The words were in her head. I would just think these mad things. War changes people. My grandfather. My paternal grandfather fought in the war. He got medals. Medals mean nothing when you have nothing to eat. He was a barman at a country club. An alcoholic before he was saved. Gave out tracts. I would always go up to him and talk to him on my way to school. He’d be standing there, giving out tracts. Was he always a believer? That’s what came to me in my mind. What did you have to do to believe in the figure of Christ – was He always forgiving?
War, in the end, changes everything. The family unit, the wife who waits for the husband to return to her and the children that she bore him. Doesn’t everybody do that? Make mistakes, I mean. What I mean to say is you don’t do it on purpose. You don’t want to hate yourself or hate people, but in the end, there’s just so much you can do, so much you can take. So, you end up with all this hatred in your heart, and it’s just there for the taking. You give in to it and, one day, once upon a time, you slowly give in to it. All that hatred has no place to go. Eats away at you.
Eats away at your soul. Rots away your insides and your gut, until someone comes along and loves you anyway. In spite of that hatred that you’ve locked away so deep in your heart – and this one person, this one special person who loves you for you, makes you forget about that hatred, and it is almost as if you’ve been healed instantaneously by a kind of spiritual combustion, and you make peace with the world around you. Share your truth with me, your vulnerability, and I will reveal all to you. The gatherings of the masculine energy that you carry.
The words were on her lips. Nobody can touch me the way that you can. The way in which you touched me. I still feel for you. I burn for you. Still think of your sensitive hands resting on my shoulders. You promising not to hurt me. This painless memory. Veins filled with frustrated emptiness rushing through me. I love you still. Can you even begin to fathom that? The depth and breadth of my soul, but you’re no longer here in the final analysis. Eyes, shallow pools in which I swam. Eyes, cavernous rocks filled with sophistication. You’re no longer here to talk.
You’re no longer here to talk to me, to listen, to dance with, to make love to, to admire, adore, worship. You have a life now. Children to look after. Jack had been her Jerusalem, her Zion, when she, Janice, had come to the big city. His silence was like the steep stone folds of a mountain. She remained unseen. A quiet peaceful sea that had lost its roaring voice.
The dream man of her future was no longer alive to her. Her head was lost now. Truly lost. Lost in issues of faith, spiritual awakenings, the truth of progress, the confidence that comes with maturation. Change came with the city. With living in the city. So did transformation. Janice, on the one hand, wanted her freedom. She had no desire to be tied down. By anyone. Not yet, anyway.
“You have a sister. Tell me about her.”
“What’s to say? She left me behind while she scaled the walls of citadels.”
“The moments you shared as daughters – no one can take that away from you. It’s locked down deep inside your heart, forever inside of you. I have a life now. I have children now. A wife I adore and am fully committed to. One day, you’ll realise family life, too, and what’s at stake. It will awaken another universe inside of you.”
Whenever they made love, something inside of her seemed to swallow him whole. Perhaps it had to do with the rush of blood inside of her. Was it something pure and holy? Playing with sacred fire? Every time he touched her, he seemed to be embarking on virgin territory. He seemed to erase all of their sins enigmatically. She was always spellbound by his energy. He always seemed elegant and nonchalant on the surface. Both pure and knowing, sophisticated and blunt. He told her not to wear anything except lipstick and perfume. He captivated her.
Held her within an edgy reality. It seemed as if every time they were in each other’s company, she was given a special mandate. Her body seemed to say to him, sate me, sate my thirst. Give me your all; purify me with all your rituals, your culture. Let me be your attaché to the world. I want to please you. I don’t care about your family, your wife especially, your children. Janice obeyed the man with a calm detachment. She spoke nothing about her own cold mother.
Her mother’s jealousy of her, her abandonment issues, her father’s neglect of her and her mother. The only woman she had ever really been close to or, Lord, loved (yes, love was the word) in a spiritual sense was her brother’s girlfriend. Her brother could be cruel like her mother could be. The girlfriend was out of the picture now. Johannesburg had kept on calling.
“I don’t want to share you with anyone.”
“You want it to be like this all the time, don’t you? Well, girl, I’ll tell you how to save yourself from love affairs with older gents. I’ll tell you this only to save you from bitterness and regret in your old age. I still love my wife.”
“You don’t love me.”
“There are aspects of you that I love. The first time I saw you, little one, your lithe frame lit a flame in my heart. Your shoulder blades captured my attention. To be the first. I wanted to be the first. The first man to touch you. To make love to you. Watching you in the water, in the swimming pool at the gym. Knowing you, just a part of you, made me want to get to know you on a deeper level. If you can understand that. A man, a man like me needs to be worshiped.”
“You need to be worshiped.”
“Yes, in a manner of speaking. I need to be worshiped, because the ground I walk on is holy. Can you understand that, little one?”
“Well, I love you, anyway.”
And she did love him, Jack Updike, in ways that she could only contemplate and meditate upon in quiet reflection. She sometimes thought to herself these mad thoughts while wearing a dress he had bought her. An expensive dress with orange flowers and birds on. He said it had reminded him of her personality. Designed by some famous fashion designer. It wasn’t really her, she thought to herself, but she wore it to make him happy. She danced with him in that dress. Drank whisky with him in that dress. She made love to him while wearing that dress.
His hands would run up and down her back. In those moments when they were completely alone, it seemed as if he couldn’t get enough of her. Thinking this made her gloriously happy.
“What do you want? I’ll get you anything your heart desires, my little one.” After the physical act of lovemaking, he would light a cigarette and they would smoke together, while he stroked her brown thigh. Oh, there were times when she thought to herself that she didn’t deserve all this attention. He had children. A girl her own age; but she didn’t care.
“Don’t cling so.”
“I need you. I need you so much, that’s why I cling to you. I need you. What’s so wrong with that? Why are you so afraid of me?”
“Afraid of you? You’re just an obstinate, stubborn girl, and I’m your first love. Your first everything.”
She remembered crying then. Her tears. How he became fatherly towards her, holding her for the longest time, whispering to her to please stop this. How it was not good to work herself up so. This, this, this. He kept on saying that word. “This.” What about love? What about good loving? Having a wonderful relationship? But she just cried, and he held her in his arms.
“Don’t let me go,” she whispered back. “Don’t let me go. Is this what a nervous breakdown is? Am I having a nervous breakdown?” she asked him quietly.
“Heavens, more like a break-up. Are you okay now? Can I leave you? Do you know what the word ‘salvation’ means? You were my salvation.”
Then, he smiled at her.
“You’re a good girl, little one. You’ll go far. You’ve got a fair amount of magic inside that head of yours. You’re no mouse; remember that for me, won’t you?”