Sadness By Patrick Midzi
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An Unconquered Sadness
By Patrick Midzi
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When Stan got into bed, Nyasha was fast asleep. Repose gave her face a childishly defenceless aspect and Stan, in a sudden burst of tenderness, gently flicked the curtain of hair resting over her face. Her lips beneath his were soft and sweet. She responded to the kiss and made a small satisfied sound in her throat.
Stan envied Nyasha this ability to lose herself to the nether world of dreams. Sleep came to her almost as soon as her head was on the pillow, and in the morning, when she awoke, she was rested and eager to tilt at the windmills on her horizon. For Stan, the night was full of interminable twitchings, and half-remembered dreams which sometimes brought him to sudden wakefulness with the sweat gathered upon his brow. Once, Nyasha had been compelled to shake him out of a nightmare. It had taken him a long time to calm her down as she remained trembling beside him, long after he had forgotten what his dream had been about.
Now he lay quietly beside Nyasha, enjoying the liquid sensation of her warmth seeping into his tired limbs. We fit, he thought idly. Just before sleep claimed him, he rolled over and faced away from Nyasha. Still sleeping, she immediately turned and hugged him from behind.
For the first time in a long while there were no nightmares to mar Stan’s sleep.
The sun was streaming in through the gaps in the curtains when Stan woke up. The radio was playing softly. He supposed Nyasha had turned it on. She had gone out without waking him up.
He went into the bathroom. Nyasha had left the cap off the toothpaste tube again. The tube lay on the sink like an overgrown slug. A thin ribbon of paste oozed from the mouth. Stan felt a mild irritation because Nyasha always squeezed the tube from the middle. Before he took his bath, he had to clean the tub, ducking his head to avoid catching his neck on the various articles of female underwear which hung on the rack to dry.
On the kitchen table lay the ATM card he had given Nyasha yesterday so that she could pay the rent as well as get some groceries. There was a note scrawled in her untidy handwriting explaining that she had forgotten the errands. She was sure Stan would be able to perform these. And she loved him.
He went to the office and asked if he could take the morning off. There was no queue at the teller machine at his bank and he was surprised to note that the balance was larger than he had expected. Nyasha had not spent any money at all.
At the estate agent, he was the only client there, and this, the agent explained with a hint of reproof, was because everyone else had paid by the day before.
It took him an hour to get to the supermarket in Fife Avenue, and as he pushed his trolley in the aisles he felt a little foolish among all the housewives who were leisurely filling up their baskets. By the time he had paid for his groceries, he noticed he was late for the office and decided to go straight there without dropping off his groceries.
A few colleagues made snide remarks about employees who had the temerity to ask for time off to shop while the rest had to pick up the slack. Even his boss glared accusingly at the shopping bags but made no comment.
Stan felt it was only fair for him to stay and finish off the paperwork which still remained on his desk as the others trooped off to join the queues for transport to take them home. Six o’clock came and went. The only thing which betrayed his consciousness of the lateness of day was when he got up to switch on the lights. He made no calls home. When it was almost ten o’clock the night watchman came in and started gossiping until Stan decided to leave.
The buses had stopped running. Stan walked to NSSA House where he hoped to get a lift up Second Street extension. After thirty minutes, a truck stopped for him and he jumped in the back, grateful for the ride. A cutting wind tore at him as the truck sped along the deserted road.
At the Belgravia shops, he got off. Fifteen minutes later, he was home. Nyasha lay asleep on the sofa, a magazine covering her lower face. Some books lay scattered on the floor. The remains of a half-eaten breakfast formed a congealed mess on the table.
Stan gently took away the magazine and stood looking down at the peaceful face in repose. He straightened up and looked round the room without a change of expression. It took him the best part of an hour to clean the place up.
When he went into the kitchen, he noticed that Nyasha had not cooked anything. Weariness rolled over him. There was a deep pain cutting across the back of his head. He felt slightly frightened when he began to imagine that he could hear the voice which haunted his dreams.
By the time he had finished washing the dishes the water was boiling on the stove, but now he felt too tired to make sadza. In the end, he fried three eggs.
“Why didn’t you wake me?” Nyasha said sleepily from the kitchen doorway. “Good day?” She came up to him and wound her arms round his neck. “You didn’t have to do that, sweetheart,” she continued.
Her breath was full and sweet. “You looked so peaceful. I hadn’t the heart to disturb you.”
Nyasha took a fork, immediately tucking into the eggs with such gusto that Stan stopped eating and watched hungrily as his supper disappeared.
