her body, paralyzed by the excruciating pain nurtured over twenty years, could not hold back her deep sobs anymore. tefo hated a life most people would have died for. she let the cigarette fall to the floor. the flames rose. he was numb with alcohol and shock, and did not resist as she pulled the covers over her head and let johnnie walker no. 7 sedate her before the fire got to them.

when he died most people in the village were devastated. rre moopedi, also known as the ‘god-father’, had been a generous person. he was very friendly but very fierce when it came to his four daughters. what goes around, comes around. rre moopedi was a serial womanizer, but now that his daughters were being preyed on, he felt the pain he put most fathers through when he desired their daughters. strangely, he tolerated only one young man, tony who had impregnated his daughter, tefo.

rre moopedi had sent all his daughters to school in otse and that was where tefo met tony. he was a high school teacher and she a student at the same school. their ten-year age difference was trivialized by their urge to test new waters. all this resulted in the best gift rre moopedi was ever given –a granddaughter. they named her mpho. rre moopedi treasured her with his life – she was his diamond. they did everything together, from running his bar to smuggling illegal south african diamonds into botswana as he would lay out the diamonds in between the folds of mpho’s cloth diaper. no one suspected the sweet-smiling angel-faced baby was studded.

funeral. chaos. mourners. fancy dresses. competition for centre stage. food. while his children remained collected. they had seen the cancer savagely eat away their idol. they felt defeated and abandoned. five-year-old mpho was bemused by the mob of people gathered at her grand-parents’ house. no one told her what the gathering was about. mistaking condolences and sympathetic smiles and kisses for affection, nothing made any sense to her. nothing mattered also but her loneliness – rre moopedi had been sleeping for a long while now. plain-clothes policemen secretly roamed around hoping to catch rre moopedi’s south african accomplices – but everyone knew who they were. rre moopedi’s south african accomplices, though they paid all his medical expenses, had stayed away from the funeral. frustrated, the plain-clothes policemen took in mma moopedi on the night of the funeral, tortured her – knocked out three of the few teeth she had left – but she would not give them the details they desired.

three years after rre moopedi’s death his family disintegrated – tony and tefo, uncurtailed, drifted apart. tony had developed a wandering eye, he found other women, and tefo never gave him another chance. in his place, tefo had installed yametsi …

the bride and groom were seated on a mat made out of cow skin. chief kgosietsile and his people sat on hand-made wooden stools. friends and relatives – a bevy of peacocks. importance was being thrown around like shrapnels. the witch-doctor was busy mouthing incantations over a bucketful of intestines from different animals. he proceeded to treat tefo and her daughter – still reciting his chants he placed the innards of the animals over their shoulders. mpho felt revulsed by the smell of the innards, but tefo endured it all with a frozen smile. she had reasons to. tefo had long desired to find a husband who would help her raise her daughter. she wanted the best for mpho. she was convinced she was doing the right thing and no one could tell her otherwise. but deep down she knew her father was turning in his grave. he never wanted anything to do with the kgosietsiles primarily because their royalty had gone to their heads. yametsi stood watching with begotten arrogance. he was tefo’s husband, mpho’s step-father – tony’s replacement.

tefo was venus. her left hand still held her apple, mpho. her dream had come to pass but she needed completion – but in his deluded royalty, yametsi only saw her from the right side. mpho had also been enrolled into a prestigious school and, with the pressure put on her by her mother, she excelled. tefo could not bear to see her daughter fail because it would have pleased the spiteful kgosietsiles. her in-laws expected very little good from tefo’s daughter, because she was poorly blooded – she did not have the royal kgosietsile blood coursing through her veins. desperate to make something of her, mpho became tefo’s guinea pig. to prove her love, she also gave yametsi all rights to oversee mpho’s development – but yametsi was a poor sculptor.

“i have to adopt her.” he said suddenly. eyes blazing. it was three in the morning.

“who?”

“who else, your bastard.”

“yametsi, we have discussed this before, and i said it was okay for you to adopt her.” the mist condensed in her head, the last thing she wanted was mpho, who slept in the room across from their bedroom, to hear the discussion.

“she has to bear my name or people will start asking questions why she does not have my name.” he said, getting off the bed.

“i know, isn’t it automatic? once you adopt her she will have to have your name.” she whispered.

“i meant in every way.” he bellowed. “including changing his name on her birth certificate.” he added, coming back to sit on the edge of the bed. he was in a foul mood.

