Second is Best by Aileen Friedman - HTML preview
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Copyright © 2014 Aileen Friedman
All rights reserved.
No part of this publication, except for brief excerpts for purpose of review, may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying,
recording, or otherwise without the prior written permission of the publisher. This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance of the characters to persons living or dead is purely coincidental.
ISBN – 13 978-0-620-59758-6
Tamara De Jager
Baggies – Warner Beach
Georg PN Fourie
Doggy Beach – Gordons Bay
Thank you Lord Jesus
for your love and mercy
and for blessing me
with my family whom I love so much.
I am truly blessed.
Phil 4:13 ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.’
Special thanks to
for her never-ending support
You mean so much to me.
Heavy rain drops pelted against the windows of the coffee shop forcing me to stare through the grey haze towards the ocean. Trees were bent over backwards, resisting the force of the wind, and the waves of the sea seemed to argue with the sand, smashing against the shoreline in an angry and wild dance.
The storm violently ravaged the usually peaceful beachfront at Addington Beach, as people tried with all their might to remain upright as they ran – or attempted to run – for shelter. At the same time everyone had to avoid debris flying around as the wind whipped it up and flung it around against its will. Umbrellas were of no use as they bent and buckled under the pressure of the wind, leaving their owners without cover from the drenching rain.
My mood was as grey as the weather outside and as black as the coffee steaming in my cup, and I felt as confused as the swirling waters lashing the beach.
Every few minutes the door to the coffee shop would swing open and a freezing cold draught would force its way in as the shop became more crowded with people desperately taking refuge indoors and warming themselves with a hot beverage. Quickly and easily they chatted and seemed to make friends, yet surrounded by the hustle and bustle I felt lost amongst them. I felt alone, afraid, and saddened beyond belief, without a friend in the world, and with no one who cared about whether I lived or died.
‘May I sit with you at the table please?’
I was lost in thought as I heard, ‘Ma’am, excuse me, ma’am, sorry to disturb you…’
My stare was diverted when an elderly gentleman eventually tapped my shoulder to get my attention. I nodded without expression and returned to the intoxicating visuals outside, my coffee untouched.
‘It sure is a crazy day today, where did this weather come from, eh?’
Ignoring him was my only reply and he seemed to get the message, leaving me to my solitude amongst the drone and hum of the now over-crowded room.
To add a touch of drama to the already wild and untamed storm, lightning decided to make an appearance – dancing across the sky and piercing through the heavy and monstrous clouds in zigzag flashes, swooping down to the ocean. At times it felt as though it stung the windows right in front of my face and I flinched. With every ominous clap it flung at the earth, the sheltering people around me shook and took a step back from the windows, seemingly fearful of its majestic power.
As the storm grew in ferocity so my mood became even more downcast.
The lights flickered and from some resistance on their part, remained on, much to the delight of the patrons in the shop.
‘Looks like the power is going to go out too,’ said another elderly gentleman as he squashed himself into the seat next to my first guest.
I wondered who might fill the last seat at the table, but only for an instant as my thoughts and gaze remained fixated on the storm outside.
‘May I join you?’
A woman about the same age as the men asked as she sat down in the vacant chair. The two gentlemen stood up until she was seated then plonked themselves back in their seats introducing themselves to one another at the same time. Hesitantly they looked toward me inviting me to play in their game but I very rudely offered them my shoulder and the back of my head.
In the background the muffled sounds of chatter and teaspoons clinking against the china increased in volume. The coffee shop began to get stuffy and very warm due to the number of people seeking relief within its walls. Everyone took off their coats and scarves and made themselves more than comfortable, some even sitting on the floor, satisfied to remain there to wait out the storm.
I could barely see the ocean – the grey haze from earlier had become a dark, almost black fog, but still the wildness of the sea was inviting to me. I wondered how long it would take for the swirling waters to overcome me if I did not resist. I agonised over whether I was brave enough to attempt such an act.
Someone burst out laughing in a loud cackle and distracted my sordid thoughts, much to my annoyance. And then I shuddered at the realisation of what I was actually contemplating doing.
Where had my life gone so wrong?
Fred and Mildred (Milly) Raines, my parents, lived modestly and had been content and happy in their early years of married bliss. I was born and they cherished their darling daughter, promising before God to raise me in accordance with His love and His will. We were the truest example of the modern day happy family, with a house and the white picket fence and family dog – all serving God. I thought I would be the happiest child that had ever lived. I was what they had always dreamed of, and hence I never had a sibling – as much as I would have loved one, especially when things went horribly south.
I was eleven and arrived home from school one day after eagerly jumping off the school bus while waving a quick goodbye to my friend Rachel. I was so eager to tell my mother my news that I didn’t even notice the cars parked on the sidewalk in front of the house. Rushing up the path lined with the brightest marigolds in the street, I burst through the front door to tell my mother the excellent grade I had achieved on my spelling test.
‘Mommy! You will never guess what I got for my spelling test! You will never, never, never guess! Momm…..’ I yelled loudly, my voice echoing strangely.
I suddenly stopped mid-sentence when I noticed my mother sitting on the couch with red and wet eyes. To my astonishment, as he was normally at work during the day, my father was sitting next to her holding her hands, his head bent.
He straightened when he saw me and stood up and walked toward me, brushing past my aunt and uncle and other family members and friends that I suddenly noticed were also in the room.
‘Kaye sweetie, something has happened, something not happy,’ he said.
He came across to me and picked me up – he was a very big and strong man – and he carried me to where my mother was sitting. He sat down next to her, while still holding me and finally rested me on his lap. My mother looked at me with tears streaming down her face, her lips quivering as my father spoke gently to me.
‘Sweetie, do you remember how we spoke about grandpa not being very healthy?’
I nodded my head cautiously, remembering.
‘Well,’ my father went on, ‘he had a heart attack this morning and he has gone to Heaven to be with grandma.’
He stopped choking down his own emotions and a sob escaped his chest.
‘Grandpa’s dead?’ I uttered as I began to cry, coming to the realisation that my favourite man in the world, after my father of course, was gone forever.
It had not been long, two years in fact, since my grandmother had died and so the emotions of that traumatic time were still very fresh in my mind.
My mother reached out and hugged me crying all the while. I knew her parents were now both in Heaven and she had loved them very much.
From the death of my beloved grandfather, my mother inherited a lot of money and it was that day that the slow decline of my modern day happy family began.
The first thing my parents did was to each buy a brand-new car. Then new furniture for the entire house and then I suddenly had a wardrobe any little girl would die for.
Then came the exotic holidays. My father would take his annual leave and we would go somewhere exciting and where the sun was always blazingly hot. And for the rest of the year they would go away on weekends and leave me with my aunt who got paid handsomely to take care of me. Let me not forget the parties that were held almost every other weekend – it seemed my parents had gained an increased number of new friends that they could lavish their wealth upon.
One of their so-called new friends convinced my father to invest in a new business venture. He would then be able to safely leave his mundane job at the breweries – which he had kept even though they were wealthy, not wanting to use the inheritance to live off but to rather invest in something that would increase their wealth. This would then allow my father to give up his job without depleting all the money – he very much wanted to work from home and in doing so be able to spend far more valuable quality time with his precious family. This was just far too appealing for him to pass up and was exactly what he had been looking for. To be able to go to his sweetheart daughter’s swimming gala or to her sports day and support her and cheer for her was a dream come true for him, the perfect father.
For months my father’s dream to be rich, work from home, and have his loving and adoring daughter by his side almost all day every day was realised, and life was more perfect than he or I could ever have imagined.
When I look back now and think of the turn of events I realise I should have noticed the drinking slowly increasing from weekends and parties to every night. It started off with a glass of wine in a crystal glass, with dinner served on our new porcelain plates rimmed with gold. From one glass of wine it progressed to wine all night until bedtime, and then eventually to the point where I would come home from school and find glasses that had been filled with all kinds of alcohol all over the house even though we had two full-time domestic maids to clean up and run around after my parents and the new air of wealth they carried upon their shoulders.
My father’s new business partner came over to the house one evening and I was sent to my room by my mother when the screaming from my dad’s study drowned out the noise from the radio I was lisening to. I lay in bed with the bedroom door closed and the pillow over my head trying to drown out the sound of my father’s voice. I had never heard him speak like that to anyone in my life – he always had the gentlest voice of any man I had ever met – and it made me so frightened that I cried in terror while I tried to drown out my tears with my sheets.
I heard my mother go into her bedroom and slam the door shut, to hide herself I presumed from the terrifying yelling. I wished she had come to me and held me and comforted me instead, but I lay there alone and wished for sleep to engulf me.
The front door banged shut and the windows adjoining it shook. I heard the bottles in the kitchen rattle as my dad poured himself a large drink and, I assumed, gulped it down in one go as very soon the glasses were rattling again and I heard him pour another, and another, and another.
Early the next morning I walked drowsily to the kitchen for breakfast. I was expecting to find a cheerful loving husband and wife preparing coffee and breakfast before I went off to school. Instead I found no one. Not even the maids were there. I thought perhaps after the previous evening’s chaos they would probably just be a bit late and so I opened the fridge to get out the milk, made myself some cereal and poured a glass of milk to drink. I sat down at the kitchen nook and started eating my cereal, still expecting my parents and the maids to walk in at any minute.
I put my cereal bowl and glass in the sink and went to my bathroom to brush my teeth and wash my face. When I came out of the bathroom I told myself I should go into my parents’ bedroom to let them know I was getting ready to go to school and that they should get up too. As I was about to open their bedroom door my mother came out, surprising me. I let out a little yelp and laughed, expecting her to find it funny too. Usually this kind of thing would have us in stitches.
‘Kaye darling, I have something to tell you, let’s go to your bedroom.’
She put her arm around my shoulders and guided me towards my bedroom, so that I sat on my large double bed and she sat herself softly down next to me.
Straightening her white satin gown around her waist and legs she hesitated.
‘Do you remember what happened here last night Kaye?’
I nodded, my eyes were big and round as she continued, ‘Daddy was very angry because that man who pretended to be our friend lost all of our money. Daddy invested our money into a company and that man used it to gamble with and he lost it all. Do you understand what I’m saying sweetheart?’
She stared at me pleadingly.
‘We have to sell all our nice things and daddy must go back to work?’
‘Yes, something like that darling.’
‘Will daddy still be at home so much? Because I like it when he is at home so much.’
‘No dear, it will probably be like before grandpa died. Do you remember what that was like?’
‘Yes, that was also okay.’
But it was never like that ever again. My father became increasingly depressed, rapidly becoming a shell of the man I had once known. He got a job at a local car manufacturing company with a good enough salary that we could be comfortable living on.
My mother took to drinking even more excessively during the day and that led to endless arguments at night and inevitably the arguing led to violence.
The cars were sold as was all the nice furniture and anything else my mother could get her hands on while I was at school.
During my last year at school my father was put on short time at the car factory which meant that he was often at home during the day with my mother. All they did was drink themselves into a stupor.
The sun baked down on the bonnet of Boyd’s car and I rested my arm against it, not thinking for a moment, and had to whip it away as I felt my skin burn. Boyd was one of only three boys in our senior year that was old enough to get his driver’s licence. This of course made him popular – not that being popular interested him much. He was an average student, an average athlete and just wanted to get this final year over and done with.
No one in our class could believe that it was senior year already, our final year. And we only had eight months to go. At times it was too surreal to comprehend that in a couple months’ time, we would all be going our separate ways after being in one another’s lives since the first grade.
Boyd and his best friend York slowly walked towards the car. I could see they were deep in conversation, both staring at the ground as they draped their heavy bags loaded with books over their shoulders.
They let their bags fall with a thump to the ground on reaching the car, and Boyd put his arm around my shoulders and kissed me lightly on the forehead aware that a teacher would probably be watching. They found romances between students extremely entertaining and we were careful to avoid any teasing.
The two boys climbed into the front of the car and I slid onto the back tan leather seat. I could see their serious moods lifting as we headed to the perfect waves that waited for us at Baggies in Warner Beach.
As we did everyday after school, we went to the beach before Boyd took me home. We all always kept a bag of spare clothes in Boyd’s car for our afternoons on the beach.
While Boyd and York endlessly conquered the waves, I managed to actually stand on my surfboard a few times. Though I had been doing this for many years now, I had still not mastered the art of surfing.
I sat in the hot sand, a towel draped over my back and shoulders, protecting me from the glare of the sun – it was a particularly hot and humid day for May on the South Coast of Natal, and I knew the discomfort in store for me if I burned.
By three o’clock almost our entire senior year was at the beach and, as we did every day, we sat together and laughed and joked around with one another, discussed school related topics and our plans for the future, not fully aware that life as we knew it would ultimately change. The small café at Baggies Beach made a fortune out of our healthy appetites and our terrible thirsts.
This was always the happiest part of my day.
Boyd was always close by. His dark brown hair had smudges of blonde from the sun, and his sun-kissed skin and good build were enough to make me smile and swoon at any given moment. He had hard features which, if you did not know him very well, made him look angry, and yet behind those harsh features was a very caring and kind person, but he kept those feelings reserved only for the people very close to him, and of those there weren’t many.
Amongst all the different personalities that made up our class of ’75 there always had to be one that was the clown, the one that you could rely on to entertain everyone else. And that someone was York. He had such a comical personality, and found humour in everything. He was tall, tanned of course, with blonde sun bleached hair of course and he wore glasses most of the time, which hid his lovely hazel eyes. They suited him though, almost making him look even more handsome and more mature.
Somehow on this particular day he had gotten hold of a piece of sponge that at a quick glance looked exactly like a piece of cheese. He stuck it into his sandwich camouflaging it a little with the lettuce, and as one of the boys came walking toward the café York offered the poor starving sucker a bite. Naturally he took a huge mouthful. With everyone watching him he chewed for a second then realised that the piece of sponge half hanging out of his mouth was in fact not cheese, and he spat it to the ground cursing York. We were in fits of laughter. York the clown had conquered again.
As it was such a perfect day and since it was a Friday, we stayed on the beach until the sun had set, then went home to greet our families and then those of us that were fortunate enough to have easy-going parents, made our way back to the beach and remained there until sunrise. Obviously this was not the norm on every weekend but we did as children did and begged our parents for the favours, and if we managed to win them over then we would experience the happiest fun-filled memories to carry in our hearts for the rest of our lives.
Boyd kissed me goodbye in the car as was our routine – it was always my decision not to have him walk me to the door – and I slowly got out of the car, waving and smiling goodbye.
‘See you in two hours!’ Boyd yelled out of the window as he drove off from the sidewalk.
I dragged my legs along the pathway that was lined with a few drooping flowers and grass that was growing between the paving stones. The grass in front of the house should have been mowed weeks ago and I knew if I did not do it this weekend it would never get done. Fortunately it was a relatively small garden.
As I turned the handle and pushed the door to open it, I was, as always, greeted by the unwelcome stench of alcohol and stale cigarettes. Holding my bag tightly over my shoulder so as to ensure it would not bang against any furniture, I headed for my room. First I tiptoed past my mother who was sprawled out on the couch, a last sip still waiting in the bottom of her whiskey glass, then past my father who was staring in a drunken stupor at the TV from his armchair. Same scene different day! Quietly I laid my bag on my bed and took out my school uniform and added it to the week-load of dirty laundry in my washing basket in the corner of my room.
I tried to make my room as pleasant as I possibly could, under the circumstances. I had a single bed covered with a bed linen set patterned with pink flowers on a light yellow background, which had been given to me as a birthday present by Boyd’s mother a year ago. I had a small table I used as a dressing table and a mirror edged with flowers that my best friend Rachel had given me that same birthday. There were a few photos stuck on the wall of Boyd and me and all our friends enjoying crazy happy moments together. Against the wall opposite my bed stood a white wardrobe, small, but big enough for the few clothes I possessed – all bought with money I’d earned myself or else from money I’d saved from gifts on birthdays or at Christmas.
I exchanged the school books in my bag for clothes, and slipped into the bathroom to shower, still hoping I would not awaken my drunken parents.
When I stepped out from the shower and dressed in a pair of jeans and a light grey sweater, I thankfully still could not hear any movement from the lounge.
Back in my room I put on my sneakers and picked up the warm thick jacket belonging to Boyd but which I had claimed, then lifted my bag over my shoulder, silently clicked and locked my bedroom door and tiptoed back towards the lounge. I found the note I had left my parents the previous Friday which simply read, “Gone to a beach party, be home Sunday”, and I lifted it off the kitchen counter and moved it to the dining room table. At least if it was not in the same place they probably wouldn’t even notice it was the same letter. I knew they wouldn’t realise it was the same letter anyway, they had no concept of which day of the week it was or the time of day or possibly that I even existed half the time.
As silently as I had entered the house so I exited it, and sat on the sidewalk until Boyd arrived and whisked me off to where I would be as happy as the rest of our friends.
On the beach we made a huge bonfire after we had braaied a few pieces of boerewors and made boerewors rolls. Music blared from the portable radio someone had brought along and we listened to our favourite music on the late night station, to which we danced, our bare feet digging into the now cool sand.
York started a new game which we all took great delight in playing. We chased crabs as they came out of their little holes in the sand, as the sea water bubbled up to the surface. We never actually caught one, but it was just such immense fun to see who could actually get to one before it burrowed back into the sand – a silly game and yet we were highly entertained by it.
We eventually snuggled up in our sleeping bags next to our favourite persons and fell asleep to the sound of the ocean crashing on the sand as the swells broke. No matter how loud the sea sounded it was always good therapy, like rocking a baby to sleep. I slept well that night, cuddled up to Boyd, and dreamed about floating away on a cloud.
We sat in the assembly hall one normal school day morning, chatting with our peers and waiting for Mr Layder the school principal, to make his appearance. In a long black graduation cloak he looked like batman from behind, and as he walked down the assembly hall aisle and up the stage steps we all stifled giggles until he stood behind the podium.
We sat upstairs in the gallery and looked down from our senior pedestals at the rest of the school. We were seniors and this was our last year of school.
Mr Layder went through all the usual rituals of Bible readings, announcements, singing and then one more announcement which finally had all the seniors, especially the boys, in a deadly silence.
‘All the Matric boys are to remain behind after assembly and to please gather together here in the front rows of the hall to receive your National Defence call up papers.’
I shivered and looked at Boyd sitting on the boys’ side of the hall, his face was solid; the call up had finally arrived. It was enough to ruin all our plans for the future. One whole year of our lives would be put on hold.
After assembly I sat in the registration class worrying over which call up Boyd would get. Would he go in January or in July?
Where would he be going?
Would he and York be going to the same place?
I hoped so.
I looked around the classroom, and except for a few girls chatting, we all sat in our seats pensively, wondering and worrying.
The bell rang and I muttered my annoyance to Rachel that the boys had not yet finished in the hall. Now I would only see Boyd at maths class and we would hardly have a chance to talk with Mr Rotherford being so strict.
I waited outside the maths class as several others joined me from their respective classes. My heart pounded against my ribcage as I finally spotted Boyd and York walking towards me.
Boyd slumped against the wall next to me, his left shoulder almost over me, and he leaned his forehead onto mine and sighed, shaking his head slightly.
‘When?’ I asked quietly, my heart in my throat.
He let out another sigh as he said, ‘January,’ and then another sigh escaped his lips.
I held his face with my hands and fought back the tears that wanted to pour from my eyes.
He pulled away from me at the sound of the classroom door opening and kids pushing and shoving their way past us.
‘Talk more at break,’ he whispered as he kissed my ear and moved to stand with the rest of the boys on the other side of the classroom door.
I noticed the other boys were also solemn, their usually jolly attitudes forgotten. But then since they had all just received exactly the same news it was no wonder at all.
The only way anyone could be excused from their National Defence duty was if they were declared medically unfit. Which not one of these boys was, that was for sure. Or, of course, if they were accepted to university but then they had to fulfil their duty once they had completed their degrees. So either way, there was no escaping it.
