Read Zulu Online

Authors: Caryl Ferey

Zulu (5 page)

BOOK: Zulu
13.06Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

“No. Why do you ask that?”

“I'm trying to find out if Nicole slept with boys, if the sexual relations she had on the night of the murder were consensual or not.”

Judith lowered her eyes.

“What about you?” he asked Deblink. “What do you think?”

“We hardly knew each other,” he replied, pulling a face.

“I thought you were both regulars at Camps Bay?”

The beaches at Camps Bay were popular at weekends with the city's gilded youth.

“I did meet her there, with Judith. But only once, and then only in passing.”

“You mean Nicole didn't hang out at Camps Bay anymore?”

“That's right.”

“She'd changed, like I said,” Judith cut in.

A gull hovering near the terrace squawked. Dan turned back to Judith. “What was the agreement between the two of you last night?”

“Nicole phoned to say she was going out. I'd already arranged to see the sharks with Peter, so she had the apartment to herself for the evening.”

“Why did the two of you lie to your parents?”

“My dad's not too bad,” Judith replied, biting her lips. “He let me take a flat near the faculty. But Judith's father is very . . . you know, conservative. He didn't like her going out. Or only with boys he knew. He was afraid of assaults, rapes.”

One every five minutes, according to the national statistics.

“Is that why you covered for her?”

“Yes.”

“Did Nicole go to the local bars?”

“That's what she told me.”

“Did she have new friends?”

“I guess so.”

Dan nodded in the evening breeze. “We found a video club card in her cardigan, with your name on it,” he said.

“Yes, I lent it to her, in case she wanted to rent films.”

“Is that what happened yesterday?”

“I don't know. Nicole had the keys and came back when she wanted. I didn't ask her questions. We only saw a bit of each other in the mornings, when she came back to sleep.”

“Did she sometimes not come back to sleep?”

“Yes, once, this week. Wednesday. Yes, Wednesday,” she repeated. “I woke up in the morning, and there was no one on the couch.”

“Didn't Nicole tell you where she had slept?”

“No. I just told her it couldn't carry on like that. That her parents would catch us in the end. But I gave in again when she asked me about Saturday. Like an idiot.”

Childhood memories caught her by the throat: changing their dolls' clothes, giggling, secrets. Judith tried to hold back her sobs, but the wave overwhelmed her. She put her hands over her face.

Evening was falling gently over the ocean. Fletcher looked at his watch. Claire was coming out in less than an hour.

A few feet away, his hair being given a rough time by the wind, Peter Deblink stood like a block of wood. He hadn't made any move to comfort his girlfriend. Dan squeezed her shoulder, and left for the hospital.

 

From tomorrow (not long now), the journey into you. A slow journey, like a horse-drawn carriage. How does your sex taste? Do you know it changes depending on the season, the angle of the sun, the mood of the moon? Is your mouth still a virtuoso of the “agonic orgasm”? Will I still be the pilot fish that swims ahead? I think about it, so I'm already there—imagining, from a distance, the delights of immersion. Very soon to be yours, my darling!

 

For the twelfth time, Claire read the note that Dan had slipped in with the flowers. She kept the note and gave the roses to the Xhosa nurse who had been pampering her for the last three nights.

When you're thirty, you worry about your choices, mostly crucial ones, you worry about your marriage, car accidents, but not cancer—cancer of the breast, which had been detected three months earlier, and had metastasized. The ground had given way beneath them, Dan had seen only an abyss, but Claire seemed to be bearing the chemotherapy and the loss of her hair. The latest series of tests had turned out well, by and large. They just had to wait and see how things developed. Of course the kids didn't know anything about it. Tom, who was four and a half, was convinced that his mother had “caught the autumn” and her hair would soon grown back again, while Eve quite simply hadn't noticed anything.

Dan picked up his wife from the lobby of Somerset Hospital. Claire was wearing a black beret on her bald head and a short skirt that revealed her thin knees. She smiled as he walked toward her through the crowd, took him by the shoulders, and kissed him hard on the mouth by way of welcome. A long, languorous kiss, just like their first dates. You had to kiss your misfortune, that was what she said. She might be an angel knocked off her pedestal, but the disease wouldn't have her skin—that was his exclusive preserve.

