Trigger warning: Violence against women
By Juanita Samuels
“The male lion, Tau, having defeated the old lion, is now the dominant one in the pride and needs to instate his dominance. The females of the pack must yield to him. The male lion then covers, Amare, one of the female lions. She must submit. If she resists, he will kill her.”
The monotone voice of the discovery channel commentator continues. The expressive eyelet of the lioness is strained and miserable. Victoria sits down on the steel-framed bed, with her uniform clutched in her hand, as she stares at the television screen.
“Are you still watching that nonsense?” Samantha asks from across the room.
“I’m fascinated. Look at Amare’s eyes. She didn’t want that. But she might die.”
“That’s life. You need to get ready for work. You know Sister Templeton is a nightmare,” Samantha says, reclining down on the other bed, paging through a magazine.
“Shouldn’t you get ready for your date?” Victoria replies as she pulls the white uniform over her dark curls.
“Don’t know if I’ll see Alfred again. He hasn’t phoned, yet,” Samantha’s voice lost its life. Victoria sits down on Samantha’s bed.
“Please tell me you didn’t give in to his demands?”
“What was I supposed to do? He would leave me otherwise.”
“He’ll leave you anyway.”
“Stop your preaching. Get ready for work!” Samantha turns her back on Victoria.
Around two o’clock the next morning, Victoria notices that one of her patients is still awake. She enters his room. There is an unnatural breeze with an odd smell of wildflowers in the sterile environment lifting her bangs into her face.
“Mr Marsh, why aren’t you sleeping?”
He seems confused. “Rhaka, is that you?”
“No, sir. It’s me, Victoria, your nurse, remember?”
“Sorry. I thought…” Draven Marsh’s voice drifts off.
“May I ask who this Rhaka is?” her curiosity pricked.
He has a far off look in his eyes. His blond hair fading to white and his face is riddled with lines, the grooves around his mouth evidence of deep sorrow.
“It was so long ago. You remind me of her.” It’s silent for a while. Victoria sits down on a chair by the bed.
“She was so lovely. So full of life.”
Victoria smiles and leans forward. “What happened to her?”
Mr Marsh frowns and looks out of the window at the starless dark sky.
“Two best friends went on a road trip in the summer of 1948. They drove around every small town along the coast. One day they reached a small farmstead, called Verloren, by one of Natal’s coastal towns. The grass grew tall, and in the distance, they could see a woman laying on her stomach with one of those photo contraptions. She was taking pictures of the coast. She was the loveliest vision that they ever saw. Her long wavy dark hair free down her back, held back by a yellow headband that she always wore. A short yellow dress emphasised her long shapely legs. Both men were enchanted by her.” Mr Marsh’s head tilted to the side, with a soft snore. Victoria covers her patient with a blanket, switching off the light.
The senior nurse looks up from her work as Victoria enters the duty room with an arm full of files. “Have you done the wounds of Mr Smith?”
“That’s good. You need to write the night reports now. Then start with the morning routine. No rest tonight.” The authoritarian voice of the senior will make anyone obey. Victoria sits down at the desk with the files. Her mind still wonders to Mr Marsh and this mysterious woman that clearly made a profound impact on the man.
With the night shift over Victoria returns to her room in the ladies dormitories. The walls and floors different, loathsome shades of pink. Breaking the tone is the wood paneling on the walls. As Victoria enters the room, she discovers Samantha curled up on her bed, crying.
“He said that we aren’t compatible. One of the other girls saw him last night with that tart Esmerelda. He can have her! I don’t want him anymore!”
“I’m sorry,” Victoria can’t help saying.
“Of course, you are. You told me so,” between the sniffing and hick-upping. “Yes, you told me.” It is silent for a while. “But it’s nineteen ninety-three. We live in a modern age. I won’t live like a nun like you! You keep yourself pure for a roué. For what?” Now sitting hugging her legs.
