Short story

Zanele – I choose me.

Zanele was a beautiful woman. A beautiful high-flying dentist with her own practice in the heart of the city. She was the kind of woman that women envied, and men wished their wives could be. What was there not to envy? She had an amazing career and had grown to be well renowned motivational speaker, encouraging and motivating women and girls to aspire for more. Her husband was a well-respected IT professional who graced boards of telecommunications companies. They had two children, a boy, Lesley Junior and a girl, Nobuhle, and theirs was the picture of a perfect nuclear family.

Zanele believed she could take the world. She was one of the most driven people. She had grown up poor but loved and protected. Her father had done everything in his power to make sure that she got the best education, and since she had the brains, she hit straight A’s and eventually found herself studying periodontics, making her the only female periodontist in the country. She hated it when people referred to her as a dentist. She was a snob, and in her mind, being a dentist was like mini cooper whereas periodontist was like Bugatti.

Zanele had built this beautiful life for herself, and to an extent some thought she had forgotten where she came from. She no longer found pleasure in going back to her childhood home because she found it too small. She had two helpers, one for the kids and the other to clean and do laundry. She hated house chores and the only activity she enjoyed was cooking. She had not ironed a shirt for her husband in years and was not planning to do so any time soon.

Her little haven was however falling apart. Cracks were beginning to show. For years, Lesley had complained about how she did not behave like a wife. And it had been a constant thorn in their marriage. She believed she was a good wife, she brought home a good income, she made sure the house staff had clear instructions on what to do, the home was always clean, meals were always prepared, the kids homework was always supervised. Hell, she even had the mandatory sex three times a week. What more did this man want! She attended his business meetings looking like a trophy wife, only saying something intelligent when it was necessary without over shadowing him, smiling at the right time and having the appropriate amount of wine. She even visited his mother once every month, so what else did he want!

Yet it never seemed enough, and it had escalated to a point where even the sex was now once a week. Basically, they were now just tolerating each other. The cracks were glaring, Lesley had attended a gala dinner by himself, which had never happened before. She had not asked why, but had just instructed the staff to make sure his tux was ready, like the good wife she knew she was.

******************************

Zanele was sitting at the dining room table, helping Buhle with her homework. It was a Wednesday, so she had an afternoon off. She never took any bookings on Wednesday afternoons, because she chose that as the day when she spent an afternoon with her children, before going out for a pamper session at the spa. Sometimes it was a massage, and on some days just a facial, or even a wax, but she did not compromise on her Wednesday me time as she called it, and she believed it was her way of destressing and re-aligning her energies without any outside noises. It was almost amusing, how this girl, who grew up in a tiny two bedroomed home in the densely populated dusty suburb of Emakhandeni in Bulawayo, now saw herself as this madam who needed her energies aligned. She was known to make statements like, “I don’t understand women who never go for facials”

How had she survived all those poverty-stricken years without a facial? How had her mother before her survived it and still had the most flawless skin? How had her grandmother before that survived it? But this was Zanele, when she was growing up, her dad had told her to shoot for the stars and aspire for a great life, and she had done just that and came out successful, well, at least according to her definition if success. Her dad had told her that she could do anything she wanted to do, and she did. He told her being a female was not a limitation, and she proved him right. He told her she could be better than any boy, and indeed she always graduated top of anything be it undergrad or PhD. Even in her home, Lesley knew that their debates were always intellectual, and he was fascinated by her intelligence, and maybe a little threatened, although Zanele never knew that she threatened him. It was Lesley’s little secret. When an African, Ndebele man, observed them, they clicked their tongue in irritation of how she could easily stand at par with him without cowering, yet they got excited at the power she exuded. They no doubt wanted a taste of that, but probably would not be able to handle her, and would most likely turn into control freaks if they had her. Maybe that is why Lesley was always eager to speak highly of her, and brag, maybe it was just a front to hide his insecurities, and not appear as though his wife had cut his balls off.

Anyway, Zanele was sitting at the table with Buhle, when Lesley walked in, and gave both girls the mandatory kiss on the cheeks.

“Hi daddy,” Buhle said in her sweet but manipulative voice that was specially reserved for her dad. She was a little princess who was thoroughly spoilt by both parents. It was worrying how she would turn out, because no man would ever live up to her dad’s ridiculous standards.

Lesley and Zanele exchanged the usual pleasantries – could a marriage be more void of affection than this one? Then he asked to speak to her in private.

“Can I finish with Buhle?” she said.

“Now, Zani” Lesley snapped.

Ok. He obviously had something up his ass. She raised her brows, but stood up and followed him to the bedroom, hoping there would be no confrontation today. Not today please. Not on a day when she was going out for her me time. She did not need it today.

“What happened this morning Zani?” Lesley said the moment the door was shut.

Zanele was lost. What was he talking about.

“What do you mean sweetheart?”

“Did I not ask specifically for my pin stripe shirt? Why was it not ready this morning? And you thought it was a good idea to leave without giving me an alternative?”

Oh dear Lord, Zanele thought, I married a different kind of stupid.

