The Empty Toolbox

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I look again in the toolbox, and my head is reeling. I can’t believe what I am seeing — nothing. It’s all gone. There’s nothing in the pillow and in the small bag that I had put in another bag inside my massive travelling bag either. The pillow has been carefully sewn back. I start pacing the room like a Pentecostal at a public prayer meeting about binding devils. I can’t make sense of it all. As far as I am seeing, there has been no break in. Everything is intact. There is no sign of forced entry both on the door and the windows, at least according to my untrained eye. I am not thinking straight at all, but I am certain there are only two possibilities. This is either the work of an expert — the kind we see in movies — or I think with a shudder, someone close. The problem is it doesn’t add up, the only people who know my room in and out are my girlfriend, my three friends — one of whom is out of town — and this other girl who comes on the weekends that my girlfriend is not around. None of them would steal my money; I trust them with my life. Besides, the girl who comes on weekends doesn’t know where I keep it. She just does her business and hits the road, so she is ruled out completely. So who could it be? The landlord’s kids? Hard to believe, but I have heard less believable stories coming out as true. The problem is that they are too young to do it so expertly. The oldest, though outrageously naughty, is only twelve. So there is no way he could engineer such a clean break-in, however precocious. And even less believable would be his capacity to find the three different places I had hidden my money.

So I have to stick to the expert theory, because it’s the only one that makes a modicum of sense. The other two are ludicrous, to say the least. Or are they? No, I can’t believe this thought has just crossed my mind. Am I beginning to doubt the integrity of my friends? The same people who have been by my side through thick and thin? Like, these people have moved mountains for me, so I don’t know why that thought really passed through my mind. Or it’s that phenomenon – How does that saying go again? “You cannot stop birds from flying over you but you can stop them from making a nest in your head.” So yeah, we really can’t stop thoughts, however ridiculous, from entering our minds, what we should not do is allow them to take root. I’m at my wits’ end. The lobola negotiations are only three weeks away, and that’s where more than half of the money was supposed to go. The other part was supposed to cover my exam fees for an online course that I’m undertaking and the rest was supposed to cater for mum’s hospital bill. So, you can imagine how terrible I’m feeling right now. My stuff was going on fine, until now. Who to call first is the million-dollar question. My girlfriend? — She’s the natural first choice. But where do I start?

“Babe, cancel all your plans. Tell your aunts and your uncles it’s not going to happen, the lobola money was stolen.” She will freak out. Or even collapse, you know how women value these things. And to be honest, I would understand her, it’s her big moment. She has already bought the outfits, I think, and her Twitter and Facebook are full of hints. It will kill her to hear that all that was in vain. So nope, I will pass.

My mother – She understands what it means to lose everything. Our house was gutted by fire when I was nine and my sister was two. Luckily we were not inside but we lost pretty much everything else. This will not move her much, but I feel she would bear it more readily if it happened to her than to her dear son. Also, she’s diabetic and has been prone to collapsing lately, so this might put a strain on her. I will tell her, but not now.

My friends – Who do I call first? Kudzai, Takura or Shepherd?

Kudzai is a Lawyer. He’s logical about every situation and looks at everything through that lens. I like logic, but not now. I will tell him later.

Shepherd is the group comedian. He makes everything look like a joke, but he is also very empathetic. He likes to listen. Problem is you never know which side of him will pop up first. So I will have to tell him later.

Takura is emotional. He easily cries, just as easily as he laughs. He might cry on the phone if I tell him now, and I’m not yet ready for that. So I settle for Tariro, the girl who visits on the weekends when my girlfriend is not around. Sweet girl with a quiet confidence. Doesn’t demand much too. What I like most about her is her perspicacity. She sees things that people often overlook. Lying to her is futile, I have discovered. You can always tell by her heavily dimpled, sardonic smile that she is not convinced. I pick up my phone, press her number and dial. It rings, but no one picks. I call three times and every time the phone rings but is not picked. It’s irritating. I almost call Shepherd three times but each time, stop a click short. Tariro returns the call about fifteen minutes later.

“Hey, Bheki. Is everything okay? Sorry, I was in church.” Her tone is frantic. I can’t help but suspect she wasn’t in church but with a boy. I can feel a tinge of jealousy washing through me. People get possessive in times of need. Possessive even with things that are not their own.

“Hello Tari, nothing is okay. Someone stole my money. All of my life’s savings. Can you imagine?” My situation assumes a new gravity as I tell her, “I don’t know what to do right now. It’s all I had.”

“What?… I’m so sorry… like how… how much was stolen? Was there a break-in…? Are you home like now…? Can I come?” she says, her voice shaking. She’s bombarding me with questions, but I like it.

“Six thousand United States dollars. Part of it was in the toolbox, the other I had sewn it in my pillow and the other was in my travelling bag. There are no signs of a break-in at all. It’s the work of an expert…”

“Or someone close to you who you trust,” she says.

“Are you implying that one of my friends could be involved? If so, you are obviously wrong.”

“No, not at all,” she says calmly “All I’m saying is keep your options open, Bheki. But goodness gracious me, six thousand US dollars in this economy? That person really did you dirty Bheki, I’m sorry.”

“Thanks sha. It’s painful. I’m at my wits’ end. I don’t know what to do.”

“Oh, I know I’m sorry,” she says warmly, “I think you should go to the police straight away. And Bheki, please trust me, don’t alert anyone, even the people you trust. Do it discreetly.”
What is she driving at? Is she trying to blame one of my friends? Is she saying they could be involved in this?

