Mythic Poison: A Man Fears his Wife

‘The stress is gonna kill me,’ Lukaya points out and refers to his high blood pressure. He sits on a toolbox in a shed made out of corrugated iron shining bright like silver. I feel sorry about him. More than three years ago he welcomed me into his house ‘like a son’. He did not want to charge me for the room I was about to occupy in Khayelitsha, the larges township in Cape Town. Now he rents out some space in the backyard of small brick house in another neighborhood. He bought the shed and pays a monthly R400 for the tiny plot and the electricity. ‘You have lost weight,’ I point out. The 63-year-old man agrees. When he comes back late from work late he eats not much more than bread, not necessarily because he doesn’t have the money to buy food. For almost 30 years his wife used to do the housework while he went out to earn money.

Since the Xhosa man moved out of his and his family’s house he stays far from the next railway station. Every morning he walks an hour to get there to catch the train at 5:15. This way he is able to save R7 for the taxi. At 6:00 he must be at the factory. He would like to go back home but he is afraid of his wife. She doesn’t talk to him anymore. A couple of months ago she started to refuse to share the blanket with him. Lukaya says is isn’t able to touch her. He suspects her to have a secret lover. Then, he says, she offended him in public when she entered his church congregation to yell at him. She claimed that he would not support her and the children sufficiently.

Lukaya in turn went to the police station to lay a charge against her for emotional abuse. He was granted a protection order that ought to keep her from interacting with him. On the day the case was about to be judged at Khayelitsha court his boss called and urged him to come to his workplace. He left before he could plead his case. Long waiting hours are the norm. The case was suspended. Since he returns to his former home once a month to hand in R500 for his grown-up daughters.

I try to push him to find out what else might bother his wife. I heard rumors that he was unfaithful. ‘Maybe she’s jealous,’ I say. He smiles. Lukaya does not have much support by other people. For the three months he stays in the shed none of his children has visited the soft-spoken man. His brother is afraid of his wife and does not want to discuss the issue with her. Sometimes his cousin washes his clothes. His only friend, he says, is a homeboy, a man who grew up in the same rural area like him. We make a turn. He lives just around the corner.

‘The Bible says you have to love everybody but to trust nobody,’ the Lukaya says. His friend smiles in agreement. We sit on crates in front of his little shop and sip on our soft drinks. Lukaya doesn’t drink alcohol. Lukhaya’s friend lives like him as a bachelor. The difference is that he was able to stay at home. His wife left. Lukaya would like to go back, he says. He’s too old to marry again and to start anew.

‘It’s dangerous!’ the homeboy points out.

‘What do you mean?’ I inquire.

‘I want god to take my life and not my wife,’ Lukaya sighs.

‘She can put poison into his food once he goes back there,’ the other man makes clear and asserts that the only option would be to stay away from her.

Lukaya fears that his wife might kill him either by putting chemicals into his food or by procuring evil muthi, poison from the ‘witch doctor’. Once he is dead, he and his friend reckon, she would be able to receive all of his pension money and his savings. ‘Do you really think she would do it?’ I frown. The men laugh at me like at a schoolboy who doesn’t get the lesson about Xhosa marriage. ‘You’re white,’ Lukaya says ‘in your culture it works differently.’

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