He stood there on the grassy mound, looking down at the river as it surged towards the old bridge. The sun felt warm on his face and a gentle breeze caressed his hair. It was a glorious day and this was his favorite place to come every morning. It was where he felt closest to God and to nature. It was quiet, except for the sounds of the water and the birds. It reminded him of his home in Inistioge, a small village in County Kilkenny, Ireland. He used to love sit on the hill and watch the River Nore as it swept under the 18th-century stone bridge. There and this place were a far cry from Johannesburg where he met Zendaya.
She had left Zimbabwe after losing her job at a supermarket and taken the long and difficult journey to Johannesburg, to escape homelessness and hunger in her country. She walked into a church in downtown Johannesburg and joined a long line of people waiting for shelter and food. He was visiting Father Botha at the time and when he saw her, he felt impressed to help her. He arranged to provide her with room and board at the parish in exchange for doing the housekeeping and cooking at the clergy house where he lived. It was an arrangement which seemed to be working out very nicely.
Life here in Cape Town was very tranquil. Never before in all of his forty-six years had he ever felt such peace and contentment as he did at that moment. In the distance, he heard the peal of the church bell. It was time to head back.
Zendaya stood at the bedroom window which faced the road. She saw him leave. He was going to the river. She knew that was where he went every morning because she followed him there once. He didn’t see her. She kept at a safe distance and watched him as he stood close to the edge, his back to her, looking down. It was so peaceful up there. Not a sound except the breeze rustling the leaves and the rushing water below. And then there were the birds always whistling and chirping as if they were sharing news with one another.
Yes, up there it was paradise. Up there one felt close to God and could forget about their troubles. If only she could forget…She started when she heard the church bell. She hadn’t realized that she had been standing there that long. He would be on his way back now. Moving away from the window, she finished cleaning.
It was after the midday Mass and he was on his way to the rectory to change into his black cassock when he heard Sister Hughes call out to him. He stopped and turned as she quickly approached him.
“Father O’Reilly, there’s a young man here to see you.”
An inquiring look came over his face. “Sister Hughes, did this young man tell you the reason for his visit?”
“He said he wanted to talk to you about Zendaya.”
“I wonder what business he has with her.”
“He’s waiting in reception. Shall I send him to your office?”
“Oh, yes, yes, Sister Hughes. Please send him into my office in about five minutes.”
He excused himself and walked briskly to his office. He went over to the desk and sat down, his brow furrowed. What did this man want with Zendaya?
Five minutes later Sister Hughes appeared again but this time, with a tall, lanky African man in his mid-twenties. “Come in,” he invited, standing up. “Sister Hughes, please see that we are not disturbed.”
“Yes, Father O’Reilly.” She left and closed the door behind her.
“Please have a seat,” Father O’Reilly told the young man in English. “What is your name?” he asked after they both sat down.
“Anesu Munashe,” he replied.
The name sounded familiar to him. He knew he had heard it before but where? “Sister Hughes mentioned that you wanted to talk to me about Zendaya. Are you any relation to her?”
Anesu shook his head. “No. We are not related.”
“Then, what is your business with her?”
“We are engaged to be married.”
Father O’Reilly’s eyebrows arched. “Engaged? She never mentioned that.”
“We got engaged last year.”
“How did you know that she was here in Cape Town?”
“Father Botha told me. I rented a car and drove here.”
“It’s a very long drive from Johannesburg to Cape Town.”
“Yes, it is but after being separated from Zendaya for months, the hours seemed like minutes in comparison. I came to take her with me.”
“Where do you plan on taking her?”
“To my uncle’s house in Cape St. Francis where we will stay until we get married.”
Father O’Reilly took a deep breath and said with a heavy sigh, “I’m afraid I have bad news for you.”
“What?” Anesu asked, looking alarmed.
“Your fiancée left here a few days ago and we have no idea where she is—”
“Left?” he exclaimed. “But that doesn’t make any sense. Why would she leave?”
