Tendai Machingaidze was born in 1982 in Harare, Zimbabwe. She holds degrees from Syracuse University and Southwestern Seminary. Her short stories have been published by Weaver Press, Africa Book Club, The Kalahari Review, Lawino, Munyori Literary Journal, African Roar, Open Road Review, and Brittle Paper. Tendai’s debut novel, Acacia, was published by African Perspectives Publishing in April 2014.
The Cape of Good Hope
It is always the same omen. Angry waves rock the boat. I am trapped in a sadistic cradle. Back and forth. Up and down. Too horrified to feel nauseated. I cower in a corner and cover my ears from the hurricane winds. They howl and whimper and whisper pirate words into the gloomy dark. I am enveloped in a deafening nightmare. I scream. A blood-curdling sound that no one can hear. I am a phantom shrouded in dark clouds and debilitating visions. I wanted him to die. I willed him to. Now I am doomed to sail tumultuous oceans forever. I am trapped on a ghost ship. The Flying Dutchman. A superstition. A portent of calamity. Never managing to round the headland. My name is Madeline but I am not real. I am an apparition with no form and no future. I will never escape from this hell I have built.
She was stunning. And heartbreaking. She stood at the edge of a world ravaged by the savage whims of mankind, the wind gathering her hair and whipping it across her face. A silent scream. Fists clenched. Eyes shut tight. Among groups of animated tourists, she was totally out place. Standing deathly still, hypnotized by the turbulent waters. Waves crashing around her, she was lost in a world of her own pain and dreams.
She turned away from the water and looked up at the sign post towering into a pale blue sky full of possibility. She was free now. She could exhale at long last. The whole world stretched out before her. She could go anywhere. Be anyone. Be herself. Finally.
Jerusalem was the closest. 7 468 KM. But, she did not feel worthy of the Holy Land. Or she could go to India or to Amsterdam? The lands of her ancestors. New Delhi 9 296 KM. Amsterdam 9 635 KM. But she had always been haunted by her dual ethnicity. Trapped in her own skin. Doomed to view the world through mongrel-coloured eyes. London 9 623 KM. Sydney 11 462 KM. New York 12 541 KM. New York. Perhaps. Mecca for the masses where she would not be other.
She took in a long deep breath and smiled. A nervous, excited, self-amused grin. She had made her decision. She would use the money that Pieter had given her for graduation to cross the Atlantic and start a new life for herself. Fortunately, she had managed to hide the money from Sully or he would have squandered it like everything else she possessed. She was determined to claw her way out of the abyss he had abandoned her in. She would be whole again. She would reinvent herself.
Madeline van Riebeeck’s life had never been easy. She was the product of an illicit lust between an Afrikaans man and his Indian housekeeper. Born in the region that came to be called KwaZulu-Natal, at a time when Mandela was still incarcerated on Robben Island in Table Bay, and South Africa had not yet birthed the slogan of the “Rainbow Nation,” Maddy was an outcast even in her mother’s womb.
She had been raised in exile on the fringes of the Indian community in Durban with eyes glancing sideways at her and voices murmuring behind her back. They all knew as well as she did that she did not belong. That she was other with her pale skin and startled green eyes too petrified to engage with anything other than her own feet. Her mother loved her, but she could not protect her from the world. She could not shield her from prejudice and hate. She could not give her a father, a family, a comfortable home.
Madeline Patel. Daughter of a maid. Forbidden to ask about her father. Banned from knowing where she was from.
Until, in 1994, two monumental events turned her world on its head. Nelson Mandela won the Nobel Peace Prize, and twelve-year old Madeline Patel legally took her father’s surname. He showed up at their rickety door one morning unannounced, the sun gleaming behind him like a halo. He said his name was Pieter and that he was her father. He was finally man enough to claim her as her own.
She did not move to the suburbs to live with him. To Maddy, it was a foreign land filled with taciturn white faces and uppity accents she could barely understand. Besides Pieter already had a wife, a home, a life, that did not include her. A legitimate daughter with curly blonde locks. There was no place for her there, with her caramel skin and hair as dark as night.
Out of a mixture of guilt and paternal obligation, Pieter paid for Maddy to go to a private boarding school. A pioneer at the turning of the tide of apartheid, she paved the way for girls of colour at her new school. She kept her head down, lost in her books. She got a scholarship to the University of Cape Town to study International Relations. She prayed that she would not be lonely there too.
Cape Town. “The Tavern of the Seas.” A place of refreshment for the Dutch East India Company. For travellers who had yet to reach their destination. For Maddy who had such optimism in her heart.
They met at Cape Point. Where two oceans merge, they too became one. His name Gabriel. Like the angel. Gabriel Sullivan. A descendent of the English who had colonized her Dutch ancestors. A man of startling imperfections who colonized her heart. He was beautiful. Free. Her Cape of Good Hope in bodily form. Her Cabo da Boa Esperança opening new routes, new dreams, a new life for her. He was a post-graduate student at UCT. His field of study was Eastern Religions. He was fascinated by all things Indian. He was fascinated by her.
