Six – Sunday 12 June
“Hurry up, Louise! Tannie Erika is waiting!” my mom calls from the kitchen.
I gulp down the last of my lukewarm coffee and grab my large suitcase. Its heavy weight almost makes me fall over; instead I just stub my bare foot on one of the dining chairs. A foul expletive slips from my lips and I’m thankful nobody is within hearing distance.
My cussing would have upset André if he were here.
Tannie Erika (or rather Auntie Erika) is one of those extremely thin women, so much so that it’s a wonder that she can stand. Don’t worry though, it’s just her genes.
Auntie Erika throws her stick-like arms around me in a warm hug. “Hallo Louise,” she greets me in her strange Afrikaans accent. “Are you ready for the long trip?”
We continue to make small talk as I load my suitcase into her boot with some effort. Auntie Erika is an old friend of my mother’s, and I’m incredibly grateful for being able to catch a ride to Stellenbosch with her. I would not have been able to afford the trip on my own.
Before long we are on our way out of East London, South Africa. The sky is dark still and the air surprisingly cool. Auntie Erika doesn’t seem to be in a talkative mood anymore, so I allow my mind to drift into unknown places. It isn’t long before I drift off to sleep.
When I awaken, it’s nearly 13:00. Auntie Erika indicates to turn into a petrol station shortly thereafter. I’m not sure where we are, and I feel disorientated. A quick glance at a sign informs we that we are in Riversdale.
“You can go to the bathroom while I’m refilling,” Auntie Erika suggests as we pull up next to the pump. There are bags underneath her eyes and I feel guilty for still not being able to drive.
“Okay. Can I get you anything from the shop?”
She shakes her head no. “I’ll go in when I’m done here, thanks.”
I climb out of her car and as I’m walking, I try to flatten my sleep-fussed hair. I am still slightly out of it, but the horrible stench of the bathroom fixes my sleepiness without mercy. I go about my business while taking extra care to avoid splotches of pee on the grey tiled floor. The poor hygiene of South Africa’s public bathrooms will never cease to bewilder me.
I wash my hands, but I still feel unclean. The invisible germs bother me and I have the sudden urge to plunge my hands into the scalding hot water. Someone clears their throat so I hurry away from the sink so that they can use it. My eyes catch my reflection in the mirror and I pause. My heart sinks. My skin is so pallid I look sick. I feel cold all over and even the warm sun shining outside can’t seem to bring me back. To distract myself I send a SMS each to my mother, André, and Wehann to update them on our journey. Nobody answers so I switch off my phone.
I meet Auntie Erika at the check out Express aisle. She’s holding a bottle of water and a small fat-free yoghurt. I’m holding a Bar One, and it’s clear who the healthier one is. She offers me a cheeky smile as we pay for our things.
We’re soon driving again. We still have a long way to go but I find myself not minding at all. In fact, I’m starting to feel anxious. Suddenly I don’t want to see Wehann. I don’t want to look into his eyes and lie about how I feel. I also don’t want to look at him and feel anything other than platonic friendship.
I don’t want to love anyone but André.
Seven – Sunday 12 June (Same day)
It’s nearing dark when we pull up outside of Wehann’s rental house. My hands shake as I send him a WhatsApp message to let him know I’m here. While I wait I take my suitcase out of the boot and set it down on the sidewalk. I see movement in my peripheral and I rush to give Auntie Erika a hug.
“Thanks so much for allowing me to drive all this way with you,” I say as I pull back.
Auntie Erika seems a bit uncomfortable but to my relief she doesn’t say anything about it. We say our goodbyes while I still avoid looking at him. I feel his gaze burning into me and my hands shake. Auntie Erika drives off and suddenly I have no choice anymore.
“Hey… Louise…” his soft voice trails off.
I feel like a startled animal. I manage a stiff smile and hug him on impulse. It’s awkward as hell. We move back and just stare at each other. Wehann has grown even taller and towers over my short 1.62 m frame. His hair is the lightest of blonde and his eyes are the colour of the sky in daytime. His skin is still too pale, his hands still too large. My heart warms over, only to palpitate a moment later when a beautiful brunette comes bouncing out of the house. She attaches herself to Wehann’s arm and smiles beautifully at me.
