The other woman

other woman

WHO IS SHE? Pic: online

VANESSA SMEETS

You’ve been dating Jeremy for nine months. He’s kind and caring. He sleeps over at your place every second weekend. He even cleans your dishes. When he runs his fingers through your hair as you kiss or serves you breakfast in bed, nothing else matters.

Yip, he seems perfect. But, somehow, you just don’t trust him. He hides his phone when you’re around. It’s almost always on silent. He often comes home late or tells you he’ll call you back. If you do call, he’s often cold or treats you like an acquaintance rather than a lover.

You start making excuses. He’s speaking to me like that because he’s busy or around his colleagues. He can’t come this weekend because his mother is sick again. You haven’t met his parents yet, because they live far away. Wow, another expensive gift to say sorry.

You love him and brush it off. This too shall pass. But, things become more worrying when you decide to surprise him one weekend. He isn’t home. His door his locked and the spare key he gave you doesn’t work. You look through the kitchen window. The dishes are neatly packed away. There are no breadcrumbs or spilt milk. He obviously hasn’t lived there in weeks.

He calls you that evening. As much as you want to answer and confront him, you decide not to. You let it ring over and over again. Your emotions are all over the place. Well, he has an obsession with clean dishes, so maybe that’s why they were neatly packed away.

silhouette kissing

Are you... Is she... Is he...? Pic: online

“Hi Jeremy,” you say after the third missed call.

“Jeremy? Since when do you call me by my name? What happened to ‘sweetheart’?” he asks, worried, “Is everything okay?”

“Yeah…yeah,” you say, softly, “How was your weekend?”

“Fine. Dan and I went on an impulsive fishing trip.”

Your heart speeds up. He wasn’t home after all.

The next time you see each other, you subconsciously begin to question his every action and word. He kisses you briskly on the cheek, not softly on the lips as he used to. He doesn’t run his fingers through your hair when you kiss anymore. All the books you’ve read have stated the obvious: he’s cheating on you.

“Jeremy…” you say as he takes you out for lunch at your favourite restaurant. You’re not sure how to start the rest of the sentence: “Am I… Are you… Is she…”

What if he’s not? What if it’s all in your imagination?

His phone rings. He has to leave. He doesn’t call or even send an sms that night. The worrying has now turned to paranoia. It eats you up inside. You don’t want to accuse him falsely. It may be your fault, you decide. Out of the six guys you’ve dated before him, four cheated on you and the other two cheated on you after you accused them falsely. If he isn’t cheating, will he start cheating now that I’ve asked?

That night, he surprises you with flowers. He looks exhausted and asks for a massage. He’s just been fired from his job. As he lies passed out on your bed after making love, you spot his phone lying on the floor next to his pants. It’s your chance to see the truth for yourself. A part of you knows it’s completely unethical. What is a relationship without trust?

You take the phone to the bathroom. You look through the messages first. They’re just from you, Dan and his mother. Relief. You scroll down to one week back, then two weeks back, till the weekend of the ‘fishing trip.’

The message from Dan is strange: “Hey J! I know we decided to go fishing later, but I completely forgot I have to hand in a business proposal tomorrow! Sorry dude!”

Oh my, he’s lied. Where was he that weekend? The rest of the phone is clean. Oddly clean. Even the phone register has been wiped clean. You look through the photos now. There are beautiful photos of sunsets, cocktails and bikini models, all his favourite things.

You place the phone exactly where it was. You lie next to him and the tears slowly pour out from your eyes. His hands reach for your waist.

“Why did you have to go and do that?” he asks softly, his lips pressed against your ear.

You don’t know what to say. You turn around to look at him. His eyes are glistening.

“I love you and you don’t trust me?”

“I’m sorry… You’re just different. You talk to me weird. Your mother comes first. You see me less and less and you go on non-existent fishing trips!”

“Slow down!” he shouts back, “I talk to you weird because it wasn’t going well at work. The boss complained I was taking your calls too much. I love hearing your voice. It’s what kept me going, so I talked to you differently so he wouldn’t suspect it was my girlfriend. My mother is sick. She raised me alone and I’m petrified of losing her! I see you less because you don’t run your fingers through my hair when we kiss anymore either. I stopped doing it too, because I thought you were getting bored of me. I needed you to touch me like before.”

He pauses to catch his breath: “I did go on that fishing trip! Dan cancelled, so I went alone. If I told you I went alone, you wouldn’t have believed me.”