Maddy had visited Table Mountain National Park shortly after she moved to Cape Town. Her mother was with her and together they had explored all the famous sights. Cape Point was her favourite. Hovering on the edge of the world. Wide open seas stretching into a horizon gleaming in the sunshine. Over the years that followed while she was a student, she would go there periodically and just stand there, staring out into the beyond, dreaming, smiling, laughing. It was her haven away from the pressures of school. A sanctuary where she could let her deepest yearnings fly free.
Sully had been watching her, stalking her, for about twenty minutes waiting for her to turn his way, but she had yet to notice. Impatient, he went and stood beside her, smiled and said “Hi!” She was jostled out of her thoughts by his raspy voice. She turned her face up to look at him. He was tall, pasty-white, with piercing blue eyes, a five-o’clock shadow, and dirty blonde hair cropped close to his scalp.
Her first thought was that he was a European tourist wanting to ask for directions. But then he introduced himself telling her that he was a student at UCT. He confused her. And thrilled her. His eyes bore into her soul. She felt exposed. Like a hunted gazelle. There was nowhere to hide. Cautiously, she fell into an uneasy conversation with him. They talked about where they were from, about school, about their love for Cape Point.
Unarmed and unable to defend herself, Maddy fell for him. Hard. Sully sought her out at school and with his rollicking personality made his home in her heart. He made her laugh. He rarely made her cry. He told her she was beautiful and she believed him. For the first time in her life she was happy to be Madeline. For the first time in her life she thought she had found home.
He coaxed her to move in with him three months after they met. She had fallen in love with him. She could not resist. She was pregnant with his child. She had no choice. A decaying hope that everything would be okay.
As always, she had passed the signs on her way up to Cape Point:
“BABOONS ARE DANGEROUS AND ATTRACTED BY FOOD!”
Papio ursinus. Chacma baboons. Obnoxious creatures with no respect for boundaries.
That is what Sully had become. Or had always been. A scavenging baboon. A white collar bum forever foraging for drugs. In and out of delirium. In and out of her life.
Gabriel Sullivan was no angel of light. He was just a man. Flawed and desperate. Imprisoned. Afraid.
She did not find out about his addiction to heroin until she walked in on him injecting it between his toes. It only got worse as her pregnancy progressed. He wanted her to have an abortion, but she would not yield. Her mother had given birth to her amidst racism and hate. Who was she to deny life to a child of the new South Africa?
Ultimately, Sully stole the decision from her. In a fit of rage, he shoved her down the stairs. Her Cape of Good Hope became her Cabo das Tormentas. Her Cape of Storms. Her torment. Her demise. After six brutal months of a harrowing pregnancy, she lost the baby. She lost herself.
Violent wind. Wild waves. And thick fog. Always the threat of sharp cutting rocks. A false bay like Whittle Rock. A shipping hazard with no Diaz and Da Gama crosses to warn her of impending danger. She was out at sea and all alone. Sailing unchartered waters. Searching for a way forward. A new route. An escape.
Deep down she had willed him to die. To overdose. To set her free.
How do you plead? “Guilty as charged!”
She found him lying in the bathroom in a pool of his own vomit. A tell-tale syringe cast aside beside him. She was not startled. She did not cry. She took her thirty pieces of silver and drove to the Cape.
Now she is staring at a sign-post pointing to different corners of the world. She is trying to decide which road to take. She is trying to figure out which life to live.
Maddy moved to New York without looking back. She was afraid of turning into a pillar of salt. She was working as a model when the night terrors began. A delayed reaction to the trauma she had survived. The world of fashion embraced her exotic look. They could not see the chaos within.
Maddy abhorred modelling and all it entailed. Constantly being preened and prodded and gawked at. But, it paid the bills, and so she did it for a while. She pasted a smile on her face, swung her hips, and put on a show. She felt like a circus animal on display.
Maddy had always felt safer lost in her books. Eventually, she was brave enough to apply for graduate studies at NYU. She wanted to study Social Work. Her internal homing device was guiding her back to the motherland. She hoped to work for an NGO, advocating for disadvantaged girls and women in South Africa. Vicariously advocating for the child deep within herself.
It has been five years since Sully died, but she has not escaped the nightmares. She is in DC at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. She stands in front of Albert Pinkham Ryder’s painting. The Flying Dutchman. Oil on canvas. c.1887. The embodiment of her darkest horror. She is staring it in the face praying to overcome.
A ghostly apparition. A spectre-ship. Glowing eerily in the distance. A creepy yellow hue. Rampaged by foul weather and dark angry waves. Sails whipping hysterically in the wind. A never-ending penance. An eternal reckoning.
It is just a painting, but it comes alive. It mauls her to within an inch of her life. She feels the uproarious motion of the waters deep in her sickened gut. A requiem in the wind entombs her. The boat angles upwards as it hits a wave, and she is almost thrown overboard. She gasps and shuts her eyes, holding on for dear life. Her palms are sweating, but she is drenched to the bone. Her heart pounds frantically like the drums of Africa heralding the death of a chief. A violent shriek is brewing inside of her, threatening to break free.
She is saved from the ruthless clutches of trepidation and panic by a light tap on her shoulder. It is another visitor to the museum wanting to get a closer look at the legendary ship.
Maddy opens her eyes and takes one more look. It is just a painting again. A two-dimensional canvas. And, in the horizon, she glimpses the pale light of hope. The promise of calmer waters and, eventually, solid ground. The Cape of Storms is again and forever The Cape of Good Hope.