In the bedroom, the bed was unmade. Stan felt the dull ache begin in his head as he put clean sheets on the bed. When Nyasha came in, the sweet smell of toothpaste hung about her. She took off her clothes, letting them fall on the floor and slid quickly between the sheets.
“Oh, I almost forgot. We have to pay the guard by tomorrow. He was here this afternoon for his money. Can you do it before you go to work?”
Stan grunted. He went off to the bathroom where Nyasha’s voice followed him.
“And, Stan, can you return my library books for me? During lunch would be the best time. I’ll phone there in the morning and tell Gladys to get some nice stories in exchange.”
Stan came out, picked up Nyasha’s clothes and folded them neatly before he put them away. When he got into bed, Nyasha gave him a juicy kiss and turned her back. In a few moments, her breath was deep and steady in the even pattern of sleep.
The pain in Stan’s head had turned into a splitting headache. He kept imagining that his head was full of blood and laughed uneasily at the thought of blood trickling out of his nostrils when his brain finally burst from the throbbing. He was afraid to fall asleep because he knew that when the sandman finally claimed him, his dreams would be of the nameless voice threatening and frightful in the nothingness of its meaning.
They kept money for household emergencies in a wooden basin on the mantelpiece above the fireplace. Nyasha called it their “slush fund.” Every time Stan returned from the shops, he put in the change.
Their pile of bills had grown considerably and he decided to see what bills could be paid out of the household money. He opened the basin to find a few notes and coins, not enough to buy bread and milk.
When Nyasha came in, there was a harried look on her face. Her movements were brittle, full of nervous energy. It had been one of those days.
There are days when everything seems to go wrong. From morning, Nyasha had been dogged by mishaps. To start with, she had left the toaster on while she took her bath and the slices of bread had not popped out as they were meant to. Thick black and acrid smoke had formed an ominous cloud on the ceiling. Then she had been late for her appointment because, she had gone back home; she couldn’t remember locking the front door. The door was locked. Afterwards, she ran out of fuel, although the gauge pointed virtuously to the half-full mark. Just before the main post office she had narrowly avoided being knocked down by a speeding mini-bus and for the rest of the day she was as jumpy as a cat.
Now, seeing Stan, her worries disappeared and she fell on him laughing, secure in the knowledge that all was right with her world.
“What did you do with the emergencies money?” Stan asked, after they had finished kissing their “hellos.”
“I used it for those snakeskin boots you said we couldn’t afford last month.”
He swallowed. “Nyasha, you took our reserve and bought shoes?”
“And it was a near thing! There was just enough to cover it. When the lady at the shop phoned to say there was only one pair left, I was devastated until I remembered the slush fund. I almost cried with happiness when I found there was enough.”
“I told you last month that this was all the money we had until payday.”
“Honey, I know I should have told you but, honestly there was no time. In any case, you’d have agreed, wouldn’t you?”
“That’s not the point, sweetheart.”
“Then what is? Are you angry with me because I got the boots without telling you or are you upset because I spent the money?”
“The point is we have no more money until I get paid.”
Nyasha’s lower lip started to tremble. She looked at Stan as if she didn’t understand.
Then the tears came. She looked so vulnerable that Stan’s heart, against his better judgment, melted at the thought of having caused her any hurt. “We’ll get through, somehow. I just wish, sweetheart, that you would consult me more on these things.” He lay back on the sofa, suddenly feeling tired.
Long after the paroxysm of her hurt had stopped, she still gave a hiccup or a gasp as she valiantly tried to keep the tears back.
They had one of those tender moments which are like the air after a rainstorm.
After work, Stan walked from town up Second Street extension. It took him a good two hours to get home. He was not used to walking long distances. By the time he got home he had a stitch in his side. The evening air was welcome as it felt cool against his hot skin.
Nyasha came out of the kitchen to greet him. Something was burning in the kitchen and the air reeked of it.
“I took them back,” Nyasha said without preamble.
“You did what?”
“I returned the boots to the shop. They wouldn’t give me all the money but I got most of it back.”
“Oh, honey! I —”
“Stan. Please don’t say anything. I…” she took a breath and smiled tremulously. “Just don’t say anything.”
They sat at the small table to eat sadza with dried fish in peanut butter sauce. It was one of Stan’s favourite dishes. Stan forced himself to eat the lumpy half-cooked pottage, even though the fish was too salty and the sauce was not thick enough because Nyasha glowed with the pleasure of self-sacrifice as she watched him eat.
That night they made love twice.
In the morning, when Stan left for work, Nyasha was humming softly as she leafed through a magazine.
