Zendaya sat on one of the stones in the woods that she sometimes cut through on her way to and from the market. It was quiet, looked a bit eerie but she didn’t mind it. Most people avoided coming here but not her. She wasn’t afraid because of God’s protection.
It was a cloudy day. The sun seemed to be hiding its face but there was a cool breeze, a welcome relief from the heat of the past few days. During those days, she had wanted to go down to the river and submerge herself in the water but Father Schubert had cautioned her against doing that. It was as if he feared that Anesu would return to the parish despite his assertions that he wouldn’t.
Anesu. She closed her eyes. It was no use denying it. She didn’t love him–not the way he loved her. It wasn’t that long ago when she thought she did that was why she accepted his marriage proposal but after she met Father Schubert things got muddled. She never imagined that she would become attracted to another man–let alone a priest but try as she did, she couldn’t fight her feelings for him. And now she was in an illicit relationship with him. The only way to end this madness was to leave the parish. Where would she go, though? She couldn’t marry Anesu, that was for certain. He deserved a woman who would love him in return.
Leave the parish? It would be the proper and sensible thing to do but how could she? She couldn’t bear the thought of leaving him but what future could they have together? How could they continue with their arrangement? What if Sister Hughes or one of the other nuns or residents discovered that they were having an affair? He would be defrocked, humiliated, disgraced and she would be thrown out. She couldn’t let that happen. She had to leave.
Her mind made up, although her heart was heavy, she got up, picked up the groceries and headed back to the parish.
“Father Schubert isn’t here,” Sister Hughes informed Anesu. “He’s visiting an orphanage. He’ll be sorry that he missed you, though.”
“Tell him that if he hears from Zendaya, to call me. Here’s my number.” He handed her a slip of paper which she took.
She frowned at him. “What do you mean if he hears from Zendaya?” she asked. “Zendaya’s just gone to the market. She should be back any minute now.”
Now it was Anesu’s turn to look confused. “You mean she came back?”
“Well, I don’t think she’s back as yet from the market but you’re welcome to wait in the parlor if you like. I will let her know that you’re here as soon as she comes in.”
“I’m a little confused, Sister. You see, I was under the impression that Zendaya left the parish and no one knew where she’d gone.”
“You’re mistaken. Zendaya never left the parish. She was here when you stopped by the last time. Excuse me, I have some matters to tend to. When Zendaya comes in, I will let her know that you’re here.” She inclined her head and left the room.
Anesu sat heavily down on the chair, perplexed. What was going on? Father Schubert had told him that Zendaya had left the parish but this nun just told him that she had been there all the time. He couldn’t make heads or tails of this. He was still sitting there, scratching his head when Zendaya went in. For a moment, he stared at her as if he wasn’t sure that she was really there but when she closed the door in and moved towards him, he jumped to his feet. He quickly closed the distance between them and pulled her into his arms. He hugged her tightly. “I’m so relieved to see you,” he exclaimed. “I thought you’d left. Father Schubert told me that you had.”
Zendaya hated lying to him but she had to. She looked up at him, her eyes meeting his in a steady stare, she said quietly, “I did leave and then I came back two days ago.”
“But the sister said–”
“She wasn’t here at the time so as far as she’s concerned I’ve been here. Father Schubert didn’t want to distress her so we kept my leaving and the police’s involvement from her.”
“Where did you go?”
“I went to a cheap motel.”
“Did Father Schubert tell you that I came to see you?”
She nodded. “Yes, he did.”
“Why didn’t you call or text me? I was going to drive back to Johannesburg to look for you there.”
“I’m sorry,” she mumbled. “I should have called you.”
“Well, I’m happy that you’re all right. You’re looking well. I was hoping to see Father Schubert before we leave but it seems as if that’s not likely.”
“Yes, I’m taking you to my uncle’s house in Cape St. Francis where we will stay until we get married.”
She swallowed hard. “Anesu, I can’t marry you.”
He stared at her. “What? Why not?”
“I don’t love you.”
“When I told you that I loved you, you told me that you loved me too. That’s why I asked you to marry me.”
“Anesu, at the time I thought I loved you but I realize now that I don’t love you the same way you love me. I’m sorry…”
“Is there someone else?” he demanded.
“No. There isn’t anyone else.” She slipped the ring off her finger and held it out.
He stared at it for a long time before he reached out and took it from her. “So, this is goodbye,” he said tightly.
She nodded. “Yes.”
“Goodbye, Zendaya.” He walked past her, opened the door and left.
She went over to the chair and collapsed onto it. Tears pricked her eyes. For as long as she lived, she would never forget the expression on Anesu’s face. She had broken his heart. And from the moment she had walked into the room she had done nothing but lie to him, except for the part when she admitted that she wasn’t in love with him. She panicked when he asked if there was someone else. What if she had said yes and he demanded to know who it was? She couldn’t imagine that he would guess that it was Father Schubert but she couldn’t take that chance. Their relationship was a secret she would take to her grave.
Getting up from the chair, she went into the office, got a sheet of paper and wrote a note to Father Schubert. She put it in an envelope, sealed it and put it between the pages of His Bible.
By the time he got back to the parish, she would be gone.