Victoria Falls

by Confidence Seleme

 

+++Hurry up Buti, make it quick. I don’t have all night!”
+++He was her sixth and final client for the evening. After this, she would hurry to her flat to take a long shower and try to wash off all she had seen and done. Some people experience an everyday death. From the moment they open their eyes,
they know that before the day ends, they will die… and the following morning they will rise, only to die again. She was one of those people.
+++After her shower, she lay on her bed as thoughts of her younger days ran through her mind. She remembered the thunder of the Victoria Falls where her mother used to take her on her birthdays. And every time they went there, she’d be told the same story – but she didn’t mind hearing it over and over again. It made her feel special. It made her feel that she was destined to become someone important in the world. And now, more than ever, she needed these comforting thoughts. She needed to feel that she could still reclaim that lost innocence. And maybe, just maybe… be able to look into her mother’s eyes and have her look back with the same pride that she used to when she was a child.
+++“Have I told you before Victoria? I’m sure I have. No, I know I have. But anyhow, it’s such a lovely story, so I’ll tell you again. It happened on this day exactly ten years ago, on this very spot we are standing on. I was seven and a half months pregnant, expecting a baby girl. I was sure it was a girl because I had many dreams during the pregnancy. And in all the dreams, I was dreaming of you, my lovely Victoria.
+++“It must have been the sound of the great waters that aroused you. I went into an early labour. But you know what? I wasn’t even frightened. I knew everything would be alright. I had had too many dreams of you for anything to go wrong. You were in a hurry to enter the world and you didn’t give us time to get to a clinic or hospital. But by some great power, there was a doctor right here and many people who were willing to help. And so you cried yourself into the world. And it was beautiful. You were beautiful – and as strong and mighty as the Victoria Falls themselves.”

Her mother’s voice suddenly disappeared and was replaced by the sound of hooting taxis. It was morning. She had decided to take the day off and go to the boxing club. In her line of business being able to protect yourself is vital. Besides, as her mother prophesied, she was a fighter. And when she was in the ring, there could be no doubt.
+++But there was another reason she liked going to the boxing-club.
+++Rodwell was there. He was a neighbour from back home and they knew many of the same people. He also went back quite regularly and had good connections at the border. He was a useful person to know and although he wished better for her, he wasn’t at all judgmental. Victoria had tried several times to give him money for her mother but she had refused to take it. Her mother had said she would rather starve than eat bread bought by money earned lying on a bed. She hadn’t been home in two years and wondered how her mother was doing – whether she wasn’t too lonely after the death of her husband, Victoria’s step-father.
+++“You should come with me when I go back end of this month Vicky. I think it will be good for you. And I’m sure your mother will want to see you.” said Rodwell as he tried to convince her.
+++But what was waiting for her back there? ‘A life of deep poverty’, she thought to herself. “I’ll come when I’m ready”, she responded, much to Rodwell’s disappointment.
+++“OK then, you know where to find me if you ever change your mind,” he replied. “Now put on those gloves and let’s get you in shape”.

That evening, Victoria decided to spend the night quietly at her flat. She had bought a couple of romance themed DVDs and this was the perfect time to just sit and indulge herself. In all the stories, everybody lived happily ever after but her life thus far did not promise a happy ending. Again, she thought of her mother and recalled the day her father had passed away.
+++She remembered how broken her mother became after that. But she had met Mr. Gorogodo and had found love again. And her face had once again come to know the texture of a smile and the sweet caress of laughter. But he, too, had died and left her with a mountain of bills, giving her no choice but to sell their house and move to a remote village far away from the city bustle that they had all become accustomed to.
+++Constance was in standard eight at the time and couldn’t complete her schooling at the inner-city school which she had been attending for most of her early teenage years. The standard at the new school was much lower, and there were very few resources, but her mother was adamant that her daughter finish even if it was at a sub-standard school. And so the two years that Victoria had spent there had been quite miserable: she had longed for the vibrancy, the pace and the lights of city life. But she had endured, and promised herself that one day she would go back to the city to reclaim her real life. However, when she finally finished school and returned, she found one couldn’t do much with just a high-school diploma.
+++After two months of searching for a job, she became very disillusioned and said her goodbyes to the Mungeni family who had been kind enough to offer her free accommodation. The Mungeni’s had been close friends of her step-father and were aware of the dire situation that Victoria and her mother were in. She went back to the village, that village that offered her nothing but dust and boredom.
+++One Saturday there was a knock at the door. It was Lizzy, Vicky’s cousin from her father’s side. The two had spent a lot of time together when they were younger but had not seen each other for the past four years. Lizzy had been a rather skinny but quite beautiful girl for most of her life. She had gained a bit of weight but was still attractive and looked like she was doing quite well for herself. After a long chat, Lizzy convinced Victoria to go back to Pretoria with her – she wouldn’t even need documentation because Lizzy knew people at the border.
+++However, Victoria’s mother had heard the rumours circulating in the family about Lizzy and how she was making money in South Africa. And now, she wanted to take her precious Victoria with her!
+++“No! No! No! No, Victoria! You’re not leaving with that girl. She will turn you into someone indecent. Someone I can’t bear to call my daughter!”
+++But the next morning, when she had gone to check on her daughter, there was no-one in the small bed-room and the cupboard was empty. How she had grieved!