Your heart aches now with guilt. The other woman ruining your relationship is you… The jealous, needy, emotional you who can’t trust men. You almost lost the one who could be trusted, because you were too afraid to ask the right questions.

 

Ask yourself:

  • Do you question everything he says or does?
  • Are you suspicious when he compliments you or buys you an expensive gift?
  • Do you check his Facebook profile, emails or phone?
  • Are you blaming the “past you” for your current paranoia?

If you answered “yes” to two or more questions, you have serious trust issues and need to deal with them as quickly as possible.

Some tips:

  • Analyse your past first. Who hurt you and how have you dealt with it?
  • Give yourselves a break. If you start assuming he’s cheating, it’s often because the relationship has become monotonous.
  • Have faith in him and yourself. You can’t sustain a relationship on half-truths or empty suspicions.

 

 

 

Stranger in the mirror

granny crying

TEARFUL: Granny cries after laughing. She doesn't remember for what. PHOTO: Vanessa Smeets

I left my granny 11 months ago, to study abroad, with tears in our eyes. I remember her sitting every day watching me swim. She would smile, laugh and play with the dog.

 

 

I knew then I didn’t have much time left with the grandmother who had taught me how to make French toast, paper boats or how to be money-wise. Her neurologist claimed in eight months time, she wouldn’t recognise us. He explained to us her two cerebral hemispheres (logic vs. creative) were completely detached, making it impossible for her to decipher between her emotions and reasoning. There were also visible holes in her brain, shown up as grey patches on the MRI. She was officially diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

At first, it was apparent in small things. She would forget where she placed her spectacles or that she hadn’t eaten that morning. She would confuse me with my mom or wake up shaken, believing her nightmare was real. This became more and more frightening, as she would accuse us of beating her or stealing her money. My once confident, stylish granny had turned into a skeletal, paranoid stranger.

 

gran foot

SWOLLEN: Gran's feet speak of years of hard work. PHOTO: Vanessa Smeets

I expected the worse. Every few months, I would visit my family and speak to her. Sometimes, she was quite alert, remembering things from my childhood. But, other times, she would speak of her youth with little sense. Suddenly, she was a mother to three sons who went to war. My mother is her only child, so this information fascinated me. It was like putting puzzle pieces together, only the pieces she had were slight versions of mine. She was confusing her sons with her three brother in-laws.

 

The trick to speaking to her is kindness and patience. This is extremely difficult, as it involves hours of repeating the same information and consoling her child-like spirit. She is afraid of everyone and everything.

Every time I visit, she smells different. One time, she smelt like mint and lavender. It turns out she was using the foot cream I gave to her for Christmas on her face. Her once beautiful ash brown hair is now straw-like and falling out. Bits of chipped toothpaste are found on her pillowcase. Toothpaste has her become her new shampoo.

She cries all the time now. Sometimes, she expresses herself through a few words “Father…dead.” I thought she was speaking of my grandfather and missed him. I showed a picture of him to confirm: “No, no! Who is that?” she snapped. She was talking of her father, who died in 1941. “He died yesterday…why oh why?” she sobs daily. It’s no use explaining to her when he died. So, I hold her and let her sob.

stockings

FORGOTTEN: Granny removes her stockings for the ninth time. PHOTO: Vanessa Smeets

I use her for my photo portfolio. Her ageing skin fascinates me. It is creased in a perfect pattern, linking up around her thinning muscles. Her swollen feet speak of years of working hard since the age of 14. Her adult nappy was the hardest to photograph. She is a baby again. Once obsessed with bathroom hygiene, she can’t control her bladder anymore. Instead of changing nappies, she pulls out the cotton fluff and litters it over her bathroom floor. It amuses her.

 

For her, the hardest part to make peace with, in ageing, are her sagging breasts. They reach her waist now. The other night, she held them in the cup of her hands: “What are these for? I don’t remember what they are for!” I tell her they’ve done their job well in her life. She smiles, still confused. The next day we go bra shopping, but it’s completely useless: nothing fits perfectly. She’s still very picky. Whatever sort of fits is the wrong colour or texture.

I don’t know how much time I have left with her. At least, she can still express herself. At least she wakes up smiling. At least she can walk to the window to pat the dog.

Most of the time, she is just waiting. Waiting for the train that gave her purpose and took her to work every morning. Waiting for my grandfather, whom she loved to argue with, to call. Waiting for her father to show up at the door and take her far away. Or, waiting for us to start making sense.