Finally at break I could get all the details. We sat under the huge rubber tree in the massive courtyard – strictly designated for the seniors only – at the back of the buildings between the school and the parking area.
‘I’m going to Bloemfontein to the Infantry services,’ Boyd said fiddling with my fingers as he spoke and held my hands.
We were aware the teachers would be watching as they always were, but our minds were too occupied with the current turn of events. I felt the teachers would be sympathetic to our case today and they were. No one disturbed us.
‘I’m going to Pretoria to the Technical Services, I think they called it “Tiffies,”’ said York, who with no girlfriend did not really seem to mind going at all.
York stood up and went over to a group of boys all looking at one another’s call up papers and discussing their destinations descriptively with their hands.
‘So you’re going to college then in January, and when I get back I’ll join you there. It’s just a year and we’ll be allowed home every few weeks, Kaye.’
Boyd lifted my chin and brought my eyes up to his, the truth in his eyes so real.
‘I told you I cannot afford college.’
‘I told you my parents said they would sponsor your tuition.’
‘Your parents don’t like me so why would they pay for my tuition? I still don’t believe it.’
‘They don’t like your parents, it’s not you they don’t like. We’ll ask them tonight and you can hear it from the horse’s mouth, okay?’
He smiled at me, his harsh features warming instantly.
I smiled back and had no further chance to argue the point as all the other boys descended upon Boyd and his call up papers.
Finally school was done for the day and as usual we all headed to Baggies Beach. The conversation once again revolved around the call ups, but was eventually exhausted of all possibilities and then the surf was up.
Claude and Verina Langford reclined on the sofa in their lounge, their son Boyd and I perched in armchairs in front of them whilst they read the news.
Verina shook her head.
‘I hate the laws of this country, using our children as their pawns.’
She began to cry and Claude lovingly comforted her while Boyd just sat in his chair looking at the floor. I did not know what to do or say so I just stared at the floor, emulating Boyd.
‘You will just have to go to university and then you will be exempted,’ Mrs Langford said with a hint of hope in her voice.
‘I will have to go when I finish with university anyway and by then I will probably be the oldest person in my squadron. No thanks! I’d rather do it now and get it over and done with.’
Mr Langford stood up and moved about the lounge, seemingly pondering the issue and then after a little while he spoke.
‘It might give you time to consider what you want to study and what career choice you should pursue. It’s just a year and will give you a lot of time to think about the future.’
Holly, Boyd’s ten-year-old sister, came into the lounge from her bedroom and sat on Boyd’s lap.
‘You going to be a soldier?’
‘I’m going to pretend to be a soldier just for a year,’ he smiled at her.
‘I like it when the soldiers march.’
Boyd hugged her and Mrs Langford burst into tears bordering on hysteria.
There were seven months left until January.
I closed the front door leaving my mother typically slouched in a drunken stupor on the couch, and my father in the armchair in front of the TV with a glass in one hand and a cigarette in the other. Neither was even remotely aware of what day it was or that I had even walked past them twice already.
I stood outside, with my back against the black entrance door and my heart felt so heavy.
In every other one of my school friends’ houses right now, their mothers, after weeks of searching for the perfect dress for their perfect daughters, were helping their daughters climb into them. They had been with their daughters a few hours earlier at the hairdresser where the girls had had magic done to their usual ponytails, and they’d had makeup applied that aged them in seconds.
And when finally they put on their shoes that stated their outfit “complete”, their mothers would exclaim from sheer love and delight. I could just picture it. With their hands around their mouths, and covering their noses, they would extend their arms out towards their daughters and embrace them, filling their own hearts with even more love that they held for their daughters.
Not in my house!
The fathers would wait patiently in the lounge with the nervous date, all the while staring at the boy from the corners of their eyes. The father would read the riot act to his daughter’s date and threaten him if he dared mistreat his baby girl, lay a hand on her or not treat her with the respect she deserved.
The nervous date would simply reply, ‘Yes sir,’ for fear of saying anything that would make the father even more intimidating.
Not in my house!
And my heart ached.
I made my way down the path to the car in the driveway. My dress was shoved in a bag, and I had my vanity case and a tog bag with spare clothes in, under my arm, as I would be spending the night at Boyd’s after the Matric Farewell dance. Mr Langford was waiting in the car – it had just been washed and was sparkling – and once I had slid into the back clutching my dress and belongings he pulled off and we made our way to their house.
‘Kaye darling, you have got to hurry. If Boyd has to sit around any longer he’s going to chicken out and not wear the suit and I will be so disappointed. Come, come dear, let’s get you dressed,’ Mrs Langford greeted me at the door and excitedly hurried me to the guest room where she had smelly oils burning and flowers in a vase on the dresser.
‘The room looks so lovely, thank you Mrs Langford, and I’m sorry if I have inconvenienced you in any way at all.’
‘Nonsense dear, it is all my pleasure! Come sit, let’s get your hair done.’
And so I sat on the chair in front of the dresser while Boyd’s mum fussed over my long blonde sun bleached hair, twirling and twisting with a pair of tongs. About half an hour later I had twirls of blonde locks hanging about my face.
She put her hands on my shoulders and swivelled me around until I had my back to the mirror, and then she put her hand under my chin and lifted my head gently toward her, her long nails tickling my skin.
‘Now for your makeup, look up at me please.’
‘Please don’t put too much on, I never wear it and it will irritate me before I even get to the dance I’m sure of it.’
‘Silly dear of course I won’t, now shoosh so I can get done. Look up at me.’
She brushed my face with powder and pasted on cold liquid stuff. She added more powders to my eyelids and reshaped my eyebrows – that hurt a little – then she added the mascara to my flickering eyelashes. Every time she came near my eyes with the brush we both giggled madly, her soft peppermint breath blowing softly across my face all the while.
I turned to the dresser to see if I even recognised the girl in the mirror.
‘No you can’t look yet! Not until you’re dressed. Come this way and let’s get this dress over your head without messing up your hair and makeup.’
Mrs Langford pulled me up with her hands linked in mine and moved me toward the cupboard doors away from the mirror.
I let my gown fall to the floor feeling very embarrassed as I stood naked in front of her except for my underwear. But she took absolutely no notice as she took the dress off the hanger and slid her arms through it from the bottom to the top, then she raised her hands over my head and plopped the dress down over me.
‘Mind your hair and face as it comes over,’ she said a few times and I took heed.
The dress was ruby satin, with a halter neck and a tightly fitted bodice and a four panelled full length skirt.
She then opened the shoe box and slipped the ruby stilettos onto my feet, completing my look.
She put her arms on my shoulders, turned me back to face the mirror and then stepped back clapping her hands in glee, thrilled with her achievement in manipulating this makeover.
I looked in the mirror, and stared in total awe.
Was that really me in the mirror?
My blonde hair in contrast with the ruby dress accentuated my green eyes; my round features looked soft and so grown-up. I had to take a really good look to make sure that was actually me in the mirror.
‘You look beautiful. Now, come let’s go to the lounge, I’m sure those men are sweating in anticipation.’
I suddenly grabbed Mrs Langford’s arm and stopped her from walking out the door.
‘Mrs Langford, thank you so much for everything. I wish I’d bought you a gift or something…’ I trailed off.
She looked at me and I’m sure I detected a tear in her blue eyes as she leaned forward and gently put her arms around me hugging me ever so lightly making sure not to mess up the dress, hair and makeup.
‘My dear, it has been a pleasure. It’s going to be years before Holly has her dance and besides, I enjoyed doing it. You look like a princess my dear!’
She leant forward and gently hugged me again.
Mrs Langford walked ahead of me and announced to Mr Langford and Boyd that I was ready. They both stood up instantly and faced the passageway that lead to the bedrooms. Boyd wrestled with his tuxedo trying to find a position he felt comfortable in but before he got to that point I made my grand entrance.
Boyd’s face was a dream, his usually harsh features softened into a mesmerised gaze and his smile was so broad it took up most of his face.
A slap on the back from his father shook him back into the moment.
He walked towards me with his arms outstretched, and he took my hands in his.
‘You look, you look, like, like a super star, like a goddess. You look beautiful.’
He tried to say more but could not find the words. He didn’t have to, what he had said was more than I needed to hear.
I beamed, and felt like I was floating on such a high cloud from which I never wanted to climb off. Everything was so perfect. At this very moment I felt the way I knew every other girl in my senior year did, although I was in a different house. But for once it didn’t matter, and I smiled.
Mr Langford presented me with a single orchid that in his mesmerised state, Boyd had forgotten to give me.
‘You do look truly lovely my dear,’ he said as he handed it to me, his eyes shining.
We made our way to the school hall in Boyd’s sparkling clean pumpkin of a car, a perfect beginning to an important part of any school girl’s life.
Boyd in a suit, me with my dress, hair and makeup, and combined with the fantasy decor themed school hall, the friendliness of all the teachers and the ambience of being “grown-up”, it all culminated in a magical evening and was the answer to any girl’s Cinderella dreams.
Naturally there was an after party, very much against the wishes of the school but it was held every year anyway. It goes without saying that ours took place on the beach.
We arrived after midnight, spent no time at all getting the fire going and the music blaring. We danced on the sand in our evening gowns, the boys in their suits, and the bright moonlight cascaded across the ocean and danced along with us in the movement of the waves. It was so romantic, granted we had all been drinking – some a little too much – but still it was the most romantic evening I had ever had. Those that had to go home did, but for the rest of us we stayed and allowed a magical moment in time to engulf us.
Everyone mingled around, attaching themselves to their loved ones or standing close by, holding on to the last few valuable minutes available.
Mrs Langford held Boyd around his waist as if she was glued to him, unfazed by the heat, and he held my hand tightly with his free hand. Mr Langford stood close to his wife in support of her.
It was baking hot and the humidity had surely reached a dangerous level. My body was wet with the clammy moisture in the air. The little tank top and hot pants I was wearing were stuck to my body like a second skin.
I noticed a lot of our school friends, slightly waving to each other as our eyes made contact – but only in acknowledgement, certainly not to show happiness at seeing them here, as being here meant they were also sadly saying goodbye to someone they loved.
York finally arrived with his parents Layne and Aubrey Keller, and although his mother was not as clingy as Mrs Langford, she stood her ground next to him trying very hard to hide her tears.
York seemed unperturbed about leaving – smiling and making jokes to ease the tension in our little circle, as usual. Neither his parents were impressed with his attitude.
I didn’t know what to say to ease the tension I saw in Boyd’s face, afraid that if I should speak I would not be able to control the flood of despair I felt at the imminent departure of these two very special boys.
A man in army attire stood at the camp entrance under the huge archway that had “Natal Command” written in huge letters around the arch, and then he blew a whistle.
Everyone went silent as he spoke into a megaphone. He called out the various destinations and all those going there were instructed say their last goodbyes and make their way to the waiting trains.
‘Oh no,’ was all Mrs Langford could say as she sobbed, setting off York’s mum and me.
As she hugged Boyd tightly, he held her with one arm and still held onto me with his free hand as if he would never let me go.
Mr Langford eventually pried her off Boyd so that he could say goodbye to his only son, and so that Holly too could say goodbye to her brother and so that he and I could have a few moments together.
‘Wait for me please, don’t forget me or find someone else Kaye, please?’ he begged me as the tears trickled down his face, the fear of leaving finally setting in.
He wrapped his arms around me and buried his face in my neck.
‘I love you, I will be here waiting for you, I promise…’ I choked through the hysteria I felt rising inside of me.
‘Boyd, we’ve got to go,’ York called him, ready to pull him away from our embrace if he needed to.
Slowly we let go of each other, our eyes bright with tears. York gave me a gentle affectionate hug goodbye and promised to write to me. Boyd picked up his bag and then the two of them walked through the gates of the camp, turning around only once to wave goodbye.
I thought my world would collapse right then.
Six weeks seemed like forever until I would see Boyd again.
Although Boyd and York were going to different camps they were fortunate enough to be travelling on the same train. Thank goodness for small mercies.
I couldn’t accept Boyd’s parents’ offer to pay for my college tuition. As kind and generous as it was, I did not want to indebt myself to anyone. Instead, I got a job at the local newspaper and decided to study journalism part-time. It would probably take me years to complete the degree but in the end it would be my achievement and something I knew I would be proud of.
Almost immediately after school Rachel left to spend the next five years at Wits University in Johannesburg and I was fortunate to find an apartment to share with a girl my age, Evelyn. She was studying full-time and her parents owned the flat which meant the rent was fairly reasonable.
I was just so grateful to get out of my parents’ house. I sometimes wondered when I went to visit them if they were even aware that I did not live there anymore.
Every day after work I made a beeline for the post box in the foyer of the building, with the hope that there would be a letter from Boyd.
The days when my hopes came true and there was a small white envelope with my name and address written in Boyd’s handwriting, my heart would scream out loud with happiness. I felt something very similar the day I finally received a letter from York.
Boyd’s letters were pretty much always the same. He would complain about how much he hated the army and the sergeants who did nothing but shout verbal abuse at them. How disgusting the food was and how much he missed me. Sometimes I could feel his hurting through the words written on the paper and my heart would break for him.
Mrs Langford phoned me one evening.
‘Kaye dear, I got a letter from Boyd with the details of his six weeks’ basics passing out parade. We are going to drive up and wanted to know if you’d like to come along. I’m very sure he will be just delighted if you do.’
‘Oh thank you so much, gosh I definitely will go. Thank you!’
‘It’s in two weeks’ time. I’ll ring you closer to the time with definite arrangements. Have you heard from him lately?’
‘I received a letter three days ago. I miss him so much. He seems so unhappy.’
‘Well, I don’t blame him. If I had my way he would never have gone in the first place. I will phone you again soon dear, bye for now.’
‘Goodbye Mrs Langford and thank you once again.’
I smiled broadly, thrilled at the thought of seeing him in two weeks’ time again. It seemed like an eternity since we had said goodbye.
‘And that big smile?’ Evelyn asked curiously.
‘In two weeks I get to see Boyd. I’m going up to Bloemfontein with his parents.’
With that I floated to bed happy.
The five hour drive to Bloemfontein seemed to take forever even though I slept most of the way on the backseat of Mr Langford’s very smart Jaguar, and he did not drive slowly either. We checked in at a hotel close to the army base and all I wanted to do was run there, find Boyd, hold him and never let him go. Being so close and not able to see him was driving me insane. I was restless and anxious at the same time.
In just a few hours I would see Boyd. I was dressed in a cool pink summer dress with flat white sandals, and was ready at least an hour before we were to leave. I walked about the hotel room endlessly trying to hasten the time.
Poor Mr Langford had to cope with both of us women in our anxious states and keep himself calm at the same time.
We arrived at the army base and parked as near to the main entrance as possible. The huge entrance building was made of red brick, three stories high. We walked up the long paved pathway from the parking area between the walled gate and the large glass doors that led into the building. It was cool inside and my skin relished the feeling. The foyer of the main entrance hall was filled with glass cabinets displaying military memorabilia – totally uninteresting to me. We went through the foyer and exited at the opposite side from which we had entered, stepping out onto the main parade ground. Behind the parade ground were the barracks, hundreds of them.
I wondered which one was Boyd’s.
It was very warm already, I was sure that by the time it reached midday it would be scorching. Finding sheltered seats with a decent view of the parade ground wasn’t too difficult since we were of the first to arrive. I knew that from my seat I would find Boyd amongst the other men all dressed in their fine step-outs.
The podium filled up with all the dignitaries and other not so important people. Once they were settled the band came marching in, playing very well and doing all sorts of formations while playing and appreciating the applause from the audience.
Then the boys, or rather now, the men, came marching onto the parade ground from the right corner of the grounds. They marched past the dignitaries and then to the centre of the field where they stopped and faced the podium, one squadron at a time. They marched with precision, with sharp and determined movements, their footsteps sounding like one giant’s foot stomping the ground, their brown army step-out uniforms, without a single crease, moved in tune with their bodies.
I knew Boyd was in the E squadron so when they finally made an appearance I almost broke my neck trying to find him. And there he was! I was shocked to see how thin he was – he actually looked younger than a school boy. His face wore a grimace and although he was keeping time with his marching, he looked so very much out of place. This man was such a far cry from the young surfer I’d said goodbye to six weeks ago.
The parade went on forever and I was bored stiff listening to the endless speeches and watching the men march up and down, passing us occasionally but pointlessly. I kept my eyes on Boyd as much as I could and all the while he wore a face of unhappiness.
Finally it was over and we were allowed to visit with our loved ones.
Mrs Langford, as elegant and as graceful as she always was, simply tossed it all aside when she saw her son. She squealed and ran and threw her arms around him, Mr Langford, Holly and me right behind her. Boyd greeted his family with unbridled affection while I stood to one side waiting impatiently for my turn.
He took one step from them and flung his arms around me, almost squeezing the life out of me. I had my arms around his neck, pulling him to me, trying to capture his smell, his touch, his feel, all that which I had longed for.
‘Kaye, I’ve missed you so much...’ he mumbled into my ear and pulled me into his embrace, even closer if that were at all possible.
We were completely lost within each other, totally oblivious to the people around us hugging, greeting and talking to one another on the massive parade ground, as the clear midday sun baked down on us.
‘Let me look at you,’ I said finally, pushing myself away from him just a few centimetres to get a good look at his smooth and clean shaven face.
‘I love you,’ I said, staring into his eyes making sure he understood how I felt just in case he had forgotten.
‘I love you so much,’ he replied, touching my cheeks with his hands, gently and lovingly staring into my eyes, making sure I understood how he felt too.
‘Let’s go get lunch,’ Mr Langford said with a smile, putting an arm around his son.
Boyd quickly rushed off and returned a few minutes later with his army bag stuffed with clothes for the weekend.
During lunch and for the rest of the afternoon we listened to his disgruntled feelings of basic training, the officers and even more so the awful food. What he seemed to enjoy the most was the shooting, having discovered he was something of a crack shot.
Who would’ve guessed this surfer boy with hardly any ambition or sporting talent would turn out to be a crack shot?
His parents eventually dragged themselves to bed, unable to keep their eyes open or their ears focused on hearing any more of Boyd’s stories. Holly had long ago succumbed to the long exciting day and we were finally alone.
‘I’ve been terrified of getting a Dear John letter,’ Boyd said while tucking a strand of hair behind my ear.
‘Why would you think that? I told you I would wait for you – surely you should know how much I love you?’ I held his face in the palms of my hands and kissed the tip of his nose.
‘I love you, Boyd. I would never do that to you.’
He kissed me for the longest time, my spine crawling and my skin tingling in sheer delight. It felt like my heart stopped beating and my lungs ceased breathing, it felt as if every organ in my body shut down and savoured his touch and all I wanted to do was disappear in his love.
For some time we just lay beside each other, relishing the closeness of our bodies, and I thought back to that night on the beach after we’d chased the crabs.
‘I hate the army Kaye, I don’t know how I am going to stick it out for a year. I absolutely hate it.’
I could immediately sense the frustration and exasperation he felt as he swallowed the thick tears back down his throat, and I wasn’t sure what to say.
‘Before you know it you’ll be back home and this will never have to happen again and we can get on with our lives. Just hang in there please. Just don’t go do anything stupid, please?’
‘I won’t, don’t worry, it’s just that I hate being here. The only thing I look forward to is your phone calls and your letters and when we go shooting.’
He yawned widely and slowly snuggled up to me on the couch so that we were both comfortable and eventually we were both fast asleep in each other’s arms, dreaming sweetly for a change.
At the breakfast buffet in the hotel Mrs Langford continued her barrage of questioning, trying to convince herself that her son was doing well in the army. Boyd did not tell them how much he really hated it – he knew his mother would probably become hysterical.
‘Do you hear from York at all?’ I asked while sipping down my freshly squeezed orange juice.
