going to tell your wife today. She deserves to know.’
‘What? No… Can’t we talk about this first?’
‘I can and I will.’ I cringed at my own remark. It sounded like a line out of a movie, the last words spoken by a villain before pursuing an evil mission.
‘Okay, I’m sorry.’ I backtracked. ‘We can talk.’
‘I’m on my way.’
‘But…’ The line was already dead.
I spent the hours before his arrival pacing around the house, making small decisions that kept my mind off the issue at hand. Should I bath? Should I call to make sure he parks at the garage?
I decided to take a bath. My internal argument that it was understandable for me to forego my daily cleansing ritual was dismissed as quickly as it had entered my brain. After getting dressed, I grabbed the keys and waited.
A wave of relief came over me when my phone rang.
On my way to the garage where he had parked his car, random thoughts went through my head. Maybe I shouldn’t let him into the house in case he tries to hurt me. I was interrupted by his presence a few metres away from me. He was wearing an oversized Blue Bulls t-shirt and a pair of blue denim jeans. I kept looking at the t-shirt. Somehow it unnerved me.
‘Hi,’ he said, his voice sounding strained. ‘Let’s go to the car, I’ll drive you to where my wife works.’
‘What? I thought we agreed to talk. I’m not going there with you.’
‘On my way here, I decided we should go there together since you’re not likely to change your mind. Afterwards, we’ll drive to your father’s workplace and tell him everything too.’
My heart started beating faster and I felt dizzy.
‘No, Andy! Why do you have to involve my parents in this?’
‘For the same reason that you want to include my wife,’ he said.
‘So you’re threatening me?’ I asked, already aware of what was happening.
He was blackmailing me.
‘Fine, I won’t go to your wife then,’ I said, defeated. ‘Let’s go talk about this at the house.’
We walked the route to my house in near-silence, both deep in thought. After I de-activated the alarm system and unlocked the door, we began talking.
‘If she finds out about us, she’ll take my child away from me. You know how much I love my daughter.’ More blackmail, I thought as I closed the door behind me.
‘And you know that I don’t want her to grow up the way I did,’ he continued.
‘Yes, Andy. I understand, but…’
‘No, you don’t understand,’ he interrupted. ‘You were raised by both your parents and now you want to take that privilege away from my child. You’re selfish, you don’t understand anything!’
I wanted to tell him that being raised by both parents does not guarantee a happy home. I wanted to name examples of people who grew up to be successful, well-rounded adults despite being raised by a single parent. Adults like him. I wanted to say all those things, but it would not make a difference.
‘I still feel that she deserves to know. If I were in her shoes, I would be grateful if someone told me the truth. And why is it all about your child? What about my child?’ I took out the small paper square that showed our child in my womb and gave it to him.
He turned away from me and frowned.
‘I really don’t think you should be bonding with the image of something that isn’t going to be,’ he said quietly. It was as if he was ashamed that the words belonged to him.
I stood up and looked at Andy with as much disgust as I could muster. ‘I am going to fetch a jacket, it’s quite cold now.’
When I returned, I had managed to clear my head a bit. Andy was asleep on the couch. I walked towards him and shook him gently on the shoulder.
‘Tell me why you can’t be with me,’ I asked him pleadingly. ‘What’s the worst that could happen if you left her?’
‘If I leave her, both my parents and hers will get involved. They will come here, wanting to see you,’ Andy said, burying his head in his hands.
‘Why can’t they let you solve your own marital problems?’ I asked, folding my arms in defiance. Why can’t you marry me? Why can’t you tell them you love me and you want to marry me? Unvoiced questions about our relationship filled my brain at the mere mention of marriage.
‘You think this is a game, Nkele? You’re ruining people’s lives here!’
He stood up and leaned against the wall facing me.
‘Alright,’ he said, sounding calmer. ‘Let’s say I leave Puleng for you. Do you honestly think that your parents will accept me, after finding out that I left my wife for you? And I have a child with her!’
‘You have a child with me too!’ I blurted out, tears filling my eyes.
‘I don’t, Nkele. I don’t.’ He stood up and paced around the room.
I wondered what he was thinking. I placed my hand against my stomach and suddenly found the strength to do what had to be done.
When I open my eyes, the women around me are leaning forward in their seats, staring intently at me, expecting me to continue.
‘That day…’ I begin again. ‘I was angry. I was pregnant with a child whose existence Andy refused to acknowledge. When I told him I was going to fetch a jacket, I got my father’s gun out of the safe. I shot Andy in the head while he had his back towards me.’
The facilitator coughs and tries to steer the discussion in a more positive direction. ‘Nkele, could you please tell us why you wanted to share your story today?’
I pause, thinking about what I told the facilitator the previous week.
‘I wanted to share my story because I realised that I don’t know why I did it. I don’t have an explanation. But I knew Andy, and I think he was a liar. I don’t think it’s right to kill someone because they lie, but I think it’s important for me to be honest about what led me to the point where I felt that I needed justice for my child.’
Before I fired the shot, I had been thinking about something that Andy had said to me earlier in the year.
We had been sitting in a lecture hall, waiting for our next class when Andy leaned towards me with a strange glint in his eyes.
‘Do you know what a self-fulfilling prophecy is?’ he asked.
‘Not really,’ I replied, not taking my eyes off my notes. I had a vague idea where the conversation was headed but I decided to play it safe.
‘Well, it’s when you predict that something will happen and then it actually happens despite your efforts to stop it,’ he said, undeterred by my lack of enthusiasm.
‘Hmm. I see.’ I placed my notes down and looked at him thoughtfully. ‘So you’re saying our relationship is like that? I remember you telling me that if Puleng leaves you then I will leave as well.’
‘Exactly. And you once said that you think our relationship will end badly.’
I laughed. ‘Relationships like ours always end badly. I once thought that ours would be the exception but clearly I was wrong.’
‘It doesn’t have to be that way,’ he said, coaxing me.
I was not fooled. ‘Yes, it does,’ I replied. ‘Your prediction will never come true. Puleng will not leave you. You have done some awful things over the past five years and she has stayed.’
I could see Andy cringe. ‘But we weren’t married then, this is my first relationship since I married her, since my child was born. Cheating is more serious when you’re married.’
‘You would know,’ I quipped. The lecturer had arrived. ‘I know that she won’t leave you, though,’ I whispered into Andy’s ear.
He was looking straight ahead, pretending to pay attention. Then, as if in afterthought, he leaned towards me. ‘She will. She’s not stupid.’
I remembered this particular gem out of all our conversations because there were so many gaps that needed to be filled and that I only took notice of ten months too late. For instance, why had we not spoken about what would happen if Puleng did leave him? Would I even be given a chance to stay with him or would my fate be determined by the circumstances leading to her decision? For the first time, I could see why my part in the story was never mentioned. He had never had any intention of leaving his wife for me.
He spent his last moments standing at my father’s bookshelf, holding a book. He loved to read. I think books are the only truth he knew. Sometimes I go to that shelf and I can almost see the imprint of Andy’s hand on the book he was holding as he fell. I don’t see the blood. I don’t hear a groan. It’s just the book. The same book I had to put my hand on in court during my trial. When I stood there to tell the judge what I had done, I knew I couldn’t lie. I knew that both Andy and my baby deserved better. They deserved the truth.’
Illustration “Unraveling Woman” by Thierry Baranzika.