It’s one those alone moments, not the lonely ones but the ones when you’re deep in thought. How do you care for someone you don’t yet know? Or can you care for someone you don’t know? Not as in you don’t know their name or how they look but you don’t know them as a person. But you just feel their perfect for you. Nicholas wondered as he stared at the blank Tv screen. He hadn’t stopped thinking about his neighbour for days. Their interactions however limited had left a mark on him. Her smile, her laugh, her voice, how she scratched the inside of her hand with her thumb when she was absent minded. It’s funny the things the mind can take note off when it wants too.
They’ve talked all of four times and he remembers every interaction. The first was just after she had moved in and he went there to introduce himself. They hit it off and he already saw unlimited possibilities, that is until the second time they bumped into each other by the local store where he was introduced to her husband. His heart sank. In the moment he wanted to grab her hand and tell she could do better, but he didn’t. The voice of reason still spoke louder than hormones and instant emotions. So the encounters just went on, rare and short lived but priceless to him.
Laughter could be heard as far as two houses away but it was more than just alcohol induced happiness. After a six pack of beers and a couple of whiskey shots Nicholas and Ryan found humour in everything. It was their usual weekend of catching up. As brothers, well step brothers to be exact they had been best friends since as young as 10 years old. It was in fact when they had met. Children of a father who had two families that didn’t know about each other, it was his funeral that brought them together. They bonded immediately but their mothers were adversaries, still fighting each other for the affection of a now deceased man.
The play dates grew to sleepovers and this lead to a bond for life. Nicholas and Ryan eventually ended up going to the same high school, though they would take different career paths after that. Nicholas the brighter of the two would end up pursuing a banking degree, while Ryan would go to police camp after failing his A’level’s for the second time. Through it all they remained close, each was the others confidant. Romance was pretty elusive for both but well Ryan wasn’t one for love. His love life was a series of emotion free one night stands. Contrary to popular belief their rather slim pickings for the African policeman.
“Nick man I saw your neighbour walking in the other day my god she’s beautiful,” Ryan said burying his face in his hands.
“Don’t even think about it man she’s married. Plus you wouldn’t stand a chance,” shot back Nicholas.
Ryan pretended to look hurt then they both burst out in laughter.
“You’re quite defensive about her though.”
“I just respect women something you clearly never learnt Ryan.”
“Sounds more like you have a crush on her.”
At this their conversation was interrupted by crying and shouting from next door. They immediately ran outside to see what was going on. Which in most Zimbabwean neighbourhoods is quite difficult, because we all have walls around our houses. Mostly to keep unwanted people out but also to keep what goes on within our houses inside the yard. Ryan and Nicholas stood peering over the dura wall looking right at the woman they had been talking about a moment ago. Her makeup had run down her face from all the crying and her hair was a mess.
“You have a wife why are you sleeping around with other women?” She shouted at her husband.
A question that was quickly replied to by a hard slap with the back of his hand across her right cheek. She fell to the ground and as she reached for her cheek, the slap was followed by a kick to her gut. And Nicholas was over the wall faster than Ryan could stop him. Darting across the yard, he tackled down Thandeka’s husband before he could do anything about it. By the time Ryan caught up to him, Nicholas had the husband pinned to the ground while he punched him with no remorse. When Ryan finally got to Nicholas and pulled him away he had to restrain him while his anger subsided. He was fuming as if the roles were reversed, like he was the husband and a near stranger had just attacked his wife.
Tinashe (Thandeka’s husband) was already bloody when the assault had been stopped. There was a large gash above his left eye that was bleeding profusely.
“You’re going to be fucking sorry for this,” he shouted.
“Baby are you okay?” said Thandeka with genuine concern in the direction of her husband.
“Don’t baby me, you should be calling your saviour over there these pet names.”
These were Tinashe’s last words as he got into his car, slamming the door and driving away. Leaving Thandeka wailing louder and the step brothers still arguing with each other. With her husband out of sight, Nicholas ran and knelt next to Thandeka.
“Thandeka are you alright?”
“Why did you do that? Why?” she shouted and began throwing half hearted punches at his chest.
Nicholas just hugged her and then slowly the punches stopped, she gently buried her head into his chest. She felt his warmth, listened to his heart beat and she felt safe. In that moment she stopped caring she wasn’t in her husband’s arms. She was going enjoy these minutes of comfort guilt free.
