He knew he should have gotten rid of it earlier. There and then, swiftly and ruthlessly like a political opponent in a military state. The nerdy looking guy on YouTube had also said the same thing, but apart from being tired of taking advice from nerdy looking guys on the Internet, he also couldn’t bring himself to do it. He really didn’t want to do it. He wanted to keep seeing it — the fateful text. He wanted to immerse himself in its essence, to feel everything about it. He wanted to feel what the author intended for him to feel. And more. Much more. It was good, old-fashioned self-flagellation and on some crooked level, he had come to enjoy it.
The taxi missed him by a whisker. He heard gasps, squeals, growls and what he took to be words of castigation from the onlookers. The conductor unleashed a volley of obscenities, directed more at his mother than at him. It always amused him how people would make a go at someone’s parents — mom especially, in order to inflict the most hurt on their target. Normally, he would have returned fire, not that he was in any way particularly aggressive, but no one can ever insult one’s mother and leave unscathed, right? But he held his peace instead and walked briskly away, partly because the abuse, though somewhat excessive, was in a way warranted given that he had been reckless and also because the day was not normal, by any stretch of the word. In fact, he had not experienced a single normal day since the events of that fateful day and that was two weeks back.
He brushed shoulders with a man in threadbare, green, military-like clothes. He half-expected to receive a slap in the face because those stoned-to-the-eyeballs street goons could be unpredictable. He quickly mumbled an apology, not that he was in any way in the wrong or afraid of the man’s reaction but out of a rule that he had adopted over the years: wrong or right, just apologise when you are in the streets. It will save you a world of trouble. The man responded with an eerie smile that showed blackened teeth — the effects of years of relentless smoking. Tadiwa thought the smile more sinister than any snarl or frown. The man was clearly stoned and reeked of illicit street brew. His vacant, bloodshot eyes spoke of a life dedicated to the consumption of lethal drugs. He chuckled and continued with his journey, probably to look for another bottle of his favorite illicit brew. Tadiwa suddenly felt deep sympathy for the man. These were guys who had given up on life altogether. Their everyday existence consisted of scavenging for alcohol: mostly cheap concoctions, cheap drugs and more alcohol. There was nothing to look forward to except the morbid thrill of being high and inebriated. Tadiwa’s sympathy suddenly turned into some weird form of admiration. In as much as these people were dead to life, they also had no worries and expectations. They did not expect anything from the world. They were content with their circumstances and did not have dreams of brighter days. To be without hope is to be without disappointment. A life that is bereft of ambition is free from pain. A life that no longer has a place for idealistic things like love is free from heartbreak. Tadiwa almost wished he was like the man — living in an alternate universe governed by different laws.
Tadiwa never imagined that a text message — a mere string of words, could turn someone’s world in an instant like that. Granted, he had received terrible news via the same medium before but never had one message ever carried such magnitude of devastation. In his most sensitive moments, he found himself wondering if there was a spiritual power behind painful words: like nothing else could explain how each word laid siege on his heart in such a manner. It’s not always that you feel the weight of each word, let alone in such a tangible way. It cannot be words alone. There definitely is a spiritual hand in these matters. Yet even in his more rational moments, he found himself grappling with the logic. It was clear there was no simple explanation to the situation. The more he tried to make sense of it, the more he seemed to slide further and further away from the solution. Why are the solutions to life’s problems so much bigger than our minds can fathom? Wait, are life problems meant to have solutions or it’s our human way of trying to rationalise everything so as to feel better about our existence and more in control of our destiny?
