What was once a smooth face had become rough and flaky. She could not accept that in just a matter of a few months she had changed from being a special girl who walked like a model to dragging her left leg. Limping.
It all happened one summer Friday afternoon. She decided to take a walk around the block. It was common for drunk residents of Jeppestown block of flats to eject items through the window. Often these objects injured those walking on the crowded pavement below. Some pedestrians sustained serious injuries from being hit by these flying objects. But that day it was Tammy’s turn to suffer the stupidity of the drunkards.
She walked a few meters dodging street vendors crowding the pavement. Unfit, she began to pant as sweat rolled down her spine. She licked her thick lips and swallowed her saliva. This was her second day of walking. She forgot her water bottle, but going back to the sixth floor was out of the question.
She stopped for a moment to gather some strength. A watery substance rained all over her. The cap she wore shrank and she tossed it away. Exposing herself to the burning water that fried and melted her skin like plastic on the fire. As she screamed and wiping off the liquid her hands got burnt too. The charcoal smell of burning flesh filled the street. The rest of the liquid rolled down the legs causing irreparable damage to them and altering her gait forever.
The next day, she woke up in hospital. Doctors informed her she was a victim of acid attack. The unknown acid attacker transformed her face, legs, confidence, and even her love life too. Since then, her boyfriend no longer spent time with her. He would come home late and never bother to explain where he had been. Often he found reasons why he could not take her out, not even to the mall down the road.
His promise to marry her vanished.
Tonight was no exception. She was alone. She lowered her head and looked down at her torn carpet. It had holes that seemed to have been cut out deliberately. She straightened her back, pushing her head backward, finally resting it on the back of the red couch that had scratch marks all over. She took a deep breath as she rubbed hands against each other. Trembling and whining.
She was convinced her boyfriend of three years was no longer interested in her. And that was why those days she spent countless evenings all by herself in their flat.
She rolled her eyes to check the time on the clock mounted on the wall. It was 20h00. Too late to be alone. Before, they would be together chatting, cuddling like puppies and laughing. But since the attack, she spent hours on her own.
Slowly, she dragged herself to the mirror. Checked her face, twisting it to all directions. It didn’t change. Deep facial scars remained visible. Her once well-rounded legs had black marks and scars, making her walk with a limp.
He was once a proud boyfriend who didn’t hesitate to walk the streets of downtown Johannesburg with her. When he spoke about her, his face brightened up. He was never short of stories to brag about his future wife and often referring to her as queen or princess.
The door squeaked open.
With a smile he greeted her. “Hello, honey.”
“Hi,” she replied pretending to be busy with something on her cell phone.
“It’s been another busy day at work,” he said throwing off his shoes under the coffee table, “I’m so tired.”
“What have I done now?” he asked as he embraced her.
“No, no,” she screamed pushing him away, “You can’t leave for the whole day and think I have to be happy to see you.”
“But you know…,” he said.
Without even allowing him to reply, she continued.
“You better tell me the truth now,” she added.
He was used to her emotions and abusive behaviour. To him, this was part of post-traumatic stress emanating from what she went through after the acid attack. At times the treatment she meted out to him became unbearable.
But he had learned to simply channel his anger and frustration to his job, becoming even more dedicated to it.
One Saturday morning, Veli woke up very energetic. The previous day he had come home rather earlier after visiting the Newtown Mall down the road from their flat. He did not reveal to her why he had visited the Mall Management. He took the day off that Saturday something that was scarce those days. His focus was on spending time with his queen.
“You’re late for work.”
“Don’t worry. I’m off today.”
“I welcome the change,” she said.
“I’m all yours today, my queen.”
“This is a special day indeed,” she said in a sarcastic voice.
“Yes for special people,” he added, ignoring the sarcasm.
He jumped out of the bed and nearly fell as he lost his footing. After taking a few steps, he stood next to the window. From the second floor, the city looked bustling. He inhaled fresh air that came in through the broken window pane.
Like Michael Jackson doing his moonwalk, he floated smoothly on the floor as he turned and faced the bed where Tammy was still yawning and he said, “Queenie, can you come with me to the Mall?”
“Yes, please say yes.”
By now he was kneeling on the bed next to her.
“You must practice saying yes when I ask you for something,”
“Ok,” she said with her head leaning towards her left shoulder.
In no time, they had strolled a kilometre to the Mall. By around 10h00, the Mall was already overflowing with people. The soothing soft music playing in the background helped to create an exciting atmosphere. A voice from the Mall’s promoter who stood by the entrance added a special flavour to what felt like a special day for this couple.
Tammy was tired from walking. Encouraged by Veli, she threw herself onto the couch next to a jewellery shop.
As if she was dreaming, she heard a throaty voice from the Mall promoter.
“Ladies… and gents…, please-stop- what-ever-you-are-doing as this is a special moment for someone special.”
Shoppers looked at each other in complete amazement. The voice continued, “In our midst, are two lovebirds, Tammy and Veli.”
As the voice faded away, Veli grabbed Tammy’s left hand. He looked at her in the eyes as if to make sure she was the right lady.
“Give-them-a-big-round-of-applause…,” the voice interrupted.
Tammy was confused. As the clapping subsided, Veli put his hand into his right pocket, pulling out a small parcel neatly wrapped in gold and he went down on his knees.
“Would you mother my children?”
“What? When?” she said, as she cuddled him in her arms.
“Today, tomorrow and forever,” he said softly while slowly sliding a sparkling ring into her crooked finger.
The clapping and ululation buried their voices.
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