Before the brothers left Thandeka was given both their numbers and told to call anytime there was a problem. And that night she made a call that would become a daily late night ritual for her and Nicholas. Barely half an hour after returning home, Nicholas’ phone ran. It was a call from a number that wasn’t saved in his phone and he instantly knew it could only be one person.
“Hello,” he said as he picked up the call.
“Hey it’s Thandeka.”
“Hey is everything alright?” replied an anxious Nicholas.
“Everything is fine don’t worry I just called because I wanted to say thank you. No one has ever been there like that for me.”
“It’s no problem hey, I wouldn’t let any woman get treated that way…”
A call under the guise of just saying thank you would turn into a 3 hour long conversation. Almost like the reconnecting of lost lovers, who in an instant ignited all the hidden past emotions and couldn’t get enough of each other. They were both lonely and anxious to fill that void, even for just a moment, even with something that wasn’t love, even with make believe fantasy and even if it didn’t last beyond the night. Tinashe was still not home and all through the chat Thandeka told herself talking to someone who would actually listen was a welcome change.
A couple of days went by and they were a few more late night calls. While this was going on Ryan negotiated a peace between his brother and Thandeka’s husband. In exchange for an apology Tinashe would drop the assault charges he had filed against Nicholas. It was a rather hard pill to swallow. Every bone in his body wanted to give him a lecture on how women are treated but Nick fought it and apologized. But in his heart he swore if he ever found out that Tinashe hit Thandeka again he would kill him with his bare hands. It wasn’t in the literal sense but it was just a statement of intent.
As the time went by Nicholas discovered from his bathroom window he could see right into Thandeka’s yard. He hadn’t been looking for a spot to peep but the opportunity just presented itself and he wasn’t going to waste it. What was just a crush had turned into a near obsession. The romantic within him wished he could just open his heart and let her dive in, for her to be cascaded in the love he felt. But if wishes were horses even a beggar would ride. He would just sit in there with a couple of beers and watch what was going on next door. Torturing himself by looking at what was so close in his heart yet far away in reality.
But basically he was now a pervert though he thought to himself but he couldn’t help it. It wasn’t exactly harming anybody and in fact he was actually watching over her. Like a guardian angel. Just add alcohol to deep emotions and you can convince yourself of anything.
One night when Thandeka had forgotten to close her bedroom curtains. She walked in, switched on the lights about to get ready for bed. It just so happened that in that moment Nicholas walked into his bathroom and looking out the window, he was face to face with Thandeka. They made eye contact with each other and neither shied away. Thandeka hit with a mischievous thouibegan seductively taking her clothes off as she changed into her nightwear. Nicholas was captivated, he didn’t blink as his eyes paid attention to the motion of each and every curve. Then suddenly the show was cut short. She disappeared for a moment and next thing Nick knew his phone was ringing.
“Ummmm hey,” he awkwardly answered.
“Like what you see over there?”
“I do, in fact I more than like it.”
“Well why don’t you come over and take a closer look,” Thandeka said in the sexiest voice she could manage.
Something in Thandeka had changed, maybe just for that night, maybe permanently. She had tired of being dragged along by Tinashe. She deserved more. She deserved better. What was one indiscretion to days upon days of abuse anyway? It wasn’t love or was it? She had a certain fondness for Nicholas though and had her life been different she could have seen herself being married to him. But raised in hardcore African values, what she was taught was you stuck through the marriage not matter how bad. Yet there she was inviting another man into her marital home. She just told herself what happened happened.
“I-I-I might just do that,” stuttered Nicholas in reply.
“Don’t take too long though.”
“Wait are we just flirting or you’re being serious?”
“Come knock at my door and find out,” were her last words as she cut off the call.
Common sense abandoned him for a moment, Nicholas dashed to his neighbours house and in a vest, with just shorts on and flip flops he gave the door a quick knock. Heart racing and looking about as if someone was watching him. A mixture of anticipation and fear twisted his stomach into knots.
“Come in,” came Thandeka’s voice.