“Okay Tari. Thanks so much. I appreciate. I will try to heed your advice,” I say, knowing fully well I will not.

“Take care, Bheki, and I’m so sorry.”

“Thanks Tari. Have a nice day.”

She terminates the call.

The call has lightened the burden slightly. Special girl Tariro is, but I am still not exactly thrilled about the fact that she tried to insinuate that my friends could be involved in this heinous crime. They are above such things. It looks like I haven’t fully accepted what has happened because right now, I don’t feel too devastated. Maybe I’m still numb, or Tariro’s call has done wonders. I suspect the former. Then my girlfriend calls. Now things have just got real. I wanted her to be the last person I will tell. I wanted to prepare the words well in advance, arrange them in such a way that they would make the situation slightly more palatable. Now all has been thrown into disarray. I leave the phone ringing. I can’t answer it yet. I don’t have the guts to confront her with the truth. She usually doesn’t call twice, if you don’t answer the first time, she’s done but you will pay for it. You will call ten times without a response, and then you get a mouthful, a ferociously scathing one. But today she calls again. I let it ring out again. But she’s relentless; she keeps calling with the patient persistence of a side chick. I finally succumb and answer. I’m ready for a venomous backlash, but I’m in for a shocker. She’s in a jovial mood.

“Babe, can you believe the day I had? I found a very affordable tailor for my Aunts’ outfits,” she stops to catch her breath. I’m just standing there like a zombie hoping her phone might just catch fire or something, because my heart is really not made to break such terrible news to people I care about. I can’t even pretend to be happy for her because once I drop this grenade, if I finally find the intestinal fortitude to, all this childlike enthusiasm will be ripped away so violently, that little delicate heart will break into so many pieces it will be almost impossible to piece it back together again. My eyes are full of tears, and my throat is constricting. I know if I reply she will sense the sadness in my voice and ask but if I don’t she will wonder what’s happening and will be prompted to ask. So I’m firmly betwixt the Devil and the deep blue sea.

“Babe, are you okay. You are too quiet?” The bombshell comes much earlier than I expected.

I try to firm myself. “Babes, it’s not a big deal. I just got a slight headache, that’s all. How was your visit?”

“Oh sorry babe, drink some ibuprofen hey?” she says. I’m heartbroken. She’s so happy and cheerful. You can tell from her voice that all that is on her mind is the lobola ceremony. She doesn’t even know the enervating blow that’s lying in wait for her. My tears are flowing freely now.

“And Bheki, how far are you with organizing transport? I know a guy.”

Goodness gracious me! I’m in trouble. Big trouble. Should I tell her or string her along and pretend everything is fine? But where will that get me though? I will still have to tell her sooner or later.

“Sekai, babes,” I say somberly, my voice choking with pain.

“What honey, are you okay?” she asks, the concern in her voice palpable. My heart literally breaks. I’m sobbing now.


“Sekai, someone stole my money, our money, the lobola money. It’s gone, babes.”

“Oh babe, what?… Like… what happened? Someone broke in?”

“No babes,” I’m trying hard to contain myself. “Everything is intact; it’s the work of an expert.”

I expect her to either collapse right there or break into a heartrending cry, but she doesn’t. She replies in a much cooler tone than I expected. But I’m not sold. She is just trying to be strong, but she’s dying inside. I know how much she wants this. She’s been talking about this lobola thing for a while now – more than a year, I think. She has been enthusiastically telling all her friends, and a couple of them are supposed to grace the occasion. The time and effort she has spent on the preparations, and she’s this calm? No, I don’t think so. She’s doing this for me. She’s being strong for me.

“This is bad,” she says. “Have you reported it to the police yet?”

“Not yet, but I will be going to the police station soon,” I say.

“Bheki,” she says in almost a whisper.

“Babes,” I reply.

“Don’t you think it might be someone you trust? I mean… you never know.”

There it is again. My friends are being dragged into this again. I brush the thought aside but I’m beginning to ask some questions too. It breaks my heart because I can’t fully shake the feeling away. The seeds of doubt that Tariro sowed have taken root now. Maybe, just maybe… but no!

“But Babes… do you think…”

“Nobody’s perfect Bheki. I’m not saying one of your friends did it, but it’s always good to be vigilant and not be blinded by loyalty. People are deceptive.”

Quite scathing, don’t you think? I’m finding it hard to believe that any of my friends could do this to me. We have been through a lot together. We are brothers. But my girlfriend is not the first to suggest that I be vigilant regarding my friends, Tariro insinuated it too. What do they say about female intuition?

“Okay babes, I will be watchful,” I say in a subdued voice.

The door opens, it’s Kudzai. He’s shouting about something, as usual, being the loquacious fellow that he is.

“Babes, I got to go, check you later.”

“Take care Bheki. This is so bad sha. Don’t forget what I told you, hey.”

“I will not forget. Cheers, babes.”

Kudzai wants me to go with him to one of his colleague’s graduation party. He has always been the life of the party. His jaw drops when I tell him what happened. He’s deflated now and drops on the couch as if in slow motion, like some unfortunate Boxer on the wrong end of a debilitating knockout blow. He loosens his tie and stares at the ceiling with a rather vacant expression. I steal a glance in the wardrobe mirror and realize that my eyes are swollen. Did I cry that hard on the phone with my girlfriend?