At that moment a waiter dropped a glass which immediately got the attention of everyone in the very full restaurant. Embarrassed, he apologised and swiftly cleaned up the mess and everyone continued to eat, drink and chat, the din that was briefly disturbed chimed once more.
‘He writes quite often. He seems to be loving it. He says he’s going to become a mechanic when he leaves the army, since he’s doing that kind of stuff at his base already.’
‘Yes he does seem to be happy. I’ve only had one letter from him but from that letter I could sense he was happy.’
After breakfast we all went for a drive through the town and landed up at a zoo. Instinctively we decided to go in.
As we walked very slowly around the enormous zoo, looking at the variety of incredible creatures in their enclosures that were designed to be as close to the natural habitat the animal originally came from, we chatted, laughed and even got very serious at times.
It was a lovely day for Boyd. He was the centre of attention and he was showered with love and affection by all of us. He walked around with his one arm linked into mine and the other into his mother’s, not letting go for passers-by. Everyone had to manoeuvre around us, much to our amusement of course.
The hour when Boyd had to return to the base came much too quickly. Our hearts fell to our feet with a thump when he said goodbye again and walked into the gates of the camp just as he had done six weeks ago in Durban.
We all told him how much we loved him at least a hundred times and he did the same in return. It was as if saying it just that once more would make it more true.
He held my hands in his against his heart. His face was contorted with anguish.
‘Don’t leave me. I love you, please wait for me...’ he pleaded as he kissed me one last time.
He put his arms around me and hugged me then turned around and walked back through the entrance doors, looking over his shoulder only once and waving briefly, before being swallowed up by the red brick walls.
Evelyn had gone to the coffee shop at her church like she did every Saturday, but for me this phone call from Boyd was what I lived for.
In the last three months he seemed to have become somewhat happier. The intense basic training and verbal abuse from the officers had mostly come to an end, and he had done so well with his shooting that they had moved him to that division. I wasn’t sure what they called it, I knew he had told me several times but I just couldn’t or did not want to remember.
The phone rang and I practically dived on it to answer it, so eager just to hear his voice.
‘Hello my sweet.’
His voice sent my heart pounding at those three simple words. I missed him so much.
‘Hi, how are you?’
We exchange titbits about our week then he said, ‘I got some news today.’
He went silent to prolong the anticipation.
‘What Boyd? Tell me already.’
‘We’re going to the bush for a training exercise this week.’
‘Don’t worry, it’s not like going to fight for real. It’s all set up like they do in the movies.’
‘And you’re happy to do this?’
‘Well it will make a change from this place and we will get to do a lot of shooting exercises and stuff like that.’
I wasn’t at all happy. He actually sounded excited about the prospect of shooting things or people!
‘How long are you going to be gone for?’
‘Just a week.’
I wasn’t sure how to react to the change in his attitude. He hated the army and everything it stood for and yet there he was, excited about shooting. I felt very anxious and insecure and yet it would be unfair to let him know how I felt, at least he was happier.
‘Well that’s not so bad, at least you will come home the following weekend, not so?’
‘Yep, we might even get a few extra days. Really hope so.’
He became more like the Boyd I knew once we spoke about our future, my studies, his parents and other non-shooting or army related matters. I was so looking forward to seeing him in a week’s time, it felt as though it had been absolute ages since we had last seen each other.
After nearly two hours on the phone with him we ended the call, with honest and heartfelt declarations of love for each other.
I was still not comfortable with his eagerness about the training camp. It was just so out of character but there was nothing I could do about it here and now unfortunately.
Since living in the apartment with Evelyn I had started going to church on Sundays with her, except when Boyd was home for the weekend. We usually spent the time at his parents’ house when he was home.
I had made friends with a lot of the people there, and I felt comfortable amongst them. I enjoyed the singing the most. Not being able to sing well myself it was wonderful to be able to sing loudly and to know that no one judged me if I went off key a little.
Boyd’s new fixation on shooting had unsettled me and during the church service I found myself silently praying for him. This was the first time I had seriously prayed about anything. I wasn’t even sure if there was a right or wrong way to pray but just talking to God in my head felt right, so I did.
After service one Sunday I decided to visit my parents since I hadn’t spoken to or seen them for some time.
The pathway to the front door was wet but not from any gardening on their part, it had recently rained and the little plants that were rooted in the ground had been given a slight hope of producing flowers in the spring. That is, if the untamed grass growing into the dishevelled flower beds alongside the pathway did not choke them first.
I tapped on the door, opened it, walked in and called out, ‘Dad, Mom, hello!’
As I entered the lounge from the front hallway there they were, exactly where I had left them the last time.
How could they go on like this?
Mother was fast asleep on the couch and my father stared at the TV with a drink in his hand. Both ashtrays were overflowing with stale ash and stompies.
Neither even acknowledged my presence.
I went to my bedroom, I wanted to cry or was I angry?
I couldn’t make up my mind. Everything was gone. There hadn’t been much in there the last few years when I lived at home, but what was left had been sold, probably for alcohol.
Knowing it would be useless to even try and visit with them, I left them a note tied to the bottle of whiskey. I was sure they would get it since it did not look like they touched anything else in the house.
It read: I came to visit you today but you were both unaware that I was even here. I won’t be coming back again. It hurts me too much when I do. My phone number at the flat is 934901. If you ever want to see me please phone me. Kaye.
As I pulled my car out of the driveway and onto the road, the hurt and pain in my heart overflowed down my cheeks in tears.
Why did my parents do this?
Why did they not love me enough to act like normal parents?
Back in my bedroom at the flat I wrote Boyd a letter, not mentioning my parents though, they weren’t worth the mention.
I always felt better writing to him even if it wasn’t really about anything in particular. The letter simply held our lives together, symbolic of our connection I supposed.
I also wrote to York since I had received a letter from him during the week. I told him about Boyd’s training camp and how he actually seemed to want to go as it involved shooting a gun. I was really concerned over his new attitude. I was very sure Boyd had probably already told York all about it, but it felt good to tell someone else how I felt. York undoubtedly would tell me I was being silly and that I should be happy for him. Still, I poured my heart out to him as if he were sitting next to me listening as a good friend would, like the good friend he was.
With winter sending its miserable claws biting into my flesh and bones – even though I was in jeans, a thick white polar neck jersey and a padded jacket – waiting for the bus to arrive at one o’clock in the morning was not pleasant.
I arrived at the bus stop in Durban as close to the bus’ arrival time as possible, not wanting to spend too much time waiting outside in the cold. Until the bus arrived I sat in my car with the heater on. This year winter seemed to be extensively colder than usual.
The unmistakable lights of the bus made an appearance around the corner of the city hall. I waited until it had come to a standstill in the parking lot in front of the Durban City Hall steps with a loud sounding whoosh and a whine from the hydraulic brakes. The exit door made a swish as it opened and only then did I get out of my car.
The men climbed out of the bus looking half asleep but happy to be home at the same time. Boyd finally put his foot on the asphalt and I rushed to embrace him as he flung his bag to the ground to complete our embrace.
I was so ecstatic that he would be home for a whole week this time that I had taken a week off from work so that we could relax and enjoy each other for more than just a few hours for a change.
‘Missed you so much…’ I whispered and he pulled me into his chest just a little harder, holding me there for just a few seconds longer with his head tucked into my neck. I knew he had missed me too.
We walked back to my car with our arms wrapped around each other, while Boyd mentioned the cold bite that cut the night air and a few other bits of useless information. His duffel bag thrown onto the backseat, he settled down in the passenger seat and we made our way to his parents’ house.
The drive home was rather quiet with little chatter about unimportant things. I could sense he was very tired and just thought that he would be more talkative once he had a good sleep behind him.
The next day Mrs Langford made a lunch fit for a king. The huge mahogany dining room table was set with all its finery. Pale blue napkins rested on fine dinnerware, on either side of which there lay heavy silver cutlery. The gleaming crystal glassware even made an appearance.
Fresh flowers from the garden were displayed all over the living areas bringing along with them a fresh fragrance. Whenever Boyd came home the house came alive. Mrs Langford insisted that the world revolved around her son for the time that he was home.
Although he was still half asleep – I would’ve gladly let him sleep for longer – he smiled at his mother’s efforts, respectfully showing her the appreciation she deserved. But he hardly spoke and was very reserved – more so than usual. It was probably because he seemed so exhausted. He did mention how the time they spent in the bush, even if it was just an exercise, was so physical and there was very little time to sleep let alone just take a nap.
Boyd told us how the officers were so impressed with his crack shot that they were considering him for greater things.
‘But you only have a few months left in your year, what great things do they expect from you?’ Mr Langford asked curiously.
‘I am not too sure but they keep asking if I would join the permanent forces and make a career out of the army.’
I could hardly believe what I was hearing. This was just not the Boyd I knew. The one I knew would never even consider the army as a career. He hated the army. He had told me so a least a hundred times.
‘Would you?’ I asked, my voice escalating just a little in surprise.
He shrugged his shoulders.
‘I don’t know, suppose I will just see what happens when it happens…’
Mrs Langford and I looked at each other, horrified.
‘No more talk of the army now. You are here to rest and be yourself,’ Mrs Langford said hoping to cast out the idea of her son shooting people for a living.
It was just too difficult to comprehend Boyd in the army forever.
After lunch we went to Baggies to surf, fortunately being the Indian Ocean, the sea was warm throughout the year.
Boyd looked at the ocean with his board tucked under his arm.
‘I miss this, I miss the sea, and this beach.’
At that moment I could see the old Boyd was back and I felt a bit more relaxed.
It was a humid day for winter. The skies were a hazy blue with sporadic clouds puffing up like cotton balls. The wind was breezy, blowing the clouds so that they changed shape every few minutes.
We were on our boards and in the ocean in no time, joining the rest of the Warner Beach locals, and it felt as if time had not moved on at all and we were still stealing time after school.
With the wind blowing in the right direction, the swell was fairly decent and after an hour or so I was exhausted and very pleased with my attempts to actually ride a few waves. I made my way back to the beach, a smile on my face. Boyd and most of the other men stayed out until the tide had changed and there were just no more waves left to ride.
I was sitting on my towel at our usual spot in front of the café with a sweater on – it was late in the afternoon and the sun began to set amidst the puffy clouds – my old surfboard rested flat on the sand next to me as I watched the men fooling around and sharing stories of old days and the waves they had or had not conquered. They were very interested in Boyd’s discovery at being such a good shot.
He seemed to find far too much pleasure in giving demonstrations on how he lined up his rifle and took the shot, or how he would hit his target while manoeuvring through obstacles. It really bothered me.
They ventured from the tables and benches back onto the beach and exhausted themselves with a few games of touch rugby until it was almost impossible to see who had the ball.
A few more of the old local school friends arrived with wood, the fire was lit and we did as we had done so many times before and settled in for an evening around the fire on the beach, the sound of the waves pleasantly crashing in the background.
Boyd snuggled up next to me, he was relaxed and laughing and enjoying this time with all his old friends.
‘Pity York isn’t here, then it would really be like old times,’ he said, staring into the fire as it pulled his gaze into the flames without any effort.
‘When last did you hear from him?’
‘I got a letter from him last week Thursday. He really seems to be enjoying himself. He should be coming home on Friday for a weekend pass. It will really be good to see him again.’
‘Gosh I hope he does come home. It will be so good to have my two most favourite men with me again.’
I smiled and nudged him teasingly.
‘As long as I am more favoured than the other I agree with you,’ he teased me back and gently placed a soft kiss on my lips.
It felt so good, I felt so wanted, and it was so perfect that I didn’t want him to stop.
He looked at me, guessing my thoughts and kissed me again more passionately and more seriously convincing me of the truth that lay in his lips. His hand came to rest on the side of my face, then moved around my neck securing me in his embrace.
I loved him so much.
When the sun’s early morning rays peeked over the horizon, the men were waiting with their boards to get into the water and ride waves. The calling of the ocean to anyone that loved to surf was immense and unbreakable. Once you were bitten you were bitten for good.
York’s arrival on the weekend was everything we needed and expected. His sense of humour had outwardly increased whilst away in the army, so much so that for most of the time spent in each other’s company my sides were splitting from laughing so much. I had not realised how much I had missed him and how good it was to see him again.
He still wore his glasses but had filled out around the chest and arms and it looked as though he had grown at least ten inches.
Needless to say, the weekend spent on the beach with York and a few other men that were home for the weekend on their passes, was an absolute blast.
I dragged Evelyn down with me in the secret hope that she and York would hit it off.
At first they were interested in finding out more about the other but the interest soon fizzled out, and Evelyn landed up having fun with Sian much to my surprise. He was never one of the most likeable men in the crowd, an extremely sarcastic person with a cynical view on life, and York, well he was York, single as always and funnier than ever.
We were all too afraid to go to sleep in case we became the next victim of one of his hilarious pranks. To match his playful character he had a contagious laugh that complemented it and once he started laughing it was impossible not to laugh with him.
With York around, Boyd soon forgot all about the army and shooting things and it was blissful again.
Church had become an important part of my life. I found I was drawn to service every Sunday with a passion, feasting on the preacher’s words and in particular, the singing. I felt I had a purpose still yet to be discovered. I went with Evelyn to the Wednesday evening Bible study most of the time; the only times I did not go was if an assignment or an exam was on the cards within the next few days.
Boyd rarely went with me to church when he was home on a weekend pass, and I surmised he was either too tired or wanted to spend as much time with me alone, or with his family or surfing.
At last it was the final day of Boyd’s year’s stint in the army. He had not made his decision about joining the permanent forces or perhaps he had and decided only to tell us once he was home. I prayed endlessly that his decision was not to take the offer.
Mr and Mrs Langford waited patiently and anxiously with me at the airport’s arrival gates for Boyd to slip through the doors and into our arms. Mr Langford had paid for Boyd to fly home this last time rather than take the bus.
He came through the huge automatic doors with his duffel bag slung over his shoulder, and dressed in his step-outs he looked every bit the soldier the army intended him to look like, yet on his face I could see a hint of the carefree surfer boy lurking.
Was that boy back?
Mrs Langford embraced her son, elated that he was finally home, her elegant green bell bottom pants and cream top melting into him as she held him.
As usual, I waited for him to greet his parents and Holly first, and as usual it felt like an eternity before I could wrap my arms around him and hold him so close to me that I could feel his heartbeat.
All the way home we spoke about irrelevant things, deliberately avoiding the one question that was on all our minds.
Boyd gave us a detailed account of the party they’d had the night before and this explained his quiet composure now – very quiet with a splitting headache. Mr Langford found it extremely amusing.
It was a beautiful summer’s day and Mrs Langford insisted on having a feast for lunch outside on the shaded patio in the backyard.
Her garden was immaculate, the flower beds around the edge of the garden, in front of the hedges, were all perfectly trimmed and the soil was fluffed up to allow easy breathing for the variety of flowers (practically every colour under the sun I was sure) and their roots. The hedges stood upright and uniformed as if they stood to attention.
The grass in the centre of the garden was so smooth, green and perfectly mowed. I stared at the grass while my over-full stomach relaxed and I wondered how on earth someone got this lawn so smooth and so perfectly even. It was as though someone had actually rolled the lawn on the ground.
‘Rolled on lawn,’ I chuckled to myself at the ridiculous idea, ‘rolled on lawn indeed!’
I was snapped from my invention theory when Boyd clicked his fingers at me, amused by the far away daze I was clearly in.
‘Penny for your thoughts?’ he asked giggling at the same time.
I contemplated sharing my invention and then voted against it for fear of sounding stupid.
‘Just thinking,’ I said and I knew this would be a good opportunity to bring up the subject of his future.
‘So what decision have you made about the army's offer?’
His face immediately became sullen.
‘I am not going.’
He scowled, ‘But they said if I change my mind I must contact them.’
‘Why would you want to contact them? You’re going to university now!’ Mrs Langford almost sang her response.
I moved from my seat onto his lap in one sliding motion, put my arms around him and hugged him. My fears instantly forgotten.
‘Thank you,’ I told him.
Mr Langford stood up and walked to the edge of the patio and let out a heavy sigh of relief and for a few moments just stared at his bare feet.
Those few words from Boyd were like a vacuum being released and the oxygen vaporised.
Much later we made our way to Baggies, Boyd was in the surf within a heartbeat of getting out of the car. The waves were not very big but it was enough for him to relax and to feel at home again.
I was sure it would take a while to get the army out of his system.
He spent his days on the beach or at home while I was at work, and in the evenings we lazed around my flat or his parents’ house. Sometimes he came with me to Bible study in the week and on most Sundays he came along to church. He did not seem to be very interested in church or the people there, and I felt he did it just to appease me. But I did not deter, one day he might feel like he needed to be there just like I did.
‘I don’t know what to do with my life,’ Boyd uttered miserably as we walked back from the cafeteria at the Amanzimtoti Drive-Inn, our arms filled with foot-long hotdogs, popcorn, chips and coke. Boyd had plastered a fake smile across his face when he greeted half of the community (the other half were probably at Showboat, dancing the night away).
We got into his car and fixed the speaker securely on the window of his door, making sure the sound was audible and we began to munch on our food, watching the commercials on the huge screen.
Even though it was already six-thirty in the evening, the February heat was intolerable. My floral summer dress was damp against my sweaty skin, and even my feet were sweating in my sandals, which I took off. The only thing I could do with my mop of long blonde hair was to tie it up out of my face and off my neck.
He was still not the same Boyd I had fallen in love with. He was more reserved and more withdrawn than ever. As happy as I was when he’d said he was not going to join the permanent forces, I still wondered how much he really meant it.
‘Still not decided about what you want to study?’ I rested my hand on his and squeezed it lightly.
‘Don’t pressurise yourself over it. Why don’t you leave the studying for next year and rather look for a job this year? I’m sure your parents will understand.’
‘I don’t know what job I can get. I just don’t know...’
He didn’t finish his sentence and sighed deeply staring at the movie through the windscreen of the car.
‘Do you want to visit your parents tomorrow?’ he asked and I looked at him confused.
‘No thanks, I told you I won’t go back to them until they phone me. I can’t bear to see them in that state anymore.’
‘But maybe they won’t be like that if you go in the morning?’
Why was he asking about my parents?
He knew the situation with them.
It was so unlike him, I did not know how to understand him. He seemed to be in a stranger mood than ever as the evening dragged along.
I decided to change the subject.
‘Have you heard from York?’
‘He phoned last night, said the course he was doing is finished now so he should be home by the weekend.’
‘That’s excellent, it will be good to have him back. I’m sure you have missed him the most.’
I smiled and snuggled into his chest.
‘It will be so good to see him. He won’t be here for long though. He said he got offered a further apprenticeship at a big motor company. I can’t remember which company he said it was.’
He shrugged his shoulders and sighed again.
The movie was an action movie, one he normally would have enjoyed, but he paid no attention at all. He looked out into nothingness, bleak, miserable and downcast, letting out sigh after sigh, every one more desperate than the other.
York was still the same old York, happy, funny and he lifted the mood around Boyd so much so that I wanted us to spend every minute in his company.
‘I wish you were staying longer. We all miss you, Boyd most of all.’
I finally had a chance to speak to York on his own. Everyone else was in the ocean surfing, catching the last of the waves the day had on offer before the sinking sun brought it to an end.
‘Yeah he does seem different, I still can’t believe he became this crack shot in the army, it’s just so not like him. I would love to stay here and not go back to Pretoria but I need to get these qualifications. I intend to start my own workshop right here at home one day.’
‘Maybe you could offer him a job when you do…’ I said and the sarcasm ran off my tongue like an automatic train.
York chuckled, ‘He will get back to his normal self soon enough, you will see, he just needs time.’
He leant over and nudged my shoulder with his and since I had my arms wrapped around my legs that little shove from York sent my whole body tilting over, and, not being quick enough to get my arms out from my legs in time I fell over like a ball. York burst out laughing while helping me back up. His sense of humour was tireless.