The Fire Brigade siren brought him back from the realm of his thoughts. He realised he had walked about for more than a hundred meters on the sidewalk. So buried in his thoughts that he was surprised he had not stepped on a street vendor’s wares. The last time he walked absent-mindedly, he stepped on an old lady’s tomatoes and had to part ways with some hard earned coins. He turned and looked back at the place that could easily have been an accident scene and marvelled at how business had already assumed normalcy, a stark contrast to the events in his life. He marvelled at how people could witness a near tragedy and return to the routines of their lives just seconds later. From where he stood, no one looked fazed. Incidents like these happened everyday: reckless drivers and distracted pedestrians, so unless someone died or got seriously injured, no one would give the incident much notice. Drivers were always in a hurry and pedestrians were always lost in thought thinking about their troubles or just being stupidly engrossed with their phones. He adjusted his laptop bag as he pored over what could have happened. He could easily have lost limb or even life, but for some reason, he was not in the slightest bit fazed. This was by all looks of it an even closer shave than the one two years back that had left him partly traumatised.
He checked his phone and realised that the only messages in there were from his football groups. He also realised that he was some twenty minutes late for work. Not that he cared much. He was looking ill, anyway: rumpled shirt, unkempt hair, and the unsightly tufts that pervaded his jaw. The boss would easily accept an “I’m not feeling well” excuse. Except the boss would most likely wouldn’t, because it was an unspoken cardinal rule at the workplace that unless there was evidence that you were in the ICU or dead, you had to report to work. Tadiwa had already been served with his final warning for missing work for three days because of malaria. Who knew a broken heart could cause malaria?
Tadiwa passed by his favourite food outlet and was shocked to find out the often tantalising smell that stimulated his palate was inducing an almost nauseous feeling in him. Nausea — the announcement of a new phase of grief. He let out a slight whimper. A young man passed him by — clean shaven, sweet smelling with a perfectly fitting suit and a confident smile that a more impressionable person could describe as contagious, a smile that spoke of a deep sense of satisfaction and wholeness of soul. The man looked like the kind that did not live anyhow but expected something from the world. He felt a deep admiration for the young man despite having known him for all of five seconds. Typical Tadiwa, to look at a person once and make deep judgments of personality and character, to see traces of a person’s emotional history in the way they talked, to judge the level of one’s emotional intelligence by the way they laughed. Weird is the first word he used to describe himself. He also wondered if the man asked the world difficult questions. If he also had moments of looking at the world through cynical, unconvinced eyes. He wondered if the man had a torturous mind — a mind that chose to dwell on things better left alone, a mind like his, that could easily spiral out of control. A mind that has a penchant for bringing to the fore only those questions that do not have answers. But he seemed like a guy who looked at the world in black and white. You do good, you got that back. You do bad, it comes back to you — the kind of people who believe that wealth is the direct and inevitable consequence of hard work and poverty, the result of a poor mindset.
“You are the best guy I have ever seen and I love you with all my heart, but things have changed between us. We should start the process of detaching. The thing is I really want to think things through at the moment. My mind has been foggy lately and I want to take this time to reinvent myself. Will always love you.”
He was eating his favorite meal when the bombshell dropped. No cuisine came close to rice and pork chops in Tadiwa’s world. He often quipped that given a choice between having the meal and watching the Champions League final live, he would be content with watching the game on TV. Of course, everyone who knew him close enough would not believe him for a second because they were well aware of his almost manic love for the beautiful game. However, the mere mention of the meal in the same vein, even if in jest, spoke volumes.
The message did not make any sense to him. Many times he had started typing up a response but ended up deleting mid-way through because nothing made sense. Finally he typed two words “It’s okay” and pressed “send.” He immediately regretted it and followed it with a flurry of other messages, first feeling stupid, then being spurred on by some strange and manic feeling that was close to enthusiasm, kept sending more. He sent more than ten long messages: apologies, subtle accusations, thinly veiled insults, motivational messages and more apologies. No reply came.