People passed them, as their reunion showed no sign of ending.

“Have you been waiting long?” he whispered in her ear.

“Twenty-six years in two months,” Claire replied.

Dan freed himself from her loving embrace. “Then let's get out of here.”

He took her delicate hand and her overnight bag, and led her to the exit. The air in the parking lot suddenly felt new, the sky almost as luminous as her swallow-blue eyes.

“The children are waiting for you so we can have a little party,” Dan announced. “The house is in a bit of a mess, I didn't have time to tidy up, but the nanny's made some cakes.”

“Cool!”

“I told them we wouldn't be back before eight,” he added, casually.

It was only just six-fifteen.

“Where are you taking me, Casanova?”

“Llandudno.”

Claire smiled. There was a little inlet they knew along the peninsula, a quiet spot where they could safely bathe naked. Snuggling up to him, she saw the unmarked police car in the parking lot.

“Are you on duty?”

“Yes. Bad timing, I know. They found a girl in Kirstenbosch this morning.”

“The rugby player's daughter?”

“You know about it?”

“They mentioned it on the radio. Are the guys coming to dinner?”

She meant Ali and Brian, their dearest friends, and their little ritual of inviting each other to make up for the unpredictable hours, the stress, the rotten work.

“We were thinking tomorrow night. If you feel up to it, of course,” he hastened to add.

“We already talked about that,” Claire said, firmly. “Let's not change anything, O.K.?”

She didn't want to be treated like a patient, but like someone in recovery. Ali and Brian both agreed. Dan kissed her again.

“Did you find what I asked for?” she asked as she got in the car.

“Yes, it's on the back seat.”

Claire twisted in the front seat, took hold of the hat box, and put it on her knees.

“Close your eyes,” she said.

“They're closed.”

Claire gave him a sideways glance, quickly removed her beret, took the wig out of the box and adjusted it in the rear-view mirror. A platinum-blonde bob, with two sixties streaks below the ears. Mmm, not too bad. She patted her husband's arm.

“How do I look in acrylic?”

Dan shuddered, despite himself. There was a cruel, avid smile on her lips, the smile of a mistreated doll, and those blue eyes in which her own death gleamed.

“Terrific,” he said, switching on the ignition.

They had two hours in front of them—a whole lifetime.

 

 *

 

The evening papers led with the murder of Nicole Wiese. Her father had been world champion just after the first democratic elections, when Mandela had put on a Springboks shirt and stood listening to the new South African anthem and shaking the hand of the captain, Pienaar, an Afrikaner. That day, Stewart Wiese had become one of the ambassadors of the new South Africa—and what did it matter if the invincible All Blacks had caught gastroenteritis on the eve of the final?

As the eye of the storm, Stewart Wiese had announced that he would be giving a press conference, which was not a good omen in a country in the grip of violent crime. The figures would get a going over—more than fifty murders a day—the inadequacies of a police force that couldn't protect the citizens, and then, probably, the importance of reintroducing the death penalty.

Night was falling on the township. Ali Neuman switched off the radio and served the meal in the kitchen. He had made a dish of lentils with coriander and a cocktail of fruit juices. Woozy with medication, his mother had slept part of the afternoon, but seemed to be regaining strength. This morning's attack? What attack? Josephina claimed she was as fit as a fiddle, better almost than she'd ever felt in her life. Whereas he, although as handsome, strong, etc., as ever, was looking tired. The usual palaver.

Neuman did not tell her about his day, or what he had seen. He left her favorite chocolates on the kitchen table—they were her only pleasure—and kissed her on the forehead before leaving, promising that yes, yes, one day he'd introduce her to his “girlfriend.”

All a sham.

 

Without street lighting, and fragmented into a multitude of mini-territories, the townships were particularly dangerous in the evening. Manenberg was no exception. The Rastafarians had organized marches against crime and drugs, but the organized gangs continued to lay down the law. Even the schools in Bonteheuwel had been closed by decree of the gangs, and the authorities remained powerless to ensure the safety of the pupils. In Manenberg, three quarters of them took drugs and were involved with the
tsotsis
.