I dreaded saying goodbye to York, I wanted my friend and I wanted him to stay because he made Boyd feel like the normal Boyd we all knew and loved. I was afraid once he left that Boyd would go back to his melancholy state again, and I did not know how much more of that I could take.
I loved him so much but while he wallowed in his self-destruction I was shut out, pushed behind a wall he kept building higher and higher.
With York back in Pretoria and me back at work at the newspaper I knew Boyd had to get a job really soon. If he sat around at home much longer he would drive himself and everyone else close to him insane.
His father even offered him several positions at his office or via associates, but Boyd turned them all down, finding reasons to decline each one of them.
I asked the manager in the printing department if there was a position for Boyd, even if it was sweeping the floors. He said he would get in touch with me as soon as a vacancy became available.
I prayed morning and evening for this to happen for Boyd, and I even mentioned it to Evelyn and requested her to pray too. She said she would get the ladies on the prayer chain to pray for him.
It was a week later when Mr Naidoo phoned me.
‘You still wanting da job for your fella? Der one now.’
I practically jumped out of my desk and shouted, ‘Oh really! Really that is so fantastic Mr Naidoo, thank you, thank you!’
The receiver of the phone was hardly down and I was phoning his home number.
‘Mrs Langford hello, is Boyd there?’
‘Hello Kaye dear. No he went to surf as usual.’
‘I got him a job here at the newspaper in the printing department and I wanted to tell him. Will you tell him the minute you see him please?’
‘Oh Kaye dear that is wonderful. I most certainly will. Thank you dear.’
Mr and Mrs Langford were bitterly disappointed that he had not enrolled in university but I could hear she was delighted he at least had a job now.
By the time I got home to the flat Boyd had not phoned me back and Mrs Langford said she had told him about the job when he got home from surfing. She said he’d gone to his room, had a shower and left.
‘Well I’m sure he will be here any minute,’ Evelyn said on her way out the door to the Wednesday Bible study.
I went to the kitchen to make dinner, tonight would be steak and chips, Boyd’s favourite. I felt certain in my heart things for Boyd would begin to get better. He would become the old Boyd again and we could start to build our happily ever after from today onwards.
Dinner was ready but Boyd hadn’t arrived.
I wondered over and over what could be keeping him as I paced the flat from the lounge to the kitchen to my room, staring out of the windows looking for him to walk through the entrance of the building.
I phoned his parents’ house at least three times and they had not heard from him since he’d left earlier in the day, supposedly to come to me.
The door opened and my heart sank when it realised it wasn’t Boyd but rather Evelyn returning home. She was surprised to hear of my dilemma.
‘This is just not like him at all, there must be a very good reason he is late.’
A panic filtered through my veins, I felt jumpy and could not simply sit in the flat waiting for Boyd – I had to do something.
I went downstairs to my car, got in and drove to the nearest police station in Amanzimtoti. What if he had been in an accident and could not remember who he was?
Maybe he’d had a head injury and lost his memory?
My mind was rapidly filling up with every dreadful scenario.
There were no reports of any accidents with Boyd’s description. The very kind constable on duty even phoned all the hospitals in Durban to find out if perhaps he had been admitted.
With the ugly ideas out of my head I drove home, it was nine o’clock in the evening by now.
He will be at home waiting for me. He will be. He has to be!
I walked into the flat. No Boyd.
Where was he?
‘Mrs Langford phoned to find out if Boyd had arrived, I told her where you had gone and she said you must phone her as soon as you are here. Shame, she is so worried.’
I could tell that even Evelyn was now very concerned.
‘Her and me both,’ I replied, lifting the receiver of the telephone and dialling her number, throwing my car keys into the bowl at the same time.
I phoned Mrs Langford, who was in bed with a migraine from worrying, so Mr Langford answered. He too expressed concern over his son’s strange behaviour and he too offered various possibilities as to where Boyd might be.
I picked up my keys again, left the flat and drove around the small towns of Warner Beach, Doonside and Amanzimtoti. I even drove as far as St Winifred’s, stopping at all our familiar places. This I did for at least two hours, fretting, and twice I stopped at a pay phone to phone Evelyn to check if Boyd had pitched up. Everything was in vain and only confusion reigned.
Worrying about Boyd’s whereabouts kept sleep at bay, and even when I did eventually fall asleep it was a restless unsettled sleep. The bags under my eyes in the morning were a clear reminder of Boyd’s strange behaviour the night before.
Today he would show up and everything would be okay, I could feel it in my bones.
Before I left for work Mrs Langford phoned, she had still not heard from him and was beside herself with worry. Mr Langford came on the phone too and was prepared to hire a private investigator if he did not show up by the end of the day.
I knew how they both felt.
‘Ms Kaye, did you tell your fella about der job?’ Mr Naidoo asked not even half an hour after I had started work.
‘I have not seen him Mr Naidoo, he had to go away for a few days. Can you hold the job for him please? I am very sorry about this.’
A little white lie wouldn’t hurt.
‘No later than Friday Ms Kaye, no later.’
‘Oh thank you very much Mr Naidoo, thank you.’
During the day I phoned everyone I knew Boyd knew. I phoned every hotel and phoned the café at Baggies several times. No Boyd! He was always at Baggies! If he wasn’t there then where could he be?
I phoned the police station and all the hospitals again. No Boyd!
When I walked into the flat I was mentally exhausted. Evelyn kindly made me a cup of coffee and listed her own suggestions of possibilities – they all turned up naught.
It was another restless night of endless hours until the sun appeared for another day.
It was the first thought that raced into my head when I woke.
Where was Boyd?
I stumbled into the kitchen for that first cup of coffee and when I switched on the kitchen light through my sleepy eyes I focused on a white square on the floor by the entrance door.
I bent to pick it up and while still on my haunches I lifted it up and turned it over to see who it was addressed to. My heart sank, it was so difficult to stand up, and so I just sank down onto the floor where I was.
The handwriting on the envelope I could not mistake as much as I wanted to.
It was Boyd’s and I knew this was not going to be something I wanted to read.
With my hands shaking and my heart pounding in my ears I took a deep breath and opened the letter.
I read the short letter, easily deciphering his writing.
Had I read the letter correctly?
I couldn’t have, so I read it again. And again. And again. This could not be true! It couldn’t be!
‘No, No, No! Evelynnn…’ I shouted.
She came rushing to me also still half asleep wondering what was going on.
I handed her the letter without saying a word. I couldn’t speak through the tears cascading down my face while I still sat glued to the floor.
‘What?’ Evelyn exclaimed, astonished at what she was reading.
She read the letter a few times before sitting down on the floor next to me, holding me, cradling me, while I poured out my bleeding heart.
I wish I could find the right words to explain what I have to do.
After I got the news of the job at the newspaper I phoned my ex-corporal.
He told me if I left immediately I could go on a mission next week.
I have decided to go.
By the time you read this I will be on the plane.
I love you so much but I can’t think about doing anything else but going back to the army.
I know this will hurt you but I do love you and I hope one day you can forgive me.
Amidst confusion and hysteria, I managed to brush my teeth, salty tears blending with the toothpaste. I changed out of my overly large and overly used sleep shirt into a pair of denim shorts and a pink strappy shirt and clambered into my car without shoes or brushing my hair.
I did not care. All I was concerned about was getting to Boyd’s parents’ house.
Did they know?
The entrance door was flung open and Mrs Langford stood aside to allow me in. She was still dressed in her cotton gown and slippers, a handful of tissues in both her hands all scrunched up and soggy.
I burst into choking sobs when I saw the anguished expression creased across Mr Langford’s face.
‘This is all your fault, you told Boyd to work instead of going to university, he wouldn’t have left if he was at university! It’s all YOUR FAULT, YOUR FAULT!’ Mrs Langford yelled at me in an uncontrollable outrage, waving her finger at me like a wild appendage.
‘No...I did, no…He went…I never…’ I couldn’t construct a decent sentence, never mind a rebuttal, but instead spluttered words in shock and horror at the verbal abuse I had just received.
‘Verina, don’t blame Kaye! This is the army’s fault, they did something to our son that totally messed up his head. It is not Kaye’s fault!’ Mr Langford scolded his wife with a firm tone of voice, insisting that this was the end of the conversation.
Mrs Langford ran out of the lounge and into her bedroom, slamming the door behind her before throwing herself onto her bed in a screaming fit of hysteria.
‘I’m sorry Kaye. I’m really sorry at what my son has done to you, you don’t deserve to be treated this way after all the time you waited and stood by him. I’d like to give him a blimming good hiding. Please excuse me but I had better see to my wife before she has a stroke or something. Again my dear, I am very sorry…’
He stood in front of me for a few seconds convincing me of his sincerity, then he turned and went to console his wife.
I was left stranded in the house, unwanted and alone, unsure and alone, unloved and very much, very much alone.
What was I going to do without Boyd?
He had been everything good in my life for the longest time, I did not know of a future without Boyd.
What was I going to do?
Before I started my car I sat in the seat, locked the door and blurted out blubbering chunks of crying curses. I had no tissues or anything to wipe my eyes with and used my shirt instead. It was soaked within seconds.
How could Mrs Langford blame me?
That accusation made Boyd’s desertion even worse. I’d just lost my family – the family I hoped I would have always, as long as I lived.
Slowly I made my way home, the car jerking from my shaking legs on the pedals. Everything along the route bore a reminder of Boyd, we had made the trip so many times together, and we were supposed to make it many more times together.
Why? Why? Why?
Oh why Boyd, why did you leave?
What happened to you in the army?
I wondered and asked myself a thousand times what could have happened to him to make him change so radically in such a short space of time.
Evelyn, thank goodness, had already left for work by the time I returned to the flat. She had left me a note with a chocolate, voicing in her written words her concern for me. I felt grateful for her and even more so now that I had no one else except her in my life. Everyone important had deserted me in one way or another.
The letter from Boyd was still lying on top of my unmade bed. I picked it up as I flung myself onto the bed and read it again and again, trying to understand what had been going on in his mind and how he expected me to just move forward with my life and forgive him.
I would never forgive him for leaving me, for breaking my heart and for leaving me stranded and alone, even causing his mother to turn against me. Now I did not even have any sort of parent – blood or otherwise.
I would never forgive him.
The venom stuck to the voice in my head. I crumpled his letter and threw it to the floor and held the pillow over my chest smothering my heart that was shattering into a million tiny pieces.
I rolled over onto my side, brought my knees into my chest and curled into a ball hugging the pillow for all my sanity, my body shaking as I sobbed and sobbed. The tears poured down my face and soaked into the pillow, drenching it but I didn’t care, I let it all come screaming out of my soul, unable to stop my pain.
When Evelyn came home I was in an exhausted sleep. She opened my bedroom door gently, and moved softly next to the bed, carefully covering me with my sheets. She picked up the letter from the floor and straightened it out, placing it on the bedside table next to me. She put the ceiling fan on a gentle hum, allowing a breeze to move the heat that hung in the air.
I had a good friend in Evelyn. At least I had someone to lean on, and I wasn’t completely alone.
I had no choice but to return to work the following day as deadlines waited for no man.
My eyes were as swollen as ripe melons and when I examined them more closely in the mirror I could make out the burst veins that spread out over the whites of my eyes. I looked horrific, but I did not bother to even put mascara on as they were so swollen, the usually bright green colour of my eyes now dull and almost lifeless, filled with despair. Well too bad, I looked how I felt and by now everyone would have heard about Boyd’s cowardly departure anyway and I just wasn’t in the mood for the sympathetic looks and comments that were inevitably going to come my way.
‘This too shall pass,’ Evelyn said as we walked to our cars to head out for the day, holding onto our skirts as a gust of wind circled the parking lot, teasing our garments willingly.
‘You don’t owe anyone any explanations, and if you need me I am just a phone call away.’ She gave me a gentle hug before we separated to our cars. Her affection choked me up but somehow I kept those unwanted tears at bay.
It was a very difficult and trying week to say the least, as by the following day it seemed as though the whole world knew about my wounded love life.
When I eventually crawled out of bed on Saturday, had a shower and something to eat, the confined walls led me to feeling claustrophobic in the flat. The walls were consuming me and all I wanted to do was read Boyd’s letter over and over again. As my hand hovered over the jewellery box on my dresser where I kept it, it felt as though my hand had a will of its own denying me permission to do what my heart desired. My hand won the battle and I turned around, grabbed my towel and some change from my wallet, stuffed it into the pocket of my shorts, took my car keys out of the bowl in the kitchen and headed towards my car.
On the beach the sun caressed my tired eyes and prickled my face, revitalising the skin and its drained pores. I lay on my back on the towel, my knees bent up with my toes digging into the sand over the edge of the towel.
Fully aware that everyone had something to say about me to each other, I didn’t care. I just wanted to be here at my favourite place absorbing the wonderful sunshine and allowing the sea to calm my tensed nerves.
It wasn’t long when I drifted off to sleep.
The noise of little children playing in the sand by the river mouth that joined the ocean, woke me and I realised it had not been a very long sleep. I sat up and rubbed the sand that had gathered on my legs and took pleasure in watching the children play and the sea directing its own theatrical game.
‘Hi Kaye, how are you doing?’ Rosalie sat down next to me, her eyes full of questions.
I’d wondered who would be the first to ask.
‘Well I’m sure you have heard all about my drama but I will be okay I guess. I don’t know when, but I will be.’
‘I know I haven’t got the right words to say to you and nothing I say will change anything but do know we’re all here if you need us.’
She put her hand on top of mine, squeezing it gently and mincing the sand between my fingers. I didn’t know if I should laugh or cry, I felt so useless and pathetic.
‘Thank you,’ I nodded and chose not to say anything more for fear of losing control.
Rosalie stood up leaving the strong scent of floral perfume wafting around me while her long skirt fluttered in the breeze until she held it down with her hands and walked away back to the rest of the local crowd.
I contemplated going to Mr and Mrs Langford’s but decided against it as it was too soon after the last time which hadn’t ended very well at all. I had not heard from them since that morning and decided I could not bear those accusations from Mrs Langford again. I would have so dearly loved to have been comforted by her, been held in her arms while she told me her son would get over his silliness and return to his normal self and then all our dreams would become a reality.
The beach began to bring up too many memories as I watched the surfers in the ocean so I decided to leave, and as I walked to my car I was greeted by almost everyone.
I had to reprimand myself not to be annoyed with them. They were on my side, and just as shocked as I was at Boyd’s behaviour. No one had seen it coming.
Perhaps next weekend I would hang out with them at the local disco, Showboat. Perhaps? It was quite a possibility that every young adult in the South Coast vicinity went to Showboat on either Friday or Saturday nights or both, some under the required age and some way too old to hang out at a disco. It was a known fact that when the song Je’Taime played and you were not dancing with a partner, well, then you went home alone and hoped that the next weekend would bring you more luck.
Aimlessly I drove around, feeling hollow and lost, as though I was trying to find my way in a dense fog, and somehow I strangely landed up at my parents’ house.
How much I needed them right now!
As I walked up the pathway there was no change to the landscape and whatever poor flowers had tried to make an appearance had failed. It seemed symbolic of the family that lived there in a way.
My key still fitted and I opened the front door and walked in. The smell of old cigarettes and dirty ashtrays mixed with spilt alcohol hit me in the face like a cold wet cloth. It literally took my breath away. It was disgusting and nauseating and I could not believe I had actually come back here and expected things to be different.
Something was different though, my parents were not in the lounge in their usual occupied seats. I walked past the lounge and called to them ‘Dad, Mom, you home?’
There was no answer so I went to the kitchen which was on the right side of the house. The sink was filled with dirty, grimy dishes and the counter top was speckled with empty bottles and glasses. I opened the fridge which was empty except for a bottle of milk and some bits of leftover food.
I walked out of there, holding my hand over my nose and mouth and went past the lounge and dining room to the bedrooms on the opposite side of the house. The bed in their room had not been made up, clothes were strewn all over the furniture and floor, the windows and curtains were drawn. I wondered when the last time was that they had been opened.
I checked my old bedroom, it was empty, really empty as there was not a single bit of furniture in it. The bathrooms were as disgusting as the rest of the house but there were no parents to be found.
I suddenly had a flash of hope that by some miraculous chance they were at the shops buying food and cleaning materials. I decided I would phone them later and left, locking the door behind me but first checking through the garage window and affirming that the car was in fact gone. It was, and I hoped for the right reasons.
Evelyn was out when I got home and I made myself cosy on the couch with the telephone on my lap – we had gotten ourselves a new long receiver cable that had just come out in the stores, it was wonderful as now we did not have to stand by the phone for the duration of the conversation – I phoned York. It would be really good to hear his voice.
On the promise of seeing each other when he was next in town we ended our very lengthy conversation. York’s surprise at Boyd’s career choice and the manner in which he had hurt so many people in the process was as it was for everyone else – shock, anger and disappointment were a few of the feelings best left unsaid. He felt truly hurt by it too since Boyd and he had always shared their lives, practically since they were born.
I felt like a little girl lost in a museum of old vintage trains since Boyd had left. Everywhere I went or whatever I did there was a cocoon of uncertainty encasing me. I expected him to walk into the flat or surprise me at work at any minute.
Days became weeks, the months swallowed the weeks, and the longing mixed with pain for Boyd became anger, and that Mr and Mrs Langford had shut me out of their lives too made the anger bitter. I was constantly lashing out at anyone or anything.
My parents had not responded to my visit, and I decided in my fit of rage to cut them out of my life forever. I was clearly nothing to them so why should they be anything to me?
‘Kaye why don’t you come with me to study tonight? You used to enjoy it so much and you really could do with something positive in your life right now,’ Evelyn stood next to me in the kitchen waving a spatula at me as she spoke.
‘I don’t know, I’m not in the mood for people.’
‘Listen to me, this has gone on long enough! Boyd does not deserve the pleasure or honour of destroying who you are. He wins if you carry on being this person and you are not this person.’
Trust Evelyn to be so direct but it was what I needed to hear and I nodded my head slowly in agreement, or perhaps in fear of the spatula, finally realising I had to make a new life for myself.
After a delicious meal of spaghetti bolognaise I went with Evelyn to Bible study.
I sat on my chair hardly speaking or participating in the discussions or hardly listening for that matter, but I did feel better for being there. Everyone was kind and they were not at all overly concerned with my life as I had imagined they would be. I realised that they had also gotten over the hype of the whole story.
‘So you live with Evelyn?’
We had just stood up after the prayer had ended and were picking up our belongings. Some people had already made their way to the urn for tea or coffee. I looked to my right at the man standing next to me.
Had he even been in the class?
I had not even noticed him!
‘Yes, and you are?’ I raised my eyebrows at him.
‘I am Spencer Reed, I’ve just moved here from East London, this is my second time at this study.’
I probably looked rather confused as I stared at him, wondering why he had chosen me to speak to or why he thought that information would have been important to me.
After a few seconds I formed a reply, ‘Aren’t you going to get something to drink?’
Perhaps I was being rude I thought and quickly added, ‘How did you know I lived with Evelyn?’
‘She asked us to pray for you and I remembered your name in my prayers. Are things better now?’
‘Yes,’ I said curtly, I did not want to discuss my problems any further with a stranger, however kind he might be.
I turned to go to the urn to get some coffee and as soon I took the first step I noticed him following me.
‘Can I get you coffee or tea?’ I felt obliged to offer.
Before he could answer Darcie tugged his elbow and moved him toward an enthusiastic group of ladies and began introducing him to their gleaming smiles.
I felt relief and disappeared out the building, to my car and hurried home. Hopefully by next week he would be swallowed up by the adoring attention of the ladies and leave me alone. I did not find him that good-looking or appealing, but then again I did not exactly take a good look. The young ladies obviously thought otherwise.
Since my car had to be serviced and was in dire need of some mechanical doctoring, I had to make use of the train to commute to and from work.
It had been a while since I was last on a train, in fact the last time had naturally been with Boyd when we were still in school. He and York sometimes took the train to go surfing at Addington Beach in Durban.