Nicholas walked in and as their eyes met, Thandeka untied her robe and let it hit the floor. Revealing nothing on but her body’s smooth, caramel skin tone. Nicholas was in awe. He was speechless. His mouth instantly went dry. Nothing was out of place. In front of his eyes he saw perfection. It was a moment that lasted a near eternity. They finally moved closer to each other, invading that personal space. Literally now breathing in the same air. Nicholas grabbed hold of her chin and as Thandeka looked up to him he stole a kiss. Parting her soft lips, she let their tongues get entangled in a beautiful dance. As hands of their own will roamed each other’s bodies.
Stuck within their own world they didn’t hear the gate opening, the car coming in. Tinashe was home early. His arrival only announced when he began unlocking the door. There wasn’t enough time to do anything. They were both just frozen there in horror. The door opened and a half naked Nicholas was caught standing next to Tinashe’s naked wife. The air of excitement that was once reaching the breaking point vanished to be replaced by a slight eerie silence. A tension in the new atmosphere held everyone in their place unmoving but quickly the tension was broken.
“You whore,” Tinashe shouted out. And he for the drawer underneath the Tv stand were he kept his gun. Fumbling with his keys as his hands shook in anger.
Nicholas was still unmoved conflicted between running away and standing his ground, well this was Tinashe’s house so it would’ve been standing on another man’s ground. Thandeka knowing what was about to happen and acting on instinct alone grabbed a close by miniature giraffe sculpture. 2kgs of nothing but granite, and with her full force behind it she bashed it into the back of her husbands skull. Two blows and he was flat on the ground silent. The atmosphere in the room grew even more tense yet nobody moved. Thandeka knelt next to her husband’s body breathing heavily, hands now bloody and tears pouring down. They half expected him to get up again but after 5 minutes it was clear he was not going to. As Nicholas went to try and move him they realized he wasn’t breathing. He checked and rechecked for a pulse but there wasn’t one to be found. The world stood still for a moment and their heads went spinning.
In panic Nicholas called the only person he knew he could trust to help him in a such a situation. His brother Ryan. The police officer. For once he appreciated having a cop for a brother. He forgot the measly salary, the ugly uniform and degrading tasks. If Ryan could get him out of this one even he too would quit banking and join the police force he told himself. After several rings Ryan finally picked up.
“Ryan I don’t know what to do we’ve messed up man and we’ve messed up big.”
“What’s going on?”
“You have to know I love her man, I really love her.”
“What’s going on?”
“I can’t go to jail I just can’t bro!”
Nicholas went on to mumble the basics of what had happened, except in this version he was the one who bashed in Tinashe’s head. He had thought of telling the truth but he blamed himself for everything. If he had just shown some restraint or if he had acted instead of just standing there, things wouldn’t have gotten here. If anyone was to end up in prison it had to be me.
And as a brother should Ryan rushed to Nick’s aid, arriving there just 15 minutes after he had been called. Thandeka with her bloody hands shaking is taken to the bathroom to clean up and then change clothes. Once that’s finished she’s promptly instructed to pack a bag with a few of her clothes, valuables and everything of sentimental value to her. While she does this Ryan goes about pouring oil and liquor all over the furniture and an assortment of all flammable liquids he can find. With everyone out of the house he sets the sofa’s and the rest of the wooden furniture on fire.
They watch as the house burns down from Nicholas’ verandah. Their story extremely simple. The three of them had been together all night. Thandeka had come over to escape her drunk husband and they had watched a movie. They hadn’t noticed the fire until the house was fully ablaze and it was too late to do anything. It was their word against that of a dead man and dead men don’t speak. A cop, a successful star in the business circles and a battered wife. Who would dare challenge them? Plus in a country with virtually no forensics who would know better?
It was good riddance anyway they told each other to calm their consciences.
To just be safe though, Ryan calls ahead and calls in a few favours. The incident is already written up as an accidental fire before the police arrive. His brother is going to owe him so much for this. All those years at university and he still needed him to clean up his mess. Ryan feels an overwhelming sense of pride, even though a man is head it doesn’t matter as long as his brother is safe.
Nicholas and Thandeka share another tender hug. She’s in her safe place again. Already trying to forget what had just happened and her last few years of marriage. In light of all that had transpired that she could finally see the light at the end of the tunnel and it wasn’t just the fire burning bright. Nicholas smiled into the flames a day dream away or was it a vision of his realities completion.
One mans demise, the beginning of another’s fairytale…