The familiar sound of the garage opening reminded Sihle of her visitor. How was it that when he left, he had taken everything he owned, surrendered all his house keys, yet had felt the need to keep the garage remote? And why had he never returned it in all of the last four years?
Sihle remained seated at the dining table, facing the kitchen door. It gave her an advantage. She would see him first as he walked through and get the brief opportunity to appraise him while he was still walking in and finding his bearings. As he walked in, Sihle was very much aware of how her heart no longer skipped a beat at the sight of him. There was no hate, and there was no affection, it was almost like the way she would feel towards Greg in IT at the office, you know, the one she smiled briefly at in the staff kitchen, and only ever spoke to when she needed help with her laptop. Yep. That was how she felt when she looked at her husband. Husband. That would soon change.
He seemed to be more relaxed than usual and walked to her and gave her the usual hug. Why did they keep doing this? These hugs were as fake as a white woman’s smile to a black person in Woolies.
“How are you Hle?”
He always called her Hle. Even during the worst times in their relationship, when they had come close to murdering each other, he still called her Hle. It once had been a nickname that signified love, and affection and adoration, and had given her butterflies, but now, now it was just a name.
“I am fine Ndumiso, wena?”
She had always called him Ndumiso. Either sthandwa, or Ndumiso. Everyone else called him everything else, from Ndumi, to Ndu to Dumi, but she had always called him by the full name.
“I have to get to meeting soon, so I won’t stay long. Where are they?” He said as he settled on the seat opposite her.
Yea right, guess the meeting comes in a miniskirt and bright red lipstick.
“The kids are not here, and I didn’t request this meeting for them. Would you like a drink before we talk?”
“Yes please, any beer will do. Is everything ok?”
“I don’t have beer, juice?”
After handing him his glass, and settling down with her own, she pushed the white folder towards him.
“I had my lawyer draw these, please go through them and let me know if there is anything to revise. If not, please sign. I want this as painless as possible, and would prefer not to have a long drawn out process in court”
She was looking directly into his eyes and saw something she had not seen in a long time. Sadness. Anger. Hurt. A threat of tears. Isn’t this what he wanted? She was surprised.
“But we never spoke about this Nosihle”
Full name. So he was affected. The full name was reserved for extra special occasions. Wedding. Graduation speech. And now divorce.
“What is there to talk about Ndumiso? We are not together, so let us make it legal”
Her coldness astounded even her. Surely, she had loved this man before?
“Yes, but I mean, we never really discussed what direction we would take”
Ndumiso needed to start diluting his dagga, or maybe taking it as a brownie, because at that very moment, he was not making aaaaaany sense.
“Ndumiso, there was a time when we could have spoken, but we didn’t. You were not interested remember? Now, we are both happy, and at peace, why must we talk? Anyway, I will say my piece and my peace, so listen very carefully. I will not ever say this to you again.”
“When you left me, broken, confused, in pain, I thought I was gonna die. I did not eat for days on end. I was a zombie. I was short tempered with my children. I made mistakes at work and came very close to getting fired. I felt physical pain. Believe me, I wanted to talk to you then, desperately. But you did not want to talk”
“Remember on that last day, how I lay on the floor weeping, begging you to stay. How I even said I would try polygamy if that’s what you wanted? I was a mess. I was not myself. What had happened to the strong Nosihle that my mama raised me to be? Remember how you left me lying there, contemplating suicide? Do you know what stopped me? The image of my kids crying over my coffin…..”
She raised her hand to signal him to shut up.
“Don’t interrupt me! You will talk when I’m done. So yeah, the first six months after you left, I cried almost every night. The first year after you left, I daydreamed of the day you would come back to your senses. I imagined how our reconciliation would be like. I wrote you love letters that I never sent. Every little thing reminded me of you. I watched The Notebook over and over again and reminisced of when we first watched it together. I read Sunday papers on the bed like we used to, and wished you were there to do it with me. I slept in the one t shirt you forgot to take away with you. It was brutal. It was like a death with no funeral. And I had to go through it alone, because in my stupidity I had allowed you to make me alienate my friends and family. You’re surprised? Yes, I alienated them, because I was trying to be the wife you wanted”
“In the second year, I cried less, but I still held on to hope. Each time you came to pick the kids, I dressed myself to the nines, wore the best make up, sprayed your favourite scent, hoping you would see how beautiful I was and maybe desire me once more. But nope! No no no. I don’t blame you for that. I know now that that is not how a relationship is found, or kept, or maintained.”
“But something changed in year three”
She dramatically stood up to pour more wine before continuing,
“In year three, something shifted. I started to have real conversations with myself. I forgave myself, for ever thinking I was not enough. I forgave myself for ever reducing Nosihle to a pathetic beggar who begs for the attention of a man. I forgave myself for my role in our problems. Oh yes, I did. I acknowledged my role, but also reminded myself that my role is not the reason why you left. No one can make one person stay or leave. You left because you wanted to, and that is ok. It’s ok! It really is. I realised it late and I forgave myself for that. I started asking myself what it is I really wanted in life. I even dared to start living. To have a little fun. I started accepting invitations again. Heck, I even attended a wedding for the first time in two years! My kids noticed. They hugged me more, they spoke to me more, they wanted to do things with me more, and they told me they loved me more. Things that I had deprived myself of for two whole years!”
Ndumiso’s demeanor had changed from shock, to irritation, to really listening throughout this rant. He looked like he was going to cry at any minute. Nosihle was not deterred.
“Don’t take the relationship we have had in the last few months for granted. We are cordial and in a good space, because I deliberately decided that it was better for the kids if we got along. I was intentional in making sure that I avoid unnecessary conflict. I accepted the apology I never got from you. Don’t ever mistake that for weakness. I am much stronger than I was when we first met. I mean look, when it comes down to it, you are not a bad person, neither am I. You made choices, so did I. Now, Ndumiso, I choose to live in beauty rather than ashes, so I celebrate what we had. I tell our kids how we met, so they know they came from love. I tell them of the great things you have done and of the silly jokes you have told. I mean, let’s face it, no one, at this moment, knows you better than I do. I know your strengths and weaknesses, I know your likes and dislikes. In a way, that contributed to our demise, because it meant I could always call out your bullshit. I could always tell when you were lying or being insecure or jealous. And you hated that. You hated my honesty. You hated the challenge. You interpreted it as disrespect. But it never was. I was just being me. And being me meant not taking shit. It meant the inability to eat shit in all its forms – fried, baked or grilled”
“So Ndumiso, there are no more hard feelings. Read the papers. Have a lawyer go through them. Revise and be reasonable about it. Then let’s sign and go and live our lives!”
“But Hle, I’m not even with her anymore……”
“That doesn’t matter. It’s not about anyone. It’s about us. If you are single, then that gives you an opportunity to go out there and meet new people”
She was done. She had said her peace. They sat there for at least ten minutes before he gathered the guts the pick the papers and say his goodbyes.
Sihle exhaled. It was over.
A short story by Zwi, for Amazwi.