Chapter One- How it all began
It must have been a sacrilege for me to be feeling that way just then, but he looked so beautiful lying there. His skin was like pale alabaster against his long jet black hair. Like his four brothers, Geran loved his glossy hair and despite being a member of the priesthood, saw nothing wrong with growing it down to his waist. He was what one would describe as beautiful – not handsome – but truly beautiful in every sense of the word. Yet, the stares he drew in public, affected him little. He had no idea how beautiful he was and if told, would say looks don’t matter.
I held his hand thinking that he was already gone, but he opened his eyes to look at me as if wanting to say something, then slipped away. His hand was warm, though shaking, as the life force continued to seep out of his body – dark red and warm to the touch. I’d never seen blood before, except in the movies which I suppose is not real blood. I was aware that I was holding my breath when I tried to speak and nothing coherent came out.
Suddenly, I choked on my sadness, unable to cry, so utterly surreal was the scene before me. I simply stared in disbelief as my lover closed his eyes and lay motionless like a beautiful marble statue that had been carved there for exhibition.
One moment we were romping like children on the bed laughing at our own silly jokes, the next he was lying on the blue-and-white marble lounge floor in a pool of blood. My skin was cold and prickly despite the warm weather and as my fear overwhelmed me, I fled the scene, assuming that I would be the prime suspect; after all, Geràn’s family was less than thrilled about him choosing to love a coloured woman instead of a wholesome Italian one who would suit the family image. “Even an Eastern European would have been a better choice”, I once heard Justin saying to his father, who never wanted to voice his opinion on the matter. Come to think of it, Justin was the only one who expressed his dissatisfaction. Everyone else simply tolerated the situation for Geran’s sake.
Geràn’s throat was slit in what seemed like one deep, swift slash. The killer must have fled fast, assuming that he had completed his task. He must have surprised Geràn from behind; else, the killer himself would have been the victim. Geràn knew martial arts and despite his kind nature, would have defended himself successfully had there been enough time.
We were the only ones at his house at the time. I had gone into the bathroom for ten minutes, but on returning to the bedroom I had found it unoccupied. Assuming that he had gone downstairs to the kitchen, I went looking for him, slowly making my way down the staircase leading to the open-plan lounge and kitchen.
The striated marble steps were warm to my bare feet as I carefully descended, looking down towards the kitchen for him. I slid my right hand slowly along the banister nervously, as I rounded the steps. I stood motionless when I saw the scene below.
My heart stopped and I held my breath. When I started breathing again, my heart started racing and cold chills ran down my arms and legs. I looked around to see if anyone else was in the house but I saw no-one from where I stood which had a bird’s eye view of the open-plan lounge and dining room as well as an uninterrupted view of the pool area.
Geran was lying in a large dark pool, on his back, as if he’d been thrown there like a rag doll. I went cold with fright, not daring to take another step further. I tried to convince myself that what I was seeing existed only in my imagination.
The house was situated on a hill overlooking the Atlantic Ocean and from my vantage point, I could see over the wall, all the way across the bay where the fishing trawlers were arriving with their catch of the day. The blue-green sea was flat as glass, with a bare ripple in the distance where some boogie boarders were willing the sea to churn up some white waves. Two yachts going by seemed to be teasing me, saying ‘it’s just death, my dear that’s all it is’.
I expected to see someone running away, at least climbing the wall trying to head for the fishing village nearby where it was common to flick a knife at any sign of a threat.
The house was stately; elegant in every respect and fit for only the best company.
I thought that if I looked away for a bit, the scenery before would change but when I looked back, obviously, that was not the case.
I sat at the bottom of the staircase holding my chest, struggling to breathe and unable to cry for fear that I might be next. If the perpetrator was still in the house, I needs to be quiet, in case I too became a victim.
Naturally, the incident would be blamed on me. I did not belong there.
I was aware how out of place I must have looked visiting Geran for reasons other than work. I had to hide my excitement in case I was seen as a gold-digger, so I would stand at the window mostly to watch the sea – and to avoid the cold, intimidating stares.
Sometimes, I would play with Liquorice, the black tabby whose company I enjoyed immensely and who quickly became attached to me. There were four cats and four dogs but Liquorice was the only one that acknowledged my presence. She would jump onto my lap as soon as I sat down, curling up to sleep for as long as I remained seated. She would shimmy around my ankles if I got up, meowing for attention until I picked her up.
It was only when her owners were not around that I would coo over the ornate fittings and fixtures around the house, walk around barefoot to feel the marble and peer closely at the paintings. I thought it appropriate to pretend that I was accustomed to a lavish lifestyle. I never noticed whether I fooled anyone, as my visiting ended when I found Geràn bleeding to death. No-one contacted me to talk about funeral arrangements, so I just assumed that it would be strictly a family affair.