“So, you’ll freely give way, to what’s yours? You’re the one who ends up hurt. Or worse. You saw what happened to Tanya,” Victoria says concerned.
“Tanya is a fool. She got herself into trouble with her own carelessness.”
“The pot calling the kettle black? Tell me why you’re so hard on your own sex?”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it. I’m just upset.”
Victoria embraces her friend, stroking her hair.
After two the next morning, Victoria enters Mr Marsh’s room, finding him staring at the dark night sky through the window. “Mr Marsh, you’re still awake?”
“Do you need anything?”
He shakes his head.
“Mr Marsh? You started telling me about a woman called Rhaka. But you fell asleep. I would like to find out what happened to her.”
“She was the most exquisite woman they’ve ever seen. The three of them roamed the countryside. She had such a sparkling personality. She was friendly with both men, but only one had her special attention.” He says in a reminiscing tone. “Their love for each other grew day by day. They’ve spent as much of their time together as possible. Her father found out about the relationship and didn’t approve. He chased both men away. Then arranged for Rhaka to get married to someone from their community. Rhaka was upset, but she succumbed to her father’s will.” Mr Marsh’s voice trailed off.
Victoria sees that he is fast asleep. A peculiar, aromatic breeze forms around her. The fine hairs on her body stand erect. Victoria rubs her arms and feels disappointed as she gets up and continues her shift.
Samantha is in a much better mood, paging through pamphlets on her bed.
“You should look at these. There’s going to be self-defence classes in the main hall tomorrow evening. So, no excuses. This is important!”
“Why? Seriously?” Samantha hands one of the pamphlets to Victoria. “Remember the nurse from ward nineteen who was attacked last year in the dark passageway.”
“She should never have walked there by herself. I always ask one of the porters to escort me. It’s a scary place.”
“Well, the matron has seen to it that we’re trained in self-defence. So, we’re going. Don’t make any other plans, okay.”
“Okay, …it’s my last shift tonight, and I’m exhausted,” Victoria exclaims as she falls onto her bed. She thinks back to the story of Mr Marsh and hopes to hear the rest later that night.
Samantha is standing in front of a mirror, applying her make-up skilfully. The darkness of her eyes accentuated, and her natural red pouty lips are now glistening with gloss. “How do I look so far. Jeff will be here in half an hour to pick me up.”
“Yeah, I’m going on a blind date.”
“Where are you going? Do you know anything about this guy?”
“Relax. I’ll be fine. A night of fun is all I’ll need to get back my groove.” Switching the music louder. The stereo is playing Mango Groove’s, “Nice to See You” on the radio. Singing along and swinging her hips to the rhythm.
Mr Marsh is sleepy that evening, and his breathing is forceful and uneven. Victoria places the tube under his nose supplying the oxygen. He smiles in thanks. Victoria leaves his room, switching off the light.
Just before handover time the next morning, she enters his room again. A festering draught follows her into his room. He is weaker than before.
“Mr Marsh, can you speak?”
“You want to know what happened, don’t you?”
“Martin went to her father. Her father lost it and shot him. What he didn’t know was that I arranged to meet her at the spot where we always met. There was a deserted gutted farmhouse, and near the edge of the cliff, was a large tree that appeared to have fallen over. She was so disappointed when she saw it was only me there. We didn’t know about Martin then. I tried to tell her about my feelings for her. I could give her the life that Martin couldn’t. She refused and pulled away, stepping closer to the edge of the cliff. I tried to grab her. The ground gave way, and she fell. She caught a root of the tree sticking out the red earth. I tried to reach her, but she fell. I yelled, ‘No, Rhaka! No!’” As if reliving the moment, he reaches out his hand.
After a moment, he continues. “But it was too late. I couldn’t see her anymore. She was gone. I rushed to town to try and get help and found that there was a great uproar going on. News that Rhaka’s father killed Martin reached the people. I got into my car and drove off. I thought by the time they found her body; they would assume that she committed suicide. I entered the navy program and only last year returned home.”
