When Lehumo asked you to meet his father, you were startled but flattered: no man had ever introduced you to anyone. Perhaps it had something to do with your reclusive personality. Or maybe it had to do with your skin; most probably that. You're "too light," as people put it. You glow in the dark. You scare toddlers.
Your best friend, Lolo, said to you: "They're terrified of dating people like us. Samantha, it will never last."
"Lehumo is different," you told her.
You didn't like how she'd said "they," as if he was some extra-terrestrial species and not a human being just like you. You remembered Lehumo's genuineness when he said to you on your first date, "I don't mind. I don't know why anyone would mind dating an albino. My younger brother was born with albinism anyway." You watched his thick lips as he uttered those words. You gazed at his melanin-kissed face and your heart quivered.
Sometimes you thought, no, Lolo's right; it won't work. But the two of you had made it together so far, eight months without you sensing any trouble.
At the coffee shop, the same one where you and Lehumo first met, your round blue hat and flowery dress drew attention. Lehumo stood up and waved you over, a huge smile on his face.
His father was sitting at the table. They could almost be twins, if not for Lehumo's tall stature. When you reached out to shake the old man's hand, you noticed a familiar hostility in his eyes.
"Haven't you learned anything from what we go through every day with your brother?" he began before Lehumo could even introduce you. "Now you want to bring somebody like this into our family?"
Your knees weakened. When you opened your mouth, words did not come out. You looked at Lehumo. He appeared even more embarrassed than you were. You knew then that you did not want to be there.
The blackness in your bedroom is almost comforting. It is 8 p.m. on the dot.
"Sam, open up!" Lolo's squeaky voice pierces the door.
As soon as you open the door, you wrap your arms around her and just weep. You would dig your heart out with a shovel if you could. If it meant not feeling the heaviness of your bones. The dryness of your throat. The pain.
"Not out here, Sam," she says under her breath, wiping the tears off your face. She pulls you inside and closes the door. "What's with the darkness in this place?" she asks, struggling to locate the light switch.
"No, don't. Please, I prefer it this way."
The two of you lie in your bed in the dusk, staring at nothingness. Your luminous skin shimmers in the room. The air just silent.
Lolo finally says into the stillness: "I am sorry."
"So, what did Lehumo say to you?"
"He said he was sorry…"
You breathe in as deeply as you can, then add, "He said he loves me and that he didn't expect his father to react the way he did."
"That's a nice thing to—"
"I broke up with him."
"Oh, Sam…I'm so sorry."
"I love him. I love him so much it hurts, all over. I'm so stupid!" You cry again, this time so hard you almost taste blood in your throat.
"No, don't say that. You are not stupid. Please, don't cry. I saw the way he treated you. He loves you just like you love him. I should have been more supportive, and for that, my friend, I apologize." She adds, "The only love I know is my husband's, and because I can't see myself with anyone else, I judged you. So I won't pull an I-told-you-so, because you proved me wrong. Lehumo's father is what went wrong."
"That doesn't make me feel better," you say, wiping the tears.
She holds your hand and says, "Sam, we're allowed to fall in love with whoever we want. You did that. I commend you for it. It breaks me, seeing you in such pain."
You imagine the sincerity on her face. It hurts you to hear her say that; for her to acknowledge that you are indeed feeling pain. You don't want to feel this weak.
"If I did the right thing in going for Lehumo, then tell me why I feel like the biggest loser on this entire planet."
"Because you did lose. You're still going to lose some more, whoever you love."
You don't say anything else to her. You don't cry either.
Lolo's hand is still in yours when you fall asleep. Later she will cover you with a blanket and tiptoe out of your apartment, and go home back to her husband and their daughter.
In the following days, you do not call Lehumo. You don't want him to call you either. When he does, eventually, you ignore him. You lock yourself in your apartment and feel utter shame. It swallows you, makes you want to take a sharp blade and peel your skin off.
You delete Lehumo's contact number, even though you know it by heart. You convince yourself that his father was right. What were the two of you thinking, anyway? After several weeks, you become angry that his father makes you feel this small. That his rejection makes you feel subhuman, not worthy of his son, not worthy of love at all.
After a couple of months, you start dating again. This time, you go for the ones you're supposed to date. The ones you're expected to love. So when you meet Kagiso on a dating site for people with albinism, you expect more. You anticipate blue skies and rainbows.
