Things looked good when we met in 1995. I was on a three month placement in Zimbabwe, working as a veterinary nurse, when one morning a sandy haired guy burst in with his arms around a tiny, injured lion cub. The cub was bleeding badly and we didn’t think it would make it. Once it was patched up, we watched it through the night, and in that time we didn’t stop talking. He said later that he decided there and then that he would never let me go. If only I’d listened to him instead of just hearing what I wanted to hear. I spent all my free time with him in the following weeks, and on my last full day he brought me here to Vic falls, the most romantic place in the world. With the rainbow over the Zambezi and the sound of Mosi oa Tunya, the smoke that thunders, in the background, he proposed.
The year we were apart crawled by, we spoke several times a week and emailed daily. If I didn’t reply within a few hours he would get anxious and impatiently ask me where I’d been. I’d tease him and most times he’d laugh, but sometimes he’d get sulky and make an excuse to say goodbye.
My family weren’t overjoyed when he flew across for the wedding. They didn’t like him, a white African farmer was different from anyone they had ever met and they couldn’t bear that I’d be moving 5000 miles from home. He kept on trying to please them, only expressing his annoyance when we were alone. One time I heard him shouting down the phone to someone, he was shaking with anger when he came outside to join me. I’d tried to take his hand but he brushed me off. He always apologised though.
In my new home I struggled to get used to other people looking after the house, cooking and cleaning. I remember holding a white t shirt up and finding a stain hadn’t come out in the wash, he snatched it from me and went to the laundry room. Hearing a shout, I ran to see what was wrong and saw a girl around thirteen run screaming from the house, he drove off without saying a word and didn’t come back that day.
Each year things got tougher for white farmers, and as political tension increased so did his. I felt more and more trapped, he said it was too dangerous for me to go anywhere, if I went alone I could be kidnapped; if I took a houseboy he might kidnap me. I didn’t argue, I rarely did anymore and besides he was probably right, the workers would probably take me hostage as revenge for the way he had treated them, the younger ones often had bruises. He didn’t hit me, he could always find another punch bag, but I’d learnt to censor my words and when it was best to turn away.
A neighbouring farm was raided and torched as part of Mugabe’s ‘Land reform’, and it was then that he made plans in case we had to leave, but at the same time he wanted to stay and fight. One day he called me to the basement to show me where his collection of guns and ammunition were locked safely away. He made me practice loading and aiming at targets, just in case.
The kitchen girl came in late sometimes, she was only nineteen but had a couple of children of her own, so I’d make a start on dinner. He was livid when he found out. That’s when his fist landed on me. I’d never felt such pain. He apologised and tried to make it better, but my heart was numb and my jaw felt like it was broken. I said I had to go to bed and looking remorseful, he agreed. I slept for a while, but woke needing pills and went to the medicine cupboard. I could hear thumping and shouts so in case we were being raided, I took the pistol from his bedside drawer and crept downstairs.
The kitchen door was open and what I saw made me gag, he had the girl spread-eagled on the table with her hands tied and her clothes shredded. With his hand over her mouth he rammed himself into her rigid body until she saw me, then he turned. He eyes widened with shock as he saw the gun.
And so here I am back at the most romantic waterfall in the world. Mary, the kitchen girl is with me, waiting for the last train to cross the bridge for the night. My bag is packed; I’m hoping to make it to Harare and then a flight to a new life. First though, Mary and I have a task to carry out.
‘I hear it coming Mrs’ she said. The smoke from the train gets mixed up with the smoke that thunders, but the steam train smell, which I’ll never forget, is distinctive. As soon as it disappears over the bridge and into Zambia, we pull the body along the tracks until we are clear of the gorge. It was easier than I thought, one good shove and he was gone, like a bungee jumper into oblivion.
In case you wondered, the lion cub made it but couldn’t be released into the bush. Tafadswa – we are happy – as she is called, is in a zoo in England.