He was glad that he was alone in his bedroom because everyone would have thought him a raging lunatic. The message had thrown him totally off the rails, and the lack of response had exacerbated the torture. This was someone who he had discussed engagement plans with just a few days back and here she was talking about “Things have changed between us.” When had they changed when only a few days ago he was “the man she wanted to spend the rest of her life with?” The bombshell had dropped without warning. This was the girl who, only a month back had given him the most thoughtful birthday present he had ever received: Inverting the Pyramid — A History of Soccer Tactics by Jonathan Wilson. Most of his friends knew he loved football, but none of them could ever think of buying him a book about football tactics. He purposely avoided talking about football with her because he knew from experience how nasty such issues could turn. One lady had dumped him over his manic love for Arsenal which she said was on a realm higher than his love for her. Tadiwa suspected there was another reason, but the experience made him aware of the sensitivity of the issue. So he was all the more pleasantly surprised when Natasha bought him the book. He wondered how she knew he harboured ambitions of becoming a football coach one day. He had cherished it above everything else and took it for a sign that they were meant to be together. But all had crumbled like a deck of cards and it took just one simple text message. This was a girl who had never given him cause for suspicion. She had made him completely comfortable in the relationship, a glaring contrast to his previous experiences that had left him insecure and ever suspicious. Natasha doused all his doubts. She was one of his few constants in life, or maybe he just did not pay attention. What if the embers of affection had died months back and all that was left was a lingering sense of responsibility? What if the only reason she did not terminate the relationship earlier was out of sympathy for him? After all, girls talk of this sympathy-love thing with a crooked conviction. What if she never loved him and just accepted his advances because she was feeling lonely? Or worse still, she wanted someone who would help her ease the pains of a heartbreak? He knew this all too well, he had done it before, but the mere thought of Natasha being heartbroken over another guy to that extent, sent shudders down his spine.
Tadiwa always trusted his mind to move a little too fast and to be a tad too inventive, but at the moment, every single thing it was suggesting made sense. Could it be that she had a new boyfriend who was superior in every way? — one who had a connecting beard and was tall, dark and handsome? This dimension of thought surprised him for it was utterly foreign to his nature. Tadiwa had never considered looks as important in the realm of making an impression on ladies. He was more concerned with personality. One lady friend of his once said something interesting. She said the reason looks did not concern him was that he was already handsome and saying looks do not matter was him speaking from a position of privilege. Just like a not so dark person would find it easy to say complexion does not matter and an educated person could easily say education is overrated. Privilege, she said. Tadiwa found it interesting but off the mark. Typical of his friend Nyasha to intellectualise everything. Could Natasha have gone for a guy with a more interesting personality than his?
Tadiwa realised he was sweating and pacing around the room, clenching and unclenching his fist while muttering to himself. Beads of sweat trickled down his furrowed brow and his throat was parched. Another line of thought came through. Could it be that I’m too good for her. Could it be that she felt inferior to me and decided to find a guy her own level? He almost smiled at this, but he knew deep down that it was just a defence mechanism, a subconscious way of making himself feel better. Reality was that If ever there was an inferior one between them, it was he. One cannot be superior and get thrown into the dustbin like that without as much as a simple explanation.
His mum came to his room sometime later and enquired of the untouched chops and he responded brusquely that he was not hungry. His mother, though normally insistent realised something was amiss and left him alone. He checked his phone again and found there was a number of message but not a single reply from she that mattered. He felt like screaming at the top of his voice as if the noise could somehow drown his sorrows. How can someone claim to have loved you and still not have the decency to at least afford you an explanation? How can you totally shut out someone you love like that? To leave them to pick up the broken pieces of their lives alone while you carry on with your life blissfully, like nothing ever happened? He tossed and turned in bed as his mind seemed determined to torture him the entire night. He fleetingly wondered what he would choose to get rid of, if it were possible — his torturous mind or the painful heart. He debated on it for a short while and finally resolved that the brain will have to go since all that pains the heart had to first be processed by the brain. He did not care about what science thought was true. He was not much of a science person, anyway. What he knew was that it all made sense at the moment. He did not know how he slept, but he woke up with a piercing headache and a heavy heart. He found it perplexing how one could actually feel physical pain in the heart area. Like, is the organ that pumps blood also the place where emotions reside? He went over the message again and found that the pain had not subsided, if anything it had become more excruciating. He could literally feel the crack in his heart. He had experienced hurt in matters of the heart before and had indeed felt a literal pain in the heart area, but it had always been a mild throbbing. Never had he experienced this searing, consistent bludgeoning that threatened to tear him apart. That was when it dawned on him that he was in uncharted territory. He had stepped into unfamiliar waters of distress. He tried to stand up to go to the bathroom, but he somehow found himself too weak to get out of bed. He willed himself to stand up, but it was a futile exercise. His emotional resolve had so dissipated that it was now taking its toll on his body. His mind began to race. How can one person have so much emotional power? How can a person, a mere human being, who can die at any time have such an unrelenting hold on someone’s heart? A mere mortal with the power to make a grown man disintegrate and crumble into a heap of despair and shame? Is life not funny?