Like you, Kagiso is a primary-school teacher. While you're having lunch at a restaurant, he says he'd like to settle down soon. He suggests that he isn't looking for a date, but a wife.
"We've only just met," you laugh.
"Someone like me isn't willing to dip my feet into little streams, waiting to see which one will flow into the ocean."
You take a bite of your salad. "Why not? Don't you want someone good enough for you?"
"I'm twenty-nine. And you are…twenty-eight, correct?" You nod. "We're getting old. I'm old. When we talked online, I felt this was it. I believe I know a lot about you now. We've been talking for weeks, Sammy. Besides, people like me and you don't have the luxury of saying 'plenty of fish in the sea,' because there aren't."
"I don't think like that."
"Then you should. You told me that your best friend is married. Don't you want that for yourself? A husband?"
"She married the love of her life. They grew up together, long before I even met her."
"So you want to take a chance and see where this goes…"
"I do, Kagiso. I deserve that luxury."
He does not agree. You can see it in the way he shakes his head and flaps his eyelashes. He wants to get married, and if he can't get that from you, he might as well get it from someone else.
"That's unfortunate. I really thought you were the girl for me."
"I could be," you say, a little desperately. "If you're willing to see if we're a good match ..."
He shifts on his chair. "No," he says flatly. "I know what I want. Dating for the sake of dating isn't on the cards for me. You're very pretty, I'm sure you'll get any man you want."
You're disappointed because you'd been hopeful. When you stumbled on his handsome profile picture and read his biography, and after talking to him online, you felt a slight connection. Both of you are educators. Both in your late twenties. And both of you know what it's like, living with albinism. You thought this could turn into something great, but not enough to put a ring on his finger and say "I do," on the first date. Why must people like Kagiso live life as if it's a perfectly designed machine, where everyone does things at particular times or all hell breaks loose and everything shuts down? Doesn't he know that life, your plans and the future could just collapse at any time? If he'd mentioned before meeting that he wanted to get married quick, like a warlord offering his daughter for a plot of land, then you wouldn't have bothered.
You miss Lehumo; he wasn't this cynical. The two of you knew marriage and babies would eventually come. You were willing to meet his entire family before deciding on the next step. And you thought you knew everything you needed to know about him: that in the morning he liked listening to the radio and catching up on the latest news. Which part of his belly vibrated when you laid your hands on it. That he liked bran flakes with low-fat milk. You knew that when you spoke, he looked at you and paid attention, not so much because he enjoyed the things you said, but because of how your lips moved, and the way you curled the lower one.
"You talk sexy, you know that?" he'd said to you the first night you spent together at your place. You were lying on the bed, and he was gazing at you with his fists fixed below his chin. "I swear, you do it on purpose. Those lips…Angelina Jolie has nothing on you."
"Baby, did you hear anything I said?"
"Not really," he laughed, and you hit him with a pillow.
You find yourself in Benedict's bed again. This is the ninth time you've slept with him. This time, you just wanted to have sex, and he was the first person to come to your mind. The first time was after going through Lehumo's Instagram account and seeing a picture of him with another girl.
This girl's skin was so brown you'd swear she smelt of mahogany. You told yourself you'd look at the picture just once and forget it existed. But you became obsessed with it. You critiqued the smile on Lehumo's face. Did he seem happier with her? Did she seem into him? You analyzed her long green dress. You'd never seen anyone wear green so well. But did she not know train dresses were no longer a thing?
You'd met Benedict at Lolo's 30th birthday party, three months ago. He'd whispered into your ear, "Sleeping with an albino is on my bucket list …"
Surprisingly, you weren't offended. Perhaps because you were hammered. Or because you'd heard such things before. "Albinos make you richer," they say. Along with the more disturbing one: "An albino's body parts bring good luck." And so you whispered back, "Fucking a white man's always been on mine."
You grab your clothes scattered on his bedroom floor, preparing to leave. Benedict opens his eyes, lies across the bed and says, "I love you."
He sits up, strokes his loose hair with his fingers, "I think I'm in love with you."
"Are you insane?"
"Is it so shocking?"
You don't want to be rude. "I have to go." You pull up your jeans. "I have a class to teach in the afternoon."
"Just like that? Why are you so cold hearted?"
"I tell you my feelings and you brush them off? I love you, Samantha. I want to be with you instead of sleeping with you whenever you feel like it."