I was with him very briefly before he closed his eyes. I fled without taking my shoes. So wracked with fear was I that the time between fleeing and arriving home became a dark hole of amnesia. To this very day, I cannot remember how I got home, whether I told anyone, or how long I slept thereafter. I listened obsessively to the radio and watched television for news of the murder, but it never came. Not even the newspapers had any reports.
Many times I was tempted to phone or visit to ascertain about the aftermath of his death, but the silence seemed too much like a trap. It was unbelievably strange; or were they sending me a message that I meant very little to them?
I tried to reconstruct possible scenarios of hitching home, walking down to the taxi rank near the harbour or calling someone to fetch me, but none seemed familiar. It was an uncanny feeling of nothingness, so unfamiliar as to be a foreigner in my own body.
I suspected a cover-up but I also justified the silence with the idea that it was all a figment of my imagination.
When I was employed by Geran he was a Catholic priest on the verge of leaving the priesthood. He was putting the finishing touches to his PhD in Psychology which I typed for him. Our time together was enjoyable, though limited. He was untainted by relationships, having taken a vow of celibacy. In that respect, I was fortunate that our friendship was a new experience to him and I, not being popular with boys, enjoyed the surprise of being liked by him; more so, since we came from such vastly different worlds. It was an unlikely liaison.
Ours was a purely platonic relationship to begin with, which was to develop gradually and had there been more time, would have moulded us into an item. In the meantime, we enjoyed holding hands, pecking on the cheek and the occasional hug. Our love was sweet, magnetic and pure.
The attacker was most likely an experienced killer or someone with some medical background to have slit the jugular so expertly. Scenes of the murder replayed repeatedly in my mind until I feared I would lose my sanity. I would spend many years just praying to keep what remained of it - and that no-one would consider me a suspect. Paranoia kept me looking around, over my shoulder, and into the face of every stranger. There was no trusting anyone. I was fearful of being alive, believing that I didn’t deserve to live if I couldn’t find his killer. Secretly, I was hoping that someone was looking to slit my throat too. Surely, if I was connected with Geràn, the attacker would want to end my life too. The reasons became vague and plentiful, yet the paranoia remained.
I developed a fear of the dark, always believing that someone would jump out of the wardrobe while I lay sleeping. For many years I slept badly, waking up periodically, convinced that there was someone watching me from inside my own home. Worse was the fact that I could not sleep with the lights on, but having them off was just as scary.
I worked hard at dispelling the last image of Geràn lying in his own blood but as soon as I closed my eyes, all I could see was my fear, in techni-colour magnificence. Eventually, I simply became accustomed to that recurring image, living with the tension that it could be my turn next and not knowing when exactly.
I was walking around town one day, contemplating going to movies. Town was busy, with crowds of shoppers who had just been paid. People were anxious to get to the sidewalk stalls. I was irritated by their need to shove me this way then that.
I changed my mind when I realised that I was not quite in the mood to sit still for two hours; so I kept walking, past Newspaper House to see the latest Award Winning pictures, then into the mall to enjoy the aroma of fresh coffee wafting in the breeze although I had no appetite that morning. I was in no particular mood for anything so I just kept walking, or rather strolling, staring at the pavement and the pigeons seeking morsels from the human feeders at the sidewalk tables.
A pigeon was about to swoop down onto a table to grab a morsel when I spotted a man wearing dark glasses in the vicinity across the way. He was leaning casually against the pillar with his hand above him, casually smoking but watching me intently. Despite my attempts to stare him down, he wouldn’t back off. If his intention was to intimidate me, he succeeded and despite being ruffled, I tried to call his bluff by walking towards him. As I approached, he turned to walk away. I watched his back disappearing into the pedestrian crowd. He was tall and slender with an elegant, sophisticated gait that convinced me that he was from Adamo’s Sicilian clan.
I saw him again on a few more occasions, always in the vicinity of a restaurant called Gianni’s. Naturally when I next met Gianni, Geran’s youngest brother, I listened carefully for any clues of his connection with the restaurant but there were none.
I went there for breakfast a few times over the days that followed, just to sight the man in dark glasses again or find information linking Gianni to the establishment. The staff all spoke Italian and when I enquired about who the owner was it turned out to be someone called Nino, an old chain-smoking Sicilian who seemed to be everyone’s friend, including the staff.
When I had plucked up enough courage one day, I approached and asked a waitress who the restaurant was named after. The story goes that there was a little Sicilian boy called Gianni who died many years’ ago and whose heart transplant Nino had sponsored, but the boy died anyway. She showed me an old sepia brown picture taken on Muizenberg beach of a cherubic looking boy, smiling sweetly.
On a whim one pleasant morning, I went into a bookstore to buy myself a copy of Italian Made Easy in an attempt to acquaint myself with the basics of the language. Many hours of translating ancient history texts from Latin to English boosted my ability to learn Italian easily. The language might have evolved but the basic structure remained. In no time, I could figure out most of what was being said in the restaurant until I was satisfied that Gianni had nothing to do with either the man in dark glasses or the restaurant.
