IT WAS NOT SUPPOSED to end like this. I had the story well scripted with the ending comprising me being processed through Johannesburg International Airport for a six week tour of the Carribeans, notably Cuba and Jamaica. Jamaica because I heard it through the unreliable grapevine that I can smoke marihuana in the morning, midday and afternoon without the Jamaican police, who I was told are all dreadlocked interfering with my hallucinations.
IT WAS NOT SUPPOSED to end like this since when I first saw the sms on my wife's cellphone I thought, "Fuck, I'm stronger than this". On that day we had just arrived home from the Civic Theatre in Johannesburg where we went to watch the stage adaptation of Can Themba's short story The Suit, starring Vusi Kunene and Thembi Seete. "What Philemon did to his wife was cruel", Lindiwe, my wife had said as we negotiated the R40 National Road in Nelspruit heading past White River, Hazyview to our home in Bushbuckridge, township of Shatale. I smiled, I felt that in the same situation I would have done exactly what Philemon did, or worse, I would have chased the son-of-a-bitch across the street until I cornered him. Even though based on Siphiwo Mahala's revelation I would have found him still knocking on the door of his home in his boxers, or still trying to explain to his wife about the fictional Fun Day.
WHAT I DID NOT think was how deep the first cut would be when it finally happened to me. "Hi Babes, thnx 4 last nite, hope we can do it again soon", the fresh text on her cellphone shouted. I illegally read it because Lindiwe was still taking a shower. It came from a character stored as "Benzo". The water was so loud she never heard it announce its arrival. When I opted for "Read Now" on the Menu, in my thoughts I told myself that if it came from someone less harmful, all I'll do is to sms back and say, "sum txt mssng, plz rsnd d msg", then advance to delete the copy on the 'sent messages' folder. I scribbled the number on a piece of paper.
WHEN LINDIWE EXITED THE bathroom she looked stunning, smelled good, even from that distance and smiled broadly like the girls who model toothpaste. She had a white towel wrapped around her chrome torso. I was tempted not to explode with anger but gently carry her to the bedroom and be a husband with her. Which surprisingly is precisely what I did. She didn't see the obscene message on her cellphone. I made it a point to delete immediately after reading. I also made sure that I buzzed her phone on 'Private number' so as to facilitate later saying to her, "honey, someone called while you were in the bathroom". She quickly took to her feet for the living room where her cellphone was. She came back toggling it, "You know, nothing fucks me up like a person who buzzes me with a private number," she complained.
"Unless of course you were in the National Intelligence Agency, we could say it was a code or communication detail of sorts," I said matter of factly. She looked at me and smiled. Lindiwe didn't want to ask further, I was an analyst in the intelligence agency and knew what I was talking about. She smiled and proceeded to the bed where my wide arms were waiting to embrace her.
AFTER WE HAVE HAD our dinner and she was still doing dishes I saved the number I retrieved from the message on my phonebook with the name tag "whodat". I turned off the side-lamp and slept.
THE FOLLOWING MORNING I had everything figured out. I was going to discover who "Benzo" was. Since Lindiwe was a physician at Mapulaneng Hospital my first wild guess was, 'he must be a doctor, one of these young studs fresh out of varsity'. Arriving at my Nelspruit field office I asked Malebo to trace "Benzo" for me. Now Malebo is a field agent in counter-intelligence unit and had done similar jobs for the state so many times to her it was like asking a child to unwrap a candy bar (asking Zuma to unwrap a kanga). Whether reckless or not, it would be unwrapped eventually. Who said careful counts anyway, the night before I recklessly unwrapped the towel around my wife's intoxicating torso, and at the end it was removed.
MALEBO REPORTED TO ME over dinner at Nelpruit's Nandos restaurant where we usually ate our lunch. "His name is Njabulo, lives at Buffalo Street, West Acres, Nelspruit, works at the government complex, drives a diesel powered Mercedes Benz Kompressor CDI, is married with two kids who attend Kleiner Laer Skool and has...", I interjected.
"It's okay, thank you Lebo"
ARRIVING HOME AT 18h50 I told Lindiwe that we needed to go out often, rekindle the flame we used to spark when we were still dating. Lindiwe complained that since I got involved with Project Ansari I had been giving our customary candlelit dinners a slip. "I'm sorry baby, see, when you complain things start to happen. I love you for that Lindi"
"I love you too pumpkin, it's just that these days you are so obsessed with your job"
"Come on bandit, this country needs a capable leader to be the next president, and it is my responsibility to see to it that we have those mechanisms in place to make sure that happens". Lindiwe smiled.