Embarrassing. A grown man crying pitifully like a kindergarten kid who misplaced his shoe on his first day at school – well, I actually did this. The composure that my girlfriend showed makes my weakness all the more glaring. Kudzai suggests that I go to report the matter to the Police straightaway. He also finds it hard to believe the expert thief theory. He’s convinced it’s someone who knows the house in and out. Someone who knows exactly where the money is kept and has access to the house. But who it is now, that is the question.

Kudzai starts his legendary theories. He’s pacing the room, his tie in hand. I sit on the couch listening. The way he is speaking is mildly soothing, something I can’t take for granted.

First suspect: The man himself — you, Bheki.

Your girlfriend has been pestering you about lobola and you have been saving despite the economy doing everything it can to throw a spanner in the works. This has taken a toll on you. Also, the relationship has become kind of mundane, and to be honest, you want out, and suddenly, you realize you don’t want to marry soon anymore; the world just got more interesting. You have a girl you are beginning to like too so marriage will hinder you. So you stage a break in. Two birds, one stone. Now you have the money, but the lobola ceremony is postponed indefinitely. Everyone understands. Your girl probably leaves you after this — something you were actually hoping it happens. So, you are now free to unleash your real self to the world. You get into a relationship with the other girl, and you live happily ever after.

Second suspect: Me

I drive a decent enough Toyota Corolla, but I saw that new BMW that my boss drives. The girl I was gallivanting with left me for my boss because who doesn’t want to be seen in a Beemer? I also want a BMW, but my budget is tight. I can’t take a loan because I’m still paying for the one I took for the renovation of my mum’s house. So I’m at my wits’ end. Then suddenly a thought comes to my mind, like a revelation, “Bheki has lobola money.” I make the Thierry Henry knee slide because now my problem is sorted. I steal your key and make a duplicate. I come to your house while you are at work and everything is history.

Third suspect: Takura.

Well, our boy is a money changer and dealer. He probably got into a very bad deal and got the short end of the stick. He’s probably in the red now, and rent is due. Also, the guys he went into business with are bad hombres. He got to pay them up or they mess him up. He tries to get loans from his colleagues in business but business has been low, they don’t have enough money themselves. He thinks of asking you for a loan, but he realizes lobola is nigh. So he thinks about it and finally realizes he only has one option — do his friend in. So, you know the drill.

Fourth suspect: Tariro.

You are drunk in love, and she has just shown you what true love is in a new way. She’s not girlfriend material but you like her for other things which she do so well. So you know how women are at pillow talk. She listens while you ramble about everything from your childhood dreams to your most embarrassing moments and you get carried away so you tell her where you keep your money. She laughs and says, “Are you Indian? Why do you keep your money in a flippin’ toolbox and pillow?” and you smile and say, “Namaste”. Now she knows where your money is and probably even where your toolbox key is because you guard was at its lowest and you revealed everything. She likes you but not enough to just let six thousand USD go so she comes one day while you are at work. She’s already duplicated the keys. She comes out six grand richer. Her car is on the way.

Fifth suspect: Shepherd.

He has not been here for close to a week, but he has always wanted some extra money. So he waits for the time he’s working out of town to carry out his plan. He wants to create an alibi. So he has a friend and they have gone through the plan together, so the friend comes while you are at work and comes out six bags richer but Shepherd can’t get through to him now because the goon tricked him. Now, the goon has taken the money and vanishes into thin air.

Sixth suspect: Your girlfriend.

She always hated you. She thinks you are ugly and broke but you make her laugh sometimes when her real boyfriend is ignoring her so she keeps you close. She’s utterly horrified by the thought of being married to you and, at some level, feels sorry for you because she never truly loved you. So she comes and takes all your money to put you out of your misery. What a thoughtful woman.

We are both laughing now. It’s funny what a chat with a good friend can do to your mood, and these are the people the ladies want me to suspect of being involved in the theft. I’m sorry, but female intuition loses this time around. I’m still under no illusions regarding the magnitude of my predicament, but the conversations I’ve had are making it more bearable. Kudzai’s theories are spectacularly hilarious. The guy is just brilliant in a twisted way. I finally decide to go and report the matter to the Police. I’m greeted with the shock of my life when I reach the Police Station because my girlfriend is there. I thought she was still out of town? I’m relieved to see her though and she doesn’t look too devastated, except for the mildly swollen eyes. She’s not too shocked to see me because she smiles almost distractedly as I enter the building. She’s casually sitting on a rocking chair talking with the Assistant Inspector — a rather austere man that I find out I don’t particularly like at first sight. We exchange greetings and I file my report. He’s also certain that it’s someone close to me and wants to bring them all for questioning, including my girlfriend. I’m quite stunned, but he’s adamant that it’s the correct procedure. Kudzai and Takura are summoned for interrogation. My girlfriend will be interrogated too. My heart sinks because I have heard harrowing stories about interrogation methods in these ends. I can’t bear to think of what my friends, and especially my girl, are about to go through. Maybe I shouldn’t have reported it, but then again, they are the ones that had encouraged me to do so. Still, I can’t help but feel partly responsible for whatever is going to happen to them. I’m excused, and I go back home, shaking with anxiety.