However, the paranoia wouldn’t abate, causing many sleepless nights, plagued by visions of the man. There was no doubt in my mind that he knew Geràn’s family. If only I could prove it. How would I do so on my own though? With no-one to assist, I could easily get killed, abducted, thrown overboard a ship…. An endless stream of frightening scenarios played merrily through my mind, though it was hard for me to maintain a merry spirit. I wish that I had friends in high places I could turn to who would do dirty deeds on my behalf without needing compensation, but what kind of life would I have to live to acquire such friends?
I wondered if I would have any recourse should they decide to intimidate me. Although I had been raised in South Africa, I still lived in fear of everyone, despite the inordinate kindness of the sweet African people.
For ten years I lived with the fear of being watched, followed and possibly targeted for murder. Socialising was out of the question, so making friends was no longer an option. I became accustomed to my own company very quickly, discovering ways to amuse myself by keeping a diary, writing short stories, doing crossword puzzles, surfing the internet and reading imported magazines.
I also spent an inordinate amount of time in coffee shops, just whiling away the time, observing idle people, listening to idle chatter, watching married people unable to communicate and seeing a disproportionate number of people having illicit affairs.
It’s amazing what you can learn by being invisible. People are so preoccupied with their own little worlds that they become totally unaware of anything beyond their own mental space.
Nothing gave me pleasure anymore and very little interested me. I was simply trying to hold onto myself any way I knew how. I was vaguely aware that somewhere inside me was a personality, experiences, needs, opinions and perhaps a solid person. What was lacking at that stage however, was the willingness or the need to integrate with normal society. Contributing anything, however, miniscule to the universe was out of the question. I rationalised my attitude by asking who would actually miss my insignificant contribution.
People come, people go. The world never stops revolving just because one soul is hurting immeasurably.
It all seemed so unfair. I wanted compensation of some sort, although if anyone had asked me what, I would have been unable to answer. It hurt even more that I could not turn to anyone for support, whether emotional or material. I had no circle of friends.
My education had come to an abrupt end - so much for trying to improve one’s station in life.
I watched heavily painted women with cigarettes dangling between their fingers, talking animatedly, as if to attract the attention of a sugar daddy. These people had no idea how unattractive they looked in their attempts to appear sophisticated to a world that cared very little.
Their hard work did not go unnoticed by some. Personally, I was repulsed by the image they presented. I took it as a personal affront that my eyes should be accosted by such theatrical displays of trying too hard.
I became a society voyeur and wanted nothing else but to observe the silliness of humankind. I could not fathom why no-one but myself could comprehend the meaninglessness of it all.
There was the pointless routine of people drinking coffee, rushing to get to work on time, having lunch, rushing back to work and many sales people just goofing off, pretending to sell their wares. I made a point of analysing their techniques, often wondering if I could do it better, convinced that I wouldn’t waste so much time trying to impress.
The only people who impressed me were the under-paid waitresses who always made an effort to project a friendly face, even at the worst of times. For these poor souls, I always had a tip, whether I thought they deserved it or not. That wasn’t for me to judge how well they were doing their job. They seemed genuinely productive unlike most who frequented the establishment. These were true servants of life – young, raw, naïve, hard-working, passionate that life will serve them as hard as they served it. Those who were older had fallen on hard times but could always rely on their waitering skills to find work. Others just needed something to do, whether it was cleaning tables, washing dishes or simply saying, “good morning, welcome to our establishment.”
The old guy at the bar was a legend. Rumour had it that he became a millionaire investing his tips and attracting many interested customers, many were teetotallers who simply wanted investment tips.
I felt an aching sympathy for the young ones, who thought they had it all mapped out, with all the answers at their fingertips.
They were convinced they would never turn out like me, forever alone, lost on the map of life with no one to turn to. Boy, was I that naïve once?
Ten years of drifting from one coffee shop to another suddenly came to a climax. Government amended legislation to prevent anyone from drawing unemployment insurance funds for longer than three years. I had to find something to do.
I paid for coffee and walked into St. Georges Mall towards the harbour end where I found Churchill’s and immediately started a temporary assignment as a Data Capturer in a Data Capturing Bureau. The mundanity of the job didn’t matter, nor the fact that people only spoke to those whom they were familiar with. I prided myself on being a ten-thousand per hour key-stroker which meant that I was eligible to remain. It was a small step in the right direction.
I was able to pay the shortfall in rent and embarked on studying psychology part-time. It was a long hard slog but eventually, I qualified. I had kept my data capturing job throughout to avoid any disruptions but more so, to keep the pressure to a minimum.
Confident that I had outgrown the job, I applied for a job at a psychiatric clinic as an Administrator where I could continue my studies aided financially by the government.
All worked out well until I could intern at the same clinic to qualify as a professional Pscyhologist.