"So, should I book a table for next week Friday?"
I pulled out my cellphone, the one on 'Private number' and called Panayo, a restaurant in Hazyview. They gave me my reservation number which I scribbled down. "Are you happy now?"
"Yes," Lindiwe was brief.
AN HOUR LATER WHILE Lindiwe was in the bathroom I called a car rental company and hired a Toyota Tazz for the same Friday. The consultant said I should come and collect it on Thursday afternoon. I said I would do it on Friday morning. He insisted, we ended up having an argument that lasted for about ten minutes until he caved in. The next five days were plain fun as me and Lindiwe lived our lives as if nothing had happened, 'Philemon would have been proud of me', I thought.
WHAT I HAD IN mind was simple. I was going to commit a murder, precisely two murders. For that I retrieved a pistol I had bought some time ago from a gangster while I was working on Project Umanji. It was a black Pietro Beretta with a full clip which has been buried in my tool box for eight months. On Wednesday I had a meeting arranged with Njabulo Ncube, under the guise of my work, something related to routine security checks of senior government employees. We met at the Riverside Mall. During the meeting my cellphone rang as arranged with Malebo and I excused myself, only to come back fifteen minutes later after an important stroll in the parking area. I apologised profusely. Njabulo smiled, genuinely, broadly.
THE FOLLOWING DAY I came home with a copy of Nelspruit Enquirer and put it on the coffee table. Lindiwe read the headline once and cringed. "Did you see the headline darling?"
"No, another court case for Zuma?"
"No, Njabulo Ncube is dead"
"Refresh my mind a bit, who is Njabulo Ncube?"
"The Head of Department in...."
"Oh no, now I remember. Quite an intelligent technocrat, what happened?"
"They say his car breaks failed and he plunged into a ravine"
"Was he sober?" I asked. Lindiwe freaked out.
"How dare you ask about sober when a man is dead. Is it the most convenient first question you can ask?". She meant to say, 'is it the most sympathetic thing to say about my dead boyfriend?'
"I'm sorry baby, that slipped off my tongue," I said and proceeded to the bedroom. I actually wanted to say, 'that was not the first question I asked stupid, the first one was, who is Njabulo Ncube?’ I wanted to ask for the simple reason that I wanted to flush if off my mind that he is the man with whose breaks I tampered with.
ON FRIDAY I ARRIVED at Perry's Bridge, a restaurant complex an hour earlier in the rented Toyota Tazz and parked it under a tree at a secluded spot. Then I pulled out my cellphone and dialed the City Bug meter taxi company to dispatch a cab for me. It arrived within twenty minutes. I jumped in and directed it to Hazyview's Holiday Inn on the Kiepersol Road where I had left my old ice-white BMW 318i. I arrived there, paid the driver his R25 and proceeded to the restaurant where I ordered a cup of coffee, drank it hurriedly, paid the R7, 50 and made for my BMW. I drove for fifteen minutes to Perry's Bridge where my dinner with Lindiwe was to start at 20h00. Time was 18h50. I got there and chose a parking spot infront of the entrance where everybody on the verandah would see me. Also the CCTV camera could capture my arrival.
I WALKED INTO THE restaurant and sat down at 'our' reserved table. Soon a waiter attended to me. "Give me a glass of water for now, I'm still waiting for someone". She flirted and left. Three minutes later she brought me the water. I took a few sips and signaled her to come to my rescue. "Where are your toilets?" She directed me to the Gents' which was situated on the right, with a view to the tree where I had parked my rented Tazz. I had been to this restaurant and same Gents' spot before and knew about the advantage of the location when I parked the car there many minutes earlier. I went to the urinary and took a leak, approached the basin, ran water on my hands and ran them across the dryer.
BACK IN THE RESTAURANT the waiter came, trying to get me to order something. I asked for espresso with hot milk. "Espresso, double with hot milk on the side". She smiled. "I like to brew my own cappuccino minus the cream you know" I fumbled. She left to fix me my drinks. While she was staring at me from the counter I touched my stomach lightly, faked a cringe and took to my feet, made for the 'Gents' again. In there I entered the loo, locked the door, opened the window which was not burglar proofed and jumped out. Then I proceeded to the Tazz, slid the key in the ignition and revved it. I drove out of Perry's Bridge. Time was 19h25. I figured my wife must be on the way to the restaurant by now, probably still at Bushbuckridge town. I called her, "Baby how are you?"
"I'm okay, don't tell me you are canceling?"
"No, meet me next to the Inyaka Dam first, I have a surprise for you"
"Where at Inyaka?"