“You never tried to find out if they found her body?”
“I couldn’t. I did follow the obituaries in the newspapers. There was nothing.”
“She might still be out there. Don’t you care?”
“I do. I found her. Years ago. She’s a photographer living in France.”
“Nurse Victoria, it’s handover time. Your attention is needed in the ward,” the officious Sister Templeton says from the open doorway.
“I’ve got to go. I’m off for the next few days. I’ll see you then. Okay?”
But, Mr Marsh’s attention wasn’t with Victoria anymore. He seems to be far away in a distant country as Victoria leaves the room to join the morning staff.
Victoria sits on her bed with a map of Natal in front of her. Her finger is trailing the pathologist to Verloren. A packed bag standing in the corner. Samantha enters the room giggling, holding her finger in front of her mouth to show Victoria to keep quiet. She closes the door behind her, then runs to the window and opens it. Two men climb through the window.
“Samantha, what are you up to?” Victoria whispers loudly to Samantha. Hysteria forming in the back of her throat. She pulls on her gown. She is nervously looking at both men dressed in black. Samantha throws her arms around the taller one’s neck, kissing him. The other gets the bag from his back and takes out a bottle of wine.
“You have cups or glasses for us?” He asks Victoria. His baritone voice is giving her shivers. She opens one of the drawers and produces the cups. He smiles at her. “I’m Ian. Please to meet you?” He is a few centimetres shorter than the other man. Both men have dark hair, but Ian has green-blue eyes which fascinates Victoria.
“I’m Victoria. You’re not really supposed to be here. We can be suspended if they catch you here.”
“Don’t worry. We’re special forces. They won’t find us here.”
Victoria glance over at Samantha, who is sitting, next to the other man, on her bed.
“Victoria, this is Michael. Victoria.” Samantha handled the introductions.
Before Victoria could answer, she notices Ian reading all the names of the bookshelf. He pulls out a book called The Good Wife Guide her mother gave her last year. Opening the book, Ian starts reading a highlighted piece, “Submission doesn’t mean that we’re weak-minded, feeble, or frail. It means that we’re empowered by choice and that we’re dedicated to esteeming others higher than ourselves.”1 As Victoria attempts to grab the book, he grabs her, but she pushes him away. Ian glances over at her bed and notices the unfolded map sprayed over her duvet. He walks over examining the map. “You’re travelling somewhere?” Looking over to where her bag is positioned by the cupboard.
“I’m planning to go to this place one of my patients told me about. It’s called Verloren in Natal.”
“What are you going to do there? Sounds like a small town to me.”
“I’m following up on something he told me.”
“What did he tell you?”
“You can tell me. Promise I won’t tell.”
“He told me about a woman that went over the cliffs at Verloren. But a body was never found.”
“Sounds interesting. So, when are we leaving?”
“I’m leaving tomorrow morning early.”
“How are you getting there? This place looks deserted, and no bus goes along these routes.” He hands her a cup of wine and clinks his cup to hers. “I’ll take you. I enjoy mysteries. Now drink away.”
Victoria brings the cup to her lips and swallows all the liquid. He is surprised by the bold behaviour but soon brings his own cup to his lips before he too, drinks all the wine. His eyes never leaving hers.
Samantha walks over to the television in the corner and switches it on.
“Tau approach Amare and show special affection towards her by rubbing his head against hers. It’s been weeks now that this love affair has deepened. Their cubs are playing close by.”
“Oh, no.” Samantha cries.
“Oh, I love this program. Did you watch last night? It took one sweep with his massive paw to kill the hyena that has been tormenting Amare,” Ian says as he folds the map and places it into the inside pocket of his dark jacket.
“Victoria! You should stop allowing people to push you around like that!” Samantha exclaims.
Ian throws his body sideways onto the bed, ignoring Samantha. Michael hands a cup of wine to Samantha and pours more wine into Victoria’s cup. Victoria swallows that liquid too and sits down next to Ian glaring defiantly at Samantha.
