Mrs. Peterson had asked me several times if I had seen her husband, Nick, coming home with another woman when she was not around. I said no each time she asked me. I found it very funny that she suspected he brought back just one woman, but I did not want to snitch on my boss or cause trouble in their marriage. I had been their gardener ever since they picked me up at Thabo Mbeki Street in Florida, where I and many other jobseekers gathered every morning hoping to get part time jobs from passing motorists. I was lucky one morning to have been picked up by Nick. They gave me a backyard room, rent free, and paid me a monthly wage of 3 000 Rands. For three years, I studied Network Engineering and I was graduating the week Nick threatened to have me hanged.
Since I moved into their yard, I witnessed Nick bring his mistresses into the house. In women, Nick saw no color. Indians, Blacks, Whites and Asians – I had seen them all. He was like a good, non-racist man who really loved the idea of a rainbow nation. Yet at other times he would, with a dogged smile on his face, call me a Kaffir – a Negro – and then he would laugh and say that I should loosen up; it’s just a joke. Every time he called me Kaffir, I wanted to hit him in the head with a spade, kick him to the ground and urinate on his face.
He spoke to me about race a lot. He would start a conversation about how South Africa used to be a great country during apartheid, and that my ‘black’ government has messed everything up. He recommended death penalties on criminals, and he suggested most would be blacks. Every time he came home with a black woman, I felt betrayed. I would feel tempted to call his wife and tell her there was an emergency at the house, or that the house was on fire.
This happened when his wife, Mrs. Kelly Peterson, went away on business or when she visited her mother in Little Falls. Ayanda came over more often than other mistresses. She was Nick and Kelly’s wedding planner. I was there at their wedding, walking around with a tray on my hand like a waiter. Anyone who watched me that day could tell that I was stuffed in that black suit and chocked with a black bow tie, and I was trained to walk around with a tray full of blow job shots, springbok shooters and many other poisonous liquors that I learnt about in the days leading to the wedding day. Their wedding was held at the city hall in Sofia Town. When I was much younger and I visited the shopping malls, every time I saw white couples holding hands and kissing every few minutes in public, I thought they never cheated on each other – let alone be serial cheaters like Nick.
Ayanda had planned the wedding well, but three years after the wedding she continued giving extra services to Nick. On one Saturday afternoon, Kelly had been calling Nick several times on his cell phone but he was not picking up her calls. She then called me while I was busy gardening and asked if Nick’s car was home. I told her Nick’s Range Rover was outside the gate, but I did not tell her that the wedding planner’s Chevrolet was also parked behind Nick’s car. She asked me to tell Nick to come and pick her up at the airport, and to inform him that he should call her immediately if he couldn’t so that she could take a meter cab.
I dropped my spade and walked to their house with my muddy safety shoes. The front door was slightly open. I walked in and proceeded to the bedroom, my shoes leaving a trail of muddy footsteps on the tiled floor. The bedroom door was slightly open. The sounds from the bedroom almost tempted me to call Kelly and tell her to take a meter cab and come home.
Despite the noises, I knocked. Their groaning was now getting louder to a point of shaking the roof and rattling the windows. I pushed the door wide open with my fingertips. The wedding planner was riding Nick like a horse trainer and screaming like an opera singer. They both jumped to their feet and Nick screamed like he had seen a ghost at his bedroom door. He asked me what the hell I was doing in his bedroom and swore that I was a “fucking stupid Kaffir”. He was screaming because I interrupted him when he was just about to shoot to cloud nine. I was mute for a moment and I stood still like a Negro statue at a white man’s door, staring at the curvy, butt naked wedding planner. Nick screamed as he walked towards me, his pink penis hanging and dangling in disappointment. I knew he would punch me in the eye if I did not say anything.
“Your wife is on her way,” I said.
“She was calling your phone but you did not answer.”
He walked back to the headboard leaving me to see his flat, white hairy buttocks. The wedding planner began picking up her clothes from the floor and I noticed her pink g-string at my feet by the door. She began hastily dressing like a little, fearful girl who was late for school. Nick grabbed his phone from the headboard and stared at his screen.
“Eleven missed calls,” his eyes widened. “Shit. Did she tell you where she is now?”
“No.” I said as I began walking away.
I knew they would not be finishing what they started. If only he had asked me nicely, instead of calling me a Kaffir, I would have told him his wife was still at the airport.
Kelly was a young, hard working woman. She looked around 26 years of age: she was tall, slim and she had a warm smile. She worked as business consultant for an insurance company, and this job required her to go away at least for three days, every two weeks, to meet clients. When she was away, Nick brought home his mistresses. He worked as a realtor for a real estate company.
