You’re back for round two?
If you’re looking for a recap here is a link to Chapter one – Martha meets Charlie.
But before we get started, I’d like to thank Benjamin, Craig, Kourtney, Emem, Thulz, Faeeza, Sanazo, my girlfriend and my loving family for their reviews and advice and their intrigue and enthusiasm.
A special thank you to all the goons of The Wolf Collective.
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Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep!
‘If only I had a gun,’ thought Martha, ‘I’d shoot that damned phone!’
Martha was a light sleeper and the tone alarmed her forcing her into a grumpy mood despite its purpose being fulfilled. She craved sleep and she had gotten very little of it. She turned her head towards Thomas who lay still, incoherent to the sound.
Willing herself got out of bed she searched for her phone in the dark with ears and hands. She snatched it just before it vibrated off the dressing table. After silencing the buzzing noise she aimed for the lights. Wind rattled against the windows as Thomas moaned “The lights,” he grabbed a pillow and sheltered himself from the sudden intense luminescence, hiding his gorgeous golden hair.
“Could you get me one of those peanut things from gym?”
“Of course Honey” Martha said, stretching her arms and clicking her neck. Her morning ritual to wake her body.
Thomas offered her a smile before drifting back to sleep. Martha clothed herself in her athleisure, hyped herself up for the training session ahead and braced herself as she entered the unforgiving crisp, cool air.
Martha arrived at the gym before it had opened that morning. Despite the winter cold she wanted to make sure that she was not going to allow anything to distract her from her usual routine. Another lady arrived before her, they exchanged a quick glance and a shorter “Hello”. Martha was focused when she trained. No distractions. The happenings of the past were where they belonged she told herself when she thought of how nice it would have been to wait inside her car. She did not have the capability to change the past and so she would bury the hatchet, stopping the internal war that waged on her mind over the unanswered question, ‘why me?’
The gym was vacant, excluding her and the lady she greeted earlier. That was one aspect she loved about exercising in winter, particularly the morning session. Having an excessive amount of space and the chance to play around with equipment she had never used before excited her. It was not by choice that Martha never wandered the gym but merely because of how full it was in the summer to the point it made her peevish. She would take advantage of her unobstructed freedom to explore but first she stuck to a routine stretch, filling her water bottle and hopping onto the tread mill.
The tread mill slowed at the end of her scheduled twenty minute run. For her, twenty minutes was never enough time to time run on a tread mill and reluctantly adhered to the request of the suggestive red circle. She wondered whether there were exceptions if the gym was empty as she looked around the almost vacant cardio training room. She was the only soul. She grabbed her towel and patted herself down, although it was freezing outside, the gym felt regulated to room temperature and Martha was certain that even her nipples were sweating. Her shirt was drenched and clinging onto her skin.
Despite her running she had been unable to forget about all her thoughts from this past weekend. Flashes of Thomas ran through her mind as she stretched her body in the yoga room. She stood in the centre, absorbing all its emptiness and breathed in deeply. More than anything she wanted Thomas to be happy. And regardless of the fact that they had renewed their vows, Martha thought that maybe Thomas felt obliged to do it, maybe her suggestion was actually suffocating him, and she was doing more damage than good. With her husband no longer being the bread winner of the family, she was the supporting beams that held the weight of responsibility for a household.
When Thomas lost his job their lives had turned in a direction that neither of them thought was possible. Not after the life style that they once had. The sense of security. Martha was certain all Thomas needed again was a job. But something that he would enjoy doing. Something that would make him prepare his clothes a day before each working day and plan his week ahead because he was filled with palpable excitement – like he once had.
Thomas had looked for jobs from the moment he was fired. At one point he was pitching for interviews three times a day for a whole month. Taking along a copy of his CV and certificate for credentials and others of merit, yet no company would hire him ’we simply cannot afford to pay you the salary you deserve’ was the conclusion to many meetings he attended. Being over qualified came at a price. So they had left the big city and thought it was best to start elsewhere.
A fresh start was going to provide them with a new way of looking at the bigger picture. They were starting a new life they had told one another after they kissed in the threshold of the altar and renewed their vows. Martha often called it her second wedding. She applied for a relocation of schools and no later than two months started work at Valleyville High. Thomas had developed a habit of waking up after business opening hours before he would go about his task of searching for work.
