By Ayanda Xaba, South Africa
“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
He leads me to pastures righteous…”
Puleng silently prays as she fumbles with the beads she keeps around her left arm. She gets lost in the prayer for some time and decides to start afresh.
“The Lord shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
He leads me besides still waters.
He restores my soul”
This is how it has always been, even as a little girl at Sunday school or on the floor in her mother’s lap, she would forget words to the prayer and be forced to start afresh. She remembers the sessions with her mother so well. Her mother used to sit on the floor with her legs stretched out in front of her, with only a blanket underneath to comfort her behind. She would then sit Puleng on her lap, well into her teenage years, and never seemed to feel how heavy she became. Every time Puleng had an overwhelming emotion, her mother helped her calm down by making her recite Psalm 23 ten times. She would trip over the words at the beginning, but would be calm as the sky on a cloudless day by the time she finished. This seemed to help with her ‘tantrum problem’, as her mother called it.
This ‘tantrum problem’ proved more complicated when she started university. She couldn’t hold the anger long enough to finish her Psalm recital so she got into a lot of fights. Her mother, devoted to her daughter’s well-being, sent her to a therapist. Puleng and her therapist came up with more rituals to help her keep her temper in check, and they seemed to work. She completed her tertiary education violence-free and later, when she was working as a paramedic, she met Njabulo Zulu – the love of her life.
“Even though I walk through,
The valley of the shadow of death.
I will fear no evil, for you are with me.
Your rod and your staff, they comfort me…”
She takes another deep breath, something she has been doing mid-prayer the past five times she’s been reciting it, as well as pausing where she shouldn’t. She had successfully avoided having an excess of emotions until this point. She knows she shouldn’t fixate on one thing as this brings panic and loss of control. But today she can’t move past this one thing. Today she can’t let her mind wonder as her therapist once taught her. Njabulo is all she can think of.
“Pulie!” Her thoughts are disturbed by a shout. “Pulie, oh God! You…”
It’s Tee, Njabulo’s colleague. She rushes towards him but cannot comprehend what he’s saying. She frowns as she tries to give Tee her attention.
“Are you drunk?” She asks calmly. Before he responds she continues; “Njabulo–”
“Where is he? Is he here to see Zitha as well? I tried to call but… Pulie?”
Tee remembers that Njabulo had left the club house with Sibongile, not Puleng. He is confused. What is she doing here? Where is Njabulo and Sibongile?
“Njabulo had a car accident” Puleng says in her forever calm voice. Then suddenly she struggles for breath and holds her chest as if trying to recuperate.
Tee quicks sits her down on the hospital benches and tries to calm her down. He helps her breath slowly, in and out, until her breathing goes back to normal. This is one of the side effects of her ‘trying to keep it together’. She doesn’t want people to see her breaking down, especially Tee. They don’t get along well because he is partly the reason Njabulo isn’t letting go of the ‘reckless life’, as she puts it. A life meant for direction-less bachelors like Thabo, and his stupid friends.
“Is he okay?” Tee asks now that Puleng seems calm enough to talk. She shakes her head. “Where is he?” He asks again.
Puleng shakes her head again before responding; “I don’t know”
“Let’s look for him”
Tee leads the way to the hospital reception where they ask for a Njabulo Zulu. He is feeling guilty now for being angry at Njabulo for not picking up his phone. Angry at such petty stuff when the guy was in real trouble; in a car accident with his mistress and now his wife is mad looking for him. He sighs as they wait for the receptionist search to check for a Njabulo Zulu.
“There is no Njabulo Zulu in our records sir,” the receptionist says slowly.
Tee cannot help but notice her beautiful round face and a tiny dimple that looks like a kiss peck from a baby.
“I handled the emergency call, they have to be here” Puleng says almost forcefully.
“But he is not,madam–”
“Check for Sibongile Mkhize” Puleng says quickly
Thabo is hit by an indrawn as he unexpectedly swallows his breath. She knows about Sibongile.
The receptionist is disturbed by commotion of sirens, stretchers and shouts as the paramedics barge in with new patients. They see each other, as if pulled towards each other by fate their eyes lock and the world seems to stand still. Sibongile and Puleng stare at each other as if they’ve seen each other before, as if they know and share deep secrets about each other.
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