“You should change that word submit to commit,” Ian state dryly.
“What do you mean?”
His daring eyes not leaving hers, he drinks the rest of his wine. “When you come with me tomorrow, will you follow through?”
“Yes, I will.” Watching her intensely, Ian gets up.
“I’ll see you tomorrow then. Come, Michael, I need to be up early.” Both men disappear out of the window as quietly as they came.
Both Victoria and Ian are standing at the top of the cliff the next day. Ian is wearing his black combat gear, while Victoria is in her khaki shorts and a tank top. Ian is adjusting the harness straps around Victoria’s waist after placing the helmet on her head. Victoria pretends not feeling the brief intimate touches. He keeps explaining the procedure. He takes out his hammer and hits in bolt anchors into the rock, tying both their top ropes through it and securing the locking mechanism before showing her what to do. Victoria, for the first time, looks down the cliff, and her heart constricts, finding it hard to breathe.
“Before we start. What happens if she’s there?”
“We’ll have to report it.”
“You remember that. Just promise me you won’t scream.” After a brief moment of silence, he motions her to turn around. “Come on then. Don’t be afraid. I’ll be there every step of the way. Lean back away from the rock and push away.” They slowly move down the cliff’s face. “You sure this is the right place?”
“Yes. He described the tree and the burned down ruin of a house. This is definitely the spot.” She pushed away again and lost her grip on the stopping mechanism. Ian catches her.
“Slow down! There’s no rush.” His arm is still around her waist. They move slowly. Then Victoria sees a strip of material. She pulls it out of the crevice. It’s a discoloured headband. She shows it to Ian. “This was her headband. He told me about it. She was always wearing it.”
“You say there was no body found?”
“Yes. I went to the library. I spent hours staring at slides of newspapers for this area, spanning months. No bodies were found here. Only the death of a man killed, a Martin De Jager. A handsome man with dark eyes. He was the guy killed by her father. But the patient said he saw her again in France.”
“Then what are we doing here?”
“To find the truth.”
They kick off and move further down, having to push over an overshadowing rockface. Victoria is moving first. The shape of things transforms into a hairless skull. Empty eyehooks capture Victoria’s bewildered eyes. White bones tied with leather straps and a torn cloth trapped deep within the teeth cavity. Victoria stifles a cry.
It takes a while for them both to climb back. Ian is pulling Victoria up over the edge. They both rest on their backs, staring up at the sky. The wildflowers tickle Victoria’s face, and the scent becomes overpowering. Victoria, out of breath, whispers, “she should have yielded. Now she’s dead.”
“This is a burden on you. But, you have a duty towards her.” Ian says as he pushes numbers on a big black device and hands it out towards her.
The next day, Victoria walked into the ward with Ian and two police officers. She enters Mr Marsh’s room. There is a cold deadness in her stare. He turns his head towards her. She steps up to his bed and drops the yellow headband on his bed, turning around without a word, leaving the room. Listening to the ragged breath, then coughing. The next day she will find the bed empty.
“You’ll never really know what your daddy meant for me the day following Mr Marsh’s death,” Victoria says, rubbing her hand over a bulging stomach. “It was an unnatural death. The smell of wildflowers hung in that room for days.”
“I also took your mummy on so many wild adventures. She is one brave woman.”
“Yes, and your daddy learned to use a door,” it comes wryly from Samantha.
“We also met Tau, Amare and their third litter of cubs,” Victoria continues.
“Don’t forget the photo,” Ian says, placing his arms around Victoria.
“Yes, the photo in France, Passage de Retz. A photo called Verloren, photographer Rhaka Pillay -1948, disclosing the fallen down tree, the old farmstead and a dark figure of a man with hands clenched, staring down the cliff.”
- To get a different perspective on submission imposed on women can be found in, “The Good Wife’s Guide,” https://pinterest.com>the good wife’s guide. Accessed on 11 May 2019.
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