Martha took the past and the present and compared the two. In the past Thomas would not be able to keep himself quiet about the dealings of his work. Explaining how his day was to Martha with a sense of showmanship, that one customer who was stubborn to the core or voicing his opinion on his supposed incompetent senior management staff. Now he woke up inertly and slowly got himself out of bed with the enthusiasm of a wilting weed. After everything that the couple had been through, Thomas still managed to wear the same smile that had captured Martha’s attention years ago. A smile that passed on a contagious sense of tranquillity that spread through her body whenever her heart raced at the sight of him. She even smiled now, merely thinking of him in her head. She collected her sweat towel and filled her bottle before her cool down stretch.
Walking out of the yoga room Martha noticed the young woman training with the free weights in the corner of the gym. She might have walked past if it were not for the loud, mumbled counting. Curious she walked over – close enough to observe and far enough to remain anonymous – then began toying the equipment before her. Still noot close enough. She circled the area and occasionally stared at the woman while she trained. She was fierce and determined from start to finish of each repetition and each set the she completed during her workout. Other than the obscene counting she murmured words of self-encouragement to push her body to continue. She operated the machine in consistent and controlled movements, despite the presence of pain. Martha admired this woman from afar but when their eyes met she reared, averted the contact and left before it could turn into an odd stare.
Martha truly wanted to speak to the woman, compliment her on her body and five her for them representing the girls at gym that morning. After all it was about time that the woman of this town joined forces and showed love to their fellow sisters. But Martha questioned how to start a conversation at the gym, it was an odd forum. Though she was worthy of many compliments herself she struggled to be candid about beauty to her fellow females stemmed from a fear of disrespecting someone somehow and the woman in this small town tended to keep to themselves. Other woman were more of a threat and few female connections could be witnessed. If two ladies were friends it was most likely they were also family or colleagues or had been so since a young age.
Martha grabbed her belongings from the locker and made for the exit. She stopped at the health bar before making her was out. However warm she was from her workout, she was not prepared for the walk through the thin air of the cold morning nor the wind that ensued.
When Martha arrived home she placed a peanut butter bomb on the kitchen counter next to a pair of gloves which she cursed herself for not taking. She was surprised to find that Thomas was up and had gathered, chopped and whisked ingredients for breakfast. Two days in a row. ‘This is surely a record since we’ve moved to Valleyville’ she thought.
His hair was in a tidy mess and the bags under his bright blue eyes were those of a satisfied sleeper, not too heavy. He placed all the ingredients in a casserole, shoved it in the oven and set the timer to ten minutes.
“Good morning Honey. How was training today?”
“Training was good. I’m glad I went back today. If I missed another day I think I would have gone insane. Its super chilly this morning though, I thought my fingers were going to freeze and fall off.” she hadn’t been to the gym in over a week, choosing to substitute the visit with a run instead.
“Hmmm. Do you think a ham, mozzarella cheese, green pepper and mushroom meshed up omelette with a cup of hot chocolate would warm you up? It’s almost ready. Give it another fifteen minutes at most.” Thomas said bending over to scan the contents of the large dish and straightened himself with a smile.
“I’m starving! I’m just going to go for a quick shower and I’ll be back down”
Martha ran up the stairs to shower and Thomas prepared the table, placing the eating mats and cutlery on the table with an accompanying plate of toast and by the time the massive one sized omelette was cooked Martha was already in her seat, frothing at the mouth. She required no invitation and dived into breakfast.
“How is the job hunting” asked Martha vaguely trying not to add any salt to a wound that still remained in the healing process and was scaring slowly.
Thomas turned his attention from Martha to the toast and grabbed a slice and began to butter it.
“It’s alright. I got an interview at Pick ‘n Pay yesterday. The manager took one look at my CV and was impressed. We had a lengthy discussion about the different experiences in managing people and running a business. After the interview formally he told me bluntly that he did not have any position available to cater to my degree.” He bit into the toast and chewed a bit before continuing “The only vacancy they had available was for a teller, I didn’t have the heart to accept. My pride wouldn’t let me.” He crumbed out.
Thomas slurped his peanut butter bomb filling the silence at the table.
Martha pitied the situation Thomas had boxed himself into. He was an intelligent man and it was this aspect that had been the driving force that willed Martha to continue speaking to Thomas when they had met and to find out the depth of it all.
