I am a tomb.
I carried death inside of me for a day and a night. I knew but I did not breathe a word of it to him. I did not want it to be true. So, I lied to him and to myself. Until it drove me mad and he could see it in my eyes. An erratic wildness. A disturbing daze.
I imprison myself in our apartment. I had always been shy. Introverted. Preferring my own company to the Babel of social gatherings. A latent agoraphobic yet also claustrophobic. Now I am in full bloom. I am terrified that people will see. The morning sun with its penetrating light. It exposes me. My counterfeit smile and the unnatural pitch in my voice. If they look at me they will somehow know. So I bolt all the doors and close all the windows. In my madhouse I am secure. In my madhouse I am free to live a lie. In my madhouse, trapped between reality and dreams, I pretend that everything is okay.
I finish painting the old study in preparation. A cheerful yellow. It reminds me of sunshine. Of sunflowers. Dark nostalgia of happier times. I fold miniature clothes over and over and over again. I straighten, I polish, I fold again. I freeze. A satanic sounding voice laughs knowingly behind me. My horrific secret has been revealed. I whip around. There is no one there. I turn back and begin again. I fold, I straighten, I polish, I refold. A ritual. A psychosis. I am obsessed, compelled by an irresistible force to make everything perfect. To be ready. Damn it, to be happy.
I am shadow-boxing a phantom enemy. I hear voices in my head. One is irate, chastising me in an angry language that I do not comprehend. If I strain my ears, I hear a whisper, a seductive accent, a diabolical tongue, coaxing me, begging me. A demonic rabbit leading me into the abyss. It is drowned by a blood-curdling scream that pierces my soul. Then, in the distance I hear a softer tone, a melodic tenor, singing in my mother tongue, my heart language, soothing me, calling me back to the light.
He is coming home soon, I can’t let it show. He will make them take her away from me. I cook his dinner singing with suicidal abandon. A tinkling sound in my head like rain falling on a corrugated iron roof. Slowly at first then faster and faster. It rises within me, a panic I cannot master. I shudder. I shake. I sit on the floor rocking back and forth. I hug myself trying to keep me together. I hear a voice whisper “Shhhh.” A hypnotic suggestion. I do not recognize my own voice. I can no longer discern fact from fantasy.
When he opens the door, I am sitting deathly still. I am trying to listen. To feel. But there is nothing there. No flutter. No kicks. No movement at all. “What is the matter?” he asks. His voice slices me open. I wrap my hands around my abdomen. I hold it all in. I paste on my counterfeit smile and ask “How was your day dear?” He looks at me suspiciously but brushes it off. He is tired. He is home. He left his cares at the door. He entered my madhouse but he did not see me. He saw an illusion. A delusion. A false impression of me.
He tries to touch me, I jerk away. An erratic movement, like an addict going through detoxification. His touch is fire. His touch is ice. I cannot bear it. I cannot resist it. He stares at me. A glimpse into a complex psyche. Eyes of fire, penetrating, probing, persecuting. Burning through me so he can see the carnage inside of me that I am fighting to conceal. He has a vendetta against me. A blood feud that plagues my soul. Torments my spirit. Afflicts my mind. A shadowy threat threads its way through my mind. Winding, winding, winding. A mental tyranny. A sickness. A trance.
At night, he sleeps peacefully beside me. Ironically, he sleeps like a baby. He does not know what paroxysms of paranoia grip me. In the dark, I wage psychological warfare against myself. Fever dreams of an amorphous menace curling around me like a python possessing its prey. A pungent smell fills my nostrils. It is the stench of death. A cold sensation. Clammy. Chimerical. Spasms and groans come out of me as if I am possessed. I chant war cries against an invisible enemy. I am haunted by a league of shadows hell-bent on punishing me for becoming a living sarcophagus.
I dream of her. My unborn girl. A devilish cloud eddies above me then envelops me. Swollen black skies angry with rain. In my mind’s eye, she is trying to claw her way out of me. Out of the mausoleum in which I have incarcerated her. A fiendish sneer on her tiny face. An impossible anger struggling to breathe. My mind is mangled by a persuasive nightmare. Affected in the head, I murmur unintelligible mantras to calm her down. To calm me down. I love her intensely, insanely, and without hope. A form of lunatic idolatry that overtakes my soul.
I wake up startled, scared. An irritating hum in my head like flies buzzing over a carcass. I try to quiet it but it overtakes my mind. Then suddenly it hits me with lethal force. Like a bipolar patient off her meds, I laugh and I cry. I cry and I laugh. Newton’s Cradle. Back and forth. Back and forth. It was exhausting. It was my undoing. I moan manic words: “My baby is dead!” Saying it, I am free at last. I have journeyed to Hades and back. Hair matted to my face with sweat. Pupils dilated and hands clutching my fraudulent belly that will never come to fruition. Like a newly escaped mental patient I run to the bathroom.
I looked in the mirror and saw a crazy lady. She needed my help.
About the Author
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 Zimbabwe, Africa Book Club, The Kalahari Review, Lawino, and African Roar. Tendai has also published her debut novel titled “Acacia” (African Perspectives Publishing, 2014).