Saturday, October 22, 2011

[Short Story] Ophelia

By Ambrose Musiyiwa*

I am my Beloved’s but my Beloved is not mine.

We were sitting on the edge of the road when she asked me: “What do you think about my Beloved?”

I didn’t want to think about her Beloved.

“Well?” she probed — big, bright, brown eyes looking up at me as if I were a genii about to grant a wish.

“Well, what?” I asked, looking away.

“Well, what do you think about my Beloved?” she insisted.

“You might not want to hear what I have to say,” I said.

“I want to hear it,” she insisted.

“I don’t think I am the right person to ask,” I said. “I can’t be objective.”

“It doesn’t matter,” she said. “I want to here what you have to say.”

“You want the truth?” I asked.

She nodded.

“I don’t like Simba,” I said. “I think he is childish and mean and I think he is using you.”

My Beloved’s face darkened the way earth darkens when rain clouds gather around over it and a glint appeared in her big, bright, brown eyes.

“How can you say that about him?” she asked.

“You asked for the truth and I gave it to you,” I said.

My Beloved loved Simba. I could see it when the two of them were together. She had a special look she reserved for him. She looked at him the way a child looks at a favourite, loved, trusted uncle. She looked at him the way she looked at me when she asked: “What do you think of my Beloved?”

She got up and went indoors and I got up and went home and read William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience.

The hollowness remained.

I put Blake back in his place on the bookshelf.

Ophelia had a hold on me and nothing Blake could say could loosen the grip. I hungered for her with a hunger that fed upon itself. Nothing I could do, nothing Ophelia could do could dispel the hunger. And when we argued and fought, the hunger grew until it became an ulcer eating away at my insides.

I read the Song of Songs and the hunger became a wound which bled.

And for the next seven days Ophelia would not speak to me.

What had I been trying to prove?

For all I knew, Simba might love Ophelia as much as she loved him, as much as I loved her. I really had no right to say anything about him. And what Ophelia did with her body was her own business, not mine.

And I missed her. Even though I saw her everyday, I missed her.

She would not speak to me.

I filled my days with things to do and waited for her to call. A week passed and she did not call.

I went to her.

We took the beer I had brought with me, as a peace-offering, into the living room and Ophelia took two mugs from the kitchen and we sat on the cold, polished floor of the living room and leaned against the wall of the unfurnished room and the hunger was like a presence crowding in on us. And Ophelia felt she had to speak to shake off the presence and she said: “I am pregnant.”

I had a feeling all this had happened before.

Last year Ophelia had gone to Goromonzi where Simba was teaching. She had stayed with him for a week. A month later she found she was pregnant and did not want to have the baby.

Rudo. We had agreed to call the baby Rudo.

I had tried to dissuade her from aborting.

“But Simba no longer wants to see me,” she had said.

“He will come back to you,” I had said. “He always comes back. And even if he doesn’t, I don’t see what the problem is.”

“The baby will need a father,” she had said.

“I am here,” I had said.

But her mind was made up. She wanted an abortion.

Simba and Ophelia raised the money and I found the doctor who was willing to perform the abortion.

It had been for the best.

I suppose.

If she had agreed to my madcap idea, what were we going to give the baby? What was she going to wear? What was she going to eat? When she got ill, where were we going to get the money to send her to a doctor? I wasn’t working. Ophelia wasn’t working. Our chances of getting jobs were slim. And my parents had all but disowned me. If her parents had found out that she was pregnant, they would have chased her away from home.

“How long have you known?” I asked.

“A week.”

“Whose is it?”

“It’s Simba’s. Who else’s can it be?”

She drank the last dregs of beer that were in her mug and refilled it.

“What are you going to do?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” she said.

“Does Simba know?”

“Yes. I told him yesterday,” she said.

“How did he take it?”

“He wanted me to have another abortion. I told him I am keeping this one.”

It was past midnight. The station Ophelia’s portable radio was tuned to had closed and we hadn’t noticed.

We finished the remaining beer in silence and I got up to leave and she took me as far as the gate and we stopped and she asked: “Does he love me?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “I don’t know.”

Ophelia and Simba are now living together.

They have been living together for the past three years.

She hasn’t written.

Or maybe she has written and the letter is still in the post.

*Ambrose Musiyiwa has worked as a freelance journalist and a teacher. His short stories have been featured in anthologies that include Writing Now (Weaver Press, 2005) and Writing Free (Weaver Press, 2011). Currently he is working on another story.

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