Now Victoria, too, was quite a beautiful girl, and the men of Pretoria stared at her with lust-filled eyes. But she hadn’t travelled all the way from Zimbabwe to become a prostitute in South Africa. There were various modelling agencies looking for young, pretty faces who could feature on upcoming shows. Victoria had been standing in line for more than two hours when they finally called her name. But they loved her and offered her a spot almost immediately. All she would need was a bit of training.
+++“We see hear that you are from Zimbabwe? Is that true?” one of the scouters asked.
+++“Yes, I’m from Zimbabwe. Will that be a problem?” Victoria anxiously asked. +++“No, not at all. But it does mean that we will need documentation proving that
you are here legally. Otherwise we can’t offer you a contract,” the lady told her. “You do have documentation, don’t you?”
+++“Of course I do. It’s just that I don’t have it here with me,” Victoria answered
hesitantly.
+++“Alright then, we’re here all week. You can bring it any day from today until Friday.”
+++Victoria went back to Lizzy’s place with a mixture of excitement and fear. What if Lizzy couldn’t help her get documentation?
+++“Papers? Sure. I know a couple of guys who can do that. I know a lot of guys.
When do you need them by?” Lizzy asked.
+++“By Friday. Will that be possible?” Victoria replied.
+++“Friday is quite tight. But here, money can loosen up a lot of things. I’ll speak to someone I know at Home Affairs.”
+++“Oh, thank you! Thank you so much, sister! I knew you were the right person to follow!” Victoria exclaimed and hugged her in gratitude.
+++But, as much as Lizzy seemed to be wanting to help, secretly, she had always harboured feelings of jealousy towards Victoria. When they were younger, Victoria was always considered the prettier, the smarter, and now she would get a job as a model, make lots of money and have status and leave her in the trenches to continue living a life of vile and tedious immorality! Unless, of course, those papers
couldn’t be produced by Friday. Then Victoria would be jobless, and with a little encouragement, would eventually join her in her trade as a sex-worker.

Friday came.
+++“So what time is the guy bringing the papers, Lizzy?” an anxious Victoria asked.
+++“He promised me he’d be here by 11am. Let me give him a call,” Lizzy responded. She pretended to dial some numbers.
+++“Hi, Mandla, you said 11am. It’s 11:30. Where are you? What?! No, you can’t do this to me! Do you know how important this is?” She paused to make it believable. “No! Next week is far too late! Hello… Hello…? Bastard!”
++++++Then she turned towards her disappointed cousin and made a helpless face.
+++Victoria threw herself onto the sofa. But after crying herself to sleep, woke up to face the reality. When she returned to the modelling scouts’ office, she sheepishly
explained that her documents had gotten lost but that she had applied for new ones.
+++The recruiter looked at her sympathetically.
+++“Try again next year.”
+++What! But the agency wouldn’t budge and what was she to do? When Mandla failed to deliver papers and Lizzy’s other ‘contacts’ showed themselves to be as useless, Victoria fell into a deep depression, and to make matters worse, had to bear the brunt of Lizz’s irritability and annoyance at having to bear all the responsibilities of food and shelter for her.
+++Soon Victoria was joining her on her nightly excursions. And if they made Victoria feel less than human, at least she could now support herself and not feel guilty towards her cousin. Besides, as Lizzy kept saying, she would get used to it – everyone did. But it never quite did. And here she was, two years later, reclining on the same worn-out sofa she had found when first arriving in Pretoria, watching chic-flicks to try and escape into the lives of their hardly believable characters and momentarily elude her reality.
+++Just then a phone-call came in. It was Rodwell. Victoria’s mother had fallen severely ill and was in hospital.
+++“I can take you home tomorrow,” he offered.
+++“But how will I get over to the other side? You know I don’t have papers,” Victoria replied.
+++“I know people, Vicky! Just come to my place tomorrow morning and we’ll go,” Rodwell assured.
+++“I’ll be there” Vicky said with relief.
+++Her mother had previously complained about heart palpitations and after the deaths of both her first and second husbands, compounded by the financial difficulties and Victoria’s departure, her heart had grown increasingly weak.
+++And so, when Lizzy who had spent the night at a client’s place, returned in the morning, she found a goodbye note from Victoria. The note stated that she had gone home to see her mother in hospital. It also said that she wasn’t sure if she’d be back.

