“You have a lot of nerve showing up here,” I said to the woman I once believed dead. Her ebony coat, which she had buttoned to the top, was no friend to the vicious summer heat. Her heels kicked at my two-year-old rescue dog, Bastian, who growled at her with undisguised ferocity.
Good. I hoped he took a big chunk out of her leg. It would be the least she deserved for all she had done. It would perhaps show her part in the pain I had no choice but to carry.
“You know I do,” she said as she edged away from Bastian’s snowy head. “I’m only here to respond to your advertisement. I believe you want to sell that,” she said, pointing to the car that poked out of my garage. “And I believe I want to buy it.”
The car, as I explained to all those who would listen, was not a Rolls Royce or one of those executive type BMWs that Chantel was rumoured to have had. The car was a cherry-red Mustang which the sun didn’t dare outshine. It stood there shimmering in the afternoon glare as it wondered when its owner would return to slam its accelerator in a boozy haze.
“Give me one good reason why I should sell you this,” I said, feeling my fingers claw into my palms.
The Chantel I knew was sensitive and brave and crazy with intoxicating intensity. She was lost to me with every wasted second. The scent of earth still lingered like an unwelcome stranger on the palm of my hand. It was the earth I dropped on the polished oak coffin a few minutes ago.
"Do you want to auction it off? Or do you want to tell everyone in Rocklands that you have the car of a famous artist? There are about a million Mustangs in Bloemfontein. Why would you come all the way to Cape Town to buy Chantel’s?”
“You could let me sign those papers without interrogating me. I’d double the money you ask and besides,” she said as a smile stretched over her face, “Judging by the state of your house, you need all the money you can get.”
I followed her gaze. My lawn was miniscule and bustling with tomatoes, sweet potatoes and a dozen other vegetables that we grew. Our living room, where we were sitting, was dressed in ancient dandelion wallpaper that did a bad job at hiding its peeling state. It reminded me of the room in that book ’The Yellow Wallpaper.’ My family could use money but I didn’t need to be reminded of it.
“You can leave on your own accord,” I said as I settled on the many lumps that made a home in our sofa. “Or I can ask Bastian here to sink his teeth into your skin. The choice is yours.”
“Is this how you talk to someone three decades older than you? If your parents were around…”
“I was taught how to deal with jerks,” I said, feeling anger sizzle within me. “And that lesson didn’t come from my parents. Now leave.”
As I said those words, a sob clawed at my throat. The girl who stood up for me, and I suspect loved me was gone. Gone like that one grain of sand the ocean swept away. There would be others. Others who would have her shape, her size and her glorious smile. Yet, they would never be her. That was indeed the tragedy of my story. I knew there was nothing I could do about it. What I could do was live for her. I would be the one she loved. I would be the one she would have chosen. I would be the one, the only one, who would save others from her fate.
“Leave” I said, pointing to the door when Georgiana Masire, the woman in the ebony coat, treated my instructions with obliviousness. Bastian, I was proud to see, was herding her out. “Now.”
“No,” she said, folding her arms across her wide chest. “I’m not leaving. Not unless you give me what I deserve.”
“And what would that be?” I asked. “A mouthful of fist? Or perhaps a black eye and a broken nose? Do tell, I’d be happy to oblige.
“I want to know what happened?” she said as her voice rose to meet mine. “I never meant to hurt Chantel and you must know it. I understand if you don’t want to sell me her car, but I need the truth."
“You’ve heard a million people talk about her,” I said, recalling when I saw her tear-stained face as Chantel’s name was uttered. “Didn’t those accounts satisfy you?”
“Those people just sung her virtues,” Georgina said, crinkling her nose. “Frankly, I’m surprised that Chantel had so many to begin with. She always had the soul of an errant rebel even when she was a child. No. I want the real story. The story of someone who knew every flaw in her heart and her loved her for them.”
“Is that what it will take me to never see your face again?” I asked, giving her the best scowl I could manage. I saw a shiver haunt her body and smiled. I wanted to frighten her. I wanted her to feel the fear that Chantel faced every single moment of her life.
“Will Marais,” she said as her dark eyes pierced mine. “I promise you that if you tell me the truth I would be as good as dead.”
I considered this. The thought of this woman lurking inside my house made my skin crawl. Her eyes laid claim to the car as if she considered it her rightful property. Anger welled up in me. I hated her, and yet, part of me didn’t. Why couldn’t I hate the woman whose actions hurt the girl I loved? Why should I hate her if my soul was a stranger to hers? As these thoughts struggled for dominance I already uttered my next sentence.
“Promise me one thing,” I said, looking at her through my tearing eyes. “If I tell you my story, will you tell me yours?” Georgiana nodded so I began.