Mid-morning brought Laurie and a mug of tea into his office. Laurie was really stunning. She was all legs and bosoms. There was nothing stuck-up or pretentious about her. Whenever she came into his office, she sat on the edge of the desk, swinging her long legs away from Stan.
“I dreamt of you last night,” she told him huskily.
It was a game they played.
“Was I naked?” he asked eagerly.
“Oh yes. You were the cutest naked baby I ever dreamt of!”
Laurie had a degree in something to do with mechanics but she worked in marketing. Stan supposed that, looking as she did, it was a wonder she had not gone all the way and become a model.
Every day, she had a kind word for him. She always came to his office with the mid-morning tea. Laurie was an open person and he felt comfortable playing the game of sexual innuendo, which never developed further than the occasional racy joke. But something was different this morning. Stan was not sure what it was. He wondered if it was something to do with the fact that Nyasha had allowed him to make love to her the previous night. Did he still feel some sexual frustration from his long spell of abstinence?
“Laurie, you are very beautiful, you know that?” Stan’s voice held an edge of strain. Clumsily, with as much finesse as a battering ram, Stan put his hand on her leg.
She looked at his dark hand upon her knee. It lay there like a challenge. “Ought you to do that?” she asked finally.
“I’m sorry.” He gathered his hands together feeling like a schoolboy.
“You’ve had a fight with her, haven’t you?” Laurie rarely spoke Nyasha’s name. “Why don’t you spank her once in a while? It’d do her good.”
“I mean it! I can’t understand why you let her walk all over you the way she does.”
“She’s a great person, Laurie. Nyasha is just different, you know.”
“That’s why you are chatting me up, because she’s a ‘great person?’ And she’s different for sure— lazy, spoilt, inconsiderate, empty headed bit-”
“That’s enough, Laurie. She happens to be the woman I love.”
“Can’t think why. Oh, for God’s sake! I know I’m being bitchy but I can’t help it. I just think you deserve someone better than that.” She rose abruptly and looked away. “Me, for instance.”
Stan remained silent.
“That hurt,” Laurie said. “You could at least pretend that you like me, that I’m a great person—”
“You are, Laurie. You are the best friend I have ever had.”
“Friend?” She laughed bitterly.
Stan made no comment. He had the uncomfortable feeling that there was going to be a lot of awkwardness in his dealings with Laurie from now on. He knew Nyasha was the only woman for him, but could not help wondering what it would be like to sleep with Laurie. He shook himself and made an effort to control his wandering thoughts.
“Laurie, I’m in a bit of a spot. I need some money. Things have been going badly…” He trailed off into an embarrassed silence.
“What’s it for?”
Laurie had a very American turn of phrase, Stan thought irrelevantly. He cleared his throat.
“There are these boots Nyasha wants —”
“I don’t believe it. You are asking me to give you money so that you can buy her a present?”
“Please forget it, Laurie. I had no right.”
“No, no. I guess I deserve that. Just don’t shut me out, OK? And when your angel deserts you, you better hope that I’ll still be around to hold your hand.”
And so he borrowed the money from Laurie. He was ashamed, but glad when he had the boots tucked safely in his arms.
“These shoes are for Nyasha,” he said proudly to the woman who sat next to him in the shuttle bus.
When he got home there were no lights, and to Stan, this was a cause for mild irritation. He slipped in the key but with sudden apprehension, he found that the front door was unlocked. It took him a second to find the light switch. Light flooded the room and Nyasha was on the couch, her eyes puffy and red from weeping.
“Nyasha, for God sake. What’s the matter?” He went to her, his panic meter rising. His head came alive with sudden pain. Nyasha clung to him, her body shaking with the strength of her sobs.
“I’m going to have a baby,” she sniffed. She broke away from the embrace.
“You mean we are going to have a baby,” he declared firmly. “Not a baby, but babies. Heaps of them. But not right away, sweetheart. We still have a lot of things we need to sort out. Money, where we will live— all those things. Gosh, fancy you being upset about something like that. Did you —?”
“Shut up and listen to me!” she almost screamed at him. “I’m going to have a baby! I’m pregnant, knocked up, in the family way!” She sobbed, great big gulping sobs.
Stan remained rigid with surprise. Nyasha started to turn away and he suddenly flung his arms around her. He brought his mouth onto Nyasha’s so violently that the salty taste of blood from a split lip assailed his searching tongue.
She melted into the embrace. They remained like that for some moments before she broke away from him.
“You kissed me,” she said wonderingly.