He finally managed to get up, an act of sheer, revolutionary will power, something that required him to summon every bit of strength in him. He bathed, hopped into the nearest clothes he could find. As he looked in the mirror, he suddenly felt like someone just gave him a punch in the guts. His knees gave way and he staggered and slumped on his bed. His head started whirling and his vision became partly blurred. He felt like he wanted to vomit, he fumbled for his phone, dialled his supervisor’s number and called in sick. He didn’t even care to listen to what his boss thought. Everything was immaterial. He just wanted to sleep his sorrows away.
Tadiwa started to walk faster as he neared his workplace. It was only a couple of minutes past eight, but he felt like he had been up for hours instead. He was already tired and the prospect of doing an eight hour shift made him nauseous. He couldn’t believe that it was only a couple of minutes ago that he nearly became another statistic in the treacherous roads of Harare. The event had already been pushed so far back in his mind that if felt like it had happened a week before. He jumped over a puddle of water and landed on the patch of grass close to the fence. He glanced at the well trimmed lawn and marvelled at the artistry. The design was immaculate and spoke of deep dedication to craft. He walked the perimeter of the fence humming an unknown song that had a melancholy ring to it. It had been playing in his head since the previous day. He checked the time and realised he was about forty five minutes late. He shrugged and sighed. He entered the gate and the security guard greeted him cheerfully as always. Why are some people always exuberant and full of vitality in spite of their circumstances? Tadiwa waved back at him and made a feeble attempt at smiling. He walked past the company’s billboard and bumped into his supervisor — a serious man, who had a pedantic air about him. The supervisor looked him from head to toe and answered him with a frown when he greeted him. Moments later he was no longer sure if the supervisor had really frowned at him or it was all in his head. Many things have been happening in his head in the previous two weeks. He made for the bathroom as soon as he entered the company building and ran a comb through his hair. He looked at his reflection in the mirror and though he knew he had lost weight, he was shocked by the clearly defined features of his face. His jaw line was more defined than the edges of the company lawn. There was barely any flesh on his face. Suddenly the horror turned to elation. The lack of flesh somehow made him look more handsome or was it all again in his head? He put the comb back into his pocket, adjusted his tie and instinctively checked his Facebook.
It was not the smile which he could still describe as infectious and cute despite the circumstances that made his legs buckle from under him. It was not even the stunning matching regalia. It were those eyes, those brown eyes that did it for him. He found himself seated on the bathroom floor. He couldn’t believe what was happening. He felt numb. He even managed to smile. It was only two weeks away — her wedding. His girlfriend of two years was getting married in two weeks, which would be only a month since they broke up. And she was getting married to that guy from her church she said was her mentor. Tadiwa hadn’t suspected anything. He had even met the guy once or twice and they had talked about their mutual love for Sidney Sheldon and Arsenal. Tadiwa smiled, then he started laughing, calmly at first until he was virtually convulsing. Then he suddenly stood up, still laughing and looked in the mirror and found to his horror that he was bleeding profusely from the nose.
is a Zimbabwean creative writer who’s based in South Africa. He’s in love with African Literature and writing about it is his happy place. Tinashe is an Electronic Commerce graduate from Harare Institute of Technology. His creative work has appeared in the Kalahari Review on two occasions.
Cover photo credit: Tosin Taiwo