"At the Graskop route, I'll be driving a white Toyota Tazz with registration CA...". I drove as soon as I could, past Gardees to a spot on the road where I parked. Soon Lindiwe's Nissan Almera came and pulled to a stop behind my car. She walked out and was about to hug me when I pulled out my Project Umanji pistol with a silencer screwed on it and pointed to her. "What's this baby?" she enquired, really surprised.
"It's a tragedy Lindi, the same way Njabulo went, you are going. Now you see, Philemon wasn't cruel after all. Every Matilda must..."
"What!". Before she could talk further I pumped six bullets into her body. Lindiwe fell, still unbelieving and died. I suddenly removed her wristwatch, earrings, wedding ring, bracelet and necklace. I also took her handbag, which had bank and credit cards plus about R354, 45cents. There was also a token sanitary pad.
I IMMEDIATELY DID A U-turn and drove back towards R40. I joined the national road and drove as fast as I could to Perry's Bridge. At the Marite/Hazyview boundary I stopped at an overflooding river and threw the loot and the pistol in it. They suddenly drowned. It was during a rainy season and the water was running violently. Arriving at Perry's Bridge minutes later I parked the Tazz at the same spot, ran to the toilet window, scaled it and entered the loo. Then I flushed the toilet, unlocked the door and walked out, washed my hands thoroughly with liquid soap this time and dried them gingerly.
THIRTY MINUTE SINCE I left the table I walked into the restaurant again from the 'Gents'. The waitress was worried. My espresso was cold. "Are you okay?" she asked, concerned.
"I should be, it's just that I have a running stomach. Must be the water we drinking". She felt for me and offered to replace my order of hot espresso and milk with fresh one. "I'll very much appreciate that. Tell me, didn't a beautiful woman come in looking for me while I was relieving myself?"
She left for the counter, I could see her talking to another waitress who also seemed to sympathise. I made it a point that I regularly stared at my wristwatch so that I should look like a man who has been stood up. At 20h34, while I was still enjoying sumptuous spare ribs my cellphone rang. I dropped the plate to the floor and took to my feet. The manager approached me, "Anything wrong Sir?"
"Fuck, fuck, fuck," I cursed and sat down. "It's my wife"
"How much?," I asked as I dropped a R200 banknote on the table and rushed out the door to my BMW. I swerved it around and even hit a dustbin, which fell, spilling its contents.
EIGHT MINUTES LATER I arrived at the scene of the crime. Police lights were everywhere - brighter and scores of officers were swarming the Nissan. The officer in charge of the crime scene recognised me immediately and allowed me past the cordon. "This is the husband of the deceased, can you please come to identify the body," he said while introducing me to members of his squad. I could hear other senior officers whispering, "NIA, NIA".
HE PULLED DOWN THE cover and showed me Lindiwe, I broke down and cried, hugging tightly on her arms and kissing her face. "Why, why, why Lindi, why do you do this to me". The officer dragged me away and comforted me warmly.
"Who did this Inspector?" The inspector stared at me with surrender and suspicion.
"Don't tell me you don't have a suspect, what was the motive?"
"Many things, robbery, homicide, the options are countless"
THEY WERE INDEED COUNTLESS as I found out hours later at the Hazyview Police Station. First, it was the possibility that someone killed her because he was going to inherit huge sums of money in insurance payouts. Two, somebody killed her for reasons known only to husband and wife. The inspector explained to me that in such situations I was undoubtedly the first suspect as the beneficiary of Lidiwe's estate. I said I understand.
"We'll need your weapon for ballistic purposes," he said, requesting it on the spot. My NIA issue pistol was clean and I handed it to him and signed for it, with all its ammunition. I was released that night and told to go home.
ARRIVING HOME I CALLED the car rental company to report that the Tazz I rented had been stolen. Where? Uhhh...my place. When? I think today because I was called to an emergency after the police found my wife killed and when I got back home at 00h47 the car was gone from the paved driveway I had left it.
TWO DAYS LATER THE police told me that they had rounded up a number of people who all testify that my behaviour on the day was strange. They charged me with the murder of Lindiwe Motau and the robbery of a corpse. I hired the most expensive lawyer in the province as my counsel.
DURING MY TRIAL THE state called a number of witnesses. Among them the car rental consutant who testified that my story was suspicious from the start since the number of kilometres clogged on the mileage did not jell well with it having traveled to Shatale, which is roughly 95 kilometres from Nelspruit where the car was rented. He said that they only discovered 85 kilometres which was the equivalent of it having made it to Bushbuckridge and impossible for it to have ended up back at Hazyview. He said the car had a tracking system and was easy to find.