“What’s taking so long, babe?” she questions, still smiling.
“We’re just catching up,” Wehann answers and presses a quick kiss to her temple. “Louise, this is my beautiful girl Ami. Ami, meet my school friend Louise.”
I’m cold all over once again. I accept her hug and follow them into the house. I am too cold, too numb, to take in anything. I can’t remember the names or the faces of Wehann’s roommates. I can’t remember much of what is said. After a short tour, I excuse myself, claiming exhaustion from the trip. They let me go without fuss.
Wehann brings me a bowl of pasta about two hours later, but I can’t even look at it. I feel like I’m imposing on their lives. It’s the last contact I have with anyone on this day.
What am I doing here? Why did Wehann invite me?
I climb into my bed and send André a quick message. He doesn’t reply.
Late that night my unpleasant thoughts catch up to me. My insecurities whisper in my ear. The words are cruel and harsh, and I feel lower than low.
André doesn’t need you. You are ruining his chance at a great life and he is too good for someone like you. You are dragging him down with your issues. Your shit is messing up his life! You are all André can thing about and it’s fucking up his life. Wehann also probably only invited you because he feels sorry for you. He thinks you’re pathetic. He just doesn’t want you to kill yourself like a little bitch.
I am just a fucking burden and perhaps I’m better off dead.
Eight – Monday 13 June
My visit to Stellenbosch, or perhaps rather to Wehann, was an awful idea. I’ve not been here a day and I’m already longing for my own bed back home. I miss my own company. I miss André. I miss the sea. But most of all I miss being able to cry without people in the next room.
Ami, Wehann’s girlfriend, tries her best to cheer me up even though we just met. She doesn’t know that she is a part of the reason why I feel out of sorts, and her niceness makes me feel worse. Wehann finally met someone he can love. I won’t allow anyone to mess that up, much less myself.
It’s early afternoon when I’m left alone with Wehann for the first time since my arrival. The air feels light and comfortable. I feel calm for once.
Dark stubble covers Wehann’s cheeks and chin. My attention gets drawn to his lips as he nibbles on his thumb nail. What else can he nibble on?
“How is André doing?”
“I don’t know,” I answer. “Fine, I guess.”
The truth is that I haven’t heard from André since he left East London a while ago. It hurts, but there isn’t much I can do about it. I brush a stray strand of hair out of my eyes and take a too-loud sip of Rooibos tea. It’s cold already. We sit in pleasant silence and watch the muted TV screen. A rerun of some Afrikaans soapie is playing and I’m caught up in the story and its subtitles almost immediately. However, I’m distracted when Wehann moves from the chair opposite me to sit down right next to me on the couch. I’m hyper aware of his presence and my previous serenity melts away. Heat radiates from him, warming me immediately.
“What are you doing?” I question him.
“It’s cold,” Wehann answers, and pulls a blanket out of nowhere. He covers our legs with it and smiled, proud of himself.
“You’re an idiot,” I tell him, not unkindly, and pull the blanket to cover me better. I tuck it in around my body so that I can be a bit more comfortable.
Wehann takes my right hand into his left in an abrupt move. Taken aback, I look at him with wide eyes.
“I’ve missed you,” Wehann murmurs, his voice earnest. “I’m glad you’re here.”
“Why did you invite me?” I try to keep my voice steady. My heart is thumping in my chest and I fight the urge to snatch my hand back, or to snuggle into him.
“You’re my friend, obviously I’d want to see you,” he answers simply. Wehann frowns when I don’t respond. “What did you think, Louise? This isn’t some romance novel, you know that, right?” He laughs, and his words doesn’t sound as harsh any more.
I feel like such an idiot. Of course, he sees me as just a friend. I need to stop overthinking things. I take my hand from his and fold my arms. I can’t cry again, especially not in front of Wehann. I manage to smile at him and then I turn my attention to the soapie again.