‘How could you, Danny?’ I felt a lump rise to my throat, choking me. ‘Tell me, what has she got that I haven’t? Is she more of a woman? Prettier?’
He paced the floor of the living room in that annoying way, walking back and forth in three swift steps, one-two-three, one-two-three, as if he could not stay still in a place for long or wanted to be in another place. His brows were creased in a frown.
‘Damn it, talk to me, Danny!’
‘Calm down woman!’ He stopped pacing, ‘You’re going to wake the children.’ He walked into the connecting room.
I dug my fingers into the sides of the tiger print love seat, trying to ease my breathing. Betrayal was a bitter syrup especially when served by the one you loved. When he returned with his car keys and headed for the door, I impulsively ran to the door and blocked his exit. ‘You expect me to take this lying down? We built a life together. You can’t throw it away for some other bitch!’
‘Stop!’ His eyes came aflame with anger. ‘Do not call her that. She is ten times the woman you will ever be!’
I felt anger begin to bubble in my chest. How could he shamelessly defend her? I longed to smash something heavy on his head, anything, to make him hurt as much as I did. Instead, I stood there, as his nose flared in anger and his chest heaved. He pushed me aside and strode out, slamming the door with a force that rattled the hinges.
It all started early that morning. Cecile, my best friend, called me at the ungodly hour of 4am. ‘Have you watched the news Jess?’ She was wheezing, as if she had returned from a marathon.
‘Did you happen to check your time, Cecile? It’s only- -’
‘Put on NTV!’
I dropped the phone, jumped out of bed and switched on the TV. When the pictures danced before my eyes, I staggered and fell onto the bed. My vision blurred for a moment. I ran to his bedroom, pushed through his door and switched on the fluorescent light. He lay in bed sleeping, legs curled up like Jamie, our firstborn, hands pillowing his head. Perhaps it was all some sort of joke.
He turned on his side as the light shone on his face, and soon opened his eyes. ‘What are you doing here?’ He asked, a hand blocking the glare of the light.
‘I saw it on the news.’
He began to sit up. ‘What are you talking about? ’
‘You and … a lady.’
He dropped his hand and began to sit up. I grabbed his wallet that lay on his table and flipped it open. He came at me and grabbed me by the shoulders trying to snatch it away. A picture slipped out and glided to the floor. He stopped then as I picked it up. My hands shook. He stood there watching as I trembled. I stared at the picture of him and the same beautiful woman from the TV. Then he snatched it from my hands with an abruptness that startled me. He set it back in his wallet. ‘How dare you?’ I cried. He did not even try to defend himself, but walked out of the room.
And so, when he said ‘She is ten times the woman you will ever be!’ I knew he was lost to me. He went on to move into an apartment he had with Alicia that very day.
Later that day, my mother called and when her breezy voice asked ‘Are you okay child?’ I burst into tears. I sat there, the phone by my ear, as mother’s voice went from caring to concern.
‘He left me, Mother. He left.’ She cooed and muttered sounds that were supposed to make me feel better. It used to work when I was younger.
“How am I supposed to go on without him, Mother?’
‘You lived before him Jess. Just go take a shower. You will feel better. And get the girls over to my place now.’
After I had returned from taking Jamie and Hari to Mother’s place, Danny’s mother came. She walked in stiffly, refused to acknowledge my greeting, but instead asked that I move out of her son’s house, and take my daughters too. She said he was marrying another woman that would give him a son. She wore a superior smile, as if she was someone I would never be.
‘Is that why you always disliked me? You wanted a grandson?’
‘I don’t dislike you, I just knew my Daniel could do better.’
My head spun as I fought the urge to shake her shoulders until she was quivering. ‘I gave him everything!’
“You gave him nothing!”
‘He is everything to me!’
‘Maybe that’s the problem, Jess. You haven’t had a life so when he asked you to marry him you jumped at the idea. Was it the money?’
‘I love him! Danny is the love of my life!’ My vision was blurred by tears. ‘Don’t tear us apart!’
She laughed. ‘Surely you must have had a contingency plan? How could you have not seen this coming Jessica?’
‘You are sending me away, young woman? From my son’s house?’
She wore a satisfied smile on her face when she opened the door. ‘I do not want you here by tomorrow.’
I sank onto the sofa. Our pictures hung on the wall. On one side was the gold framed picture of Danny and I on our wedding day, we smiled as if the world was our paradise. On the other side of the wall were pictures of our two lovely daughters, Jamie and Hari, the ones they took every birthday. I looked at the bit of paint that was freshly scrubbed from when Hari drew on it with her crayons. I wondered how they would feel when they found out that their father had chosen a woman over them. Jamie had never slept a night without Danny tucking her into bed, and when he wasn’t in town, he always called to bid her goodnight. Hari wouldn’t worry much, I knew, because she fancied herself my ‘handbag’.
I had become his shadow and as I sat on that sofa, I finally understood what drove people to suicide. There, enveloped by the pictures of what used to be and what still is, I felt it, bubbles of anger and then hopelessness. I got up and began to pack Jamie’s, Hari’s and my belongings. After I had heaped our luggage into the SUV, I returned to the house that had been my marital home. I lit a match and held it to the hem of the curtain that ran from side to side of the sitting room wall.
As I sped away, I saw it, the faint hint of smoke wafting from the windows, like a shadow, melting, floating and merging with the gloomy cloud above, chasing me, becoming me. I felt it then, a surge of emotion so great it had my stomach heaving and my knees wobbly. I held fast onto the steering as the car veered off the tar road, but I gained control again and returned to the road. I breathed, tasted my own tears as they dripped into my mouth.
Then, I waited for his call.