I didn’t think I heard her words as I clearly as I'd wanted to. So I asked her to repeat them. She repeated them again and then again until her words scorched their path in my memory. But it hit me that even if I had asked her to repeat them a hundred times her words would remain unchanged. Her soft voice rang through every pore in my body clogging them in misery.
“Where would I go? I have nothing but the Mercedes and…and…I’ve spent all the money in my bank account on that wretched wedding. The booze and the officiant and everything…I’ve paid for them. I’ve paid for that damned diamond ring that Chantel has on. You can’t leave me. I’ll be impoverished.”
Well, that’s your problem,” Elizabeth sneered as a nasty cackle was born. “If I were you I’d sell that wife of yours to slavery. You could survive on the little she’d be worth.”
“Mum…” I said but all I heard was the stillness of a long forgotten apparition. She had hung up. She had left me in an endless prison of my own misery.
Anyone else in my place ought to feel anger ripping through them. Yet was this empty precipice anger? I thought anger was something stronger than this. I thought anger made me want to dash everything in my sight. I thought it made me want to scream. No, this was not anger. Anger would be a welcome intruder compared to what I felt now. This was bankruptcy.
As I watched the stars crackle out flaming hues, I felt my own star die within me. All I dreamed of was being the next big work of fiction. I pictured the swoons of all of Westwood International as I parked my sapphire Mercedes right next to Chantel’s. I watched their faces as we touched in front of Mr. McCarthy’s office. I was the story. Yet, I was a story that would have to make room for more stories to come. I was no longer anything but the homeless man who has to sleep on the streets. Now that I was eighteen there was no orphanage to shelter my shattered soul.
“What have I done?” I muttered, shivering as I let the warmth of my coat embrace me. The coats which I brought at a local designer shop were eating at me; determined to drown me in bottomless depths. I looked at the wine bottles that lay rolling on the floor and the girl whose form was crumpled in the chair opposite mine.
“Chantel,” I said, shaking her awake.
“Carry me downstairs,” she whispered in a drunken haze. It was a miasma so drunken that the display on my face was foreign to her.
“Chantel, how much money do you have in your account?”
“W-what?” she said, staggering onto me. Her arms shook like she was inches away from dying which left my heart warping with volcanic tempers.
“Your bank balance?” I said, welcoming fury into my soul. “What is it?”
“A little more one point eight million,” she said, reaching for me. “Now could you please help me downstairs?” I didn’t help her. How could I help someone when I was in need of help myself? Eighteen hundred rand meant destitution. I might as well apply for an exhausting job at some office.
“Sell the Mustang,” I said, feeling a glimmer in my voice.
“One point eight million rand means poverty,” I said. “Poverty Chantel and you know that. Shit, I thought you were an artist. Unless….unless you have much more than what you claim to have.”
“I don’t,” she said as shades of defiance coloured her voice. “And one point eight million rand does not mean poverty. People survive on much less. You’re mad.”
“Oh I’m mad, am I?” I yelled as I crushed my knuckles against the table. The rush of pain that came from it was a welcome escape. I imagined Chantel’s face gleaming at her Mustang, her villa and her expensive school. I just wanted to tear that sparkling smile apart. Glass plummeted near her feet and one of the uniform clad waiters rushed towards it.
“I’ll get it,” Chantel said in the same drunken state.
“Oh no, that’s no problem,” the waiter said as I nodded. Yet Chantel continued to defy me, fumbling with broken shards of glass as if they were the wads of cash she would throw at my face. I felt my teeth grit.
“Let him get it and tell me how much that Mustang is worth,” I heard myself growl.
Anger whipped through me as it veiled my eyes in crimson. The waiter’s red uniform, the red table cloth that clothed the table and the red on Chantel’s hands as I shoved her aside.
“Why can’t you fucking answer the question?” I screamed as visions of starvation taunted my mind. “How much is that Mustang worth.”
“Nine hundred and ninety five rand,” she screamed. “Not that any of it will be yours. My dad brought it for my eighteenth birthday and that’s mine. And it will be mine for as long as I live.”