“I don’t know. When she didn’t show up for breakfast on Tuesday morning, one of the Sisters went to her room and found it empty. She was gone. We notified the police immediately but so far, we haven’t heard anything. You can’t imagine how distressed we all are. We have all been praying that she will come back.”
Anesu stood up. “Maybe she went back to Johannesburg,” he said. “I will go there.”
Father O’Reilly stood up, his expression one of deep regret. “I’m so sorry,” he said. “I feel as though this were my fault, after all she was my responsibility…”
“It’s not your fault, Father. Thank you for your time.”
Father O’Reilly shook his hand. “God be with you.”
“Thank you, Father.”
Father O’Reilly opened the door and watched him as he walked away. Then, he returned to his desk to finish his work.
It was later in the day when Sister Hughes popped into his office. “Was the young man able to see Zendaya?”
He shook his head. “He was called away on urgent business, I’m afraid. I told him that he was welcome to come and visit her at any time.”
“Who was he?”
“A family friend.”
“How did he find out that she was here?”
“Father Botha told him.”
“Shall I tell Zendaya that her friend was here?”
“No, Sister Hughes. I will tell her myself.”
“Very well, Father O’Reilly.” She withdrew.
Hours, later after he had dinner, he walked over to the nondescript building which was the convent. It was after nine and the place was quiet. She was sitting by the window when he let himself in. After closing the door, he strode across the room and stood beside the chair but she didn’t look up.
“You had a visitor,” he informed her tersely.
She looked up then. “Who?”
“Your fiancé. Why didn’t you tell me that you were engaged?”
“Anesu was here?” she asked and saw his eyes narrow.
“Yes. He found out where you were and came to see you.”
“What did you say to him?” she asked warily, rising to her feet.
“I told him that you left. He said that he was going to find you.”
“What if he comes back here?”
“He won’t. I made sure of that.”
“I wish he hadn’t come here.”
“Are you still going to marry him?”
“I don’t know.”
“You can’t marry him, Zendaya. You don’t love him.”
“How do you know that?” she demanded, agitated because he was right.
“You wouldn’t be with me if you did.” His eyes fell on the book of African poetry lying on the chair she had just vacated and picked it up. “Now I remember why his name was so familiar to me,” he said as he flipped through the pages. “He gave you this.”
“Yes. It was his first book of poetry and he dedicated it to me.”
He turned to the front of the book where the autograph was and read it aloud, To my dear Zendaya, you were my inspiration for these poems so I dedicate this book to you. Many of the words written are tokens of my deep love and appreciation for you, my beautiful, Nubian princess. Eternally yours, Anesu. He wanted to rip it up into pieces but instead he closed it. “I’ll hang on to this,” he said, slipping it into the pocket of his cassock.
“Why?” she asked. “You know that you’re not going to read it.”
“I want to remove every trace of him from your room and your life. I don’t want anything around here that would remind you of him. You belong to me, Zendaya. I won’t share you with him or anyone else.” He moved closer to her, his eyes intent on her bent head. When she raised it to look up at him, he saw the expression on her face. “I know you resent me but you can’t deny that you want me as much as I want you.” He couldn’t hide his desire for her which was like an unquenchable fire. It was written all over his flushed face.
She closed her eyes in despair as she felt her body respond to him. He was right. He filled her with a longing she couldn’t fight and even now as he pulled her towards him, she didn’t resist. She couldn’t resist, although her mind screamed at her that this was wrong. He was a man of the cloth. She knew she ought to stop what was about to happen but when she felt his lips on hers, it was her undoing. Blindly, she reached up and clutched his head, her nails digging into his scalp as she kissed him back.
Anesu never made her feel this way. She knew that in the morning she was going to hate herself for what she was doing to him. What she had been doing to him ever since she met Father O’Reilly and the first night he came to her room. Now as he disrobed them both and then carried her over to the bed, all thoughts of Anesu fled from her mind.
Meanwhile, Anesu drove back into town, his mind in turmoil. Something wasn’t right. He knew Zendaya as well as he knew himself and it didn’t make sense that she would just disappear like that. He decided that he would go to the police station in the morning and make some inquiries before driving all the way back to Johannesburg.
Next is The Visitor.