Kudzai is released a few hours later. He says the man was determined to charge him and harass him. Him being a lawyer is what saved him from what looked like a certain night in the cold cells and probably from the wrath of the infamous truncheon on the soles of his feet. My girlfriend is quizzed and released at about the same time. She’s shaken and exhausted but quite alright. She says they tried hard to pin it on her, and she was afraid that they would resort to torture. I marvel at her courage and resilience. I never thought she had that in her. There is one problem Takura is not back and he’s unreachable. We go back to the Police station the following morning, and we are hit with a bombshell. He confessed. He’s the one who stole the money. I request to see him but the Assistant Inspector insists we can only see him later since he was being further investigated for another theft. I’m stunned. Kudzai asks them a lot of questions, but they seem reluctant to cooperate. I ask them if they had asked Takura why he had stolen the money and they say he confessed that he was motivated by jealous and a spirit of competition. Hard to believe. It sounds like what someone would say to a Priest at a confessional, not to the Police. Also, Takura is the most humble guy you will ever see. I’m devastated. I can’t even go to work. I call in sick, throw myself on the bed and start to cry buckets.

A call from my girlfriend wakes me up.

“Babes, how are you, are there any new developments regarding the theft?”

“Sekai, they arrested Takura, they say he confessed can you believe it,” I say in a strangely hoarse voice.

I’m groggy.

“What? Are they mad? That’s unbelievable,” she says.

“Takura is too nice to do that, but what I have learnt in life is never to say never. Don’t be too hard on yourself though. Let the police do their job.”

“It’s so devastating babe, I don’t want to lie. That’s one of the best friends I ever had,” I say in a grim tone.

“But well, it is what it is. And you, how are you holding up?” I add.

“I’m devastated, I don’t know what to do but I’m trying to hold my head up high otherwise I will be consumed with grief,” she says sagely.

I marvel at the growth that has taken place in this lady.

“That’s wonderful. Personally, I feel like I’m being torn apart by ravenous wolves. I’m not doing well Sekai. I need that money,” I say.

I can hear her heave over the phone. Now she’s sobbing. Oh, my little babe. “I know, I know love, but what’s done is done right love?”

I’m in awe of this lady’s ability to put things into perspective. I have never known her to be that strong. She has freaked out violently for far less drastic things. I also thought her fragile, always in need of support and assurance. I’m pleasantly surprised. Maybe her Aunt has been drilling the essence of wife-hood in her quite strongly because nothing else explains this rapid and radical transformation. I have fallen in love again.

“Thank you love,” I say “But… do you really understand… what this means?”

“You mean…?” she asks.

“I mean… the money is gone… so things have just got very complicated. You know… the lobola issue.”

I’m not sure what to expect now.

“Oh…” she paused a bit. My heart is beating fast. “…I get it….” I heave a sigh of relief, so far she’s saying what I want her to say. She continues, “I have already spoken to my Aunt.”

She’s speaking too slowly. Can you just drop the bombshell already? I’m nervous.

“…And she thinks her niece’s boyfriend is a big smelly liar right?” I say. I don’t know if I’m trying to sound witty or just preparing myself for the inevitable.

“No. not all,” she says. “She does understand. She wasn’t born yesterday Bheki.”

Amazing, I think. And beautiful. We talk about a few other things before she tells me she has to go somewhere and hangs up. I think of calling Tariro but I decide to call Mum first. She’s devastated. She was ready for a daughter-in-law but she assures me that all will be fine, eventually.

It’s two days later, and I still haven’t been able to talk with Takura. I have come to accept that it’s possible that he could genuinely have taken the money. It’s heartbreaking, but life is like that sometimes. Can’t believe ten years of friendship have just gone down the drain over some United States dollars. Ten solid years. I’m thinking of the time when I was down with malaria a few years ago and couldn’t do anything, anything at all, and he came and stayed with me for a week. Washing my clothes, cooking for me and reminding me to take my medication. He was really a friend in need. It’s really true that money is the root of all evil, well the love of it. ‘Jealousy’, ‘spirit of competition’, did he actually say that? Takura is the last person I would have expected to harbor jealousy. He’s too much of a sweet soul to be taken up in such entrapments. But also people are good at hiding things. Maybe he has never really liked me as I thought. Maybe it was all a façade right from the get-go. Maybe none of my friends really like me as they say they do. Maybe they are in this for their own benefit because humanity is incorrigibly selfish at the core. We have laughed, ate, lied, done everything together but maybe it was all a mirage. Nothing was done out of pure love. Does pure love actually exists or it’s in our nature as humans to try to force into existence things our idealism long for? We are idealistic and utopian at the core.

The truth is pure love can’t flow out of our irredeemable depravity. All it churns out is evil, or a mirage of good. But then I tend to believe in my exceptionality. I like to believe my intentions have always been pure. Like, I really love my friends from a place of total purity. I really love them. But the problem is not really me or all of us. It’s the species as a whole. It’s impossible to grow beyond your species because it would mean defying the core principles. You have to dismantle conventions and fundamental principles that have been in operation since the beginning of the world and that not possible. So we just trudge through this place as it is. There’s nothing we can do. We are predestinated for this. So, on some level, I can’t blame Takura. All this is a product of nature rather than nurture.

I’m plucked out of my thought process by a phone call. It’s Marcelo. I’m shocked because this is the first time he has called me in more than three months. Marcelo is a vendor. He sells avocados and apples close to my workplace. I have strong doubts that the avocados and apples are his main source of income. I suspect, from the dubious faces I see around him every time, that he might be dabbling in soft drugs. I think he sells weed. Marcelo is a big football fan, and that’s where our friendship stems from.

