Friday Night Book Club: Read ‘The High Heel Killer’ – a short story from Mohale Mashigo’s new book Intruders
More about the book!
The Friday Night Book Club: Exclusive excerpts from Pan Macmillan every weekend!
Staying in this evening? Enjoy a glass of wine and this extended excerpt from Intruders, the new book by Mohale Mashigo.
About the book
Orphan sisters chase monsters of urban legend in Bloemfontein. At a busy taxi rank, a woman kills a man with her shoe. A genomicist is accused of playing God when she creates a fatherless child.
Intruders is a collection that explores how it feels not to belong. These are stories of unremarkable people thrust into extraordinary situations by events beyond their control.
With a unique and memorable touch, Mashigo explores the everyday ills we live with and wrestle constantly, all the while allowing hidden energies to emerge and play out their unforeseen consequences.
Intruders is speculative fiction at its best.
Read the excerpt:
The High Heel Killer
‘The High Heel Killer.’ What a stupid name. I hate it.
These media clowns aren’t even trying. If I had studied journalism, like I wanted to, ‘High Heel Killer’ would never have made it into print. Blood is surprisingly thin. The kind I’ve been dealing with since I was 12 is thick … but Ray-Ban Guy’s blood was thin, messy and unexpectedly hot. Who knew? Mme’s lawyer convinced the judge that I don’t have any money, so I wouldn’t run away. That’s all that I could make out; my brain had become a sieve. There was some mention of me never having broken any laws, psychiatric evaluation and assurance that I would not kill anyone else (my interpretation). The last bit was funny (inappropriate). Mme’s boyfriend paid my bail and then asked me, as I was getting out of his car, to please keep my distance. ‘This is hard on her too, just stay away for a while.’ From his insipid mouth to reality; I haven’t left my room since I stepped out of the car. It’s been weeks.
Weeks. Months. Years. How long had I been following a map of confusion, fear and anger? Three years. I spent those years walking myself into the concrete and tar of the city. How many steps did I walk trying to get to the taxi rank, to work, from work to a taxi, from that taxi to another taxi rank and back home again? How many afternoons had I heard the Ray-Ban Guy trying to convince people to buy his cheap knock-off sunglasses? People really liked him; I found him corny – in fact, I was pretty sure people only laughed because it was part of their routine. He was always ready with a joke and a story about why a certain pair of glasses would suit you.
‘Why did you kill that man?’ Doppelgangers of that question confronted me. Mme didn’t even look at me when she asked it. She sighed heavily. Heavily like when I told her that a hand from a sea of bodies in town touched my breast. I was 12. She asked angrily if I recognised the person who did it. We were in the CBD, people were pushing past us and I knew the person who did it was walking away happily unpunished. ‘Did he hurt you?’ I looked at my feet.
My feet were complaining. It was the taxi driver’s fault; I asked him if I was taking the right taxi. ‘Hey, S’dudla, you’re making me late. Just get in.’
The roads became unfamiliar and I knew for sure that I was headed in the opposite direction to where I needed to be. Asking if this was a different route got me kicked out. ‘Voetsek!’ is all I heard when a sniggering passenger closed the door.
It was far away from the taxi rank in town and my shoes were threatening me. Wearing high heels was a stupid idea; I should have listened to Tshepo.
Tshepo was outside the door. No more words, just the shuffling of feet, plastic bags of food, and a sigh. In the beginning, it was forced syrupy words of encouragement. The anger was expected: ‘If you don’t want to see me, say so. People say I shouldn’t come see you because you’re a fucking killer. I’m wasting my time.’ I remember those words because it was the first time I saw what was actually making my sides hurt. In front of the mirror I stood topless, looking at white bits of bone-like stubs sticking out from where my ribs were. My boyfriend’s anger was my only witness.
Witness the city turn against us! There were many potential witnesses: Ray-Ban Guy, Aus’ Maneo who sells braaied mealies in the morning, school kids who constantly argue about artists I’ve never heard of … Why then did I feel so frightened when I realised the conversation behind me was about me? The two male voices slapped city sounds away from my ears like a mother does when her child reaches for the pots before supper is ready. It wasn’t menacing at all; their voices were casual: ‘Those thighs … I’m going first … Let’s see how far she goes … Ha, probably walking to her car … Two for one.’ Why did I turn around and look? They both smiled, laughed and then crossed the road. The tall one turned back: ‘Ne re dlala, sester’. A joke …
‘Yeah, he was probably joking.’ That was the last time I accepted a lift from my colleague Phillipa. She was distracted and took the wrong turn two blocks away from the taxi rank. ‘He says things like that all the time to women at the office. He means nothing by it. You’ll get used to it – I did. He’s married anyway.’ I opened the door and pushed one foot out. ‘This isn’t your stop. Let me make a U-turn and drop you off closer.’ Maybe I declined, the memory is foggy. Pain does that: it overtakes your flow of thought with force. And I was angry and in pain.
Pain wakes me up. It is unbearable in the mornings. Thankfully, there is not a lot of blood on the sheets. Should there be a lot of blood? Boiled water and Dettol is all that’s available for the open wounds. Mme trusted it for childhood injuries. It was both an antibacterial and a threat. ‘You are going to have marks on your legs. Who wants to marry a woman with marks on her legs? Those boys you climb trees with must marry you! Aaargh, just go and get the Dettol.’
This was funny until my period came with its luggage and strict instructions from Mme who treated me like a frail prisoner. The sun became my prison guard. Mme was an irrational warden. ‘I had to take a bus because there was a taxi strike, Mme.’ ‘I said to be home before dark. You think you’re the boss now? Boys will ruin your life. You don’t know everything.’