Our words mean nothing now. I can tell her I love her and she’ll simply walk away. I can tell her we’ll go for coffee and she’ll change into her pyjamas.

Her family members overseas have stopped calling. It’s exhausting and frustrating speaking to her. She bends over to see what I’m typing. I try to tell her, but she walks away to check the door again. My words will never bring the escape she yearns for.

 

The In-Between

VANESSA SMEETS

in between

How much are you putting into a relationship and how much are you getting out of it? PIC: online

You’ve finally met someone. He’s smart, sophisticated and very good looking. You’re not sure whether to tell your friends. After all, you’ve only bumped into him a couple of times at your favourite coffee shop. The last time was different, he finally approached you and asked for your name.

You stuttered at first. For once, you weren’t paying attention and weren’t observing what he was drinking. He sat down at your table. You spoke about your job, your love for Chai tea and your distaste for politics. He even laughed at your witty remarks. Then, suddenly, he looked at his watch and had to leave.

You expected him to ask for your number, but it didn’t happen. The next day, you wear your favourite dress, expecting him to be there. He doesn’t appear for another week. You smile when you see him. He waves, but nothing more.

Have the roles changed: are women the hunters and men playing hard to get?

You expect him to sit with you, but he walks right past and sits in front of you. So close, that you can smell his cologne. You stop staring and carry on reading. He looks at you and smiles. You catch him in the corner of your eye.

Thirty minutes later, he grabs his briefcase. You have to make a decision: ask for his number or let him walk away. He walks slowly past your table.

“Michael!” you shout out, or whatever his name may be. He stops and looks down. You get up. The dress you chose today is embarrassingly creased, so you stay seated.

“Could I get your number?” you quickly finish.

Out of the blue, he sits down.

“I may have given you the wrong impression last time,” he says, smiling. “I don’t want to give you my number. I’d rather ask for yours… but you kind of ruined that now.”

Your heart beats faster, then slows down to an unhealthy pace. He stands up and leaves. Not even a good bye. So, women should be chased after all, you think.

The next two weeks, he doesn’t appear. The waitress leaves you a note the day you give up hope.

It reads: “I changed jobs and, therefore, coffee shops. I miss seeing your smile and seeing you spill a little of your Chai tea as I walk in. Here’s my number…. I never got the chance to ask you first.”

“Sorry, sweetheart,” the waitress says, worried, “He gave this ten days ago. I completely forgot.”

Your heart beats at an incredible pace. You don’t even have to wait to not seem too eager. The waitress gave you a head start.

That night, you thank him by sms for the note. No reply. As you get out of the shower, the phone rings. It’s him. His voice is so much deeper over the phone. You can’t feel your legs. You put on your sexiest phone voice. He giggles: “Stop that! You’re exciting me!”

You ask when you can see him again. He hesitates. He has to go away on business.

“I’ll call you in a week.”

He does. The next day, he appears at your door with a bunch of roses. At the end of the night, he bends down to kiss you. The smell of his cologne makes you dizzy. His lips approach yours. They’re warm. They taste sweet from the evening’s champagne. His tongue slowly touches yours. It’s electric. His hands move from your face to your neck, to across your waist. The kissing lasts three hours.

He smses you for the rest of the night. Suddenly, his shyness disappears. The messages are quite explicit. This carries on for two weeks as he’s off on business again.

You ask him if you can change your Facebook relationship status to “in a relationship.” He hesitates then briskly says, “No!”

It surprises you. He explains that’s not the way he intended in making it official. Gosh, you’ve blown it again. You didn’t let him chase you long enough. The in between is the hardest part of any relationship. As exciting as it is to be touched, kissed and mentally explored, it can get quite frustrating. For most women, it means days of sleepless nights waiting for him to call or ask you out again.

in between

Time to rethink your flirting strategy. PIC: online

Some tips:

  • Spend your time on other things.
  • Remember who you were before you met him.
  • Don’t brag about it to your friends. It may not work out.
  • Write in a book what you would like to say to him, but know may scare him off.
  • Don’t start acting clingy or jealous.
  • Wait for him to do the asking and enjoy this in between. It’s the time you can still be your sexy self, with the knowledge someone does find you extremely attractive.
  • Send him naughty smses, but don’t turn into a “sexting slut.” It may give him the impression that’s all your worth.
  • Have fun every time you do get to see him. He will sleep, dreaming about you.

