Wednesday 30 December 2015

Whispering Woes

By Aline-Mwezi Niyonsenga

I slowed to a stop in front of the sign and bit my lower lip. Passing an agitated hand through my hair, I decided to turn right anyway. Just to see, I told myself. On the side of the road, dry grass dipped into gorges where pond water used to dwell. I thought of kindling. Finally, I arrived at a semi-open gate where an ute was parked facing me. I braked to a stop. A portly man leisurely emerged, walking towards me as if he intended to go elsewhere. I rolled down my window, smiling uncertainly.
“Sorry, it’s closed,” he shook his head. “Tomorrow’s gonna be 38. It’s already 35 today.”
“Aw,” I pouted. “but I came all this way to see this place.”
He frowned a bit, casting a quick look beyond me. “Who were you gonna whisper to?”
“I’m hoping he’s still here,” I admitted.
Sighing a bit, he glanced back at the gate. “There are still two cars parked, but I have a meeting in a few so you all have five minutes.”
Thanking him, I passed into the gate and slowly drove down the gravelly slope to the unsealed parking lot. Three concrete posts welcomed guests to The Whispering Wall. Beyond them, steps led down to a landing next to one side of a parabolic dam. A walkway passed above it, giving the visitor a view of the sloping wall and scruffy bush on the right. On the left, water filled the reservoir to bursting. One could gaze at the scene and no longer thirst. As I exited the car, one of the remaining cars rolled out of the parking lot. One man stood on the landing at the other end of the walkway. I eagerly went down to the landing closest to me, mimicking his position.
“Mark,” I whispered.
He didn’t respond.
“Mark,” I said more forcefully.
“I heard you the first time.” His voice seemed to come from a space two metres in front of me.
“Isn’t this amazing?” I excitedly replied. My hands fidgeted, curling and uncurling into themselves as I leaned them against the railing.
No response came from the other end.
“Mark?” I questioned.
“Yes, it’s amazing.”
I breathed a sigh of relief. We were still on speaking terms, right? Surely that was what this meant.
“The man says we have five minutes,” I told him. “What have you been up to?” Again, there was no immediate response. “Mark?”
“Not much,” he said. “You?”
“I went to Mt. Gambier for a while,” I shared, “to see family. I tried to contact you but I guess you were busy. I climbed that old volcano there for the first time. It’s amazing. The sky was so blue...have you ever been?”
The quick response emboldened me. “Well first you climb the mountain, and those stairs, god they’re terrible. Once you get to the top you get this astonishing view of this massive bowl of bush. I mean you already had a view of the plains while you were climbing but now you’re staring at what used to be the inside of an active volcano. Crazy right? Then you have the option to walk down to the very centre. It’s a little tedious but once you get down there it’s like you’re in the centre of the earth.”
I cringed a bit. Exaggerating wasn’t going to make him more interested in what I did while I was away. Was he interested at all? Interested in me?
“If-if I were to go again, would you come with me?” I asked.
“That depends.”
I grappled with that response for a few seconds. “Well,” I finally decided. “Five minutes may have already passed. Do you wanna go have coffee someplace?”
“I’m not going anywhere with you.”
I froze. “What?”
“That’s what you said. Remember?”
I bit my lip. He can’t be bringing that up.
“That was ages ago,” I murmured.
“Well I remember.”
While he spoke, I gazed at his faraway figure. Like the closed sign, his shirt was bright red. I could only see his face in profile.
“You’d always laugh about me with your friends,” he continued, “and make a horror story out of the thought of going out with me.”
“I thought I already apologized for that,” I countered. “Look, I was young and shallow and really stupid. I’ve changed!”
“Because Tessa told me you recently said some terrible things about me behind my back.”
My chest tensed up.
“Not only that, but you’ve suddenly been very nice to my face. Is it because I’ve gotten better-looking over the years? Are you sure you’ve changed?”
I struggled to form the words. “Tessa...lied.”
“Is that all you’ve got?”
Biting my lip, I considered my options. Confessing my feelings here and now would get me dumped faster than sewage. (Of course she would tell on me! She had feelings for him too so she got crafty after I desperately tried to make her give up on him, the little…)The second option was to...was there no second option? My mind drew a blank.
“Wow,” Mark huffed. “Just wow.”
I ran up the steps and sprinted across the walkway. Wind whipped up my maxi skirt, reminding me of a sail. Did I look photogenic running next to that pristine body of water? Did I make Mark draw a breath? Out of options, I’d fallen back on physical appeal. Once I came close enough to his strolling figure, I stopped, chest heaving.
“Please!” I exploded. “You have to believe me! I-I really like you. I genuinely, truly…”
His elbow shoved me to the side. Footsteps echoed behind me, heading back the way I came. I stood there, dumbfounded and dumped. Forget about five minutes. My hands hurriedly wiped my face. They weren’t enough to reach my destination.

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