Neelu: A Memoir
Thursday 16th January 2014.
"I love you..."
"I love you too..."
I was the perfect end to one of the best days of my life, I hated that it had to end, and if it wasn't for a train I had to catch, I probably would have carried on speaking to her long into the night.
She was in tears of joy over my news that in just 3 days I would be flying overseas to surprise her. Nobody had even done something like that for her, but to me, it was the least I could do for the girl who had finally brought me happiness. She was everything to me. I was finally becoming the man I was destined to be, and it was all thanks to her.
I switched off the laptop, grabbed my belongings, including the two teddy bears I had teased her over Skype with, but couldn't wait to give to her in person on Sunday. I locked up the office and lightly ran to the station to catch my train.
In just one day I would be going on leave, so I made sure I drew enough cash to leave behind for my mom, and also to exchange for forex for my trip.
As I sat on the train staring out the window, I caught a glimpse of my own reflection. For the first time in years, I saw myself smiling. A genuine smile brought on by happiness, and of love. After decades of pain, loss and tragedy I was finally hopeful that all that was behind me, the future was brighter than it had ever been. The universe owed me this moment after everything it had taken away from me.
The mere 12 minute train journey had seemingly come to an end quicker than usual, but I didn't mind, the sooner I got home, the sooner I could resume talking to her.
Over the last few months, parking at the train station had become a major problem, and as a result if one arrived after 8.30am, you had no option but to park in one of the side streets.
I had had run-ins with the makeshift car guard there just over a month ago, when my car was stolen, and later retrieved, but not without some serious damage. I had been nervous about parking outside ever since.
My car was the last one in the street, so I made a brisk walk, knowing I would have to get in via the passenger side as a result of the damage to the car locks.
As I walked out the station premises, I noticed a young black guy come running past me with a red kit bag, as though he was running to catch the metro train. He swiftly spun around and pulled a handgun out the kit bag and pointed it at me.
I took a few steps back and said "no, don't shoot!"
He told me to shut up, and before I knew it, a second gunman grabbed me from my left, and then a third carrying a knife came up to me and started going through my pockets.
I didn't resist, and handed over my possessions immediately. I put my hands up and didn't even notice I got stabbed in each palm. I felt nothing.
They took everything off me, even ripping my earrings out my ears out and yanking my glasses off my face.
I hoped my refusal to resist would encourage them to take everything and run. But they had other ideas.
I tried talking them out of it, but they began dragging me into the long grass of the veld. It was pitch dark, and I knew the plan was to execute me there in the darkness, where, with any luck my body would be found the next day.
It was a death I didn't deserve, but all I could think about was her. They would not stop me from getting to see her.
I was thinking clearly. I was aware of everything that was going on. I felt the gun in my back, I felt the gun against my left temple, I felt the knife wedged in my ear. And I could feel the grip one of them had on my underwear from behind.
As they began dragging me to my execution, I made a decision. As soon as the grip on my trousers loosened, I would turn and run. I would rather be shot in the back and not seeing it coming, than shot in the back of the head, or have my throat slit while kneeling down in a dark lonely veld. I would rather be killed running towards her, than being taken away from her.
Then it happened, his grip relaxed for a split second, and I turned suddenly, catching them by surprise, I broke the hold my three attackers had on me, and I ran towards the station. Again I never felt the knife cut me from my ear to just under my eye.
I kept expecting to hear the gun shot go off as I ran, but it never came. I slipped on the gravel in the road and fell flush against the tar, winding myself, but I got up and continued running.
I shouted for help, and tried to stop a car that came out the parking lot, but they refused to help me, instead they sped off. A typical South African mentality, don't get involved or you could be killed too.
Finally I reached a security guard and asked him to help, instead he stood with his hands in his pockets asking me what my problem was. Knowing this was another South African tradition, of the inept security guard, I ran into the station and made my way to the reception area asking for help. The commuters were in shock and just stared at me. I asked someone for their phone to call for help, but they promptly said they didn't carry one. Of course they didn't.
Eventually a crowd grew around me and the management came out to get details of what happened.
There I stood, my face covered in blood, my body in dirt, and my pants humiliatingly split to reveal more than anyone should see without paying for. I looked every bit the role of someone who had just fought for his life.
I was just three days away from the best moment of my life, but instead, I had everything taken from me. The full effect of which I was about to feel over the next few days.
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