I went back to the garden and I watched them flee the house like it was on fire. The wedding planer’s eyes were fixed at the gate as she rushed, looking dishevelled.
Nick opened the gate for her and he suddenly stopped – as if he had remembered something. He ran back to the house, to put everything in his bedroom back in order. Moments later he came out and offered me 200 rands as a thank you ‘gift’. I refused to accept it. I told him he had a beautiful wife and that he needed to stop cheating on her. He looked at me and asked me what the hell a Kaffir knew about love or life before he walked away.
I was not a boy. I was 31 years old, and I was older than him. But like many white people, he thought every black man working for a white man was a boy and young at mind.
In the still of the night, I was awakened by the echoing noises of quarrelling and arguing from the Peterson household. The following morning, Nick packed his things into his Range Rover and drove out of the gate playing U2 – ‘With Or Without You’. I stood in the garden watching Kelly fold her hands helplessly as Nick left. Tears run down her face as she stared blankly at the main door.
I wished Kelly would stop crying and thank God for his departure. For five days I did not see her as she hid away in their bedroom, and on the sixth day I decided to go and knock at her door.
She opened the door and she stood motionless – looking at me. She asked me what I wanted.
“Can I come in?”
She stepped aside and I stepped in. The room smelt stale – like dead rats had died and were rotting in its crevices. Stale food was on a plate and empty bottles of red wine were scattered across her floor. Her hair looked like the Devil’s unshaven pubic hair.
“A decomposed body smells better than your house Kelly,” I finally said.
She gazed at me and did not say anything. She threw herself on her bed like an angry, spoiled child. I opened the bedroom windows and I drew back the curtains. I started collecting the empty wine bottles from her floor. I spotted her wedding ring – flung on the ground.
“I found an earring under my pillow,” she suddenly said. “I found used condoms under the bed and my sheets had red lipstick marks on them. I do not wear lipstick.”
“I know,” I said licking my lips. She stood up from the bed and walked towards me.
“I asked him and he admitted to cheating,” she continued. “We started arguing and he said he wanted a divorce because he’s not happy.”
“May I run a bath for you?” I asked as she inched closer to me.
“Do I stink?” She suddenly seemed self conscious.
“You need a bath.”
She smiled at me, as if grateful for my blunt honesty. I remembered that she was still my boss. I went to the bathroom and poured foam liquid, before I ran the hot water in the bathtub. As I left the bathroom, I saw her standing at the door, wrapped in a pink gown with a toothbrush in her mouth. I went downstairs and started washing dishes and clearing the house.
Moments later she came to the kitchen. Her hair was brushed and her blue eyes sparkled. She wore a fitted white t-shirt, blue jeans and black sneakers.
“Thank you,” she said, holding my hand. She leaned forward and kissed me on my cheek. My heart skipped a beat.
“Let’s take a walk to Nando’s down the road – I’m starving,” she said.
We left together, and I paused at the gate to lock the doors. As we walked down Kumar Street, she took my hand and smiled at me. White people looked at us in horror as we walked, hand in hand, as if we had committed a sin. Many paused to watch us, narrowing their eyes at me in anger – as if I deserved to be hanged for holding a white woman’s hand.
We arrived at Nando’s and sat on the same side of the table, still holding hands. Kelly’s phone rang. It was Nick. She answered it and put it on loudspeaker. I could hear everything. He apologized for cheating on her and he asked if he could come back home. He had found the wedding planner in bed with another client and she made him realise that Kelly, his wife, was special.
“We are having lunch,” Kelly flatly replied.
“We,” Nick paused. “With who?”
“With my friend, so please do not disturb us.” She hung up her phone and set it on the table beside me. Nick called again, and this time I picked it up and put it on loudspeaker so Kelly could hear. I told him to call Kelly some other time as we were busy.
“You garden Kaffir! I will have you hanged!” He shut the phone off.
Kelly looked at me and smiled, like it was good news. “I wouldn’t mind being a Kaffir lover,” she beamed at me. The waitress came and took our order. I ordered a plate of chicken and chips – extra hot.
“I’d like a salad please,” Kelly asked. “And a cup of coffee. Black and strong.”
Joe Machina (@joenomachina) is the pen name of Norman Ncube. He was born in Zimbabwe and is now resident in South Africa. Joe is a freelance journalist and author who has written articles for Mail & Guardian, and writes mostly short stories that focus on daily social and political activities. His novel, Victims of Greed, was recently published by Bahati Books.
This story was published in collaboration with Bahati Books, an e-book publishing company that aims to bring to global readers captivating and well-written African Literature by African authors.
Related country: South Africa.
Listen to AFReviews Podcast on this story here.