“We’ll call her Nyasha, after her mother.”
“Darling, you really are pleased? You’re not mad?”
“I’m going to be a dad.” The emotion in his voice was beyond description.
In the third month of Nyasha’s pregnancy, she called him at work. It was rare for her to call. Sometimes, he had the uncomfortable feeling that she forgot all about him the minute he went out of the door. But her evident pleasure when he came home at night always reassured him.
“Darling, there is some blood and it won’t stop.” She caught her breath sharply.
“What are you talking about?” Stan asked in bewilderment.
“I’m bleeding. My stomach feels funny.” The phone dropped.
Stan did not remember making any conscious decisions. He must have called the ambulance because as his taxi screeched to a stop outside his home, it was there. One of the neighbours hovered behind the paramedics who were assisting Nyasha to the ambulance. There was no stretcher. Nyasha had blood all over the lower half of her dress. Her dazed eyes kept swinging from her dress to her blood drenched hands. From the look of it, she had tried to staunch the flow of blood with her hands.
Stan started towards them, and then stopped, realising that he had not paid the taxi driver. He pulled out his wallet with trembling hands.
“That your wife, man?” the driver asked.
“Yes. I have to get her to the hospital. Oh Jesus. Jesus.”
“Look, friend. Don’t worry about the fare. This one is on me. I hope your wife makes it okay.”
Stan did not speak but took the driver’s hand and squeezed it hard. He ran for the ambulance and jumped in the back with Nyasha.
As he rode in the ambulance beside her, Stan prayed. He had not prayed for a long time, at least not with the earnestness and appeal which he put into the words now. The words themselves followed no religious formula.
Dear God, no. Oh dear God, please, please look after her. Nothing happened with Laurie. Don’t punish her for that. Please keep her safe. I’ll do anything. I’ll go to church every Sunday, I’ll pay my tithes. Just don’t let her be hurt.
The emergency room was a blur. Doctors came and went. He stayed for four hours, sitting on the wooden bench in the waiting room. His head felt heavy. The deep pain was starting to spread from somewhere within his head. He had the overwhelming urge to take something sharp and dig into his brain to cut away the pain. Christ! he thought with absolute clarity in the midst of the red throbbing. I’m going mad. My mind’s giving way.
He experienced a tendril of cold terror, deeper than any he had ever known. Even the horror of his nightmares seemed to fade into a mild scare by comparison.
When he finally saw Nyasha, he knew everything. She had miscarried. That much had been obvious from the moment he had seen the blood, but a forlorn hope had stubbornly remained until the doctor had gently smashed it.
They allowed him to see her but the doctor stressed that she needed to rest. The doctor admitted they had tried to get her to sleep by pumping her full of drugs but she had not succumbed.
Her eyes were bright but there were no tears. Stan felt that he would have preferred to see her weeping. It would have been easier to deal with a tearful Nyasha.
“I’m sorry, darling.” He tried to take her hand.
“It wasn’t your fault,” she said composedly. She kept her hands together.
“Please. Don’t say anything.” She shook her head slightly.
They looked at each other like strangers. Stan felt a lump form in his throat.
“I should have been there with you,” he said softly.
“How you must hate me. I’m just no good at all.” Her voice wavered. A slight slur became pronounced. “The only thing I could have done for you and I spoilt it. Sometimes I wonder why you keep me, because the truth is you don’t need me. You are a better ‘wife’ than I am. I could have had this baby— the only thing you can’t do — but I lost it. It’s almost as if God is telling me that I don’t deserve to be a mother.”
“Maybe I ‘keep you,’” he stressed the words softly, “because I happen to love you, and for some strange reason I can’t live without you. Silly, isn’t it?”
“You are just saying that!”
For the first time, Stan failed to lift Nyasha’s spirits.
She left the hospital after a week, and it was a different Nyasha who came home. Gone was the bubbly woman who went through life in a cocoon of ignorant bliss. Depression settled over her and did not lift. At night, she took sleeping tablets which the doctor had prescribed. She did not eat much and she rarely answered when spoken to.
One morning, Stan woke up late. Nyasha still lay in bed, but there was something not quite right about her form as she lay there. He tried to wake her, but she did not respond. There was looseness to her movements as Stan shook her which reminded him of a cloth doll. With a shaking hand, her felt her neck for a pulse, but even though she was warm he failed to discern it. He looked around frantically, and espied a half-empty bottle of tablets on her side of the bed. Even as he dialled the emergency number, the laughing voice in his head shrilly told him that Nyasha would never wake up again.