I sat in the first class section, the green patent leather seats were cold, it was still very early in the morning and even though the sun was up the winter temperatures were frosty. Coming home was a different story as the sun would have baked down on the seats all day and then they would burn your skin as you sat down.
The smell of the railway station, the railway tracks, the sounds of the clickity-clack rhythm, the opening and closing of the doors, the odour of hundreds of people, and the shuffling of their feet intrigued me. I could taste the black grime from the steel wheels and feel the dirt upon my skin as I touched the window to open it. I couldn’t simply switch off as most people did while they caught up on sleep or read a book. I was fascinated by the sights and sounds.
I was staring out of the window on my way home one evening, looking at the intricate woven tracks along the ground whizzing past which would slowly come more into focus as the train slowed down towards the next station to collect and drop off passengers.
I never paid much attention to whoever sat next to me as I did not want to strike up a conversation, I preferred my solitude and the scenery out of the window.
‘Hello,’ said the man who sat down, gently putting his backpack between his feet on the floor. His voice sounded familiar.
‘Oh hello, sorry I forgot your name.’
‘Spencer. How are you?’
‘I am fine and you?’
‘Good thanks, it’s been a long day. You passed me when you got in the train, I saw you were sitting alone so I decided to join you. I haven’t seen you on the train before.’
‘No, I’m only using it while my car is in the shop.’
‘I can only get a car next week once the sale of my house comes through, it is going to be so great to be mobile again.’
He went on rambling about why he had sold his car rather than drive it to Durban. It is only an eight hour trip so I could not quite understand his reasoning and I did not want to really find out either so I let him carry on with his next bout of rambling, this time about the transfer he had taken to the office in Durban.
‘Where do you travel from?’ he asked.
‘From Amanzimtoti,’ I replied curtly.
‘I do the whole trip from Durban. Do you know there are seventeen stops from Durban to Warner Beach – Durban, Berea, Dalbridge, Congella, Umbilo, Rossburgh, Clairwood, Montclair, Merebank, Reunion, Pelgrim, Isipingo, Umbogintwini, Pahla, Amanzimtoti, Doonside and Warner Beach.’
He counted them off on his fingers as he listed them.
Why he thought I would be interested in that information, who knew.
I was grateful I only had two stops on my commute. I dreaded the idea of having to listen to him all the way from Durban. Seventeen stops from Warner Beach to Durban, with him that would just be too many for my nerves.
We both got off at the Warner Beach station and he continued to talk all the while. We were hardly up the stairs to cross over the tracks when the clouds opened up to a typical South Coast sub-tropical early evening downpour.
Instinctively we ran across the bridge to our respective lifts, only waving goodbye from a distance.
‘Was that Spencer?’ Evelyn asked curiously, as I jumped into her car.
‘Oh yes, he was on the train. I think he said he is getting a car soon, something about his house, uhmm, what did he say again, oh I can’t remember. He spoke so much and I did not really listen.’
‘He seems a nice person. All the single ladies at church think he is wonderful.’
‘I suppose,’ I said and kept quiet the rest of the way home.
Every day for the rest of the week Spencer sought me out at the station and made himself my travelling companion. I would rather have been alone staring out the window and yet he was funny and just did not stop talking, so it was impossible to ignore him.
He was a lot taller than I was and skinny, his hands and feet reminded me of flippers, especially when he expressed himself dramatically with his hands. They flapped about like rubber gloves. His hair was an ash blonde colour and he wore it long, always tucked behind his ears. What probably attracted the women to him was his sky blue eyes. They looked right through you, it was sometimes unnerving. When he spoke his rounded lips exposed less than straight teeth but they gave him a gentle character. His flair for laughter and his extrovert personality certainly made up for his lack in looks and physique.
He still had to come to terms with the local style of fashion though. He had to get rid of his tie and chino pants if he ever wanted to fit in with the locals who only ever wore baggies or shorts, jeans and tee-shirts.
At church on Sunday he was surrounded by the single ladies and since I did not have my car back yet I was reliant on Evelyn for a lift. I would have left immediately otherwise but instead I hung around her car waiting for her to finish talking with Sian. They were now dating since meeting on the beach that one time.
‘So you’ve still not got your car back yet?’ Spencer asked as he approached me.
‘You will be on the train tomorrow?’
Why did he forever want to talk to me?
For another three days I had to endure Spencer’s non-stop chattering on the commute to and from work.
When I finally had my precious little orange Beetle back it felt glorious to drive her again, listening to the sound of her engine as opposed to Spencer, was like music to my ears.
And yet I thought of Spencer’s chatter all the time. It was as though he had mesmerised my brain to the sound of his voice, so that when he was not around it constantly buzzed in my head. It was annoying.
My brain and my heart were taking in every word Minister Lyle was saying from his pulpit. It was as if he was summarising the last few weeks of Bible study and as if he was speaking directly to me.
‘We can all live forever through Jesus Christ. He died so that we may live, all our sins are forgiven when we accept Jesus into our lives. So I am standing here today a sinner just like everyone else and I am asking you, what stops you from being saved by Jesus? What stops you from having eternal life? Will your decision here today mean you will live in Heaven forever with our Almighty Saviour, God?’
He closed his Bible, bowed his head and started to pray.
I wiped the tears from my face and I knew that the niggling feeling I’d had in me since I first started to come along to study with Evelyn was directing me to this moment. I needed to give my life to Jesus.
As the people poured their hearts out in song to God in the final song for the service, I went up to the front row of pews and sat down. I knew there would be plenty pairs of eyes fixed on me but I was not perturbed, I had a far more important task to do. While the song was still being sung Minister Lyle approached me and asked how he could assist me.
I told him, ‘I need to be baptised.’
My answer was simple, just a few words and yet it was probably the most important few words I had ever said in my life.
When the song had been sung, he announced my decision and I was sure I heard Evelyn rejoicing above everyone else.
The water in the baptism bath at the back of the stage took a while to fill up to the top, which gave me time to rush home and change into a pair of shorts and a tee-shirt and pack a change of clothes for afterwards. I felt nervous and excited and all the way to my house and back to the church building I prayed that a fatal accident would not befall me. I needed to give my life to God before I left this earth.
The water was cold and refreshing from the humidity. There were a lot of people hanging around waiting to witness this special moment, most of them were in the Bible study class with me, but there were a lot of the older members too. They loved to see a soul being added to the Lord’s Church.
Minister Lyle stood beside me in the water and asked me a few questions.
I responded, ‘Yes,’ to all and then he dunked me under the water so that my entire body was immersed.
I came up a new-born person, washed clean of all my sins and with a new purpose to my life, and a new perspective. I was a servant and a child of God and I felt elated.
Evelyn stood by with a towel and hugged me as I took it from her, but before she guided me off to get changed Minister Lyle got everyone to hold hands and he prayed to God for His acceptance of me into His service.
While I changed I couldn’t help thinking of Boyd.
‘If only he would give his life to God too, perhaps he wouldn’t have struggled so much with himself…’ I said to Evelyn sadly.
‘You never know, he might just do that one day.’
She put her hands on my shoulders, ‘Don’t dwell on Boyd, he made his decision and all you can do now is pray for him and leave it in God’s hands. It will be God’s Will not yours.’
‘Thank you Evelyn, I would never have found Jesus if it weren’t for you.’
I embraced her and held her affectionately, ‘You are my sister in Jesus, yay! I have a sister at last.’
We both giggled and we both knew without saying as much that we were truly sisters and we loved each other.
I was hugged and kissed on the cheek more times in the half an hour after my baptism than I had been in my entire life. I was beaming and glowing and could not stop smiling.
‘Welcome to God’s family!’ Spencer wrapped his long arms around me and kissed my cheek with a huge smile.
‘Thank you, I feel so happy.’
‘And so you should, it’s the best decision anyone can ever make in their life.’
‘When were you baptised?’
‘Ten years ago in my swimming pool in Kokstad.’
‘Wow, that is impressive.’
‘It isn’t always easy, the world takes hold of us but like Lyle said, always rely on God and not people to get you through the tough times.’
‘You seem to have travelled a lot?’
‘Comes with the job. I’m a consulting engineer which means I have to go where my company sends me.’
I looked at him wondering if he had a family somewhere that was waiting for him to get home. He seemed to have read my mind.
‘I was married once, my wife left me for another man and that’s why I took this position in the company. Travelling helped me get over her.’
My heart swelled with compassion for him.
‘Did that happen before or after you were baptised?’
‘My wife was never baptised.’
‘Oh...’ I tried to find the right words to say and then as if on cue I was spoken to by another old lady and that ended our conversation.
On my way home I made a detour past my parents’ house, and on instinct I pulled into the driveway forgetting the past negative feelings towards them.
As I pulled up into the driveway and got out of my car, my father came out of the house via the back door and down the right side between the house and the garage. I was so surprised, it had been such a long time since I had actually seen him walking and without a drink or cigarette in his hands.
‘Daddy?’ I said in a surprised tone.
‘You need to move your car I must go to the shop,’ he grunted.
His words cut through my heart as if they were edged on a samurai sword. I was so hurt that I was nothing to him anymore. For a few brief seconds I stared at him, trying to believe he could be so callous.
‘How are you? Is Mom home? I thought I would visit today.’
‘Move your car!’ he snapped more arrogantly than the first time.
I got into my car and left, the elation of my baptism now deflated and I had to dig deep into my self-control not to get angry. I remembered what Evelyn had said about Boyd.
‘All you can do is pray for him,’ and that was all I could do for my parents too.
It still hurt me in bucket-loads though.
I wished I could share my happiness with Mr and Mrs Langford but quickly wiped that thought out of my mind or else I would certainly put a damper on my happy day.
I pulled up at a café and when I was paying for my chocolate, a bunch of flowers was shoved in my face.
‘Aaaah!’ I squeaked with fright.
Spencer roared with laughter and handed the cash over to the cashier and then handed me the flowers.
‘For me?’ I asked with even more of a squeak.
‘For your special day. I walked in while you were waiting to pay and saw the flowers and well…’
He shrugged his shoulders sheepishly and smiled hoping for my approval.
‘Thank you very much,’ I blushed.
‘I’ve got a few things to get and I need to get some petrol before they close at six, so hopefully I will see you at Bible study.’
He smiled and rushed off to get his things.
I left confused. It really had been a day of mixed emotions.
Before going to sleep that night I thanked God for all that he had given me and for forgiving me. I prayed that the Langfords would also find their way to Him, and I prayed for my parents, and I prayed for Him to use me in His service but mostly I thanked Him for simply loving me.
Evelyn had left to spend the university holidays at her parents’ house, and since I hadn’t had a reply to any of my letters to Rachel from the day that she’d left for university after school, she clearly was no longer a part of my life and that left me rather lonely over the Christmas holidays. At least my friends at church did a lot of social things together so I couldn’t exactly become a hermit.
York was also home for a short while and we spent a lot of time together. He was very interested in my baptism and even came to Bible study and church with me, and it made me so happy. The days when I wasn’t working meant they were spent at Baggies with York and many of our old buddies.
Boyd’s name was never mentioned by anyone, especially not in front of me.
‘I wonder if he will ever come back but if he did what state his mind would be in...’ York finally said, his curiosity finally out in the open.
‘I think I will punch him in the face if I do see him,’ I said with a hint of disgust in my voice.
‘Hey that’s not very Christian of you, you’re supposed to forgive remember?’
‘Spencer! Hi!’ I turned to see Spencer standing next to me looking at the ocean.
‘Hey Spencer, howzit,’ York said and stretched out his hand to shake Spencer’s.
‘Sorry, yes, I know I’m supposed to forgive and I have but sometimes I just get so angry when I think of what he did to me, and to his parents.’
‘Okay so no more talk of Boyd then,’ York said as he got up, grabbed his board and made off for the sea and the waves.
‘What are you doing on Christmas Day?’ Spencer asked sitting down on the sand next to me.
I noticed he had abandoned his outer town clothing and adorned the local attire of shorts and a tee-shirt, it made him look even taller.
‘Nothing, York will be with his family, Evelyn has gone to her family so I’m alone.’
‘Well since I’m alone too, how about we celebrate together?’
‘Uhm, well okay, thanks. Should we make lunch at my place?’
‘Sounds good, my place is always a mess. We can mess up your place together. Cooking I mean, we can mess it up cooking.’
He smiled at his own blubbering and I giggled. I still did not understand why he always wanted to talk to me instead of all the ladies that fell at his feet the minute he walked onto the church grounds.
York came bouncing out of the water a little while later, and I handed him his towel as he reached me. He took it and bent his head just a few inches away from mine and shook it like a dog, spraying water all over me. I covered my face with my hands and laughed out loud. When he was satisfied I was wet enough he sat on the little bit of my towel I had not occupied and slowly wiggled his way sideways until I had relinquished half of it to him. He looked at me and winked rather smugly, pleased with himself. I was so very content to have York home for a while. I was always in high spirits when he was home.
Spencer tapped on the door and when I opened it he was holding two large bags of groceries and a box wrapped in Christmas paper. It was a wonder he’d managed to knock.
‘Merry Christmas,’ he said as he handed me the present and in turn I handed him a box much smaller than his.
‘Merry Christmas to you too,’ I replied.
He lent forward and kissed me softly. I blushed and moved to the kitchen counter and began opening my present. He did the same.
The wrapper was off and I lifted the lid of the box carefully.
‘Oh it’s gorgeous. I love it!’
I held the cuddly white teddy bear with the reddest nose and hugged it to my chest, loving it immediately.
‘Shoo, so glad you like it, I had no idea what to get you. So now what’s in this box?’
He lifted the lid and I held my breath hoping he would like the box set tapes of the Moody Blues.
‘Oh wow this is fantastic, oh man thank you Kaye, really thank you!’
He lent toward me and gave me another kiss. I blushed and fussed over my teddy bear rather than look him in the eye.
‘Shall we cook?’ I asked, deliberately breaking the moment.
We made an average tasting lunch of fried chicken, rice and veggies. Conversation flowed easily between us, and he told me more of his failed marriage – there were no children for which he was grateful – and I told him my side of the Boyd affair. It was as if we were old friends catching up after not seeing each other for a long time.
For dessert we had ice-cream and chocolate sauce which we were busy eating when York arrived. Lunch with his family was a quick affair.
‘Hey Spencer, howzit, Merry Christmas,’ he said and shook his hand.
‘Merry Christmas Kaye,’ he lent forward and kissed me.
I didn’t mind him kissing me, I was used to the peck of a kiss we gave each other. He handed me a little box.
‘Merry Christmas, York.’
I handed him a large soft present. We opened them together - I opened, he ripped.
I gasped, ‘York it’s too beautiful.’
I lifted up a delicate silver cross that hung on the finest silver chain. I handed it to him and turned around lifting my hair so he could put it on for me. When it fell on my chest I patted it with delight.
‘It’s so beautiful, thank you.’
I smiled at him and then had the pleasure of watching him pull out the variety of things in his package – shirts with funny cartoons printed on them, Bob Marley tapes, and a leather neckband with a shark’s tooth attached to it. The last one he’d had got lost in the sea.
‘Kaye this is awesome I love it all, thanks chicky.’
He turned around and lifted his blonde locks off his shoulders in a mocking fashion so that I could put the necklace on him. He lent forward, gave me a kiss and a wonderful hug.
‘You want some ice-cream?’ I asked as York joined Spencer in the lounge.
‘What you think?’
He smiled at me and all I could do was laugh and get him a large full bowl.
York and Spencer got on well, they found a common ground in cars and surfing. Spencer had started surfing while living in East London and like it had done to others, it bites and sticks with you.
York left two days after New Year’s day. We had the usual beach party to see the New Year in and spent as much time with each other as was possible. Spencer became one of the crowd as he slowly progressed with his surfing skills. He even came to visit me on a more regular basis.
When York walked through the boarding gate at the airport my heart was heavy, aching for the close friendship we shared, but Spencer was waiting at the entrance to the block of flats with a bunch of flowers when I arrived home from the airport.
‘I knew you would be feeling sad so I thought the flowers would cheer you up,’ he smiled as if pleased with himself for being so thoughtful.
‘That is so sweet, thank you, they are lovely.’
I invited him in for coffee, his company would be just the thing I needed right now.
It was a beautiful, autumn Saturday, and rather than stay indoors Spencer mentioned that some of his work colleagues were playing in a soccer match at Hutchison Park in Amanzimtoti and suggested we go and watch. I quickly changed into a pair of Gap denim bell bottoms and a red checked shirt and put on my very high corked wedged shoes. Perhaps not the best shoes to wear to a soccer match but I was at least almost as tall as Spencer with them on.
I was sure the entire communities of the South Coast were all there. The game was exciting and naturally well supported by the local crowd. We sat on the bank alongside the field amongst our familiar friends and joined in with the occasional yell at a referee or a player and of course we all cheered wholeheartedly when our team scored a goal.
There were several games being played throughout the day and so we ended up being there the entire day, eating hotdogs, drinking fizzy cool drinks and thoroughly enjoying the company of each other as well as our friends.
On the way back to his car, Spencer took my hand and linked his fingers between mine, I didn’t withdraw my hand. I knew where this was headed and I was ready, if not a bit hesitant, to take that leap.
Although I was still confused and hurt by him, I had by the Grace of God forgiven Boyd and allowed my heart to open up to a new relationship. Perhaps Spencer was the one God wanted me to be with. I had to allow myself to be led by God and not my own emotions. I silently prayed this was what God wanted.
When we reached the car parked under the huge evergreen trees, Spencer still held my hand. He looked about him contemplating if this was the right moment to say what it was he wanted to say.
‘Kaye, can we go out together, I mean like always?’
He blushed nervously.
‘I’d like that, yes,’ I giggled as I replied, blushing too.
He put his arms around me, his face bent toward mine, his magnetic blue eyes pulled me toward him and he kissed me gently.
It was not a kiss that made me shiver in delight like Boyd’s had always done but it was pleasant. Perhaps it was just me and the reservations I still harboured toward any man since Boyd.
He kissed me on the forehead and pulled me into him in an embrace. I felt content in his arms. I supposed the kissing would get better as the relationship progressed.
I was growing with the Lord every day. Spencer and I never missed a study or service on Sundays. The single ladies were a little disappointed Spencer was now “taken” but we were all friends and so jealously was not an option.
We had become inseparable whilst we developed our relationship with each other as well as with God.
The kiss still did not have the fireworks that girls dream of, but he made up for that in the way he cared and with his bubbly personality.
The phone rang while we were watching the Saturday movie on TV. Evelyn got up and answered it as she was closest.
‘Hello,’ she said, then listened for the caller to reply for what seemed like a second and then she handed the phone to me, pulling the long cord almost to its capacity.
‘It’s for you.’
‘Hello?’ I said.
‘Is this Miss Kaye Raines?’ the voice asked.
‘Yes. Who is speaking?’
‘This is Constable Kruger from the Amanzimtoti Police.’
I straightened and motioned to Evelyn who was still standing to turn the TV down.
‘Your parents live at 34 High Road, yes?’
‘Yes,’ I replied hesitantly, not liking the direction this was taking.
‘Please would you come to their house immediately? I’m afraid there has been a fire.’
‘What? Are they okay? How bad?’ I asked and without taking a breath or waiting for an answer I put the receiver down and stood up, heading for the bowl of keys.
‘Come with me please, there was a fire at my parents’ house I think,’ I said rushing toward the door, Spencer and Evelyn already following me.
Spencer’s car was the easiest to get to and he drove as though the devil was chasing him. In minutes we drove into High Road to a scene from a movie.
It was dark already and the streets were soaked in water and yet it wasn’t raining. The reflection of the street lamps and the flashing red and blue lights gleamed off the water and the footsteps of the people and firemen everywhere splashed in the water as they rushed about.