But now, in front of her sat a man with no Job – fact one – and he didn’t seem too bothered by it – fact two – but what she chose to see was a man who knew what he was worth. More than pride, they needed any additional source of income to keep the house afloat but Martha knew that Thomas would never wake up with that same energetic smile if he took the job. And that was a sacrifice she was willing to make at the beginning of their move to Valleyville but it was now more over of a good four years since Thomas had known what it was like to receive a pay check.
“I’m still doing the odd job for Kourtney’s company. But it’s an inconsistent inflow of work and so is the amount she pays me for the work I do”
Martha froze at the mention of the name. She chose to scuffle her food instead of entertaining any thoughts of Kourtney at all. She thank Thomas for dinner with a kiss as she placed the dishes in the sink before she gathered her things for work. This time she made sure to pack the lunch that Thomas had prepared for her. She ran through her mental checklist before leaving and remembered there was something she wanted do before heading off for work that morning. She grabbed her coat and moved toward Thomas, his back facing her.
“Hmm,” he hummed, acknowledging her.
“I have something I want to tell you.”
Thomas pointed his shoulders towards her, forcing his head to follow and focused his vision on his wife. Her legs weakened from the power of his focus on her. His attention undivided and all for her. Thomas dried his hands with a dish cloth, sensing the urgency in Martha’s tone and placed his arms at his side.
“What is it my love?” asked Thomas now worried and wrapped an arm around her shoulder and reeled her closer towards him. His touch felt like love and so she paused for a moment before delivering her important message.
“I just wanted to tell you that I love you. You’re sweet, kind and smart. And I know that you will find a job soon. I have faith in you and that you’ll find something that you’re looking for. Something that’s meant for you!”
Thomas bowed his head and kissed Martha on the zenith of her head. His enveloped arms were a comfort she often sought and relished, even in the most usual situations.
“I know you will” she repeated softer and more intimately.
The clock on the wall told her she would be running late for her schedule if she did not leave soon. She pecked Thomas on the lips and wished him a good day at job hunting.
Walking out the door she folded her arms to keep out the cold as she walked to work. She was too early for the bus and she had no intention of waiting in the piercing wind; she would rather walk through it and try keep warm while trying to stop her trench coat from billowing from underneath her at the same time. More than anything in the world, right now Martha wanted a piping hot cup of tea. Then she remembered that she had a question that needed to be answered. How was it that a key and a cup of tea would lead her to what she wanted?
Her curiosity grew, and so she craved to speak with Charlie.
Martha dropped her bag in the staff room when she arrived at work and hung her coat up on the edge of the table. Remembering that Charlie had broken her cup, she borrowed one of Mrs Dlamini’s many monochrome coloured mugs and made herself a cup of tea with no sugar, no milk, no additives. The darker the better. She wanted to taste the flavour of the tea leafs when she drank. She searched for the key that Charlie had mentioned the previous day, not knowing what it looked like, lifting up coffee mugs and containers and rummaging through drawers that were cluttered with things no one bothered to throw away. “‘A key and a cup of tea’ I wonder…hmm” Martha spoke her thoughts out loud. She lifted the bread board in her hands while searching between the crook of the wall and the microwave when Mrs Dlamini entered the room.
“Good morning. Lost something Mrs Thatcher?”
“Right now, maybe my dignity,” responded Martha blushing and putting the bread box back in its place realising it must have been an odd sight to see her holding a box tucked under her arm
“I’ve lost a key and know I left it somewhere near the cupboard with the tea”
“Is that where you last remember having the key?” queried Mrs Dlamini with a grin.
“Well, it’s where I last remember seeing it” said Martha hesitantly unable to produce a compelling response.
“If I come across the key, I’ll be sure to let you know. What does it look like?”
Martha was caught off guard “It’s a small golden key but the nose is thin and long and about the base is about the size of my thumb nail”
“I’ll be on the lookout,” Mrs Dlamini scrutinized Martha “How are things with you?”
Martha tried to understand the ambiguity of the question but then she remembered who she was talking to and her body became defensive closing in on itself and her demeanour timid. There were very few people who Martha felt understood her well. She could count them on one hand. Literally. One was her husband – who understood her in waves – when he wanted to, a best friend who relocated to Singapore, her parents who both passed away and lastly, Mrs Dlamini.
“I’m fine. I’m just taking things day by day you know.”
“Mrs Joubert told me what happened to you over this past weekend. I’m sorry about it all, but these things happen. It’s life after all” Mrs Dlamini pulled a chair out offering Martha a place to sit and sat beside her.