Everything hurt, it was difficult to breathe. The bone-like stubs were getting longer. I killed Ray-Ban Guy and now my body is turning against me. While in the holding cell, my shoulder was on fire. It hurt just to lean against the wall. The policeman was not rough when he put the handcuffs on. Maybe the injury was from his knee on my back as he pinned me down on the ground. I didn’t run. Why? Because I only had one good shoe on. I sat on the floor next to Ray-Ban Guy and waited for the police to arrive (they were always nearby in the CBD). One shoe still on and the other, bloody, in my hand. ‘My shoe is ruined,’ is what I said, according to the newspapers. I heard my neighbour wondering (loudly) whether living next door to a killer was safe.
‘I don’t think I understand what you’re saying.’
‘Do you feel safe here?’ I asked again slowly. Tshepo handed me a drink and we walked outside to check on our meat. ‘Why wouldn’t I feel safe here?’ He looked around with mock shock. ‘People are buying meat, braaing, having drinks and listening to music.’
‘Yes but that woman was raped here a few weeks ago,’ I said, eyeing my beer. He sighed with no drama. ‘It was by the toilets, not here … Wasn’t she drunk anyway?’
The guy braaing our meat signalled that it was almost ready. ‘I don’t know if she was drunk but I don’t feel …’
His laughter cut me off. ‘Nawe uthand’ ukuba dramatic. You don’t get messy drunk.’ He got up to fetch our meat. ‘Besides, you’re with me, nobody will touch you.’
‘You need to see her again.’ Mme sounded tired. She wanted me to see the psychiatrist who was going to testify that I had had some kind of mental break. ‘She says you have never done anything like this before. You’re strong. This is not you. People like … liked you. My mother’s aunt was sick. She can help prove that you’re sick too.’ Mme works at the canteen of a psychiatric hospital. She has been working there for many years.
Mme is one of those people who will remember everyone’s names, doctors and patients alike, and memorise facts about them. ‘Naledi was upset that there was no spinach today. She’s the one with the eating disorder and a brother who is a priest.’ I wonder how Mme would describe me to her boyfriend if I was a patient. ‘You know that girl I told you about? The one who murdered a guy at a taxi rank? She eats a lot of butternut and the backs of her shirts are always bloody.’
Bloody was followed by waxy. Waxy was followed by the impossible. I looked in the mirror and cried. It was the first time I had cried since I hit a man with my shoe with so much force that it pierced the soft skin of his neck and he bled all over me and the pavement. I didn’t gasp or cry then. People around me screamed and gasped, others ducked to avoid blood spray and some were frozen in shock. I sat down next to Ray-Ban Guy and hugged my shoe. His feet were doing a little dance, and then nothing. There were people watching me; some in shock, others cursing me with their eyes; a few asked me questions I couldn’t hear over the sound of my heartbeat. That was supposed to be the only impossible thing to happen to me. But here I am, becoming the inexplicable now.
‘Now why are you walking like that?’ I turned around to see Ray-Ban Guy smiling. There was nothing to smile about. I had walked six blocks in new shoes, tripped but didn’t fall when I finally got to my destination, and there he was having fun at my expense. I ignored him and took two more successful steps before I fell flat on my face in a puddle of pavement water. The words were loud. Loud enough for me to hear but not for the whole city to hear; the city that hated me, assaulted me with sound, violence and smells. I’d been so close to getting into the right taxi, so that I could be enveloped in the safety of my tiny room. He didn’t have to say what he did, but he did.
Did I even know it was wings? Why was I expecting feathers like that of a chicken? Firm, shiny, black feathers like a cape on my shoulders and back. Once they sprouted I knew that impossible was just a matter of experience. Wings with tips down to my ankles. A clerk at the court spat ‘monster’ when I walked past her (in handcuffs). I am a monster. A beautiful monster with wings and no fear for the first time in my life. Nobody would ever understand this.
This back room is the only place I could afford on my laughable salary that is nothing but a glorified transport budget. It is one of three rooms in an old lady’s backyard. The old lady is Mam’ Mahlangu and she is only interested in us paying our rent on time. She was a widow who kept to herself; the shops and church were the only things that made her leave her house. Sometimes I would offer to get her a few things if I was on my way to the shops. She had the look of someone who was used to being alone and unaccustomed to kindness. When I returned from jail and my shoulders were itchy and hot, she knocked on my door and handed me a sjambok and a first-aid kit. ‘The world is a dangerous place,’ she said soberly and walked away quietly.
Quietly is how I did it. I dusted myself off and picked up the shoe that I had fallen out of. There was no wild animal scream from me as my hand moved up and down, landing sharp blows with the heel. When instinct kicked in and Ray-Ban Guy decided to fight back, the heel had already won. ‘Ulayekile!’ That’s what he said before I fell. Who was he to determine what I did and didn’t deserve? The same city that reduced him to a con artist had beaten me and he thought I deserved it. He laughed and said ‘ulayekile’. He shouldn’t have said it.
It is beautiful from up here, the cruel city and all the people walking its streets at night. Why did I never look up at these beautiful old rotting buildings? I was so busy counting my steps and craving invisibility. The wings are strong although I almost fell to my death a few times (who’s going to give me flying lessons?). I birthed myself; it was bloody and painful but now I’m standing on the roof of a city as something new.
Up here nobody can tell me what I deserve, who I should be or how to be. And I dare those down below to open their mouths and tell another tired, underpaid woman that she deserves the cruelty of the city. I’m the enemy of cruelty and they’ll have to deal with me.