Nonofo pushed past the large figure that had planted itself in her kitchen doorway. The wall-clock hanging above the framed image of a five-year old girl beaming over a pot of flowers, read twelve-forty-five. She shook off her jacket slowly and increased the pace with which she was walking away rather unsteadily from the voice that was yelling behind her. She realized that she was not walking fast enough as bits and pieces of it’s sentences landed sharply in her ears. An exclamation ending with what she thought to be “…at this late hour!” here and a question starting with “What kind of mother…” there. Feeling the exasperation of the regular listener of a radio station that seemed to only play one song over and over and over again she marched steadily to the master bedroom.
She had heard it all before. This was the third time this week she’d come home late from a night out with Judith. But the way her husband behaved one would think she’d just come home from a five-month-long stay at a whore-house.
By the time she’d reached the bedroom she began to feel the exhaustion that a night out dancing inevitably resulted in. She sighed loudly as she plumped herself at the foot of her bed and then immediately proceeded to scold herself internally for the umpteenth time that night for allowing her vanity to delude her into thinking that six-inch-high platform heels would be appropriate attire for a night out dancing. She moved her eyes from the fingers that were struggling with the shoe-buckles beneath her to the full-length mirror that faced their bed. She imagined that her reflection was the version of herself that had chosen the shoes at the beginning of the evening and she was the one in pain now. She opened her mouth to begin reprimanding her own reelection. Thinking of saying something like “you’re not a teenager anymore, ngwanyana!” she was surprised by the cascade of laughter that escaped from the pit of her stomach before she had a chance to go ahead with the act of scolding herself. Before she knew it her back had landed on the bed behind her and she was holding her stomach in as if to stifle this unbearable laughter that was streaming from her lips.
“Look at you.”
The deep authority of his voice penetrated through her laughter and she was stunned silent. She kept her eyes closed. She didn’t have to look at him to know he’d be standing in his regular scolding pose: folded arms and a stiff shoulder resting, solidly against the inside of the door paneling.
“Look at you!” His voiced bounced off the stone walls and landed sharply in her ears. She did not move. He made a long clicking/hissing sound with his mouth which they both understood to be his expression of incredible disgust.
“You’re not even ashamed. Coming in at this time on a fucking Thursday. Sneaking out before I get back from work…”
He paused. The brief silence was a “What do you have to say for yourself?” to the room. Nonofo remained still. Her eyes screwed shut, she could feel the room begin to move beneath her. He continued,
“What kind of wife are you?”
The antipathy in her husband’s voice had grown so strong that it seemed to fill the room with an unbearable stench. Almost immediately she rolled off the bed. Quickly, she was crawling to their en-suite bathroom where she violently emptied her stomach into the toilet-bowl. She could hear herself vomiting more than she could feel it. The moans of pain coming from her throat reverberated off the black tiles of their bathroom and landed in her ears, feeling as unfamiliar as a stranger’s. The room was now filled with the screams of the once-blue-now-wine-red toilet water as the contents of her stomach landed violently in it. Even as the pain of acid burning her throat began to build up within her she could not help feeling grateful for the retreat from Thabo’s harsh words that this moment of sickness afforded her. So even when she was done, and was sure that everything that she’d ever ingested in the last twenty-four hours was now floating in the water beneath her she folded her arms over the edge of the toilet seat and rested her head on them. The bathroom door banged shut before her world went quiet.
A blonde head popped into her office. Nonofo glanced from it to her watch. It was ten-fifteen — nowhere near the time she had advertised as her office hours in the classes she’d had that week.
A smile formed on the blonde head before the body attached to it slid into her office.
“I know it’s not yet one. But can I speak with you?”
Nonofo nodded tiredly. The foreign exchange students were always the hardest ones to turn away. They seemed to all have this muted excitement that was hard to respond to with harshness.
“It’s about the assignment.”
The girl’s brown eyes darted around the room. It appeared she had forgotten what it was about the assignment she wanted to discuss. There was a pause as the girl seemed to go over words she had planned to say. Nonofo made a show out of looking at her wrist-watch. Then she prompted,
The girl began to speak immediately as if she’d been waiting for this.
“You gave us an assignment last week. To turn a dream we’ve had into a short story and–”
Growing impatient, Nonofo interrupted her,
“Yes? Is there a problem with your interpretation of the word ‘dream’?”
She did not want to be rude to the girl but Nonofo had been warned by other lecturers that in every group of foreign exchange students there’d be one that would behave arrogantly towards the subject and its lecturer. She was beginning to suspect that even though it was the second week of the semester she had met hers.
“Do you have a problem with the assignment?” She adjusted her eye-glasses edgily.
“No,” the blonde girl said, quickly. She reached into her large back-pack and out came a folder. It landed softly on Nonofo’s desk.
Nonofo looked at it for a long time. She did not hide her confusion. The assignment was due in three weeks. Theirs was an intermediate English literature class. She’d expected most of the students to struggle with the task of turning a dream into a twenty-to-thirty-page short story while having to turn in reports for two short-story anthologies she’d assigned them the previous week. In all honesty she didn’t expect most of them to complete it at any point near the deadline. And here stood a blonde girl with the foreign-exchange attire that constituted a too-big backpack and a pair of too-small shorts. Finished.
“Ok,” Nonofo pushed her glasses up her nose-shaft and began to page through the clear-folder absent-mindedly. She made a mental note to check if this was plagiarized. “Thirty-seven pages.”
“Do you want to submit it now?”
“Oh, no!” The words seemed to have slid out of the girl’s mouth by mistake. And for the second time since meeting her, Nonofo was puzzled. The girl looked embarrassed. And Nonofo’s irritated confusion was evolving into a genuine fascination with the girl. She could see now
that the girl was not arrogant. She was simply socially awkward. Now, thinking back, Nonofo could remember noticing that this girl did not sit with the other foreign exchange students in the class — choosing instead to separate herself from everyone by sitting at the far left of the huge only-one-third-of-the-way-full lecture hall they met in on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
“You’ve completed this assignment haven’t you?”
“So, why don’t you want me to mark it?”
“I’m not sure if it’s…” she looked to be searching for the right word. Then, “…appropriate.”The girl was silent for some time. Her large brown eyes were studying Nonofo’s features quite unashamedly. They appeared to be searching for some sort of clue to something. She must have decided that she could not find it in Nonofo’s face because a disappointed sigh escaped from her thin lips. Her voice had shrunk in size when she finally said,
This piqued Nonofo’s interest. “So…you want me to read through it to see if the subject isn’t too…” she paused. “Inappropriate?”
The girl nodded animatedly. Deciding that this exchange had taken too much of her own time, Nonofo agreed to look through the short story and meet this girl after class next week. The girl thanked Nonofo and said goodbye. Not before she looked one last time at her piece
of work on the table between them and whispered seriously, “If you don’t like it. I’ll write another one. But this is the truth. I am not trying to anger you.” At that Nonofo was left a knot in her stomach. She was unsure how that was supposed to make her feel. She knew that she’d only know what the girl meant after she’d read the thing.
Staring down at it, she smiled at the title on the front page. Now alone in her office, she reclined in her chair and read aloud, “The student teaches the teacher: A story of lust, love and insanity, by Judith Spearman…”
TO BE CONTINUED…