I could hardly breathe as I saw the number of big red fire trucks, many smaller ones too and a collection of emergency vehicles parked outside the house of my parents. There were so many people bordering the barrier tape that was sectioning off the problematic area that we had to fight our way through the curious bystanders.
Ducking under the barrier tape, a fireman, clad in his yellow safety attire that looked heavier than he was, came up to me quickly intending to prohibit me from entering the danger zone.
‘Sorry ma’am you cannot come through here.’
‘It’s my parents’ house…’ I choked out and before he could stop me I grabbed Spencer and Evelyn’s hands and ran toward the house, jumping over several hose pipes that lay on the ground then stopping in my tracks the instant I had a clear view of the house.
I turned around and looked for someone that looked as if they were in charge. I couldn’t make out anyone in particular, there were just so many people dressed in firemen’s thick and heavy yellow suits and medical men in their red overalls and also several policemen in their blue uniforms, and so I kept running toward the house. I was only wearing a pair of flip flops, so my feet and my legs were drenched with water, but I didn’t care, I only cared about getting into what was left of the house.
‘Ma’am! Ma’am, please you can’t go in there, please ma’am!’
A paramedic had me by the arm preventing me from running any further. Spencer and Evelyn obviously believed him as they held me back too.
I began to shout and fight them all to break free to continue with my quest to get into the house. To find my parents, to make sure they were okay, to make sure they were still alive.
‘NOOOO LET ME GO! MOMMY, DADDY – LET ME GO. LET ME GO.’
A man with a shiny badge on his wet uniform and two police officers approached me while the others still held me back with difficulty.
‘Miss Raines, please come with me so I can explain all of this to you calmly.’
The man with the badge led me to the back of an ambulance and sat me down, Spencer and Evelyn in tow along with the policemen.
The paramedic gave me in an injection which gave me a fright as the needle penetrated my skin. I was not even aware he had taken my arm to administer it.
‘Ouch!’ I yelled and tried to get my arm back.
‘Miss, it is to keep you calm, trust me on this.’
He looked at me pointedly. I was so confused.
‘Miss Raines, it seems one of your parents fell asleep with a cigarette still lit and it set the house on fire. I am sorry but your parents did not survive the fire.’
‘WHAT? NO NO NO!’
I made an attempt to get up and run to the house to drag them out of there, they had to still be alive. They had to be.
‘LET ME GO. LET ME GO....Please please let me go!’ I begged, choking out the words.
The medication that was injected in my arm had started its process and I was feeling slightly woozy. Spencer held me with his arm wrapped around me so tightly I had no escape.
‘I am so sorry Miss Raines. Please know they would not have suffered at all. They were sleeping and would not have known their fate.’
The kind man held my hand, stroking it with his other hand and I felt his sorrow. For an instant I tried to imagine what he must’ve seen when he’d entered the house and found my parents. I shuddered and dismissed the visuals immediately.
‘If you need any more information please don’t hesitate to contact me. Again I am very sorry Miss Raines.’
He handed a card to Evelyn and left. I looked up at the house and with the lights from the rescue trucks and street lights all I could make out was a portion of the house on the right. It seemed everything else had collapsed.
Evelyn confirmed with the paramedic that I was able to leave and Spencer lifted me gently, putting his arm around me, steadying my wobbly legs. He helped me to the car where he slowly moved me onto the backseat and sat next to me, my head leaning back against the headrest as I stared out at the burnt house, weeping. Evelyn climbed in behind the steering wheel fighting the tears that wanted to fall out of her eyes as she drove us home.
Why did I not teach them the gospel?
Why did I not visit them more often?
Can God forgive me for being angry at them?
Why would they not love me enough to change?
Why this and why that I asked myself over and over again relentlessly.
The news was by now all over town as well as all the neighbouring towns. The phone in the flat would not stop ringing, Evelyn had barely put the receiver down when it would ring again. Eventually we let the receiver rest on the table so we could have some peace.
I was numb.
Could this have really happened to my parents?
Spencer and Evelyn both took a few days off from work to be with me and I was so grateful to lean on them, especially when the phone calls to the relatives had to be made.
Minister Lyle was kind and supportive, offering to take over the arrangements of the memorial service for me and to deal with the undertakers.
‘Don’t blame yourself over the demise of your parents, Kaye. You were their responsibility not the other way around. They made the choice to live the way they did. God sees your heart and he knows how you tried to visit with them and to have a relationship with them.’
‘But I drove away and in anger I cut them off from my life. If I had maybe insisted on talking to my dad that day instead of just driving off, maybe it would have been different.’
‘Kaye, you can’t dwell on what-ifs. Everyone has a choice. They chose that lifestyle, they knew God’s Word. Remember they were Christians before they inherited their wealth. There was no need for them to walk away from God but they chose to. There was not much you could have done for them. They had to do the changing, not you. All you can do Kaye, is pray that God has mercy on their souls.’
When Minister Lyle left, and after a rather heated debate, which I finally won, Spencer, Evelyn and I took a drive to the house. I wanted to see the house as soon as possible, if I waited it would keep me awake at night until I did.
It was a horrible sight. The ash floated about as the breeze blew and that smoke smell attacked us as we came near the house. I felt sorry for the neighbourhood.
The barrier tape was still up and there were a few officials lurking about. I ducked under the tape, my body a mess of jitters and wobbly legs, and Spencer and Evelyn followed closely behind. As soon as we reached the remains of the house a gentleman enquired as to who I was and what was I doing there. Once I explained it all to him he begrudgingly let me stay but he was never too far away from me, keeping an eye on any and everything that I touched.
There was one wall left standing, the wall with the back door on the right side of the house. The frame of the door seemed to be suspended on invisible hinges as it stood very rickety in the half burnt wall. Everything else was burnt down to the ground. I could not determine what was furniture or what was the actual building.
As I walked over the rubble and carnage that once was a house, scrunching under my feet, I had a feeling I might just walk over my parents’ burnt bodies. It gave me the complete shivers and shakes that I ran from the burnt remains as fast as possible, tripping several times over charred pieces of wood and pieces of metal jutting out in my path.
I rubbed my legs as I ran from the rubble trying to get the ash off that had stuck onto me.
‘Get off, get off, get off….’ I pleaded repeatedly rubbing my legs as I ran, which hindered the movement causing me to stagger and lose my balance. Spencer caught up to me and with the edge of his navy blue shirt he rubbed off any ash that was left on my legs, assuring me, calmly and soothingly, that it was all removed before I attempted to walk the rest of the way back to the car holding onto him, trembling. I had to admit to myself that it was in fact a very stupid thing to have come here, to this place of ruin and devastation.
On the way back to the car I noticed a marigold in the flower beds alongside the pathway that was struggling to survive amongst the ash and grime from the fire. I picked it out of the ground, thinking that it might have a chance to survive once I replanted it in a pot. This little flower was the only physical reminder I now had of my childhood home.
York flew in for the day when a small ceremony was held by Minister Lyle with a handful of relatives. It was not emotional or dramatic, what can a person say about people that had turned their backs on God and their family? The relatives whom I could hardly remember stayed after the service for refreshments and a few snacks and then left. That was the last I saw or heard from them.
‘Wish I had been here for you these past days and that I didn’t have only one day. I’m a bad friend, I’m so sorry…’ York pleaded.
‘Don’t talk like that York, I understand it’s difficult for you and there wasn’t anything you could have done, there wasn’t anything anyone could have done. But you are here now and that’s all that counts.’
When he put his arm around me I felt so at ease and all my sorrows, worries and emotional baggage were swept away by his arms. In York’s arms I was safe from all harm. I would have to wait until December to feel this safe again.
Once I had completed a few weeks of counselling with Minister Lyle, I managed to get to grips with the guilt I felt over my parents. I had to concentrate on my own life and my own walk with the Lord. Not forgiving myself would hinder my own faith and my own salvation. ‘God died for your sins, and forgave us all for our sins. How small do I make Him when I can’t forgive my parents or myself?’ I would ask myself aloud.
It was comforting to have Spencer as my boyfriend, he was by my side, supporting me throughout this difficult time. I felt I was in love with him. He deserved for me to love him.
But it was in my dreams, when I had no control over my mind that everything fell apart and that I suffered the most.
The first week after the fire I would wake up in a cold sweat from the crazy nightmares. Most times I would wake up screaming which brought about uncontrolled sobbing and would most of the times wake Evelyn. She would rush to my room to console me and calm my shaking body. I felt so bad as she needed the rest as much as anyone did.
In my dreams I was running away from my zombie parents, the faster I ran the faster they came upon me, groaning and making the freakiest sounds, their arms outstretched just a fingertip away from grabbing me. No matter how long or how far I ran I never got further than the burnt offerings of the house. Just before they would actually catch me I always woke up. When I eventually fell asleep, again the same vivid images of my burnt parents wreaked havoc with my subconscious. It was exhausting.
I buried myself in my work and in my studies and in Bible study and slowly the nightmares became fewer. It was many weeks before I realised I had slept through the entire night without waking up once, without any dreams of dead parents chasing me in my head.
Minister Lyle was delighted to hear this.
‘Pray, pray, pray. Never cease praying, Kaye. With God you can conquer anything. Even zombies!’
He laughed and more than anything I appreciated his candour and burst out laughing with him.
Spencer and I were having pancakes at Peter’s Pancakes in Amanzimtoti on an autumn evening.
‘I know we haven’t been dating for years but I don’t want to waste any more time.’
He pulled out a little black box, blushing like a crimson rose, with a smile that covered his face and with his hands shaking he presented the box to me.
‘Marry me, please?’
Everyone in the restaurant stopped eating, the clinking of cutlery and crockery went silent and everyone paid attention to our table, to Spencer, and waited in anticipation for my reply. The entire restaurant held their breath.
I was so taken by surprise, my green eyes turned to emerald as the colour of my face matched that of Spencer’s. I took the little black box and held it in my hands, looking at his expectant face nervously waiting for my response.
My heart fluttered excitedly, it was right that I should accept him, he was a good, kind man and he loved me. He told me every day he loved me and when I needed him most he stood by me, and above all he loved God.
I would never be unevenly yoked, so why was I hesitating?
Because I was being stupid.
‘Would you rather be alone for the rest of your life?’ I reprimanded myself.
‘Yes!’ I said and every patron in the restaurant exclaimed happily and clapped their hands, while Spencer stood up and leaned over the table and kissed me.
‘Thank you,’ he whispered with his kiss.
I took the little gold ring with its shiny diamond out of the box and gave it to him to put on my ring finger. It fitted perfectly.
‘So when do you want to get married?’ I asked.
‘It’s all up to you love, whenever and however you want. I will go along with anything as long as you are happy.’
‘Can we have a December wedding, then York can be here? I will phone him tonight, and it’s also before Evelyn goes on university holidays too.’
‘I’ll ask York to be my bestman, I’m sure Evelyn will be your bridesmaid.’
‘Please can we keep this a very small affair? No more than the very closest people in our lives.’
‘That suits me fine. The only people I will invite anyway will be my boss and my folks, but with my dad being so ill they probably won’t be able to make it anyway.’
He lent over the table again to kiss me once more.
When we walked into the flat Evelyn and Sian were playing scrabble at the small four seater dining room table and I put my hand over hers.
‘Notice anything different?’ I said giggling, the single diamond gleaming as brightly as my smile.
‘Oh my goodness, you finally did it Spence! I’m so happy for you Kaye, so happy!’
Evelyn stood up and threw her arms around me, our bodies swaying together as she hugged me.
‘This is so exciting,’ she said as she pulled away from me eventually, and lifted my hand in hers to have another look at the ring.
‘You knew about all this?’ I asked surprised.
‘Of course, Spencer had to ask advice as to whether I thought you would say yes or no and what type of ring you would like et cetera.’
They exchanged glances and smiled at each other clearly proud of themselves.
‘Will you be my bridesmaid?’
‘Will I?’ She squealed throwing her arms around me again and this time swaying me so excitedly I nearly lost my footing which almost sent us both falling over onto the floor. Somehow we managed to find our balance with much jubilance and laughter.
Evelyn took notes until almost midnight of all my ideas, thoughts and opinions regarding the wedding. We even had the guest list sorted already. The only thing keeping her from planning the entire wedding down to the colour of the napkins was York. In the morning I would phone him, it was too late now, to find out when it would suit him.
I felt a little anxious about telling him for some reason.
‘You’re doing what?’ he asked as if he hadn’t heard me correctly.
‘You sound shocked? It is the natural next step. He wants you to be his bestman.’
‘He does? Sorry I am being an idiot. Congratulations chicky, I’m happy for you. You of all the people I know deserve to be happy. So when is the wedding?’
‘When are you coming home in December? I’m planning it around you, so you better be here.’
‘Well I am the bestman you know,’ he chuckled smugly, ‘I should be home about the ninth.’
‘Good then the wedding will be on the fifteenth. Is that okay with you?’
‘It’s not up to me chicky, it’s your day, so any day is good with me.’
I could hear him smiling on the other end of the phone.
‘Good then it’s the fifteenth.’
‘How are you doing chicky?’
‘I’m okay, some days I get angry and confused. My parents’ death seems to have stirred a lot of the Boyd anger in me. I thought I had it under control but clearly not.’
‘If I ever see him again I will knock his block off, I promise you.’
‘He will probably shoot you!’ I burst out laughing at my own wit.
York found it funny too and we had a good giggle over the phone.
‘So here is something you will like to hear…’
Then he keep quiet, toying with my curiosity.
"What? Come now, tell me.’
‘I found a church here like the one you go to. I’ve joined their study class as well.’
‘Oh my goodness that’s wonderful news! I am so super happy right now.’
We chatted a bit longer before I realised I had run up the newspaper’s telephone bill by about thirty minutes. Hearing that York was committing his life to God just made me so happy. No, happy was too mild an expression, thrilled was more like it. I wanted to sing in my false flat voice and rejoice as loudly as I possibly could, but not in the office, they would never understand.
Once Evelyn knew the date she went into fast mode. I literally had to do nothing but approve colours and designs.
The sale of the property that my parents’ house had stood on took longer than usual to sell. The stigma attached to it put most people off buying it. Eventually a foreigner bought it for far less than what it was worth. But once it was sold I could file another bad and unhappy memory away for good.
The five thousand Rand that came to me after all the expenses were paid went toward the wedding, the honeymoon and my studies. I could now finally finish my degree in journalism. Spencer, my boss Rodger, Evelyn and York tried to convince me to buy a new car as well but I just could not think of parting with my baby Beetle. She had been my first car and had hardly given me any trouble, she was reliable and in my opinion, far more reliable than a lot of people I knew and she held onto the dreams I buried deep within me. She was worth more than gold to me and I was keeping her!
Planning the wedding did not take much effort since there were only thirty people attending. Spencer’s parents were indeed going to make the trip in spite of his father’s health. Then there were our friends from the Bible study, my boss Rodger and his wife, Spencer’s boss and his wife and that was it.
The auditorium at the church building was more than large enough and with a little blue decor, in no time it looked like a reception hall.
It was a humid, muggy and overcast Saturday. Rain was not forecast but the clouds were dark and ominous.
‘Come on Kaye, Sian is here to take us to the church!’
Evelyn was fussing about her dress, picking up the flowers and instructing Sian to take the bags we each had with our change of clothes in, to the car.
‘Almost done!’ I yelled back.
I put my white strap stilettos on and took a last look at myself in the mirror, checking that the twirls in my hair had not come out and that my plain basic makeup had not smudged. The image before me I had seen only once before – so fancily dressed up – and that had been some years ago at my Matric Dance.
‘A lifetime ago...’ I muttered to myself before my heart hurried itself down that path of regret.
I straightened the A-lined skirt of my white chiffon dress with its V-neck lace bodice and checked that the long, wide laced elvish styled sleeves had not caught onto anything and left loose threads. The long lace train Evelyn would connect to the dress at the church.
Where was the train?
I looked around the room and failed to see it anywhere. My heart starting to beat faster, I looked all over the room again, lifting the pillows, the bed quilt cover, the towels that were lying over the chair. I even checked the cupboards. I still couldn’t find it.
"Evelyn, have you seen my train?’ I yelled, still looking around the room.
‘You asked me to keep it with the flowers so you wouldn’t forget it. I have it. Are you ready? We must go!’
I sat on the bed, creasing my dress all over again, waiting for my heart to stop running away.
I tried to reassure myself, ‘Just calm down silly woman. It is natural to be so nervous. You’re going to have a beautiful wedding and you’re going to live happily ever after. You have a wonderful fiancé who loves you and who loves God. With Spencer you can have God at the centre of your marriage. Just calm down!’
I let out a long deep breath, it was now or never.
‘Kaye come on,’ Evelyn came bursting in the bedroom, ‘what’s wrong?’
‘Nothing, I just panicked when I couldn’t find the train. I’m ready, let’s go.’
‘You look beautiful Kaye, absolutely stunning.’
She smiled and reached out her hands towards my tiara to adjust it ever so slightly so that it was perfectly centred on my up-styled hairdo, then she fluffed up my veil. She ran her hands down my arms till she found my trembling hands
‘You are just stunning my friend, now let’s go.’
I looked at this tall redhead with skin that was almost permanently pink but not unattractive by any means and was so grateful she was my friend, my sister in Christ.
The silver and pearl necklace I had given her in gratitude for being my bridesmaid hung on her chest shining brightly against the royal blue chiffon dress. Her eyes were blacker than usual. I was always fascinated by her unusual combination of black eyes and red hair.
‘Come on ladies, your chariot is awaiting, tick-tock, tick-tock!’ Sian yelled from the doorway.
We lifted up the skirts of our dresses and made our way to the car that would be our carriage to get us to the church not on time but at a respectable time…On my time.
Spencer stood tall, taller than usual, at the front of the church, in a dark blue suit. He looked very dashing and nervous. York stood just as smartly dressed beside him, and I noticed his adoring smile as my eyes flicked between the two men’s faces.
The walk up the aisle seemed longer than when we’d rehearsed it, or perhaps it was the long train that slowed my walking. With everyone’s eyes focused on me I wished I had someone that was alongside me whose hand I could hold. My knees were shaking with every step I took in the high heels, and I thought I might fall over at every next step.
Each pew was graced with a bouquet of white roses, blue irises and orchids, flooding the church with their fragrance.
When I finally reached Spencer I was hot and could feel the perspiration pricking my forehead, a nervous smile plastered on my face. He took my hands in his and we walked to the edge of the stage steps together, unable to stop staring at each other. I wondered if my makeup was running down my face and hurriedly turned to Evelyn and whispered for her to take a quick look. She smiled and winked at me indicating that I was as I should be. A blushing bride.
Minister Lyle gave a short service that was light-hearted and rather witty which suited me and lifted my nerves off their tendrils.
Spencer looked at me with his piercing blue eyes, right into my heart.
‘I do,’ he said when prompted by Minister Lyle.
I said ‘I do’ when it was my turn and then we kissed, sealing our commitment and hearts to each other forever.
After a few photos were taken in the colourful gardens of the
church grounds and under the black skies, I took the long train off the dress before we went to the reception. It was just too long and was more of an irritation than anything else.
‘You are so beautiful my wife. I love you,’ Spencer held me for the brief moment that we had to ourselves on the way to the reception.
‘I love you, my husband,’ I smiled lovingly back at him and relished the kiss he passionately gave me, cupping my face in his hands.
The intimate moment was interrupted by Evelyn calling for us to join the reception.
Speeches were short and brief. York made me spill a few tears as he asked everyone to raise their glasses to toast the bride and when he gave a little speech about how long we had known each other and the difficult times I had been through – without mentioning any of it – and how much he cared for me and would always be my first friend.
All the first dances were over with and Spencer and I had danced well together, our feet moved timeously without tramping on the other’s toes. The two tiered cake decorated with blue irises was cut and it was finally time to relax, to change into normal clothes and to be Mrs Reed.
I danced all night with either Spencer or York. I laughed so much with everyone. I was exhilaratingly happy.