“Gosh! Sorry, I totally forgot, I had a lot on my mind, am so sorry. It must still be in the laundry room, I’ll check with the girls” she said referring to the helpers.

“Well, I am not married to the helpers Zanele, I don’t remember ever paying lobola for a helper”

“No need to be nasty, Les, I said am sorry, I’ll fix it”

“Well, maybe nasty is the only language you understand! You watch too much soapies and forget who you are and who your husband is”

Hayi bo! Lesley was itching for a fight, it was one of those days! He often had these episodes when he snapped and told her she was not good enough for marriage and it always a broke a little piece of her heart. The problem was that there were so many of those little pieces broken that she no longer felt love or affection for Lesley, and she was beginning to resent him.

“Lesley, I am not standing here just to listen to your insults, I am gonna get ready to go out, I have a spa appointment”

“Like hell you do, ucabanga ukuthi ungubani wena Zanele? You are not going anywhere! You will stay here and be the wife you are supposed to be” he shouted.

“I am not staying here Lesley” she said, still as cool as a cucumber, and that always made Lesley even more angry, how she never raised her voice, yet somehow, she made him feel disrespected. It was something she had mastered as a teen, when she led the high school debate society. She always stuck to facts and hardly brought emotion to any argument.

He yanked her with her arm, and threw her on the bed.

“You are not going anywhere, uyezwa? Awuyi ndawo” He said, pronouncing each syllable clapping his hands in a dramatic fashion.

Zanele was shocked, surely, he was not going to hit her? He had clapped her once before, and it had been the single most humiliating event of her adult life, which she had never shared with anyone. It had been years ago, she had threatened him with arrest and public humiliation. He had said he would never do it again. She still had flashbacks to that day, and it could have been the turning point in her marriage.

She sat still on the bed, and it was only when he walked into the shower that she allowed the tears to fall. When he walked back into the room, he looked at her with disgust in his eyes.

“You think crying will save you?”

She did not respond.

“You know what your problem is? You think you are special, yet you are nothing. I make you special, without me you are nothing. You are nothing Zanele. You cannot even iron a shirt, such a simple thing! And you call yourself a wife, nc nc nc, do you even understand what a wife is?”

He paused and looked at her again, and she still remained still and quiet, the tears having dried up again.

“I don’t get you, you were raised by an amazing woman, why could you not learn from her?”

“I want a divorce” she whispered.

“What did you say” he asked.

“I want a divorce, Lesley, I want a divorce. Go and find yourself a worthy wife.”

“Hahahaha, with pleasure. Let’s see how far you will go without me, stupid bitch” he said as he finished dressing up and walked out.

**************************************

It had been a year since the day Lesley had moved out of their home, and in spite of the pain, Zanele was experiencing a different kind of peace, which she had not felt in a long time. She had spent years chasing her dreams, then got married and continued chasing her dreams while trying to be a wife. For the first time ever, she was able to exhale. Recently, she had started chatting with Lesley, and they are conversations had progressed from angry, forced and painful, to cordial, and now to a friendship. This is the friendship they had in the beginning and she was surprised at how much they really got along, and even felt the affection coming from Lesley.

She realised that they never stood a chance before. Their expectations had been so different. Lesley was a proud, Ndebele man who had been raised to believe that there was a place for women, and this place was the kitchen. He was like her father, but this is where it got complicated for her. Her father was a controlling man, and her mother treated him like a king, cooking his meals and raising Zanele and her siblings. He never wanted her mother to work, her place was in the home. Yet, he raised her like most people in their community would raise a boy. He raised her to be a trailblazer. There was a clear disconnect. How exactly had daddy dearest expected Zanele to fare in marriage. Her aunties often told her that she should have been a man, and when she was younger she had thought it was a compliment, but now she knew better.

You see, she had come to appreciate that she could not have it all. She had to choose between a man and the life she wanted. Money could not replace the expectations that Lesley had of her. It made her sad because she wanted it all. She had recently opened up to Lesley about this, and told him that she chose herself, therefore she chose her career. She chose a pampered life. She chose to read a good book with a glass of wine instead of pining over laundry and other house chores. She even joked that maybe what she needed was a white man. Lesley had understood, or maybe pretended to understand and said there were no hard feelings. They were now waiting on their lawyers to draw up the divorce paperwork.

She was sitting on the couch, pondering these things when her phone rang. It was Lesley, maybe he wanted to discuss the kids’ holiday plans.

“Hi Les” she said as she answered the phone.

“Hi, are you guys ok?”

“Yes, they just went to bed, maybe they can call you tomorrow?”

“No that’s ok, actually, it’s you that I wanted to speak to” he said.

“Oh ok, what’s up” She was now alert and curious, maybe the lawyers were ready to move ahead with the divorce papers.

“I was thinking about what you said. About you choosing you, and I respect that. But I was wondering, what if I also choose you, how would that work?”

Zanele was stunned.

“What are you saying Lesley”

“I’m saying I want you and the kids, and I choose you. And I think we can work the rest out, and take it one step a time”

At that moment, she started sobbing. She had no answer. But she knew she was happy to have been chosen for a change, instead of choosing herself.

THE END

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