The value of LIFE in Zimbabwe

LESS THAN TOILET PAPER: In 2007, the Zimbabwean dollar was more worthless than toilet paper. Today, the American dollar is in use. COURTESY: online

VANESSA SMEETS

As a child, I valued all living things. I would collect crickets and dragonflies in the kitchen and set them free in the garden. As I grew up, those small things transformed into valuable assets: the values of patience, integrity, honesty, courage, kindness and forgiveness.

During the June holidays, I was on my way to Zimbabwe, the land of my birth, after living in South Africa for the last 20 years. It was time to go back to the garden filled with those noisy crickets.

Patience

The plane takes off from Johannesburg an hour late. My brother and I wait patiently, knowing our dad has been expecting us for the last three hours.

In Harare, we are greeted with sour faces: “Why are you here? What do you want?” At R300 or $30 US (the country has decided its own exchange rate), we finally get our Visas. I have to swallow my pride and smile gratefully for the tattered pink Visa in my passport. Welcome home.

COUNTRY IN DISTRESS: A collage of what once made up one of the most powerful countries in Africa. COURTESY: online

 

Integrity

At church, a farmer tells his incredible story of loss and betrayal. John Miller* almost lost his life after debating with ZANU-PF militants on his farm. The room fills up with tears.

He is the epitome of courage. “What man intends for evil, God intends for good,” he tells us. “You can choose to flee, forgive or forget.”

I decide to forgive the nasty people at the airport. I decide to forget my dad shouting at pedestrians, as we were late for church. I decide to flee my negative thoughts of my documentary not going as planned.

While my Journalism classmates are celebrating the festivities of the World Cup in South Africa, I wanted to focus on “life after independence” in a forgotten paradise.

There’s magic in Zimbabwe. Some describe it as extreme spirituality. The Shona people are known for praying for rain. It symbolizes hope. For many, the red dust of Zimbabwe settles at their ankles. It stopped raining thirty years ago. Their integrity and strength remain intact. It will rain again.

1980 was filled with the promises of a new government that would benefit all people. Today, Zimbabwe has no currency of its own, with thousands of people still struggling to buy food. The American dollar is a luxury few can afford.

Courage

John’s story inspires me to start working. A woman and her two children have been squatting outside my dad’s house on the street for the last month. I’m not sure how to approach her. My video camera is hidden in my coat’s pocket.

It takes a lot of courage for us to start talking. She stutters as I ask her name. I look deep into her eyes. Somewhere beyond the pain of raising four children on her own (two of them are home alone), I want to get to know her.

Esther is my age. But unlike me, she has never gone to school. She has never gone a day without being hungry. Instead, she fell pregnant at 15. She can’t work because her four-month old baby cries constantly. It has been sun burnt by weeks of standing on the side of the street attached to its nine-year old sister.

The little girl comforts the crying baby. She dances between the cars. Her mother doesn’t flinch. “Isn’t it dangerous?” I ask, pointing at a car hooting for them to get out of the way. “Yes,” she whispers, “But they know I have many mouths to feed.”

Honesty

VALUE OF MONEY: 100 billion dollars was equivalent to three eggs at a stage. COURTESY: online

I tell Esther I need to film her. At first, it is awkward. She can’t look at me in the eyes anymore. But, her child is fascinated with being on film. She smiles, laughs and shows off her pretty but dirty dress.

As the little girl walks away, another man appears. Edson is a street vendor and Esther’s friend. They met on the corner of the road. “If I have bread, I will share with her,” he tells me, “But life is hard. I cannot feed her every day. Business is slow.”

He disappears into the cars as the traffic increases. People are rushing home, but his colourful stock of balloons continues to hang on to his arms. He has incredible patience. A Mercedes stops and buys one. He smiles and waves at me.

His honesty is made apparent when he warns me: “The police are here. They saw you filming us.” I hide my camera. If Edson hadn’t warned me, the government’s police would have erased all my film. They hate journalists.

Kindness and forgiveness

In the house, I gather up avocadoes and juice for Esther and Edson. Their kindness has made me realize how insignificant my problems really are.

These people choose to endure, rather than fight. Every day is about survival of their families, not themselves. Life for them is not about the value of money, but the value of food.

Life for them is also not about the value of politics, but the value of listening. There is healing in listening to each other’s pain. We have all suffered under this regime.

There is value in forgiveness. There is value in hope.

John’s words haunt my mind: “I’d rather forgive than flee. You cannot flee your own hatred. Hatred is like drinking from a poisoned chalice hoping your enemy will suffer.”

Zimbabwe’s people have suffered enough. There is value in sharing their tale with all those who read this.

*name has been changed