“Your dad,” I said, feeling a spark of hope within me. “He does some sort of dull job, doesn’t he?”
“He’s an actuary. He has his own company.” My chest flooded with addictive relief.
“Chantel,” I said, plucking her off the floor. “I need you to call your dad. I need you to tell him what Elizabeth has done.”
“Let go of me,” she snarled, swinging a tiny fist at me. I sneered. “Let go of me you useless son of a bitch.”
“Give me your phone and I will.”
She grunted something vile as I felt frustration grip me. Shoving Chantel back to the broken glass, I snatched her phone from her bag and dialed his number. Her dark eyes met mine with some sort of emotion but at that moment my mind didn’t want to figure out what it was. I was bankrupt.
I soon found out calling her dad was worthless. He told me that he would always support Chantel but his assistance stopped there. I was as unwelcome in his house as a common rodent.
“But Chantel is my wife,” I pleaded, feeling the phones cold surface against my fingers. He had to help me. I had nowhere else to go. “Chantel would want you to help me. She’d be miserable if you didn’t.”
“Sorry, kid,” he said, coughing as he spoke. Good. I hoped lung cancer got to him before my rage did. “I love my daughter. You on the other hand, are a spoilt brat who needs a good job. Speaking of a job, you could work part time in my office. I’d offer to help you make your money, but if you think I’d throw my cash at your feet, you’ve been drinking too much.”
I looked down to see what I shattered in my agony. Large cracks had spread across Chantel’s phone but I didn’t care. I didn’t care about anything but the echoes of Elizabeth’s words. You needn’t come home, she said. If I needn’t go home and Mr. De Carvalho would not take me in, then I had no other home to go. I was an orphan once again.
“Your dad said he isn’t going to help me,” I said, feeling my fingers claw into my moisturized skin. The sting made my pain come alive. “He’ll support you. And you_ you will sell your Mustang.”
“Why can’t you sell your Mercedes? Why must I be the one to pay for the shit you found yourself in."
“Because I can’t live without it,” I said, kicking the shards of glass in a dozen different directions. “Don’t be a bitch Chantel. Sell it.”
“Well, what if I decide to keep the Mustang?” she said as her voice rose with her temper. “It matters much more to me than you do, you know.”
“It doesn’t,” I snarled, feeling the stab of her words seep in. It mattered more to her. Everything mattered more to her than I did. “It doesn’t and you know it doesn’t. Your Mustang and your villa and your fucking ability to pay for your fucking school doesn’t mean a thing to you. You married me. You are my wife and I know you love me. I know it.”
“Fuck you,” she said, taking the waiter’s offered arm and turning around. “I loved the sensitivity and the emotion and the excitement. I loved the rule breaking and the death-defying car races. But whatever I loved, it certainly wasn’t you. It will never be you.”
“Let me take you back to your room,” the waiter said, helping her get back on her feet. “There’s a doctor a few houses away who will attend to your wounds and I’ll call security.”
“You’re not leaving Chantel,” I said as I grasped her arm. “You can’t leave me. You’re my wife.”
“Oh yes, I am,” she spat as she turned around. “I don’t care if you work, beg or starve. I’ve had enough with you. I’ve always wanted to go far away and that far away includes miles away from what you’ve become. Or perhaps, what you always were.”
She turned to leave. She didn’t turn fast enough though since I felt my hand gripping her. She was slower than the heat that rushed into my heart, slower than the fury that raged in me. I felt my arms grab her shoulder and in one powerful swipe my fist collided with her skin.
Shock banished my rage and before I reached out to her she stood up. She was always a tall girl. She was tall enough to stand head to head with me yet somehow her height towered over mine. The lights of the city shone yet they couldn’t dim the shine in her eyes. There were tears and rage and the mysteries of emotion that I couldn’t seem to unravel. There was so much in the girl who shivered a few feet from me. She stood there for a minute, perhaps even longer. When she spoke her bright eyes confronted mine.
“I am not your wife.”