You don't mean to chuckle. "I'm sorry if you feel used. But you knew what this was from the beginning. This is a tick on our bucket lists. I don't even know why it went on for this long." Then you pause, and add, "Now that you've slept with an albino, what do we taste like?"
"You're more than that to me."
Grabbing your handbag from the floor, you say, "I'm sorry. This is the last time I'm seeing you. Take care, Ben."
He gets up. "Can I at least get a hug?"
You smile, going into his arms. You rub his back. "See you when I see you, white man."
You can feel him smiling into your hair. "See you when I see you, Samantha."
Outside his front door, when you browse through your phone, there's a text from Lehumo: May I see you, please?
The thought of seeing Lehumo again after so long terrifies you, gives you nausea. It takes you more than two days to decide, and more than a week to reply.
"Hello, Lehumo. Where can we meet?"
He texts back minutes later. "Same place we first and last saw each other."
You have so much to say to him.
You arrive at the coffee shop at 12 p.m. Lehumo stands up when you approach his table. The boy beside him looks almost like him. The teenager's pale eyes are warm and friendly. You put out your hand and he clasps it. "Are you Lehumo's girlfriend?"
Lehumo laughs. "He's forward like that. Samantha, this is my brother,"
"Hi. It's nice to finally meet you!"
He giggles. You gaze at Lehumo. He whispers something into his brother's ear, and the boy excuses himself.
You sit opposite each other at the circular table. Now that you're alone, the air between you abruptly changes.
"You look great," Lehumo says seriously.
"You too." He does; he looks darker in his white shirt. "Why did you call me?"
"I miss you. I don't know about you, but it's been so hard to move on with my life without you." He looks down at his hands on the table. "You're the one. It's you or no one else."
You cover your face, attempting to hide the anguish straining your cheek bones. This is what you've yearned for months to hear him say. "You have a new girlfriend. I saw the pictures on your Instagram"
"We broke up three-and-a-half months ago."
"Why? Isn't it obvious? She wasn't you."
"Oh, Lehumo," you say, bursting into furious tears. "You had to wait this long? You had to make me hate myself first?"
"No, that's not—"
"I hate you. I hate your father."
"I hate you!" You don't mean to shout, but the anger needs to escape your lungs. "Do you think I asked to be born this way? To be treated like garbage by someone I love?"
"Sam, I know—"
"Lehumo, everything's changed now. You can't just text me after seven months and tell me this."
"I was giving you space,"
"Well, I'm pregnant!"
He falls back into his chair. "What?"
This makes you cry even more. "I'm four weeks pregnant, Lehumo. I found out a week ago."
"Who is the father?"
You wipe the tears. "It doesn't matter."
"Are you in love with him?"
You shake your head. He's quiet.
You look at him with your reddened eyes and say, "I know. You can't be with me anymore."
He rubs his head. You can't figure if the look in his eyes is hatred, or shame, or something else more dreadful.
And then Lehumo stands up and leaves you there. Like a death, with as little consolation.
You remain seated, not moving a finger, in shock. So this is how you really lose him. There was no finality in the way you ended things months ago. You broke up with him to hurt him. You broke up with him so that when you look at yourself in the mirror, you won't feel like the ugliest girl alive. What's worse: knowing you've lost him forever, or admitting it's all your fault this time?
But then, like the undead, Lehumo re-emerges, sits down and says, "I can. I think I can. We can still be together. "
"You, you don't mean that."
"We were broken up, Samantha. It could have happened to me. I could have impregnated someone else."
"But you didn't."
"Do you love me? Do you want to be with me?"
"Of course I do."
"Then love me. Be with me."
"You are being unrealistic."
"Being unrealistic was introducing you to the man who basically claimed my brother wasn't his child, just because he didn't come out as he'd expected. Loving you and choosing you is the most realistic thing I can do. So here I am, Samantha. I am willing to be with you and the baby, however she or he comes out—"
"I'm getting an abortion," you interrupt.
He hesitates. "Are you sure?"
You nod. You've been thinking about it, but now you know.
"Okay…okay, it's your decision. But please, Samantha, if you don't see a future with me, you should tell me; I would let you go." He pauses. "Like I told you, it's you, or no one else."
You stare back at him, not knowing what to think or say. One minute you're living your worst nightmare, the next you are shown a staircase with your dream placed on top of it.
And so, without wasting any more time, you grasp Lehumo's hands and say, "I'm in."