I held my hand tight with the other for fear it would reach out and stroke her hair. It lay down her back like a silky plank of wood, smooth and straight, sanded to a golden blonde. I shook my head imagining what the weight of that hair might feel like tacked on to my own close-cropped black curls. I imagined the swing of it snapping back just at the end like a cracking whip. I thought of the sensation when a lover ran his fingers through it from root to tip, like water rippling in his hands. I looked away angry and shifted a bit further down the long wooden bench we shared, just to be sure I didn’t do something I might regret.
It was cloudy, but the air was dry and bit my nose when I inhaled. I was waiting for someone who would come, but perhaps not for me. I was waiting to see what would happen. The response would decide it, I told myself. One way or another the response would decide the question I’d battled with for months- should I stay or should I go?
Though I envied the hair, I knew it was not real. Human hair attached by the expert fingers of the hair dressers at the salon in Harare where only the rich could go. Real or fake, concrete or imagined- did it really matter? She told herself the hair was real. Her lover running his fingers through it, imagined it was hers and no ones else’s before. Façade and pretend was what it was all about. Wealth stolen to feed the dreams while the rest hungered away wishing that they could stand in those same imported shoes bought with the donor money meant for the babies. The imported shoes and long blonde recycled hair were the important things, the things everyone longed for, the sick babies were not their problem; they marred the dream so best to be ignored by everyone both inside and out of the fantasy. I knew I was no different. I coveted that hair and to own it I could ignore the dead babies too. Who was I kidding, I’d been walking over babies for months now.
As the wind picked up, my mind drifted to him. The few fantasy hours tucked between the reality, where I was told lies that fed me for the in between. In the beginning I had told myself it was a business arrangement. Money to buy food for my mother, pay school fees for my brother. Though I still clung to that thought, it was tattered and wet from the tears I cried at every parting. Every time as the door closed behind his tailor suited back, I vowed it was the end. When I agreed to see him yet again, I told myself that poverty pushed me there, in the crumbling remains of Zimbabwe what choice did I have? But that was not true. I went to him because I wanted to.
I sniffed the air. A dusty wetness had blown in on the wind. I felt awaken by it. Rain in winter, how strange. I hoped it held good tidings for me.
I watched him approach the bench. I wondered, as I often did, how it felt to be able to walk like that, like the world owed him. He saw me and his eyes flashed with fury- once left, once right and then finished- a smile on his lips showed that all was well. He was used to lies, intrigue and secrets were like breathing to him. He stopped in front of her just as the first heavy drops fell. She believed the smile was for her, so she smiled back. He took off his suit jacket to hold over the blonde hair, to protect it from the rain, and they ran together to the chauffeured car waiting nearby.
I watched them, but he never looked at me again. Today, for him, I didn’t exist. Like the sick babies, I marred the dream he’d constructed for himself. He wouldn’t allow that, so rearranged his mind to wipe me out. Had I expected anything else?
I leaned back and let the raindrops fall on my face. They tasted of the dry dust that had filled the air for months. I smelled the relief of the rain in the parched air and pulled it into my lungs. With each breath, I felt him melt away. I shivered in the cold wind as the rain soaked me through; I welcomed the realness of it. I accepted now, the time for dreams had finally passed.