“Now as much as I know you miss your car with all the sentimental value that it holds, however, there is nothing we can do about that. And the same can be said for Kenny” Mrs Dlamini paused for a moment and placed her hands together as if to pray and give condolences before she continued “But I’m concerned about more pressing issues. The matters of the heart. Is Thomas good for you?”
The question so blunt, Martha tried to recover from her shock.
“Of course he is” her voice was stern but the reply sounded rehearsed and her face said she was not truly sure. “We’ve worked things out. It was our anniversary on Friday and we had a lovely time in one another’s company over the weekend” lied Martha. She had slept through most of it, nursing a hangover she willingly drank herself into in order to relieve herself from the pain caused from her car being stolen and the loss of her canine friend, Kenny.
Not once had any upsetting thoughts about Thomas crossed her mind nor would she allow them. She and Thomas made a promise, they recreated vows and from then onward Martha believed they were going to function together, better than they had in the past. Yet their first anniversary was a mess. And irrespective of whether it was a special day or not, all of them felt the same as any other to Martha, or so she told herself, the fact that they had not spent their anniversary together as planned didn’t bother her at all, she lied once more.
She enjoyed being surrounded by Thomas because he understood her and when she needed love.
‘Of course he is good to me’ she reiterated to herself.
They were an item and there would be many more anniversaries to come.
“I need to some air” said Martha standing up and stretching, “you wanna join me?” she asked only because she expected Mrs Dlamini to rather seek the warmth of the staff room.
“I don’t see why not. Let me make a cup of coffee first. I’ll drink as we walk around”
Martha hid her disappointment well.
She knew their talk of Thomas would continue.
Martha and Mrs Dlamini roamed around the grounds of the school. The first lessons of Valleyville High only began at nine in the morning. A mere handful of scholars could be seen and were either early because they chose to be or were forced to because their parents had to be punctual for work, many of which worked in Durban an hour’s drive away.
The two ladies spoke of music and comedy programmes they mutually enjoyed that ran over the weekend, rehearsing their favourite scenes and mocking comical characters. Throughout their gay conversation Mrs Dlamini laughed and smiled authentically but her true thoughts obscured. She kept them hidden, because she knew that Martha was also hiding something. And she would strike before Martha had the chance to run.
“Martha my child, you know I only use formalities for the work place. I worry about you and it seems to me that you’re harbouring a secret. It is hidden from within and you are trying to hide it even from yourself.”
Martha grew nervous, had Mrs Dlamini found out she was speaking with Charlie? Fear forced her quiet and drained the blood from her face.
“Your lips move when you talk and too does your soul inside you when you lie. Feigning your content. If it was anyone else you were speaking to you may have gotten away with it. But nevertheless you’re speaking to me. Is it that Thatcher boy again? Wenzani kule umshado. I’ve got a friend who knows a witch doctor…” Mrs Dlamini raised her eye brows suggesting her offer.
Martha chuckled heartily “There is no need for that. Thomas really is good to me. Really Mrs Dlamini you don’t need to worry” Mrs Dlamini pursed her lips and scrutinised Martha until wrinkles formed round her eyes and folded atop one another.
“I’m just looking out for you, my child. If a man can cheat once, he can surely cheat twice”
The school bell rang, mitigating Martha’s unease and both teachers turned in the opposite direction. Mrs Dlamini walked Martha to her classroom and they wished one another a good day.
During her first few lessons Martha used the Chalk supplied by the school so that she used the thin long chalk sticks sparingly, just like Charlie had requested. Her fingers itched to write to Charlie. Her thoughts were pinned on Thomas and she willed herself to dedicate herself to the first lesson of the day. She had this feeling that Charlie was the only one she could talk to. Someone who didn’t judge Thomas and was willing to learn about Thomas, like she did.
Martha forgot all about her conversation with Mrs Dlamini that morning. That was until two grade ten girls snickered and pointed at her before entering class. It was towards the end of the lesson when she remember that she was the talk of the town or at least her relationship with Thomas was.
It was little over a year since the incident occurred. Thomas cheated on Martha with the mayor’s wife for the last two years of their relationship before they renewed their vows.
The mayor had sworn that he would see to the death of Thomas personally, divorced his wife and sold the house before fleeing town and no one had seen him since.
The ex-mayor’s ex-wife was now remarried to the deputy principle of Valleyville high, who decided to run for mayor for next year’s election. She owned a relatively profitable boutique shop in the local shopping centre and spent her spare time taking trips to luxurious spas in Johannesburg.