Our debates are usually intense and protracted but with an unmistakable touch of cordiality. He’s in the Ronaldo/Neymar camp while I’m in the Messi/Hazard camp. He also has an eidetic memory. He remembers games and events with dates, times, everything without difficulty. I don’t think I have ever come across anyone with such an excellent memory, I swear he’s wasting his talent selling avocados and apples, or whatever it is that he really sells.

“Hazardinho!” he shouts as I answer the phone. He calls me Hazardinho because of my love for Hazard I suspect.

“Marcelo Marcelo, how are you my man?”

“I’m good Hazardinho, how is your money?” he says. It’s one of his signature greetings, but it sounds so ironic given the current events.

“It’s tough out here bro. The economy wants to kill everyone.” That’s my standard reply whenever he asks the question.

“It shall be fine in the end my G. It shall be well,” he said. Yeah, right, I think.

“Yeah I know bro. Him who is in the heavens has our back,” I say.

“Hazardinho, how is your girlfriend? That’s a heavy metal bro. You are feasting with kings, my man,” he says.

“Marcelo, are you drunk?” I ask. I can even afford a smile.

“You know I’m always under the hammer, bro,” he says, making his trademark husky chuckle.

“I know.” I can’t hold back my laughter too. “You have the keys to all the beerhalls in this town.”

“You know me too well”, he says.

There’s a momentary silence.

“Hazardinho, We are brothers, right?” He says in a strangely solemn voice.

“Yes Marcelo, we are brothers forever what’s up?”

“We are brothers and brothers help each other out in times of need, right?” he asks.

Damn! He wants money. All this talk of brotherhood will end with a request for a loan. And this is the first time he’s asking me for money, for anything at all, really. What ridiculously poor timing is this?

“Marcelo, do you want money?” I say, the small talk is making me nervous.

“No Hazardinho, I want to help you out, brother to brother,” he says far too calmly.

Now I’m confused. Help me? With what? Did he hear about my predicament? Does he know the thief?

“Okay Marcelo. Tell me, what is it?”

“But brother, you might hate me after this.” His voice sounds different, there’s a hoarse nervousness in it.

Now my mouth is dry, and my heart is beating fast. I’m not sure what Marcelo is getting at. If it’s a game, he’s chosen the worst time to play it.

“Marcelo, what is it?” I ask, a bit more curtly than I expected.

I can hear him clearing his voice.

“Brother, I hope my eyesight deceived me, but I saw your girl appearing like she was kissing a man in a Mazda NP300 truck last night. I was with Fadiga, he can confirm too,” he says. ‘Fadiga’ is Marcelo’s friend. I don’t know his real name too.

I’m dumbstruck. My knees are losing strength now, and I feel as if my bowels are loosening. What? My girlfriend is cheating on me? No, that can’t be true. Both Marcelo and Fadiga saw wrong. There’s no way Sekai could do that to me. I have been so good to her. So supportive, so loving, so kind, so faithful – well except for the days Tariro visits – but I have tried my best. No. Lord No. It isn’t true.

“Mmm, Marcelo are you sure?” I say, “Sekai was out of town yesterday.” I’m trying to see if this is all a game. If Marcelo really saw perfectly or just thought he did. But the truth is I’m trying to convince myself that both Marcelo and Fadiga had simultaneous optical illusions.

“Brother, I don’t know about that, but I really looked carefully, I had to confirm and I think it really was her.”

“Marcelo, do you know it was Sekai or you think it was Sekai?” I ask.

“Hazardinho, listen to me. I don’t want to drive a wedge between you and your girlfriend. If I’m wrong or right, time will tell, but I also hope we didn’t see right.”

“So you are not 100% sure Marcelo right?”

“Brother, I just wanted to tell you this brother to brother. It’s up to you to take the information or discard it,” he says, suddenly sounding irritated.

“Bye Marcelo,” I say terminating the call.

I am angry. And agitated. And sad. And devastated. And weak in the knees. And sick in the stomach. I am inundated with every kind of feeling. I throw myself on the bed. I desperately want to cry. I have learnt that crying is therapeutic. I like the shame and vulnerability that comes with it. So I’m hoping to dissolve the labyrinth of feelings I’m currently experiencing in a flood of tears but nothing is forthcoming. I still think Marcelo saw wrong. To be honest, what I now have is hope. I’m hoping that Marcelo was wrong, though he sounded as if he was ready to bet both his kidneys. He sounded so convinced it rattled me. What if he’s right? What if my girlfriend is really cheating on me? I thought losing all my life’s savings was devastating, but this will completely crush me. I keep rolling on the bed, I can’t be still. My heart is about to explode I can feel. I can’t take it anymore now. I can’t push it out of my head, and I realize it’s impossible to live with the doubts. There are gnawing at my heart slowly but efficiently. If I don’t do something, I will run mad. Who can tell me the truth about this issue? Who can I trust to confirm without making myself look suspicious and desperate. I take my phone. Will have to call Marlon. Marlon is a University friend. He is in the loop about everything. If I want the truth, I will hear it from him. But do I really need to hear the truth? Do I really have the guts to stomach it when it comes in a form I don’t expect? I dial the number anyway.

“Marlon, how are you?” I say coolly.