Neuman parked his car outside Maia's house, one of the few permanent structures in the area. High-flying planes blinked in the mauve sky. He glanced at the unpaved streets receding into the distance and closed the car door. A ray of light was filtering through the skylight of her bedroom. He knocked gently at the door, in order not to scare her—four times, it was one of their codes. Muffled steps approached.

Maia smiled when she saw him, her demi-god looming out of the darkness. “I've been waiting for you all day,” she said, with no reproach in her voice.

She was wearing only a short, shimmery nightdress and the pair of slippers he had bought her. She kissed his hand and drew him inside. The decoration of the living room area had changed since last week. Maia had torn down the ill-assorted pieces of wallpaper and put up paintings, her own paintings, done on boards or salvaged wood. Maia was happy to see him but said nothing—code number four. You just had to remember them.

Without a word, she drew him toward the bedroom, lit the candle next to the mattress and lay down on her stomach. Her golden thighs gleamed in the dim light, her legs—he knew every muscle, every fold of them, he had caressed them a thousand times. Maia closed her eyes, letting herself be looked at, her arms hanging loose from her body, as if she was about to fly away. A dog barked outside.

Another plane passed. The candle wax dripped on the carpet. Still as a sculpture, Maia waited, her eyes closed, as if dead. At last, he ran his hand through her carefully braided hair and gently stroked the curve of her neck. She smiled. There was no need to open her eyes. “I'd know your hand three yards away.”

Her body was as warm and soft as her lips. He stroked her shoulders, her back, slightly rough to the touch. One, two, three, he counted five scars. Maia began writhing and whimpering. Maybe she was faking it. It didn't matter. He lifted her nightdress, revealing the small of her back, her round buttocks, which she stretched toward him, like an offering. Neuman had stopped thinking. His fingertips made powder trails on her ransacked body, an invisible thread that drew a thousand delighted little squeals from her.

He looked up and saw, in the candlelight, the photographs on the walls. Photographs out of magazines that Maia had put up to brighten the room, advertisements showing women in tropical paradises, with beaches and isolated atolls in the background, half-crumpled photographs, some of them damp from being picked up out of the garbage on the streets. You almost wanted to throw up with the pity of it.

Neuman left without even glancing at her paintings, leaving a handful of banknotes on the fridge.

 

 *

 

The botanical gardens were empty at this hour, the dawn still a memory. Neuman walked across the English lawn, holding his shoes in his hand. The grass felt soft and cool beneath his feet. The foliage of the acacias trembled in the darkness. Neuman folded back the ends of his jacket and kneeled by the flowers.

Wilde iris
(
Dietes grandiflora
), read the notice. The police tapes were still there, waving in the breeze.

They hadn't found Nicole's purse at the scene of the crime. The killer had taken it. Why? For the money? How much money could a student have in her purse? He looked up at the clouds scurrying wildly beneath the moon. The presentiment was still there, omnipresent, like a tightness in his chest.

He wouldn't sleep. Not tonight, not tomorrow. The pills had no effect, except to leave a taste like soft dough in his mouth. Chronic insomnia, despair, compensatory phenomena, despair—his brain was going around in circles. Not just since this morning. Taking one of his walks along the Cape of Good Hope wouldn't make any difference. There was this cold monster inside him, this beast that was impossible to spit out. However hard he fought, however much he denied it, tried to make each morning the first rather than the last, he was waging a war he had lost in advance. Maia—just a front. Tears welled in his eyes. He could invent activities for himself, erotic codes, lists of passionate attractions like so many phantom loves, the glue simply didn't hold. Before long, his masks would fall in a rain of plaster, walls that would carry everything away in their collapse, like old scenery sent for scrap. Reality would explode one day, it would take him by the throat and make him bite the dust, as he had in that garden as a child. His Zulu skin was hanging by a thread. He could try to dent reality as much as he wanted, make plans, forenames with female lines, he would fall, engine in flames, on the same no man's land. A land without man—without a man worthy of the name.

BOOK: Zulu
13.06Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Letters to Her Soldier by Hazel Gower
Peace by T.A. Chase
A Planned Improvisation by Feinstein, Jonathan Edward
Fermina Marquez (1911) by Valery Larbaud