Short Story – True Love

BY MZANA MTHIMKHULU Last Saturday afternoon, I lavished my girl with the highest love expression ever uttered. "I love you," I cooed, as we walked side by side, "as much as I love Highlanders Football Club." Thoko stopped and stared at me in stunned disbelief. "You can't mean that?" she finall

y asked when she found her voice.

“I do baby, every word,” I assured her, pleased with my gift of the gab. “My love for you equals that of&.”

“Shut up Alex,” she hissed. “I have tolerated your craze for football, but this is now too much. In all my twenty-two years, I have never been so insulted. How can you compare me with, of all things, a football team?” There was anger and disgust in her voice.

I had always known that, like all women, my Thoko was emotional and unpredictable. But this was ridiculous. It was no secret that millions of women trudged through their lives without ever basking in the kind of love I had declared for her. To get it, thousands of girls would swim across crocodile infested rivers, walk across land-mined terrain and crawl over broken glass. Having got it, the girls would fall on their knees to thank God for their luck. Some would make long trips to their rural homes to pay homage to the spirits of their forefathers. Not Thoko. Instead, here she was, accusing me of insulting her.

“I never want to see you again,” she spat out. “Never.” Nose in the air, bust pushed forward, she quickly walked away. I trotted after her.

Thoko and I had been going out for a year. Two weeks back, we had agreed that it was time we got serious about our relationship. We drew up a plan of meeting our relatives. Her aunt in Mpopoma Township was the first on her relatives’ list. We had been on our way to her aunt when she red-carded me for using a wrong love expression.

I caught up with her as she went round the corner to her aunt’s house. “At least let us fulfil our promise of visiting your aunt,” I pleaded.

She stopped and roasted me with a look of contempt. “Nx, why don’t you just take a couple of Highlanders players with you and leave me out?” I wisely did not reply but kept alongside her when she resumed walking. Like a good defender, I was not going to be easily shaken off. Her aunt’s house was a five minute walk from the minibus stop.

“Okay,” Thoko snarled at me as we waited for the door to open after she had knocked, “Just this visit, then we go our separate ways. I am not going to play second fiddle to&.” Before she finished, a tall stout lady in her forties opened the door. “Come in, come in,” the lady gushed, stepping back. I followed Thoko to the two seat sofa she chose. The room was neat and modestly furnished. On one of the walls there was a large framed photograph of two rows of women in church uniform. In the middle of the front row, there was Thoko’s aunt lighting up the picture with a smile.

To my relief, Thoko was not bent on carrying the quarrel into the house. She politely introduced me to her aunt. “Call her naka Douglas,” Thoko advised. “We all do.” We shook hands and commented on the heat-wave suffocating the country. There was silence for some seconds.

A tall elegant man with a sprinkling of white hair walked in from the kitchen. They say it’s a small world, but I blinked to make sure it was him. Yes indeed, it was Ncube. He smiled at us. “Meet my husband,” naka Douglas said, gesturing at the man.

“We know each other,” I said, stretching out my hand to shake his, “Well, sort of,” I added.

“I thought your face was familiar,” Ncube said slowly, his eyes narrowing. “Of course!” he exclaimed with the joy of a fan cheering an impressive build up by his side. “You are the lad who sits three rows away from my row.”

He turned to his wife and continued, “Him and I sit at the same grandstand at Barbourfields Stadium.”

Ncube greeted me a second time. But this time I merited more than a polite handshake. He demanded that I stood up. He hugged me the way politicians do when they meet on the airport tarmac.

“Actually, I sit two, not three, rows away from you,” I pointed out as I sat down.

“You are right,” Ncube nodded.

Although we had never met outside Barbourfields Stadium, Ncube and I went a long way back. For ten years, we had sat near each other to cheer Highlanders. Ncube always delighted us with the string of insults he hurled at visiting teams and at referees judged to be biased against Highlanders. For him, a single decision against Highlanders was conclusive evidence of bias. On the other hand, the hallmark of a fair referee was a series of decisions against the visiting team.

He boasted with truth that he never used the same obscenity twice in one match. His booming voice could be heard right across the field. But it was Ncube’s inside knowledge of what went on in the football world which endeared him to us all.

Take what he told us a couple of Sundays back. We were having a cup game against arch rivals Dynamos. Their star player had just returned from trials with a number of British clubs. According to the papers, the player was in sparkling form. But they did not say why no club had signed him on.

“Do you know why no British club signed him on?” Ncube asked us just before kick off. Before anyone replied, he continued, “I know. The first thing the player was asked by the team manager of a well known British club was how things were at Highlanders Football Club. The player replied truthfully that he had never played for Highlanders.

‘Goodness me!’ the manager exclaimed. ‘You have never played for the only top flight football team in your country? So what are you doing here? We insist on quality and that means Highlanders. I am sorry, we have no room for you!’ Undaunted, the player tried other clubs. But the story was the same. They only wanted quality players. This is why the poor lad had to come back,” Ncube concluded. We enjoyed Ncube’s story and looked forward to retelling it outside the stadium.

Unfortunately, that afternoon the Dynamos player spoiled it all. Once play had started, he continually waltzed past Highlanders’ defenders at will. It was during one of his waltzes that he created Dynamos’ first goal. Never the ones to be pushovers, we equalised within minutes. However, the British reject broke our hearts in the second half. From about forty yards he unleashed a volley which went past our keeper. Because of this player, we lost the match.

Just what was wrong with British clubs, we cursed as we left the stadium. Why had they not signed him up and saved us the agony of defeat? Nevertheless, we found comfort in Ncube’s story. The player had failed to impress in Britain because he had not played for Highlanders.

(to be continued)

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