“Ah, Mr. ‘Delineate’ how are you?” he says before breaking into a hearty laughter. My Macroeconomics lecturer gave me the sobriquet because of the frequency with which I used the word in my essays. Any other day I would have broken into fits of laughter but I’m not in the mood.

“Marlon, is my girlfriend cheating on me? Don’t lie to me,” I ask, going on the offensive straightaway. I’m feigning indifference, but the truth is someone is cooking pumpkins in my stomach. What’s funny is there’s no one I’m performing for except myself. Marlon stays silent for a few seconds, then in a measured tone says.

“Bheki what’s happening, are you fighting with Sekai?”

“No, not at all, we are not fighting, I just wanted to know. You know I’m marrying her soon right,” I say.

“Tell me the truth Bheki, what’s up?” he asking, I can discern something between curiosity and concern in his voice. I think he knows something and now I’m scared it’s not something I want to hear but I have already opened Pandora’s box so there’s no going back from here.

“Okay bro. I caught a text in her phone and I asked her who it was from and she said the guy was her friend” I lie.

“Oh? What’s the name of the guy?” he asks. He definitely knows something, and he probably even knows the name of the guy. Good Heavens, what have I got myself into here.

“Mmm, I can’t remember the name of the guy. Didn’t take it too seriously.”

He’s quiet for a while.

“Bheki, I have heard rumors,” he finally says softly. Now I’m about to soil my pants. I’m sweating hard. My mind is in overdrive. My girlfriend is definitely cheating, well I’m 50% sure now. What’s left is her version.

“What rumors have you heard Marlon?” My voice is shaking.

“I heard Sekai was seen once or twice in compromising places with an older guy,” he says.

I’m on my knees. “The guy drives an NP300?” I ask, almost in tears now. Pause.

“I’m sorry bro, yes that’s the guy. The Assistant Inspector.”

The Assistant Inspector! I’m stunned. My phone falls to the ground. The world has just turned upside down on me. Why Sekai? Why?

Then she calls.

I don’t pick it up. I let it ring and ring and ring until it stops ringing. I can’t stand her right now. She has betrayed me. Takura betrayed my trust, but not at this level. I wake up hours later to ten missed calls. Why is she looking for me so much? Is it the guilt kicking in? She calls again. I kind of sympathize with her for some reason so I pick the call this time.

“Bheki, are you alright?” she asks, her voice brittle.

I probably would stand a better chance of being alright if you weren’t playing me.

“I’m okay, just the headache. I slept like a log.”

“I’m sorry Bheki, don’t be too hard on yourself love,” she says.

“Thank you, I was thinking, can you come to see me today. Is it possible love?”

“Of course honey, will be there in thirty minutes.”

She arrives thirty-five minutes later. We hug and exchange pleasantries. I pour her a glass of Fanta orange and a plate of cookies, and we talk about mundane stuff. The time has come. I lock the door. I think I detect a hint of surprise in her eyes. Is it a sign?

I sit on the arm of the couch. I feel like a spy movie villain as I start my monologue.

“I am going to tell you a story, babe. I don’t think I have told you this, though I might have mentioned it in passing.” I pause for a little while. She fixes me a quizzical look. I like it. I know I’m being too dramatic, but it’s adding to the thrill.

“I was bullied as a kid because I was tiny. I loved school, but only when we were in the building. Outside, it was a nightmare. Younger kids loved to pick fights with me because they knew they stood a chance, and the thrill of beating someone older than them impelled them further. It gave me low self-esteem and up to now I don’t think I have totally recovered.” I’m looking straight into her eyes. It’s clear she doesn’t know what I’m getting at. “You see, I suffered because I couldn’t fight back. I wanted to, but genuinely couldn’t. Even now, I’m not particularly a good fighter. I think most women stand a good chance against me in a fair fight. I see you are wondering what I’m driving at. It’s a simple thing. I just want clarification on a certain issue that has been troubling me, and babes, I would prefer if you tell me the whole truth.”

She flinches. She looks unsettled now. She doesn’t speak. I like it that way.

“I want to assure you that if you cooperate with me, this issue will be resolved quickly.” Now, I’m being too dramatic. She keeps quiet. I think she getting a clue where this is heading because she’s heaving deep sighs.

“I only need clarification, just that. As I told you before, I’m by no means a good fighter. I’m a terrible fighter even but today I’m prepared to do my best.”

She raises her eyebrows. I have never threatened her, not even once. It’s the first time.

“I don’t hit women either, firstly, because it’s not proper and secondly, because they can actually beat me up but one thing is certain, I won’t allow you to pass that door without you telling me the whole truth.”

She smirks, but it looks contrived.

“Look at me babes,” I say. She looks up and smiles, but her eyes tell a different story.

She stands up and lets out a strange sound. Then she starts sobbing. I don’t even pretend I want to comfort her. I’m waiting for her to finish her histrionics and continue with the conversation.

“Bheki, is that what you called me for. This rubbish Bheki? If you think I will stay for this load of trash, you got another think coming,” she blurts out. She comes close to me. I can see she’s testing me, sizing me up. She goes for my right hand, which holds the keys. I clench the hand tight.

“So here is what you are going to do. You are going to sit down on the couch and tell me everything there is to tell. I’m not letting you go until you tell me the whole truth. Every little detail. We can do this the easy way or the hard way,” I can’t believe I’m talking like a spy thriller villain from the 60s.

