Mrs Peterson had asked me several times if I had seen her husband, Nick, coming home with another woman when she was not around. Each time, I said no. I found it very funny that she suspected he brought back just one woman, but I did not want to snitch or to cause trouble in their marriage. I had been the Petersons’ 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 work from passing motorists. One morning, Nick stopped. The Petersons gave me a backyard room – rent-free – and paid me a monthly wage of 3,000 rands. For three years, I studied Network Engineering. I graduated the week Nick threatened to have me hanged.
After I moved in, I repeatedly witnessed Nick bringing his mistresses to the house. Indians, Blacks, Whites and Asians – in women, Nick saw no colour. Yet at other times, he would, with a dogged smile on his face, call me a kaffir – a Negro – before laughing and saying that I should loosen up; it was just a joke. Every time he called me that, I wanted to knock 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, how my black government had messed everything up. He recommended death penalties for criminals – for the black ones, at least. Every time he came home with a black woman, I felt betrayed. I would be tempted to call his wife, Kelly, and tell her there was an emergency, that the house was on fire.
Kelly was a young, hard-working woman. She was around twenty-six years old, and she was tall and slim with a warm smile. She worked as business consultant for an insurance company, and her job required her to leave town three days a week to meet clients. He was a realtor for a large real-estate company. When Kelly was away, Nick brought home his mistresses.
Ayanda came over more than Nick’s other women. She had been Nick and Kelly’s wedding planner. I had attended the wedding as a waiter, feeling deeply uncomfortable in my rented black suit, choked by my rented bow tie. I had been trained to walk around with a tray full of blow-job shots, springbok shooters and many other ‘cocktails’ whose names and recipes I was required to learn in the days leading up to the wedding.
The wedding was held in the city hall in Sofia Town. When I was much younger and I used to visit the shopping malls there, I would watch white couples holding hands and kissing in public. I had always assumed they never cheated on each other – let alone that there could be serial cheaters like Nick.
Ayanda had planned the wedding well, but three years later she was still giving Nick extra services. One Saturday afternoon, Kelly called Nick several times on his mobile phone but he didn’t pick up. She then called me and asked if Nick’s car was home. I was working in the garden. I told her Nick’s Range Rover was in the drive, but I did not tell her that the wedding planner’s Chevrolet was parked behind it. She asked me to tell him to come and pick her up at the airport and that he should call her immediately if he couldn’t so that she could take a cab.
I dropped my spade and walked up to the house. The backdoor was unlocked, so I proceeded to the bedroom, leaving a trail of muddy footprints behind me on the tiled floor. The bedroom door was slightly open. The sounds I heard inside almost made me call Kelly to tell her to take a cab home.
Despite the noises, I knocked. Their moaning was now getting louder. I pushed the door wide open. The wedding planner was riding Nick like a horse. She shrieked when she saw me and jumped from the bed. Nick screamed as if he had seen a ghost. He asked me what the hell I was doing in his bedroom and swore that I was a fucking stupid kaffir. I was mute for a moment, still as a statue at the white man’s door, staring at the curvy, butt-naked wedding planner. Nick stormed angrily towards me, his pink penis dangling in disappointment. I knew he would punch me in the face if I said nothing.
‘Your wife is on the way.’
‘She called your mobile, but you did not answer.’
He walked back to the bed, leaving me to watch his flat, hairy buttocks. The wedding planner began gathering her clothes from the floor; her pink thong was lying by my feet. She dressed hastily, like a fearful little girl who was late for school. Nick grabbed his mobile phone and stared at his screen.
‘Eleven missed calls.’ His eyes widened. ‘Shit. Did she tell you where she is now?’
‘No,’ I muttered.
I went back to the garden, and moments later I watched Ayanda flee the house as if it were on fire. Nick opened the gate for her then ran back into the house, presumably to put everything back in order in the bedroom. Minutes later he emerged and handed me 200 rands – ‘as a thank you’. I refused to accept it. I told him he had a beautiful wife and that he ought to stop cheating on her. He looked at me and asked me what the hell a kaffir boy knew about love. Then he walked away.
In fact I was a few years older than him. Like most white people, though, he believed that every black man who worked for him was a boy.
A few nights later, I was awakened by the sounds of quarrelling from the house The following morning, Nick packed his things into his Range Rover and drove out of the gate blasting U2’s ‘With or without you’ from the car’s speakers. I stood in the garden watching Kelly wring her hands helplessly. Tears streamed down her face as she stared blankly in the distance. I wished she would stop crying and instead thank God for his departure.
She hid away in their bedroom, and for five days I did not see her. On the sixth day, I decided to go and knock at her door. She opened it, asked me what I wanted.
‘May I enter?’
She stepped aside and I walked in. The room smelt stale, as if dead rats were rotting in its crevices. Moulding food was piled on a plate and a cluster of empty wine bottles stood by the door.
‘A decomposed body smells better than your room, Kelly,’ I said finally.
She stared at me and said nothing. I drew the curtains and opened the windows, letting a cool breeze in. As I bent down to pick up the wine bottles, I spotted her wedding ring on the ground.
‘I found an earring under my pillow,’ she said suddenly, ‘and used condoms under the bed. My sheets had red lipstick marks on them. I do not wear lipstick.’
‘I know,’ I replied.
‘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.
‘Do I stink?’
‘You need a bath.’
She smiled as if grateful for my honesty. I reminded myself that she was still my boss. I went to the bathroom and poured in foam liquid before I ran the hot water. As I left, I saw her standing at the door, wrapped in a pink gown with a toothbrush in her mouth. I went downstairs and started washing the dishes.
Close to an hour later, she came into the kitchen. Her hair was brushed and her blue eyes sparkled. She wore a fitted white t-shirt, blue jeans and black pumps.
‘Thank you,’ she said, taking my hand. She leaned forward and kissed my cheek. My heart fluttered as I held her gaze.
‘Let’s take a walk to Nando’s down the road – I’m starving.’ She pulled me towards the door.
As we headed down Kumar Street, she took my hand again and smiled at me. White people looked at us in horror as we passed them. Others narrowed their eyes at me accusingly.
We arrived at Nando’s and sat on the same side of the table. As we settled in, Kelly’s phone rang. She answered it. I could hear Nick’s voice. He apologised for cheating on her and asked if he could come back home. He had found the wedding planner in bed with another client. This had made him realise that Kelly was special.
‘We are having lunch,’ Kelly said flatly.
‘We?’ said Nick. ‘Who is ‘we’?’
‘Me and my friend, so please do not disturb us.’
She hung up and set her phone on the table beside me. Nick called again, and this time I picked it up, putting him on loudspeaker. I told him to call Kelly some other time – we were busy.
‘You fucking kaffir! I will have you hanged!’
Kelly looked at me and smiled, like it was good news. ‘I wouldn’t mind being a kaffir’s lover,’ she said. The waitress came and took our order. I asked for chicken and chips – extra hot.
‘I’d like a salad please,’ Kelly asked. ‘And a cup of coffee. Black and strong.’