We finally left the reception through a human tunnel to Spencer’s car for a honeymoon of five days in Margate on the South Coast.
While we were making the one-hour journey Spencer said, ‘So I have a little surprise for you Mrs Reed, hmmm I do like the sound of that, Mrs Reed.’
‘Really, what is it?’
‘On Thursday my boss called me into the office.’
He looked at me briefly with a huge smile before focusing back on the road. It was dark, already ten o’clock but at least there was very little traffic, if any, the entire journey.
‘I have been promoted. My boss thought it would be a nice wedding present. I am now a senior consulting engineer. It comes with more benefits and a sizeable increase too.’
‘That’s so wonderful Spencer, no one deserves it more than you do, well done!’
I reached over and kissed him on the cheek.
‘Why are you only telling me now?’
‘Well it’s been so hectic with people forever being around us and last night I wasn’t allowed to see you, so I thought it best to wait until we were on our own. You happy, my love?’
‘I am very happy Mr Reed. Very happy indeed.’
After five days of a blissful honeymoon we were back in the land of the living at Spencer’s flat which was not too far from Evelyn’s. She and Sian had moved my few belongings to my new home, while I was away.
Our first weekend together as husband and wife was spent buying necessary and unnecessary items for our home. Our tastes were vastly different but somehow we found a common ground by sticking to neutral colours for the furniture, curtains and linen. There was not much decor in our flat other than a single large framed photo of our wedding day which we hung on the one bare wall in the lounge.
Spencer was kind and loving. We prayed together every morning and evening and made our plans for the future with God. We had a five year plan all nicely decided on. Children would be most welcomed in the fifth year, and until then we would stick to our plan and build our nest egg.
York had moved without leaving a forwarding address or a contact number. It worried me and it hurt me so much that he would just leave as Boyd had done. I phoned everyone and every place I knew of to try and track him down, but no one offered any information. It felt as though they had been instructed to keep his whereabouts in the dark.
Once again in my life, I was so confused. I had always been so convinced we would be friends forever. Everything he had said at my wedding had been so touching and affectionate – had that been a lie too? Was he no different to Boyd? He had broken my heart now too, just as Boyd had done. As if I never had enough unanswered questions to ponder on, now he had to add to the load.
All I had left now were Spencer and Evelyn. Perhaps this was the way the Lord wanted it to be and so I convinced myself of its truth. I had no reason to think otherwise.
Everything else in our lives went on as usual. Evelyn and I met up with each other as much as possible, and Saturday mornings became a regular visiting time for a few hours, shopping, having coffee at the Wimpy in Amanzimtoti or simply visiting at each other’s homes but we always kept our date.
Spencer’s working hours increased as the months flew by. He was having to leave earlier in the mornings and worked on most Saturdays, hence the time I had to spend with Evelyn. Slowly it progressed to some evenings and then he would also bring his work home. I didn’t mind as it was his job and he was a perfectionist, but it just got very lonely sometimes and even when he was at home and not working he was very quiet and lost in his own thoughts. I presumed it was his work that occupied his thoughts so much, preventing him from speaking nonstop over irrelevant matters, like the old Spencer I’d grown to love.
At Bible study and church he was his normal friendly self and once we got home he remained that person, but only for a while. He would revert to the silent Spencer once he had been back at work the following day.
I was finally being sent out into the field to cover a few editorial stories at work. Having received my degree earlier in the year I was now ready to embrace the world of journalism. My boss Rodger, was keen to get me going on a few local stories, nothing too dramatic or intense, and I was gradually led into those. I made a few friends at the police station and in the emergency rescue teams, including the fire fighters. They all remembered me from my parents’ fiasco and that helped tremendously.
Very soon I was the first on their list to call when an emergency occurred. It spiked my adrenaline to a point where I thrived on it and it became like a drug, so much so that sitting in the office doing admin work was like living in a nightmare. This new direction my vocation had taken kept the hours at home without Spencer, or even with the silent Spencer, more manageable as I dove into my work. The spare bedroom became our study in which we both spent more time there than any other room in the flat. At least we were in there together doing what we both loved.
‘Do you think you are ready for a big scoop?’ Rodger asked one day, leaning against the edge of the partition of my cubicle, being very careful not to lean too hard so that it fell over.
‘Oh for sure! What’s the story?’ I was suddenly wide awake and all ears.
‘There is going to be some trouble at St Alban Prison in Port Elizabeth. A little birdie told me that something big is going to happen over the weekend when all the big shots are there for the annual budget meeting. Will you be able to go for the weekend and longer if you need to?’ He was clearly chuffed at this inside information he had received and I was elated that he had chosen me. I did not mind where or what the situation was or what day of the week I was needed.
‘Of course I can go, that’s my job isn’t it?’ I replied with a smile strapped around my ears, immediately packing up my desk.
‘That’s my girl. Kiki will be your photographer, and I will get my secretary to arrange the flights and hotel bookings immediately. You leave tonight.’
‘Thank you for everything Rodger, I won’t let you down.’
‘You better not, now get going before I give the story to someone else,’ he grinned and walked away.
While I waited for my flight and hotel bookings to be confirmed I phoned Spencer. Luckily he was in his office, although he was almost out the door and had to back up to take the call.
‘You’re not going to be in any danger are you?’
‘No, I doubt it.’
‘Well it is good for your career, well done. I won’t see you until next week then.’
‘Depends on how long the incident carries on for. I might be home on Sunday even.’
‘Probably, but I’m going to miss you. I have to go. Love you.’
‘Love you too.’
Setting the receiver in its place I realised we had become a career orientated married couple, it suited me though, since he did not want children anytime soon and what else was I supposed to do?
God was still first in my life though.
Kiki spent the entire two-hour flight to Port Elizabeth talking about her cameras and various shoots she had been on. It was so fascinating and I listened in awe, even when I had no idea what gadget or accessory she spoke of. She was very experienced in her field as a freelance photographer and was highly sought after. She had been a journalist like me before delving into the field of photography.
I knew Rodger had deliberately put me with her so that she could help me and guide me. I knew I’d learn more from her than what any book could teach me and I knew I had to use this time very wisely. Trying to control my excitement and concentrate was the hardest part.
We were up at the crack of dawn, the hotel restaurant had just opened for breakfast, and we were the first ones there and helped ourselves to bottomless coffee and a healthy breakfast. Kiki warned me to stay away from the oily foods, as it might be possible that things would get out of control and it could turn to bloodshed, and I’d probably lose all the food rather embarrassingly. I wasn’t sure if she was joking or serious but I stuck to the non-oily healthy food, and it was all still delicious.
We were the first journalists on the scene thanks to Rodger’s informant and were allowed into the prison once we had shown our media passes.
Kiki knew exactly where the best position would be, on the wall just left of the main entrance gate, and it was as though she played this role on a daily basis. Which I suppose she did.
On the way there I tagged along behind her, asking relevant questions to anyone that looked like they might give me an answer. I got a few very good quotes from several people in the know. My dictaphone was kept on and I checked that I had brought the spare batteries quickly, as the thought of it going flat during an important interview left me sweating.
Kiki laughed at me, ‘You’re doing fine, and I have plenty of spare batteries in all shapes and sizes. Just follow my lead.’
‘Thanks Kiki, my heart is going crazy from all this adrenaline.’
We waited a few minutes longer and then the mass of prisoners came streaming into the courtyard towards the main entrance where we were situated. Kiki was so right, this was the best position to be in. She had an incredible view for her lenses to capture the scene, all the facial expressions on the people from both sides of the fence.
The mass of prisoners came upon us like a swarm of bees, shouting, singing and waving banners and other objects. It was intimidating and I was scared out of my boots, so much so that my hands began to shake. Kiki’s camera was on a rampage clicking the shutter open and closed as fast as her fingers humanly could.
The wardens stood at their posts with their guns ready and loaded, all they needed was the signal to fire.
‘You see that man there with the grey jacket?’
She pointed to a man on the right side of the huge entrance gates with a walkie-talkie radio in his hand.
‘Go speak to him.’
Without hesitation I jumped down from the top of the wall where we had a bird’s eye view of the entire scene and walked gingerly toward him.
He looked at me with such fierce intent I almost turned around and fled.
‘Yes lady?’ he said.
‘I’m from the press. Could I ask you a few questions please?’
He ushered me to the wall, saying, ‘You got ten minutes.’
I fired my questions at him, having to yell above the noise from the prisoners who were now hovering five meters from where I stood. He spoke directly into my dictaphone, giving me clear and precise answers. It was the best interview so far and I’d thought he was no one in particular.
How had Kiki known he would be good to interview?
I needed to learn so much from her.
By lunchtime the prisoners were still chanting and threatening all sorts, a few prisoners had thrown objects about but it had not yet become so violent that the wardens had to resort to firing any weapons. The officials and all the necessary important people were behind closed doors bashing out the pros and cons of the prisoners’ demands. The visiting dignitaries had been ushered out of the buildings not too long ago. Kiki must have captured some really good photos of them.
‘Kaye, go stand by the gate, front and centre, quickly!’
I did as she told me. Again she was spot on. A spokesperson for the prison came out to address the press, while the wardens went to speak to the large crowd of prisoners. There were prisoners yelling obscenities from windows above the courtyard encouraging those below to resort to extreme violence. As the mass of people cheered and sang out in a loud union of rejoicing, I strained to hear what the spokesperson was saying but I had the dictaphone right by his mouth. I was sure I got every word.
On my way back to Kiki I spoke to the man with the walkie-talkie once more. He was less intense as the negotiations seemed to have gone smoothly. He spoke freely while his deep baritone voice boomed above the noise.
The blood pumped wildly through my arteries, I was shaking, I was smiling non-stop, my eyes were as wide as saucers, I was completely and utterly exhilarated by the entire happenings of the day and the outcome.
It was my turn to talk non-stop to Kiki on the flight back. I had one question after another. ‘How would I do this and how would I do that? How did you know that man would be so accommodating? How did you know they would go to the gate at that moment to speak to the press? Did you see the anger and violent expressions on their faces? How loud did they shout?’
And then, ‘I was so scared.’
I just couldn’t shut up, poor Kiki was exhausted and tolerated me kindly and I’m sure Rodger would hear all about my performance from her. He would certainly hear all about it from me, from the moment the plane lifted off to when I landed back in Durban.
What a rush it had been!
My article was a success and Rodger, a podgy man with a mop of grey hair and stress lines that encased his face, sent me on more and more assignments, almost always partnering me up with Kiki. The times that I had to go out with another photographer the intensity was never that high nor the camaraderie. There was nothing wrong with their expertise or their devotion to their job, but Kiki just brought something extra to the table. She somehow managed to bring the best out in me too.
I was a little miffed at Spencer’s lack of enthusiasm about my first breakthrough story. I had come home on such a high, super excited to tell him all about the weekend – the flight, the prisoners, the wardens, the interviews, everything!
All he wanted to know was, ‘Were you in any danger?’
‘No, Kiki knew where to be to get the best view and to be safest, but Spencer, it was so exhilarating!’
‘Well as long as you weren’t in any danger. I worked non-stop the whole weekend.’
And that was as interested as he was in the highlight of my career thus far.
When I had to go away for assignments his only concern was if I would be in danger, and I felt that even then he asked out of habit more than actual concern.
His hours became increasingly long and our intimacy and romantic life seemed to be confined to weekends; I hardly ever saw him during the week. Sometimes when he came home I was already sleeping and he would be gone when I woke up in the mornings. The evenings we were home together were spent in the study while we both worked.
He missed most Bible studies, but I went by myself rather than sit around waiting for him to get home. He did still make it to church on Sundays where he was as charming and friendly as ever. No one other than Evelyn would have guessed we lived such career-oriented lives.
I loved Sundays.
I worried that this marriage was not what God wanted it to be. It had been perfect when we’d found each other and all the dots had dotted together to bring us as one before God, but our careers seemed to have taken precedence over our marriage.
I spoke to Spencer one day after a riveting sermon from Minister Lyle.
‘We seem to be drifting away from God in our marriage, don’t you think? I mean we used to pray together and talk about our spiritual lives all the time…’ I trailed off.
‘It’s okay, we are fine. I know we don’t pray together but I do pray by myself and so do you. A lot of Christians have careers like we do. It’s okay love, this will not last forever and soon it will be five years and we can start our family and everything will be perfect.’
He wrapped his arms around me and cuddled me into his chest.
‘I love you,’ he mumbled as he kissed me wantingly.
His kiss still, after all this time, did not melt me into nothing but I guessed that only happened once in a lifetime and I’d had my chance of that.
I prayed desperately that God would continue to guide me, and to help Spencer and me find our way back to being the committed Christian couple that we’d been when we’d married.
Saturdays with Evelyn remained our “get the load off your chest” dates. I poured my heart out to her about my marriage and where it stood with God.
‘Don’t be so hard on yourself, Kaye. God knows your heart, He knows you want it to be a perfect marriage. Just keep giving your marriage to God, and remember it will only work if you are both willing to give God a hundred percent.’
‘That’s what worries me. I don’t think Spencer and I are on the same page anymore.’
I felt my throat choke up with the horrible sentiments of disappointment.
After an exhausting day of meetings and deadlines and a very irritated boss, I packed up my bags and headed toward my car which was parked in the staff parking area.
I stood by the driver’s door fiddling with the key, trying to get it into the lock of the door while trying to hold my handbag and my extra bag which held all my files, all at the same time.
‘Hello,’ said that familiar voice I knew so well, I was sure it was that voice and I froze instantly.
I opened the door already starting to shake and a cold chill passed over me. I managed to throw my bags and files onto the driver’s seat without everything falling out onto the asphalt or the floor of the car. Slowly I turned around, my heart beating so hard I couldn’t hear myself think.
That was all I could muster as I stared at Boyd standing before me. I did not want to believe my eyes, I never thought I would ever see him again.
‘Kaye, hello,’ he said again, moving very slowly and gingerly towards me, ‘how you keeping?’
Other words eluded me. I stared at him, my mouth was surely hanging on the floor.
‘Kaye, I am so sorry. I can’t explain why I did what I did. I just want to say sorry.’
He stood next to me and leant against the side of my car. I took a step backwards, I knew I should not stand too close to him. My brain started to dig up the anger and resentment and the pain that it had filed away, but my heart was yearning to reach out to him and hold him and to forgive him.
My brain won the battle for now.
‘Why are you here? What do you want from me now, after all this time?’
‘I just want your forgiveness.’
I wasn’t going to answer him. I tried but my brain and my heart were in such a raging battle it left me trembling and fighting back the tears that rolled down my face uncontrollably.
‘I can’t speak to you now,’ I said as I literally jumped into the car and battled to start it let alone put it into reverse then change gears into first and drive off.
Why has he come back?
Why do I still feel like I love him?
Why did you leave Boyd?
Why? Why? Why?
All the questions I asked had no answers and having no answers brought no rest to my mind at all. I became frantic almost to the point of a breakdown.
I pondered whether I should tell Spencer. I would probably not see Boyd again anyway. But what if he told someone that he had seen me? They would surely tell someone else and then the news would get back to Spencer. So I figured it was best to tell him before the people of the small community told him for me.
What did I have to fear? Boyd popped up out of nowhere and had unsettled me which was understandable. Spencer was my husband and deserved my honesty. I had just been complaining to Evelyn about our marriage not being what God would want it to be and here I was contemplating keeping secrets from my husband. I reprimanded myself fiercely and prepared myself to tell Spencer when he got home.
It was a restless evening as I waited for Spencer. As the minutes ticked away, my head was bombarded with the image of Boyd leaning against my car, with a hardened yet emotionally broken expression on his face. He looked so much older and so haggard. He was tanned or rather he had the army tan – his neck and arms were tanned.
I waited and waited and waited for Spencer to get home. He hated it if I phoned his office as it always distracted his train of thought.
The more confused I became as to why Boyd would appear like an apparition, the more the anger surfaced and I really had to control the urge to phone his parents’ house. Mrs Langford was probably hysterical with happiness to see her beloved son again.
I was exhausted from all the endless thinking and reasoning that I eventually passed out on the couch. At eleven o’clock I woke up to realise that Spencer was still not home. He was never this late so I made the call to his office.
No one answered – and I went to bed, falling asleep while praying to God to guide me. Spencer would be home soon and I would tell him in the morning.
Boyd filled my dreams and I was restless all night.
When I woke up I rolled over and reached for Spencer next to me. He wasn’t there but I could see he had slept there as the pillows were all scrunched from the indentation of his head. I looked all over the flat to see if he was there but to no avail, he had already left.
I would have to wait until the evening now to tell him, but how would I make it through the day with this running through my head?
When I got to work, I parked in my usual parking space and looked nervously around for Boyd, worrying that he would come back to try and speak to me again.
The office was a hive of activity for which I was very grateful, it took the constant worry of Boyd off my mind. While everyone slowed down for their lunch break I made a phone call to Evelyn. I had to tell someone.
She was so shocked.
‘What? What did he want?’
I tried to tell her what I remembered he had said. My head was still so fuzzy from the shock it was difficult to think of it all.
‘Have you told Spencer?’
‘I waited up for him last night but fell asleep before he came home, and then I wanted to tell him this morning but he’d left before I woke up. I can’t tell him this over the phone so I will have to wait till tonight to tell him.’
‘You must, before he hears it from the grapevine!’
‘Yes, that’s what worrying me. I still don’t get why he had to come see me, and was that it? Say hello and please forgive me, and that’s it? I just can’t understand it.’
‘Kaye, I don’t know what to say. This is so weird and I can understand how confused you must be. You mustn’t let Boyd get to you. He had his chance with you and blew it in the worst possible way.’
‘I know you’re right. Thanks Evelyn. So good that I can always count on you.’
‘You can always count on God and then me,’ she corrected me before we ended our call.
Spencer for once was at home before I was.
‘Good, now I can tell him,’ I whispered to myself as I threw my keys into the bowl that stood on an oak table against the wall in the entrance way.
Then I walked straight into the kitchen where Spencer was standing in front of the kettle watching it boil.
‘Hello,’ I said going up to him to kiss him, ‘I have something I must tell you.’
He looked at me and I had not seen a look like that on his face ever before.
‘Why didn’t you tell me you saw Boyd?’
‘I tried to! I waited up for you last night and you left early this morning! I even tried to phone you at your office but you never answered. How did you find out?’
‘Evelyn told me,’ he said, pouring the boiling water into our cups.
‘When did you speak to Evelyn?’ I was surprised and it showed.
‘Uhmm...She, uhmm, she phoned me about the fellowship potluck on Sunday and she let it slip.’
He put milk into the cups.
‘He was at the parking lot at work waiting for me! He said hello and asked for my forgiveness and I can’t remember what all he said but then I left. I wanted to tell you first and I’m sorry you heard it from Evelyn instead.’
‘If that man comes near you, I will, I will seriously hurt him, I promise you Kaye. I don’t care how big a crack shot he is, I will take him out.’
I was so astonished by his anger and his jealousy, he was red in the face and his features were as hard as stone.
‘Spencer, he won’t come back, I’m sure of it. He no doubt knows I’m married to you and he got the message very clearly that I was not impressed with him. Can we please just put this behind us now?’
He left the kitchen and went out onto the balcony. I turned and looked into the sink and felt so sad. What did Boyd want by coming back and why did Spencer get so angry? It was not my fault I hadn’t told him, I’d tried.
When Spencer finally came walking back into the kitchen I was almost on the brink of tears, staring into the drain wondering if it could suck me in and carry me down the pipe.
‘I’m sorry Kaye. I know it was Boyd’s fault. I’m sorry I yelled at you.’
He stood behind me, put his arms around me and kissed my neck.
‘It’s just that he was your first love and that is always a threat to any man.’
I turned around to face him, looked at him, at his piercing blue eyes, blinking the tears back from my own. He wiped them away gently with his thumbs while he held my face in his hands.