Martha shook her head to clear the thoughts of Kourtney out of her mind. They pained her. She was never happy about the idea of Thomas working part time for Kourtney’s Bodyslim Boutique, but it was currently the only place that would hire him in the town and even though his contribution to the household was as slim as Kourtney, it was a start.
The bell rang signalling the start of first break and ending Martha’s train of thought. The grade ten class rushed out the door without waiting to be dismissed by their daydreaming teacher.
It was the last period of the day. The students were agitated to conclude the day and after Martha had screamed her lungs out to get her students attention, she chose to attend to her approaching headache instead.
Suddenly Mr Ronan punched his way through the door, slamming it open
“Can you lot behave! I have a lesson next door that all of you are disrupting.” he grit his teeth hard forcing the muscles on his jaw to flex as he perused each student. He stood in the threshold of the door occupying the entrance with his wide, muscular structure. He scanned the classroom for the rebels causing the racquet until his eyes fell upon Martha. He was shocked by her presence, causing him jump off his feet. His head was a near miss, a few centimetres, of the doorway “Pardon me Ms Thatcher,” his bulging shoulders loosened and his filled chest deflated “I thought there wasn’t anyone monitoring the students.” With that Mr Ronan was off. Martha wish he’d stayed longer.
She smiled and waved a stiff hand to his back. She was embarrassed that the unruly noise warranted a visit from her neighbouring colleague.
‘When is Ms Richter coming back?’ thought Martha once she had managed to get the grade eights to settle down and complete their classwork
Martha finally gave in to her urges.
With five minutes to spare in her lesson before first break she pulled open her desk drawer, retrieved the box of chalk stick and wrote on the board.
“Hi Charlie” she drew a smiley face next to his name trying to hide or maybe even change how she felt.
If she saw a smiley face then maybe that would suffice as a visual aid to change her mood. She received no reply. Her mood didn’t change either.
Martha thought she had gone crazy when she had her first conversation with Charlie. But her curiosity outweighed her thoughts on her sanity. She scanned the contents of the box and counted four chalk stick left from the five that originally came in the box.
Determined to induce a response from Charlie she wrote “You told me that ‘a cup of tea and a key’ would lead me to what I want. What did you mean?” The noise level from her students was slowly augmenting as she turned her back to pay more attention to Charlie. She hadn’t spoken to him since yesterday afternoon.
If he had a way to solve her problems than she would consult with him immediately.
When she had completed her degree Martha vowed that she would never have any favourites. They would be labelled as teachers pets by their peers and shunned as outcasts because of it. Ostracised from their peers for their ability to form a somewhat personal relationship with their educator. Yet she did have favourites, though they were few, which she called upon only because of their obedience and willingness to learn in her classroom.
She waited. Still no reply. Martha turned round to face here students wondering if they could possibly see something she couldn’t.
Maybe one of the students was able to see a reply from Charlie and so she called upon one of her favourites. One of them, in this classroom, was Mrs Dlamini’s son, Nkosi. A bright, dark skinned boy who was short in stature and big in heart. His swollen, pink lips were distinct and behind them sat two rows perfectly shaped teeth that greeted Martha amiably every time they crossed paths, in the corridors of school or the dining room of Mrs Dlamini’s home, since the first day they had met.
Martha approached and stopped at the foot of his desk then sat on her haunches. Nkosi raised his head from his classwork, analysed Martha and queried “Yes, Mrs Thatcher?” Martha’s disposition appeared concerned.
“I need your help with something on the board” Martha nodded her head towards the front of the class. Without question Nkosi pushed his chair out obligingly from under him and gently placed it under the table so as to not add to ever growing noise that continued in the classroom. Martha stood on her heels and led Nkosi to the chalk board. She placed her hands on her hips as she stood before Charlie and stared at the board not blinking an eyelid. Nkosi stood at ease with his left hand around his right wrist, waiting for instructions on how he could possibly be of assistance to one of his favourite teachers who he secretly had a crush on.
Martha held her gaze and offered no explanation. If Nkosi could not see any response from Charlie at all then it would appease her anger for Charlie’s absence. Eventually Nkosi coughed and Martha turned her attention towards her student. Nkosi’s cheeks flushed and he averted his eyes meeting Martha’s and focused on the chalk board.
“What do you need my help with, Mrs Thatcher?” the cadence in his voice betraying his nervousness.
