She could have stared a hole through that painting on the wall. It was just as well. She’d always hated it. Benita sat there, unmoved by time and the sharp hisses of the foul-mouthed maid, struggling to control the fear that now laid squarely in her stomach. It would shoot out any minute, she knew it. She clutched the silk edges of her caftan, rubbing them together to call back the reality that had suddenly evaded her. The bastard didn’t even say it himself. He’d left a quick-scribbled note on the dining table, eagerly pointed out to her by that witch of a maid. And he was daring enough to call her “Bennie”.
She knew she should have never smiled back that day. Whenever he stepped wrongly, she would question her easy pleasure to his easier graces. Now, she rained down curses on her naivety, her smile, her teeth … She’d just been curious. She wanted to know what it was like to befriend a white man. The only other “whitey” she’d ever spoken to was Father Paul, her catechism teacher when she was ten. But everything from his mouth had been wicked- his words and breath alike. She was sure that there was more to the race.
It had been a wild time. She’d stopped walking home in step with the syllables of “medulla oblongata” and “clinical insanity”, and instead, played selfishly with words like “Greg” and “love” and “me”. She didn’t share those words with Leila and Franca for an entire term of missed classes and blank thoughts. When bravery finally took her, she resignedly offered up more words like “white” and “forty”. In return, she received only heavy gasps, which propped open the mouths of her friends, and left them that way. They would think less of her. In her mind, she was not like Lisa, an obvious gold-digger, whose expensive hair would sway left and right, going “swoosh-swoosh”, with the leaves from the palm trees. One could not distinguish the sounds of the leaves from the soft cascading whispers of the disapproving campus.
Benita never questioned who she was and what she was doing, until the first time that Greg crowded the sheets she was hiding in with paper bags that bore words she didn’t know the meanings of. Did he forget that her name started with a B and not an H? Yet she wore these things, to hair and nail appointments in salons that she couldn’t afford, followed by the knowing eyes of girls just like her- girls that would sit patiently through three hour treatments in the middle of a Monday afternoon. Those appointments gradually usurped her lectures, occupying her mind with new thoughts. On days that she emerged through the unsteady white-washed doors of her lecture hall, she was barely recognizable to her class mates. One time, she was forced to break the full-swing motion of her hips as she was sashaying towards the door, to inform someone that her name was not Lisa.
Presently, Benita was being re-acquainted with her breakfast as it was retched out of her stomach. Too bad the fear remained. She had not bothered to run to the sprawling guest toilet of the still-unfamiliar house. Greg would not mind. He could not scold her all the way from his next over-paid job in Zimbabwe. She’d wished she had targeted that painting instead of the rug. She’d resented Greg for liking it, and for telling her that it was so African, as though she wasn’t more informed on what being African meant. She ignored the witch’s screaming as she slowly gathered her caftan, and dropped heavily onto the rug.
She wondered whether the fear had caused it, or whether it was the determined bump thriving in her belly. Maybe it was the fear of the bump. She grabbed at it, attempting to oppress the silent oppressor inside her. She could imagine that its soft curly hair had already begun to sprout, unlike her stubborn roots that had broken her mother’s favourite combs. The ease of running her hands through its head would not be able to soften the hardness of the life that awaited her. She imagined how people would stare at them as they walked through the streets. They would wonder at the other half, and shudder with condemnation when they spotted her bare finger. She had jettisoned all her dreams for a bigger, more impossible one. And it had all fallen down with the weight of Greg’s yellow note on the marble floor. She felt herself like a slave, and he had been the powerful master that took advantage of her. He’d left her a souvenir of a brown-skinned creature, and stretch-marks. Benita was sure that the self-appointed Africa connoisseur would hurt her by duplicating this gift. She sat splayed on the tainted rug, wishing for a place where she’d only hear the sound of the swaying palm leaves.