She looks at me and nods. She chooses the easy way. Then suddenly, she does it. She knees me in the groin. I fall to my knees, she didn’t connect perfectly, but it’s still excruciating and she has succeeded in her mission because I drop the keys. She leaps to get them and heads for the door. I’m still in pain but I manage to throw a leg desperately into her path, it connects and she falls. I lunge on to her and grab her heels and pull her back. I keep pulling. It’s a clumsy battle. None of us is willing to accept defeat. My strength is coming back now, we stagger up at about the same time. She still has the keys. I can’t get them. We lock eyes, like two featherweight boxers in the eleventh round, except we both can’t fight to save our lives. Literally it seems, though I admit that for a girl, she’s decent. I suddenly trip her to the ground. Probably the only fighting move I know practically. She doesn’t expect it. She falls with a thud. I win because I hear the clicking sound of a bunch of keys dropping. I quickly snatch them and put them in my pocket.

She’s wincing but I don’t think she’s in too much in pain. She rises slowly now and takes a look in the mirror, takes a comp and straightens her weave before leaning against the wardrobe. She’s trying to control her breath. We are both silent for a while. She’s now looking into space like she’s in meditation.

Suddenly she fixes me a stony gaze and says authoritatively “Now, you listen boy, It’s my turn to tell you a story so sit back and relax, we are going on a long ride and when we reach the destination, we will never be the same again,” she pauses a bit. I thought I was dramatic. This right here is drama at a whole new level.

“So I have been in a lot of relationships but none of them has remotely came close to lasting this long. Why? Because you are a good guy. Too good even. You don’t question a lot of things. It’s a very good quality, but it also makes you vulnerable. You are a loving guy. Too loving. And too trusting. Bheki, you are a special guy. You made me comfortable in this relationship. I have never been comfortable in any relationship before. Bheki, you are also so assured. You are a pure soul. You believe in humanity. You never doubted my love for you, not even once. You don’t demand, you don’t ask questions.”


“Bheki, you demanded to know the truth. I know you are not ready, but I will tell you anyway. I shielded the truth from you because your heart is too fragile, I didn’t want you to get hurt. The truth hurts my love, always. It’s designed that way.”

“Bheki, I have a five-year-old kid.”


“You’re shocked, I can tell. Yes, I do. She stays with my granny in the rural areas. Bombshell? I have bigger ones darling, sit tight.”

I do exactly that. I’m ready for it all. What can be more shocking than your girlfriend hiding a child from you for two years? Nothing I tell you.

She continues, “The baby obviously has a father and you know him.”

Pause. Yes, it can really get worse. I keep quiet still.

“The father is none other than the Assistant Inspector babe. I’m sorry, but that’s the truth you were asking for. Truth is unpleasant.”

Yup. I’m totally done now. She was right, this is an even bigger shocker. I’m just staring at the ceiling with my mind totally blank.

Drop another jaw dropper babe, I’m beginning to enjoy the torture, is that what they call Stockholm’s syndrome babes? No, that’s not the term; the correct term is… masochism, right?

She continues, “I don’t think I have really loved the Assistant Inspector, but he was there for me when no one was. He came into my life when no one treated me like a real person. My dad had chased me out of the home after I came back home after seven PM. He told me to go wherever I was. The boy I was with also chased me away, though he stayed alone and was gainfully employed. He blocked my number and told me not to contact him ever again.” I can see she’s about to break into tears.

Get over yourself young lady; you’re are not the victim here.

“My mother didn’t even bother reaching out to me. She was too busy ingratiating herself with Dad to care about me. I went to stay with an Aunt who treated me like her maid, but at least I had a place to stay. That’s when I met the Assistant Inspector. He was married, but he cared about me. I know you’re judging me, and I can’t blame you. You cannot begin to imagine what I was going through. He became the only pillar of strength in my life.” She takes a sip of Fanta and licks her lips. I have my head clasped in my hands now. Nothing is making sense.

She continues, “He rented me a room in town and came to see me often. So that’s how I got the baby. Mum never liked her, or she was afraid of Dad, so I took her to my granny and left her there. Then we broke up with the Assistant Inspector because he saw me with another boy. The boy was just a friend, well, that kind of friend. Can you believe that he beat both of us up and called me an ungrateful whore?” Her eyes are full of tears.

Again young lady, stop manipulating me with your performance. Now I’m beginning to feel a frisson of sympathy for you. You are not the victim here, I am. I don’t say anything. I let her speak.

“So that’s how I broke up with him. I cried about it a lot. He broke my heart. Then Dad suddenly mellowed toward me and called me back home Maybe it’s because he was sick. From there for some reason, I felt a need to break boys’ hearts and I did. Deliberately. Numerous times. And I didn’t care. Until I met you. You showed me true love. I tried to break your heart but I failed…” her voice trails off.

You didn’t fail, I just didn’t catch you. Please get over yourself. I don’t respond. There’s no need to respond. There’s nothing to respond to.

“Bheki, I cheated on you many times, but you never found out. It was as if you never cared to find out. One of the guys I cheated is your work colleague. Happened right under your nose and you didn’t suspect anything. What kind of person are you Bheki?”

A fool, that’s what I am. A massive fool.

I’m numb to the blows now. Completely numb.

She coughs, then continues. “Anyway, I think it’s time to address your question,” she pauses a bit.

I no longer care.

“Yes, I’m seeing the Assistant Inspector. We kissed and made up. That’s what you want to hear, right? The truth? Now you are hearing it. It’s not so pleasant, huh?” I can’t believe the lady thinks I’m somehow to blame for wanting to know the truth. Psycho.