Martha sighed in relief but was now upset that Charlie was purposely avoiding her. Charlie promised that he would be there to help her. That he was a manifestation of her. That he was created to look after her and guide her. ‘A silent guide is a useless guide’ she thought. Or maybe she was going crazy and her sanity should be questioned.
“What can you see on the board?” Martha asked ambiguously. She placed her a hand at her side and a curled finger on her chin. Maybe he could see what Charlie wrote but chose not to share.
Nkosi shrugged his shoulders and shifted his eyes across the board. Drawn on the board were the same shapes that had been on the board from the moment Martha had concluded her lesson and sat at her desk pensively while the children took advantage of her wandering mind.
“A triangular prism. A cone. A sphere. A cube. A cylinder and a tetrahedron.” Nkosi pointed at each shape as he named them confidently.
“Thank you, Nkosi. That is all.” Martha dismissed him once she realised that he was unable to pick up anything out of the ordinary. But there was ominous in the air. The bell rang as Nkosi reached his table. He slung his tote bag across his chest and waited to be dismissed along with all his peers. Though the grade eights of this class were unruly they had the common decency to respectfully push in their chairs and patiently await their dismissal.
“Good afternoon, class.”
“Good afternoon, Mrs Thatcher” the class echoed in a symphony of voices. The class rushed towards the exited, pushing and shoving like a mob fleeing law enforcement.
With the classroom now empty Martha looked at the chalk board then to the chalk stick on her table and returned her attention to the board before she frowned. Mounting her indecision Martha made for the chalk sticks once more and scribed on the board “Charlie? Are you there?” her words held their position but like the first time, when she had met Charlie, the letters turned to chalk dust and fell from the board.
“Yes I am, Martha. Is everything alright? DID YOU FIND THE KEY?”
Martha was hurt once she read Charlie’s last question. Charlie sold her a dream of him being empathetic. A helping hand in a sea of darkness and all he was concerned about was a key.
“No. I need to talk with you. Why didn’t you answer me earlier?” she stressed the question mark before she stood back to wait for Charlie’s reply.
“I can’t speak to you in front of your students Martha. They may begin to think otherwise of you if I do. Imagine the field day the local newspaper would have when they find out that a chalk board can communicate with humans. It’s too dangerous” Martha weighed his words with careful eyes.
He was right.
No doubt it would cause a shit storm.
News reporters would even make their way from Capetown and Johannesburg to be the first on the scene. She’d be bamboozled with questions and so would Charlie. Once they figure out how much of an anomaly he is they might even take him away from me thought Martha. The words waved to the floor with her thought.
“You said you would help me. Then why won’t you speak to me? Not even a ‘hello’” Martha dug the words deep into the board forcing the outline of each letter to bold.
“I need you to find the key first”
“But – the word fell as quick as she had written it.
“But nothing. Find the key. It’s the foundation for what we need to achieve.”
“I understand” She reared and sulked into her chair to prevent any discord between herself and her new found friend. She raised her head as she watched her words part with the board. She didn’t understand.
“We will talk again once you’ve found it.”
She had waited the whole day to speak to Charlie and when he finally decided to speak to her he offered no social comfort. ‘What sort of manifestation is this anyway?’ thought Martha, ‘he clearly is not one for a chat or a confidante to help me focus on my feelings.’
Martha was not only scheduled to oversee all of Miss Richter’s classes but her extra mural activity as well. She had never been a fan of chess. She couldn’t grasp her head around the various roles that each of the pieces fulfilled but she thought it would do her good to get her mind off of Kenny, off of her car and off of Charlie. More than anything in the world at that particular moment all Martha wanted to do was sit in bed with Thomas. Have him enveloped his arms around her and stay that way until the end of time. Until their bodies fermented in love that they had for omne another.
Thomas may have had a bad history. But it was no one else’s choice but her own to exonerate her husband. She knew the man he was. The man she had met. The man that he was meant to be. And though he was unable to fortify his ambition Martha felt that it was simply a side that lay dormant within him, a side that he had forgotten ever existed after four years of disappointment after disappointment.
Martha greeted the students collectively, who were patiently waiting outside Mrs Richter’s classroom. She gave each of them with a nod once she opened the door and let them in rather than allowing her sullen state to sully her voice.