Getting past the border-gate wasn’t a problem at all. Rodwell’s connections came through and off they went. The journey was filled with silence. Victoria’s eyes had swollen up and she fought to hold back her tears. Rodwell’s words of comfort could do very little but they did help and no detour was made. Their first stop was the hospital where her mother lay bed-ridden and pale, a mere shadow of the person Victoria remembered. This once strong and determined woman was now frail and old beyond recognition. For her, the two years had passed like twenty and each agonizing day had been more dreadful than the previous till, finally, her heart had given in. She was now in a coma.
+++Victoria moved in close to hold her hand. It lacked the warmness she had become accustomed to while growing up.
+++She whispered in her mother’s ear.
+++“I’m sorry, Mama” she sobbed. Tears flowed down her cheeks.
+++Rodwell, standing a little back, gently squeezed her arm. She needed a hug
and a strong shoulder to cry on and this he provided. They had been at the hospital for over two hours when a nurse came and told them that visiting hours were over. At that point they realized that they had not spoken about where they would sleep for the night. Victoria needed to be close to her mother. There was a hotel not far from the hospital and they decided to check in. Victoria had brought with her all the money she had managed to save but Rodwell offered to pay for the room anyway. The clerk immediately assumed that the two were a couple. It amused them and gave them a reason for some laughter – and they didn’t bother to correct her. The night went by quickly with Victoria sleeping on the bed and Rodwell on the couch in the living room. After freshening up in the morning, they went straight to the hospital where they remained until lunch-time. Neither of them was in the mood for hospital food and so they decided to go and eat at one of the nearby restaurants. Victoria had not gotten the chance to thank Rodwell for his kindness and generosity and this gave her the perfect opportunity.
+++“It’s my pleasure, Vicky. You don’t need to thank me,” he replied.
+++“You know, the day you and your mother came to the village, it came alive …
for me anyway. I thought to myself, who is this beautiful young woman?”
+++Victoria blushed. Rodwell knew how make her loads seem a lot lighter. But he had a business to look after in South Africa and soon he would have to go back. Victoria had decided that she would stay on until her mother got better. Rodwell connected her with a friend of his who had a place in town. She would charge her a lot less than the hotel and also provide some company.
+++She visited her mother every day, and every day hoped for a sign – the slightest movement of a hand, the twitching of an eye … But her mother remained motionless and if her condition did not improve soon, she’d have to be discharged to go and spend her last days at home.
+++Many thoughts ran through Victoria’s mind. She needed a change of scenery – a place where she could escape, even if for just a couple of hours. “Victoria Falls”,
she thought. There were taxis going to the Falls every day at 11am and she boarded one of them and arrived there around 2pm. She hadn’t been there in over four years – her mother hadn’t been able to afford to take her anymore after they had moved. But now, after a short walk from the bus station, here she was – standing on the very spot where her life began.
+++The Falls hadn’t lost any of the roar and might that she remembered. The gushing waters created a moisture in the air which cooled everyone from the African heat. Suddenly, there was a tap on her shoulder, waking her up from
the reverie.
+++“Hi, I’m not sure you remember me. I’m Martha, we met about two years ago in Pretoria” the woman said to her.
+++“Of course I remember you. You were one of the modelling scouts,” Victoria responded. “What brings you to Zimbabwe?” she enquired.
+++“We’re actually busy with an advertising campaign for Victoria Falls
and we’ve come to Zimbabwe to look for a fresh face to become an ambassador. So far, none of the girls we’ve seen are suitable. None of them have the distinct quality we’re looking for” she replied. “It’s Victoria, right?” she asked.
+++“Yes it is. You have a very good memory” Victoria noted.
+++“It’s part of my job to remember faces. And yours my dear is quite unforgettable. Here’s my card. If you’re interested, I’m offering you the job”
Martha candidly said.
+++Victoria couldn’t believe her ears. She took the card and promised to be in touch within two days.
+++“And this time, you’re on home turf. So there won’t be any trouble with papers and stuff,” Martha said with a smile as she walked away.

Victoria went back to the hospital to tell her mother the good news. ‘Can she even hear me’, she wondered. But all the same she told her mother what had happened.
And suddenly there was movement. Her mother’s hand gripped hers. It wasn’t tight, but it was a grip. And it gave Victoria hope – her mother was getting better, and although she would have to take medication for the rest of her life, she would eventually make a recovery.
+++And so it was, that after this change in Victoria’s life, every time she saw her daughter on TV and in magazines, she felt prouder and stronger. And on Victoria’s 23rd birthday, they went to Victoria Falls.
+++Once again her mother began, “Have I told you before Victoria? I’m sure I have. No, I know I have. But anyhow, it’s such a lovely story, so I’ll tell you again…”
+++What more could Victoria have dreamt of? Oh, yes – Rodwell’s trips back to Zimbabwe had become even more frequent for he had put a diamond engagement ring on Vicky’s finger.

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