She continued, “It’s been going on for six months now. He divorced his wife, so we are back together now, but I still love you, Bheki.”

Now I’m convinced she’s possessed. Completely possessed by a territorial demon because the girl I knew wasn’t flagrant like that.

“I know the question in your mind right now is: Why then was I pushing with the lobola issue and actually making arrangements? The thing is, I’m just as confused as any other girl. It’s a gender thing. I sometimes don’t know what I want. Do I want a nice, young, smart, inexperienced, idealistic, naïve gentleman or a middle-aged, experienced man who can control me? I’m not sure. So on some level I still want — let me say wanted because its in the past now — to be married to you. It’s safer because no one will judge me and it will look good on Instagram but it will be unfair on you trust me. So, though I had dreams of marrying you sometimes, I still had a lot of doubts about our compatibility. Our marriage was doomed to fail before it started, love. I know what I’m saying is confusing, but trust me, it makes sense.”

“Now babe, brace yourself of the heaviest of them all. This will make you sick in the stomach babes.”

Another one? Are you for real? I’m trying to imagine what could be worse than what she already said. Wait… did she give me HI… Oh no.

She continues.

“The Inspector wants to marry me, but my parents won’t approve. He’s renovating his house, and he was short of money, so he asked me to take a loan.”

Wait a minute, is this girl trying to say what I think she is trying to say? Let it not be true, Lord.

“I almost took the loan, then I remembered something. Bheki don’t look too far. I’m the one who took your money. It’s not Takura we just framed him because he was the easiest to frame. Low-hanging fruit. We planned it all well beforehand. I’m sorry, Bheki, but you forced the truth out of me, and the truth is not pleasant. And to be honest, the Assistant Inspector’s needing the money for the renovation is not the major reason the plan was hatched. The real reason was to stop the lobola at all costs without arousing suspicion. So there you have it, Bheki; the truth, the whole truth and nothing but.”

I think I’m dreaming because I’m pinching myself hard, and I’m feeling nothing. I realize I was wrong to think that my girlfriend – my erstwhile girlfriend – is possessed by a demon. That’s silly because how can a demon be possessed by another demon?

Then she adds, far too casually, “And your best friend Kudzai isn’t exactly clean. He is privy to this, at least in part. He never wanted me to marry you. Yeah you guessed right love, he loves me too. He asked me out a couple of times and I refused but we made arrangements, like those ones you have with Tariro yes I know about Tari love, that’s the line your friend used when he was trying to woo me,” she says, looking wistfully at me like an artist admiring a medieval painting.

“Oh, about your money….” she says as if it’s an afterthought. “You will get it. Sooner rather than later. I was always going to find a way to bring it back. If the Assistant Inspector has already used it, I will take a loan and pay you back. As for your friend, we shall find a way to bring him out. Your good friend,” she pauses. “We shall find a way to get him out.”

WE! There you have it. She’s a raging narcissist. She thinks she has the world wrapped on her little finger. She thinks she’s the 5″4, fifty-three kilograms version of Thanos. But isn’t she, though? Because she can really do what she’s saying. She really can release my friend.

“Do you know your friends Takura and Kudzai fought over me sometime last year? And they lied to you that they were drunk and had a scuffle over a random girl? Well, the random girl was me. The random girl was your beloved girlfriend. They fought over me like a pair of spotted hyenas. You friends. Who does that?”

She’s says laughing. The laugh is sinister. I know about witches, I grew up to tales about them and I knew one or two by name. I was very scared of them. But what I’m witnessing today is beyond witchcraft. Far beyond. Witches have boundaries. This individual right here definitely doesn’t. I think even demons have boundaries. This right here is one of those demons that influence cities and nations, not the small ones that possess people. She is a principality. That’s what she is. Because how do you do it? How do you cheat on your boyfriend with his friends and not feel anything? How do you steal your boyfriend’s life savings and still have the effrontery to call him names of endearment? Like, how do you do that? Unless you are a demon, a principality in human form. Like how callous do you need to be to sit there comfortably and tell someone you pretend to love that his friends are nothing but conniving scoundrels without a shred of moral decency And not because you care either, but because you enjoy seeing him — your supposed lover — in pain?

I bury my head in my hands, I can’t speak. It’s pointless and exhausting.

She breaks the momentary silence.

“So Bheki, I’m here. Ready to be sacrificed on the altar. Do what you want with me. I’m ready for whatever punishment you have for me.”

Oh please, get over yourself, you self-absorbed narcissist. You couldn’t find ‘sacrifice’ in the book of Leviticus.

I hand her the keys. “Go.” That’s all I manage to say.

“You can’t even punish me. You can’t even unleash your wrath on me. All that chutzpah was a show, right? But I will give it to you, you made a pretty good show. But in the end, you are still the same old Bheki. Weak and too nice.”

She walks over to me and, like the demon that she is, kisses me on the forehead and walks out.

“Goodbye Bheki,” she says, while throwing back the keys.

I slide from my couch onto the floor.

Junias Tinashe

Junias Tinashe

Junias Tinashe or T.J. Chipenyu is a Zimbabwean fiction writer. His work has appeared in several African magazines. He is based in the former Sunshine City, Harare. He's pretty loquacious with the pen and is enamoured with African stories. He is in the process of writing a novel set in Harare.