“ao yametsi, you cannot do that. it’s illegal.” she said, touching his back. he flinched.

“it’s not illegal for me.” he spat at her. “i have someone who works in the relevant office who can alter the birth certificate – destroy the old one and create a new one with my name as her father.”

“yametsi, is that really necessary?” she pleaded.

“if you want to remain my wife, it is.” he looked at her and turned away, her questioning his powers had obviously irritated him. that was it. she did not have to give him affirmation. the next day tiro’s name was obliterated from mpho’s birth certificate – replaced by yametsi kgosietsile – as father of the child.

yametsi was father only on paper, a husband only by design. he would openly boasts to his friends about mpho, but secretly, while they were together, he would tell mpho she was wasting his money – she would never amount to anything. he was never home and did not see the need for discretion with his concubines. he was in control. he was the lion. he ruled his jungle with iron paws and tefo was a direct recipient of his wrath. blow after blow she would bear. each time mpho listened in as he struck her nightly. tefo would clench her teeth and hold a pillow against her own face in an attempt to contain her agony and muffle her cries so her daughter would not hear her from across the corridor. but mpho did from the darkness of her room across the corridor.

“who the hell do you think you are, asking me such silly questions?” mhpo would hear him shout. this was usually followed by a blow to a part of the body. mpho would never know where because tefo hid the bruises quite well by the morning. but in respone to the blows, she would hear her mother’s sobs.

“this is the thanks i get for taking you and your moron of a daughter off the streets.” mpho would hear a thud accompany the venom of yametsi’s speech. he would have just kicked her. she would hear her mother whimper like a mongrel. next, mpho would hear what sounds like slaps – muffled by cloth. unknown to mpho, a pillow.

“you have the nerve to discuss me with other women?” mpho would hear him bellow.

“yametsi, please. i didn’t discuss you, please. they were talking –” the plea was usually ended by the sound of a belt hitting raw flesh. followed by a yelp. mpho, by now would be in tears. but she would not dare go into their bedroom – he would kill her. he would kill them. he has guns, and has told both of them on numerous occasions he would not hesitate to use the guns, “afterall”, he usually added “i’d be killing dogs.”

“yametsi, i’m sorry. it would never happen again, i swear.” mpho would hear her mother plead. she had removed the pillow from her face. she had to rub the place where yametsi’s belt had cut into her.

“if it happens again, i’m throwing you and that bastard of a daughter out of my house, you hear?”

“it won’t happen again. please don’t hit me. aah, my ribs, i think they are broken.” and that would be it for the night except for yametsi’s moans moments later …

tefo took it all in, the boastful confessions of yametsi’s mistresses, the nightly beatings, false accusations of (her) infidelity from his hostile family, more nightly beatings. and she let him walk proudly through his jungle because she felt secure in his presence while he basked in her reflected glory. he would possessively hold her hand, as if to say she belonged to him, and she loved it. he knew how much she valued him and blithely gave her what she needed – a name. although he boasted about his infidelity and his mistresses sang into every willing ear, he was careful not to defile his matrimonial home – but not this time. his urge got the better of him and she walked in on them. he was drunk. tefo laughed at the realization of what she knew was happening. she had seen it all before – but this was the first time on their matrimonial bed. she left the room without saying anything – just the smile on her face.

tefo returned to the room moments after yametsi’s mistress left. she walked over to the sound system and slid in what has become her favourite cd. moments later the voice of sting broke the silence in the room under the dog star sail. over the reefs of moonshine./under the skies of fall./north, north west, the stones of faroe.” she walked over to the bed and reclaimed her position and cuddled up to him.

silence between them.

then sting said, under the arctic fire./over the seas of silence./hauling on frozen ropes./for all my days remaining./ would north be true?/why should i?/why should i cry for you?”[1] he could smell gasoline and in her hand was a lit cigarette. he could smell alcohol on her breath. she had never drank. but he was too drunk to care. he had cheated on her, he beat her, and had left her twice before – and she had begged him to come back. she was not going to let him leave this time not when he had brought her problems home to her – she couldn’t beg this time. she knew at last it would lead to yet more begging. she knew at last it would lead to yet more beatings. she let the cigarette fall to the floor. the flames rose. he was numb with alcohol and shock, and did not resist as she pulled the covers over her head and let johnnie walker no. 7 sedate her before the fire got to them.

[1] Sting. (1991). Why Should I Cry For You. The Soul Cages. New York: A&M Music.