‘I married you.’
‘Yes, you did Mrs Reed. I’m sorry. It wasn’t your fault you couldn’t tell me, I’m sorry I worked so late. Let’s go sit on the balcony and then please tell me all about it.’
‘As long as you don’t get angry again, Mr Reed,’ I smiled and let him take my hand leading the way to the balcony.
Explaining what had happened bolstered those confused fears and speaking about Boyd in front of Spencer I had a hard time keeping them in check. When I was finished with the details of the Boyd episode Spencer picked up my hands, held them in his and lifted them to his lips and kissed them.
‘This Boyd must have had a screw loose to let you go, but I am not complaining,’ he smiled, easing my very confused heart.
Perhaps this threat, if it could be called that, might just be the medicine our ailing marriage needed.
Had God sent us a warning sign?
I battled to shake the image of Boyd’s face from my mind. It made me question whether I had ever gotten over him. I leant heavily on God to banish the hold that Boyd had on my thoughts. I had forgiven him, I had moved on, I had forgotten him!
My phone rang at my desk and while typing my latest piece for the newspaper I reached for the receiver with my left hand knocking my half full glass of water all over my legs, while springing up out of the chair and answering the phone at the same time.
‘Hello?’ I squawked.
‘Kaye. Please don’t hang up.’
I was so tempted to throw the phone down and run. My hand immediately started shaking and I gripped the receiver tightly causing my knuckles to whiten from the pressure. I sank back into my chair.
‘What do you want?’
‘I just want to hear you have forgiven me. I hate myself for what I did.’
‘You do? Well thank goodness for small mercies then.’
‘Please Kaye, please forgive me.’
His pleading squished my heart into mush. I wanted him to hold me like he used to before the army.
The army! The army! How I hated the army.
‘I forgave you a long time ago and I’ve moved on. I am married now in case you did not know.’
‘Yes, my mom told me. Thank you Kaye, I know I don’t deserve it.’
‘Everyone deserves forgiveness.’
Even though I sounded confident, inside I was crumbling.
‘God please keep me strong,’ I silently asked.
‘How are you? You happy?’
‘Of course I am! What kind of a question is that?’
‘Are you still in the army?’ I asked, curiosity getting the better of me when I knew I should just end the call.
‘Yes. I’m only home for a few weeks.’
A few weeks, that would mean I might just bump into him somewhere. My heart pumped madly.
‘Well I’m sure your parents are happy.’
‘It’s been very strained, they have still not accepted my career choice, but yes, home is always home.’
I had to force the choked bubble in my throat to stay down. I began to fret as I clung to the phone. His voice was still Boyd’s and yet I could hear a saddened tone lingering on his lips.
His lips, his kiss. I wanted to kiss him, kiss those lips that could make me melt in a millisecond.
I rubbed my forehead with my free hand, trying to straighten out my brain, trying to rub out the thoughts that should not be there, they needed to disappear.
‘Please give your family my regards. I have to go.’
‘Okay, thanks again Kaye. I hope I can say hello to you if we bump into each other while I am here.’
‘Oh goodness – no please, I can’t count on my reaction,’ I wanted to say to him but said it to myself instead.
I put the phone down for the sake of my own sanity. Then I held my head in my hands, my elbows on the desk holding me up.
I prayed, ‘Oh Lord, please forgive me for being so weak. I was so sure I had gotten over him. Please let us not bump into each other. Please Lord, please give me strength.’
I got up and went to the ladies’ room, washed my face and stared in the mirror grateful that no one else was there.
Then I gave myself a pep talk, ‘You in the mirror, get over it. You cannot allow Boyd to get to you like this. You are married. You love Spencer. Grow up! Let Jesus control you – not you!’
I scolded myself for ages and when finally I was no longer alone in the ladies’ room, I left.
I had fifteen minutes left to finish my article before the deadline. I had to concentrate. I had to forget Boyd and his phone call.
Before leaving the office I thought of phoning Evelyn to give her the whole sorry story, but then I remembered she’d let it slip the last time and I decided against it.
Spencer had been far more loving, although he still worked such long hours, but he wasn’t so moody and short toward me since the Boyd episode. Today’s little episode would surely upset the apple cart so it was probably best left unsaid I decided.
I felt as though I was cheating on Spencer. We had always been honest with each other, but how could I explain this to him rationally when I couldn’t react rationally myself?
And after his outburst the previous time, this time he would surely go looking for Boyd and cause him bodily harm. I knew my decision was probably the wrong one but I made it anyway and prayed that God would forgive me for keeping secrets.
‘You okay to go on an assignment in Pretoria for a few days?’ Rodger interrupted my thoughts as if on cue.
‘Yes, of course. What’s the story?’
‘My little birdie has told me that a very important diplomat will be in the country for secret behind-closed-doors talks with the prime minister. My little birdie is also setting up a secret behind-closed-doors interview for me.’
He smiled smugly and looked very proud of his little birdie.
‘Do I ever get to meet this “little birdie”?’ I laughed back at him.
‘Never. You leave tomorrow.’
He gave me a thumbs up, turned and left.
I let out a heavy sigh, I was so grateful. More grateful than Rodger or his “little birdie” could ever imagine. Being on an assignment meant that I would not be in town. Not being in town meant that I had no chance of bumping into Boyd.
‘Thank you Lord.’
I looked upward and closed my eyes in sincere gratitude to God.
I dialled Spencer’s office number. If he was working late again there was the possibility that I would not see him before I left.
‘Hi, how is your day going?’ I asked first so his reply would set the tone for the rest of the conversation.
‘Better than most days today. What’s up?’
‘I have to go away for a few days. I leave early tomorrow morning for Pretoria. Are you working late?’
‘Is it going to be dangerous?’
His first reaction every time. I should have expected his reply.
‘No. It’s an interview with a diplomat but I have to hang around to get the interview, it’s not a definite time or date.’
‘Okay. I won’t be late tonight. See you later.’
We spent a wonderful evening together, one that we had not had for a very long time. Spencer took me to a quaint restaurant on the beachfront in Durban and we devoured our steaks and sipped on red wine, all the while looking out over the ocean with the bright full moon and the light it cast on the waters. It was peaceful and it was romantic.
How badly I’d needed an evening like this after that phone call.
While watching a seagull fly through the moon-lit sky I was filled with gratitude.
‘Thank you Lord for putting me and my stupid failing heart in perspective,’ I prayed silently.
For the first time since we had made the spare room into a study, we did not enter it that evening. At first it was strange, the feeling that there was something we had to do lingered. But instead of heeding to it, we snuggled on the couch and watched a documentary on the TV.
When the show was over Spencer stood up, pulled me off the chair by my hands and led me to our bedroom.
How much I needed to be loved by him that night he would never know, he would never have understood.
For two days I had been sitting around, either in the hotel lobby or in my hotel room, waiting for the interview to happen. I was bored stiff of watching the guests check in or out at the reception desk, of the staff going about their duties and of the uninteresting documentaries they had on the TV channels, and I was even more bored of the hotel room I was in. The green covers on the bed and cream coloured walls did little to interest me. I was even sick of coffee.
Spencer phoned my room in the evenings when he got home from work, so during the day I made the odd call to Evelyn or to the office. Other than that there was nothing for me to do. I did not attempt to venture far from the hotel just in case the interview was going to happen.
While flipping through the selection of three channels I phoned Evelyn.
‘Hello,’ she answered in an off tone, it sounded almost as though she had choked on her words while taking a breath of air at the same time.
‘Hi, are you okay?’
‘Oh I’m okay I suppose. Sian broke up with me this afternoon.’
She sniffed a little as if stifling her tears.
‘Oh my friend! I’m so sorry. Did he say why?’
‘He wants his freedom and says he doesn’t love me. Strange thing is that we never once mentioned love. Well there is not much I can do about, it is there? I will survive I’m sure.’
‘I wish I was there to give you a big hug.’
I had never really liked Sian. Evelyn needed someone who was equally intelligent and that could balance her passion for God and her vivaciousness. Sian was cynical and sarcastic and found fault in everyone and everything. Still, I felt bad for my friend.
The third day of sitting around the Carlton Hotel and whiling the time away in the brightly lit restaurant having a chicken salad, a waiter arrived with a message written on the hotel’s very fine stationery.
I thanked him and read it: Meeting – four o’clock at attorney’s chambers. Good luck.
At last the meeting was to go ahead! I pulled out my notebook and quickly scribbled down a few more relevant questions I might ask in the interview and jotted down suggestions and points to remember. Nervous and excited I rushed off to my room to prepare myself.
I got dressed very smartly, or as smartly as I could afford, into a black pants suit with a pale blue shirt. I pulled my hair back into a soft ponytail and applied a little basic makeup. All I needed was to look professional.
The reception room of the attorney’s office was cold and unfriendly. The walls were decorated with a few ugly landscape paintings which were uncolourful and boring, perfectly matching the boring brown chairs and carpet.
The receptionist scared me like no one ever had. She glared at me through her teardrop glasses that were at the tip of her long pointed nose and which looked as though they were about to fall off. I got the instinctive feeling that she was not impressed that I had an interview arranged without her permission.
Her dark blue powdered eyes pierced my core with spits of fire as she told me to sit and wait in a gruff voice which I presumed she had inherited from all the cigarettes she clearly smoked. The ashtray next to her typewriter was the evidence – it was overflowing with stubs and old ash.
She leaned over the typewriter to untangle a few keys with her very long painted, bony fingernails and her glasses slipped even further down her nose. Her grey hair was pulled back tightly in a small bun on the top of her head. I tried not to look at her but she reminded me so much of a cartoon character, one that was always the evil old lady.
‘You may go in,’ she said to me, exposing her yellow stained teeth.
I gathered my bag and notepad in a flash and made for the door.
As I put my hand on the doorknob she said, ‘Sign here.’
I turned to see she had whizzed the duplicate paper from her typewriter and placed it on the table with a pen.
‘What is it that I am signing?’ I asked, keeping my distance for fear of being attacked.
‘Just that you will not use the contents of the interview for your own personal gain. Sign there.’
She pointed to the dotted line at the bottom of the page. I glanced through the contents of the one page agreement and signed it, taking the duplicate copy with me and then I made for the door. I opened it cautiously as a very tall, smartly dressed, over-cologned, bald-headed man approached me with his hand extended revealing an expensive gold watch.
‘Mrs Reed welcome, I am Mr Jordine and this is my client Mr Juback.’
‘Thank you for this opportunity,’ I said, nervously sitting down in the chair alongside Mr Juback, and at the opposite end of Mr Jordine’s very large dark wooden desk.
His office was large and bragged of his achievements and qualifications all over the walls. There were also photos of him with very influential and famous people, obviously meant to impress prospective clients.
‘Shall I get Mrs Archibald to organise coffee?’
He looked at me for a response.
‘No,’ I blurted out and then had to recover, ‘I mean no thank you, I have had more than enough coffee, thanks.’
Mr Jordine couldn’t stifle the giggle that slipped through his shiny white teeth.
‘Mrs Archibald is scary but she looks after me better than anyone and I trust her with my life.’
I believed him, no one would dare go near him as long as she was around. He sat behind his desk lighting up a cigarette and immediately I felt like coughing, the image of my parents floated to the surface of my mind unwillingly.
‘You may go ahead,’ he said and pointed to Mr Juback with his large fat fingers decorated with an array of gold rings.
Mr Juback turned toward me in acknowledgement and in approval. He looked tired, dark rings circled his eyes. He too was in expensive clothing and if he was wearing any cologne it made no impact as Mr Jordine’s overpowered it. He was of average height but grossly overweight which made him appear a lot shorter than he really was.
He was gracious with his replies but very secretive and I had to ask him the same question several times trying various angles. I had to drag the truth from him.
I asked simple questions such as, ‘Are you satisfied with the outcome of the hearing? Did you have a successful meeting with the prime minister? Were you aware that if you came forward he would pardon your brother? Why did it take you so long to come forward with this information? Have you seen your brother in prison since you arrived in South Africa? How is your relationship with your brother now? Will you wait for him to be released and return home to Egypt with him or not?’
After three hours I finally felt I had extracted everything possible from Mr Juback. It was not only my questioning that took so long, Mr Jordine took it upon himself to answer on behalf of Mr Juback and at times they conversed with each other in their native tongue which I found extremely rude.
I opened Mr Jordine’s office door very slowly and was so relieved that Mrs Archibald was no longer at her desk and I would never have the displeasure of crossing her path ever again.
After a shower and dinner in my room I finalised the article so that in the morning I could type it out and give it to Rodger the moment he walked into the office. I finished at about ten o’clock and since Spencer had not yet called I dialled our home number. There was no reply. I dialled his office number and got no response there either. Perhaps he was on his way home and he would call soon.
I lay back on the bed, resting my papers on my lap and allowed the puffy pillows to swallow my head. If Spencer phoned me when he got home I had no idea as I was asleep almost instantly.
The article received excellent recognition when it was published on Monday morning. My first front page news, and I had to admit to myself that I was very proud of it and my first reaction was to tell Spencer.
‘You must buy the paper! I got the front page.’
‘Okay I will later, well done,’ he replied in a flat tone which rather hurt me as I was hoping he would at least be excited for me.
Perhaps he had people in his office and was not able to be more expressive. I hoped that was the case when I hung up the phone.
Rodger stood next to my desk holding an envelope out to me.
‘For you, but you not to tell anyone.’
I looked up at him confused as even he seemed to be acting strangely.
‘Open it later, not here.’
‘Uhm, okay, must I say thanks or should I start to cry?’ I gave a curious smile.
He laughed at me and walked away.
I turned the envelope around inspecting it for any clues and feeling the contents trying to make out what it was. I felt a pang of despair as this envelope reminded me of Boyd’s letter. Shaking my head at the idea that the contents would be similar, I got up and made my way to my car, I had to know what it was.
I took a drive to Inyoni Rocks and parked facing the ocean, and while still in my car I opened the envelope.
‘Oh my word!’ I exclaimed out loud.
There was a note and one hundred Rand in cash.
It read: Well done on an excellent bit of journalism. Mr Juback was very impressed with you I have been told. Enjoy the bonus.
I was so flabbergasted and examined the note over and over thinking all the time what I would spend it on.
Spencer was home early thank goodness, as my excitement was almost running out of the door by now. With the envelope in my hand I held it out toward him as he put his briefcase down on the chair in the study. He looked at me through his tired eyes, that blue piercing colour seemed dull and yet as he gazed upon my smile the brightness slowly returned. My excitement seemed to be contagious; I hoped it was.
He took it with a sigh and opened it slowly. I could see his expression lift as he pulled the money out, stretching it in his long fingers.
‘And this?’ he asked, finally cracking a smile.
‘Read the note.’
I pointed to it, the smile still stuck on my face, I felt like a little girl revealing a big surprise from Santa. He opened the letter slowly still holding the money, took two steps toward me and put his arms around me.
‘Well done Kaye,’ he said softly then gave me a gentle kiss.
He put the money and the note back in the envelope and gave it back to me.
‘Really Kaye, well done.’
I was too happy to care about his lack of enthusiasm.
‘I’m going to use it for a weekend away for us, somewhere peaceful.’
‘I don’t know yet, tomorrow I will make a few phone calls.’
‘Uhm, perhaps not just yet. Can it wait till we take our leave?’
‘But that’s months away still, we could use a mini break now.’
‘No not now, when we take our leave Kaye.’
His voice was stern and short and I knew better than to argue the point, as by now I had gotten used to this tone of voice which meant it was the end of the conversation.
I was despondent, even though he was tired and stressed with his workload he was unable to be enthusiastic with me. He knew a mini break would be ideal for both of us, we had discussed it a few times already.
I walked out of the study to the bedroom and put the envelope in my bag. Spencer made no attempt to follow me but instead opened his briefcase and took out the work he had brought home. Then I went to the kitchen and started preparing dinner.
While going through the motions of making a meal of macaroni and cheese I tried to figure out why Spencer had become so distant. It wasn’t his workload I was sure of it, when he was at church he was cheerful and almost his normal self – or was that also an act?
When the meal was done I called out to Spencer to come and eat. There was no reply and so I called out to him again, still no reply. I took the short walk from the kitchen past the small dining area and then the lounge and almost immediately turned right into the study. My heart skipped a beat as I saw Spencer sitting in his chair with his head on his folded arms on the desk, resting over all his papers. I had never seen him fall asleep over his papers like this before, definitely not so early in the evening.
I treaded lightly over the carpet until I was at his side and gently touched his shoulder.
‘Spencer, hey Spencer!’
He lifted his head up slowly, probably confused and surprised that he had actually fallen asleep.
‘What, oh wow did I fall asleep?’
‘Yep, seems like it. You haven’t done that before, you must be really tired. Go get into bed,’ I said lovingly stroking his hair that had fallen forward.
‘Suppose I should hey.’
He stood up gradually and without moving his papers back into order side-stepped me and made his way to our bedroom. He changed his clothes and flopped on the bed, asleep within seconds.
I went back to the kitchen, dished up a plate of food for myself and made my way to the couch. I felt awfully guilty for only being concerned over my own feelings, I should have realised he was beyond tired.
Before I got stuck into my food – I was really hungry – I prayed for the Lord to bless it to my body and for Him to be with Spencer and me, for Him to bring us both back to be the servants we had promised to be.
It worried me so much that we were allowing our careers to become more important than God in our lives. Spencer always convinced me that we would only be this busy for the next few years.
‘Remember our five year plan and then it will all be better,’ he would say whenever I mentioned it to him.
I had to believe this was acceptable to God, although deep inside I knew it wasn’t.
When I woke up in the morning Spencer had already left. He hadn’t stirred when I’d eventually gotten into bed the previous night. He must have been completely exhausted, and I felt immensely sorry for him.
In the office once I was settled for the day, I phoned Evelyn, knowing she was at home without any classes this morning.
‘Hi, how are you?’ I asked in my usual friendly greeting voice.
She seemed surprised to hear my voice even though she knew I would call today as I did every Friday morning.
‘So where we meeting tomorrow?’ I asked.
‘Oh I, I don’t think I can make it tomorrow.’
Her voice was hesitant, and she replied as if she had to choose her words carefully.
‘Why not? We’ve never missed a Saturday unless I’ve been away.’
‘I have some serious studying to do.’
‘I thought your exams were still a few months away?’
‘They are, but I have fallen behind and I need to catch up somehow. I’m really sorry Kaye.’
When I put the receiver down I accepted her excuse. Who was I to argue with her? If she had to study that was her priority.
Spencer was working as usual and so for the first time in a very long time I was alone on a Saturday morning and at home without any plans.
What would I do?
I found myself at Baggies. It had been absolute ages since I had been there, actually I could not remember being there since the wedding.
The feel of the sand between my toes as I made my way to the ocean with my board under my arm brought back a wave of emotions, memories and a longing I had forgotten.
Had I missed this so much and not even realised it?
I sat on my board bobbing up and down waiting for a wave that was decent, or perhaps it wasn’t that I was waiting for a wave, it was more like just wanting to sit out there in the water and have time to refocus my life. Perhaps Spencer and Evelyn not being around this morning and giving me the chance to get myself back in the ocean, was God at work. He wanted me to reflect on my life and where it was headed.
Was Spencer correct when he always said that God would understand that we had a five year plan? I wondered by whose terms we lived – ours or God’s. Who was in control of our lives – us or God?
I spent ages simply sitting on my board, floating over some possibly good rideable waves while I pondered over issues. By the time I realised I was the only one left out there in the mass of blue water I finally caught a small wave to the shore. I dried off, made use of the café for something to eat and sat at one of the tables while I ate. I noticed so many new faces hanging around and realised that to them I must look like one of the old people, they were now the “in crowd” and they still had the world at their fingertips. Oh where had those carefree days gone when all we wanted to do was surf at Baggies?
‘Hi Kaye,’ a familiar voice said, disturbing my train of thought.