Two Short Stories
By Ntombi Mhlambi
The scarf covering her face only lets her see the path.
Two front-eyes, in black trousers, march before her. A side-eye, in khaki trousers, walks beside her. And the back-eye behind her. She cannot see for herself.
She has to lower her head. Let her face remain hidden. She has to lock her ears. Pretend not to hear an uneven chorus of reporters shouting that it’s her. The accuser. It’s her.
Her limbs are trembling. She cannot fall. She misses a step. But she does not fall. The back-eye grabs her by her hand. She stops trembling.
She wants to unwrap the scarf. Confirm that it’s her. The accuser. It’s her. But she’s met by the sharp sword of Welile’s words. “See no evil. Hear no evil. See this to the end.” She adjusts the scarf to cover her exposed right ear. She can only see her legs. Hear? Evil? She knows it lies in the air.
They continue to walk on a flat path as if it’s steep.
They loosen up and catch their breath.
A shrill female voice sounds close. It insists, who bought you, lying bitch? Who bought you? The country wants to know. It leaves the right side of her face exposed again.
This is a break for a green-and-yellow reporter who flashes as he pleases before the front-eyes gives him a warning.
She adjusts the green scarf, now, tighter. She is sweating. Panting. She wants out of that green thing. But, for her safety (which she has never scented), she must keep covered.
Facing forward, she sees an arrow pointing to her right. “There’s still one more passage to go through before we can enter the court building,” she thinks to herself but knows too well that the arrows could be deceiving. She wants to pull up her military pants. They are beginning to show her back. But doing so will yield the scarf to the hammering squall of camera flashes.
So she resolves to hold it by the neck like a chicken to the slaughter.
They continue to walk a weaving path, almost toppling at every attempt to step.
They relax and catch their breath.
As they enter the first staircase, she clings to the scarf, for there the wind wrestles for the best shots.
“It’s my red carpet day. Misery is my red carpet day,” she thinks to herself and smiles at the meaninglessness of it all. She takes the last step before entering the house of judgement. Front-eyes, in khaki trousers, hurries to open the door for her. They enter the building. They enter the courtroom. They are right on time.
If only she could fiddle with the horns of time to her convenience.
They are going to wait twenty minutes longer because the accused has not arrived.
She gathers herself. Pulls up her military pants and turns to the back-eye. Her mother.
She walks towards her and pats her on the back. On the same shoulder, where her scores live. The ones with green stitches. She closes her eyes to listen to their soft pain. “Come back, when I’m alone,” she whispers to its cracks. Packing its worms and needles, it leaves.
“Here. It’s prayed for,” says her mother, handing her a bottle of water. She looks at her and says, “the very same god living in this water bottle must show up for my court case.” She touches the bottle with her nailed lips and closes it again.
Her mother gulps it on her behalf, taking its full stream. For the parched moments of the path are unknown.
She remembers she has to unwrap the scarf. She unwraps it. Looks behind. And sees a couple of faces she knows. She waves her right hand. Smiles without exposing her teeth.
She takes her position as the accuser. The lying bitch who has been bought. Takes out her cell phone, to fix her eyes on the face of a small boy on its screen. A sudden warmth fills her eyes. Green tears. She opens her eyes wide and sends them back. It would not help her to let them run here. It would not move her case. She yawns at the already-beginning journey. She folds her arms. And awaits her justice.
Jet sirens are heard racing outside. Chest-men in black run into the courtroom. When a bringmymachinegun song flares, she chants, “when your tricks are over, you won’t again be safer.”
Enters the accused. In a sheep’s cotton and a red tie, he exchanges handshakes of favour. Old-boy networks.
A traditional healer climbs on his seat. Wags his tails to the face of the accuser. And, walks out of the courtroom.
Ululations and ovations in the air. She sees and hears evil.
The accused takes a stand. He smiles. His teeth are on the verge of falling. He takes out a tree trunk. Chew. Spit. Chew. Spit. To balance them.
The woman who screams, “If I were… I would not have washed,” is immediately shown the door. And back in.
Stealing glances at the accuser, the accused adjusts his spectacles with his middle finger. When he’s sweating he fixes his tie. When he panics he clears his throat. And, when he pretends not to be looking. He adjusts his spectacles with his middle finger.
Terror, Not Her Scarf!
While a group of women marches before her, her family, friends and colleagues walk beside her, and her mother comes behind her, the scarf around her face only lets her see the path.
Though it shields her ears, the noise outside the Supreme Court steps. “It’s her. The accuser. It’s her.” It hurts her. And under the scarf, she trembles. Doesn’t fall. Only trembles. For she must scarf on, for the fallen scarfs that once stood in the courtroom.
Jostled by the wind, the scarf around her face falls slightly on one side, and the noise begins anew: “The Accuser. It’s her.” It hurts again. But she continues to scarf her way towards the Supreme Court. Even as the noise says, “Who bought you, lying bitch? Who bought you? The country wants to know,” she continues to scarf her face tightly, knowing very well that the scarf is not her terror.
She mounts a flight of stairs leading to the Supreme Court entrance, clinging onto the hope that courtrooms are not scarfed tears and justice, not a strangled scarf.
But, suddenly, when she has entered the court building, misery scarfs itself around her, causing her to tremble a little beneath her scarf. But it does not fall, it only trembles. It does not fall because the woman-crowd singing around her rallies her to scarf ahead.
She adjusts her scarf to stand as ‘accuser’. Accuser of a sheep of a man – an uncle who could never have raped her. Holding her hand, her mother scarfs her trembles to keep her standing. For terror is not her scarf. Nor is it her tomb.
Meanwhile, outside the courtroom, machine guns are fired through her scarf. But the women crowd around her, singing, “When your tricks are over, you won’t again be safer.” They keep her standing. Until a sheep of a man in a red tie, passing handshakes of favour enters the courtroom. But even as she sees and hears evil, she continues standing, head-scarfed.
A sheep of a man adjusts his tie to stand ‘accused’. While standing, he chews – spits. Chews – spits the dragon-balls that will win him the case. When called to give his account of the rape, he chews – spits. Chews – spits, the dragon-balls that strangled many scarfs.
But, even as she sees this, terror is not her scarf. It isn’t.