THE CAB DRIVER TESTIFIED that for him it was strange that I could take a taxi from Hazyview to Kiepersol which was a dead spot. My lawyer defeated his insinuation by saying that anybody staying at Holiday Inn could choose to have a meal at Perry's Bridge and ask for a cab back.
THE WAITER I FLIRTED WITH told the court that she was surprised when I left in a BMW after the sad news whereas I had Toyota keys on the table, even though the security camera at the restaurant captured me parking a BMW and stashing the keys in my jeans pocket.
WELL, I STOOD TO benefit a million rands, but that was not the point or motive. The insurance consultant testified to that and the prosecutor emphasized it during her closing arguments. The fact that Lindiwe would have benefited that million if I was the one dead was pushed by my counsel. The problem was one, I was the one living, the one who hired a car, the one who had Toyota keys and the one who medical tests indicated did not suffer a running stomach on the day. Though the murder weapon was not found, the state still had a solid case.
THAT WAS THEN. AND today, three months later I can't really believe that I am in a bullet proof fifteen-seater van they call 'Die Vark' on my way to Barberton Prison. I’m sitting with a group of six boys who tell me that they were arrested for breaking into the house of a white man in Graskop to steal food because they were hungry. "You know what baba, we got in while he was out to see Harry Porter with his children. You know how these whities always want to pretend that they love their children right. So, this whitie daddy was cheating with his receptionist and he felt so guilty he decided one morning that he wanted make himself feel well. He then organized to take his wife and children to the restaurant that he used to take his cherrie to right. He even booked the same table where his cherrie used to sit, we are told by the police and his lawyer", the older boy said. I wanted to correct him and inform him that a prosecutor was a lawyer for the state and not the man but I chose to be a good listener. Something in me told me to try and enjoy his story since I was going to be hearing many such stories behind the barb-wired fence. "Then they went there and me and my friends we decided to get in and eat the food that was in the fridge. I don’t know how it happened by the dog did not bark that night even though we had picked spare bones from the dustbin at Kentucky Fried Chicken to give it. So we throw in the bones, jump into over the fence and run to the sliding door. Sanza then breaks just a small area of the window and we pull the lever, open the window and Mzwandile jumps in and we follow suit. In there we start eating the polonies, the cheese, the cold meat, the rice, the bananas and drink the wine, the one with the bottle printed ‘vintage’. We drink until we are drunk and drink the juice and cold drink. Then Mzwandile decides we should go to the main bedroom and sleep on the boss’s bed which is so soft it’s almost like a woman. Then Sanza open the wardrobe and we see beautiful clothes, wool clothes. We start dressing up in the boss’s warm jacket and trousers, just for the look you know, because we are drunk. Then we also smoke his cigars and Thomas finds a camera in the drawer next to the madam’s underwear. He presses and we see ourselves on the small television on the back of that camera and he goes, ‘click’ it lights and we laugh. It is small and light and we try to see if it has a film but only batteries, no film. We then play with the light until I thin the neighbour saw the light through the curtain and decided to phone and investigate. You know, when we hear the phone ring we decide to run away and take most of the food with us. Two months later they say the boss came home from his work and decided to check some pictures he took at a party with his work camera which’s battery was low and decides to use the camera without the film. Then after checking he tells his son to take a family picture with the camera. You see, boss is trying to look good because he cheat a lot. The son clicks but boss because he is a photographer who wants his son to be a photographer as well decides to see the picture his son shot. When he moves a button he sees lots of pictures. Do you know who he sees, me and my friends smoking his cigars and wearing his expensive clothes. He look at the date, it is the date when he came home and find his home burgled. And he take his pictures to the police and they just come to the street and arrest us. First we think they arrest us for a woman they say was killed at Inyaka because that was the story in the news. But they tell us they arrest us for burglary. We tell ourselves whoever killed that woman is stupid, you don’t kill a woman but rape her you know. He leaving many clues they say. But we were happy because the day before they arrest us we walking next to Motlomobe river and we find a gun and cellphone and wallet and wrist watch. But wristwatch and cellphone don’t work. But the gun, it works and we wanted to use it next time we go to boss and the neighbour decide to come and investigate", the boy finished his rant. I looked at him and sighed.
IT WAS NOT SUPPOSED to end this way. But for what it's worth, I am not going to do time for the murder of a man who cheated with my wife. I keep consoling myself that when I get out, suppose Malebo manages to bribe the guards as arranged, we are going to Jamaica.
Writer: Goodenough Mashego