Martha monitored each game and wondered whether she would have to come up with a strategy of her own. Not to capture a king or a queen, but a key. A key that she had never seen before and her only clue to follow up on was ‘a cup of tea’. She had already had her first cup with Mrs Dlamini that morning and she had searched the kitchen. The only other place where she enjoyed a cup of tea was in the comfort of her home.
At the end of the extramural the boxes of chess sets were rounded up and Martha could each out loud to insure none were missing. “…seven, eight and nine.” She concluded with a slap on the last confirming that all were in place. The skyline began to bruise purple as day quickly turned to night. The short winter days sent most people seeking the comfort of their homes, within the warm confines of its walls, readying dinner for their last meal of the day the moment twilight dawned. Martha decided she would not leave the school grounds until she found the key. It was the only way she could talk to Charlie again and so she had stayed in the staffroom lounging round. She watched as teachers came and went, gathering their belongings, heading home to their families.
Martha sat on her favourite couch, a worn out piece of furniture. She stroked the royal purple velvet couch that looked like it was overdue on a reupholster. Frustrated with her lack of progress she tousled the loose tassels of her hair hoping to wrack her brains.
‘I already had a cup of tea. I’ve already had one this morning with Mrs Dlamini.’ She grumbled to no one. There is no harm in having another Martha thought.
She moved from her comfortable spot, unnerved with how the day had proceeded and motioned for one of Mrs Dlamini’s many monochrome mugs. She picked out a tea bag from the tin, passing the sugar and the coffee situated closest to her and clicked the kettle to boil. The steam sang its way out of the noise once the kettle had done its job and she filled the cup to its brim. Just then Martha felt she needed a few sugars to sweeten up her day. Recalling that Charlie had advised her to do just that the previous day she was spurred to grab the tin and as she dug in for her first spoon of sugar a clink sound came from the tin. She forked out the source with her fingers and gazed at the long golden key in amusement. “Of course! A key and a cup of tea. Don’t forget to add two sugars to sweeten your day” she said out loud, repeating Charlie’s words. The key had a long nose with a fat oval shaped base. Whatever the key opened, it looked important. It looked exactly as Martha had described to Mrs Dlamini and Martha passed it as coincidence.
Filled with extreme excitement Martha ran for her classroom not allowing the bite of the frosty night to freeze her enthusiasm. Down the staffroom steps, round the school fountain passing the school hall on her left, through the student car park, past the matric garden and up the first flight of stairs she ran, finally arriving at her classroom huffing. She fidgeted for her keys around her neck on a lanyard and burst through the door.
Charlie had no choice but to talk to her now. She had the key. She wondered what it would open.
Where it came from and who it belonged to. Whatever it was doing in the tin of sugar she was sure that Charlie had the answer and closed the door behind her.
She remembered her encounter with Charlie this morning and thought he’d appreciate her gesture to prevent any on lookers. Though the school grounds were practically empty the care takers often did their rounds of cleaning the classrooms at night.
“I’ve got it! I’ve got the key!” Martha chalked on the board.
Instantly Charlie replied “Well done Martha! I knew you could do it.”
Martha waited. Surely Charlie had more to say. She felt as though He wanted the key more than she did. After all he wouldn’t even speak with her until it was in her possession. She thwarted the thought but when Charlie had still not given her the answer she was looking for she decided she would ask the question herself.
“What do I do now?” She scribed on the board effervescently eager for a reply.
The dust fell to the fall and so did her excitement “I don’t know. I only know that you were meant to get it. Like I said yesterday. I am only a guide. I don’t know the answers to everything.”
Martha was annoyed. Her skin was boiling hot as it sheathed the seethe that grew inside. She trudged around her desk breathing in heavily, trying to calm herself down. It wasn’t working. She picked up the chalk stick and decided she would give Charlie a piece of her mind.
But before her thoughts could translate into vitriol, Charlie wrote “But I do know where your husband is.” Martha paused at such a random mention of Thomas.
“Though, Thomas is with that Kourtney girl. She owns a Boutique store, does she not?”
Martha lowered her hand. She did.
“Is she not the woman who your husband had an affair with? Is she not the reason that your relationship is the talk of the town? Is she not the woman who you caught screwing your husband senseless?” The words fell to the floor and new ones replaced it “I know you’re not at all comfortable about talking about her but, as your friend, I thought you should know. I just can’t believe that you didn’t recognise her at the gym this morning.”
Martha’s heart sank slow along with Charlie’s words. She felt as lax as the mound of chalk dust that built up on the floor.