A short story by Omoseye Bolaji
Tebogo Mokoena was quite elated to see his old friend, Biggie - even as darkness encroached upon them. Tebogo was visiting "his" Botshabelo after a long time and to his shock had chanced to see Biggie. They had
agreed to have a drink to celebrate their serendipitous encounter!
Tebogo, more familiar with the terrain guided Biggie to a nearby pub hoping that it would still be open. "If Charles is there he'll keep the place open for us alright" he said. "Charles is the guy who takes care of the pub...cleans, serves people. A friendly, if lugubrious person,"
Biggie grinned. "Lugubrious, eh? That's a word I like!"
Charles was indeed delighted to see Tebogo and could hardly believe his eyes. "Ntate!" said he. "It's been a long time. I was just about to close this place...no customers...but now it'd be my pleasure to serve you.
How's your wife?"
"Khanyi is fine," Tebogo said. He knew Charles was most likely still alone; sadly in his relative poverty. So Tebogo just said: "And how's your boss? (the owner of the pub)"
Charles grimaced. "You know how it is. I am a slave, but no complaints..." He went on to serve both young men who were now ensconced behind one of the tables. As Tebogo took in the news briefly on a TV set, Biggie perused a newspaper.
"Come and join us," Tebogo said generously to Charles. "You are my malome and by rights you should be on your way home by now...let me buy you a drink...come and sit with us" Soon Charles was beside the other two, drinking.
Biggie suddenly laughed. "Hey Tebogo!" he said. "I have always liked this word, or rather phrase...the expression: pyrrhic victory, I'm sure you know what it means," Tebogo nodded.
"What's a pyrrhic victory?" Charles asked.
Tebogo replied: "I think it is a type of success, a type of victory so costly and terrible that one cannot be happy about it. Eh, Biggie?"
Biggie grinned. "Yes more or less. Legend dates it back to King Pyrrhus of Epirus who 'won' a war at such cost that he said something along the lines: 'if I have another victory like this I will be completely ruined and finished!'" He and Biggie laughed.
But Charles was strangely quiet; a saturnine, mournful expression on his face. His mien embarrassed the other two. Presently Charles said: "Pyrrhic eh? Interesting. It reminds me of my life, my fate. I never
told you before, Ntate Tebogo why my life was ruined. You can say it was a pyrrhic victory for me..."
Both men, startled and moved by the genuine pathos in Charles voice stared at him, listening as he went on: "You don't know my background, but for once I will talk about it. Obviously you must have heard from
others that I used to be quite comfortable, with a business I was doing - the family business I inherited. I had a decent house and cars. All was going well till I fell crazily in love - or lust - with a certain woman. She was the most beautiful, sensational woman I had ever met.
"The point is I told myself that I must have her at all costs. I was told by many that she was a mercenary, she ruined men with all her demands but I did not care. I was quite ready to be destroyed for this gorgeous woman to be my own. I did not care whether she liked or loved me or not. I just wanted her the way a man wants a woman...
"At the time I had the resources and set about the task. Although I had been warned she was a very 'expensive and greedy' woman I was still surprised at the extent of her greed. Nobody could buy so many useless expensive clothes etc and make financial demands like she. But as long as I kept on dishing out the money she pretended to like me and at a point even moved in with me. I got what I wanted - but at what cost!
"I neglected the company and spent all the profits and savings...but at that time I did not mind, so long as Betty - that's her accursed name - was with me. Well - the truth must be told (we are all men) it
got to a stage where I was bankrupt. Completely. Betty sensed this and started becoming hostile...to cut a very painful story short, she finally announced (when there was no more money to spend) that it was
better we ended it and just remained friends. Friends! Even that was a lie; she could not wait to be rid of me!
"Meanwhile I lost everything...I was alienated from my family, my company liquidated, I lost the house, cars...everything. But this does not really pain me. What will always haunt me is the despicable way I
treated my mother when i was crazy over Betty. At a stage I heard my own mother cursed me. She died before I could make up with her. The funeral was hell a thousand times over for me as the story spread
about how I, extraordinary buffoon that I was, had let a woman destroy my life. It was terrible..." At this stage tears came into Charles' eyes.
Tebogo, always empathetic, turned his face away with sadness. Biggie seemed rooted to the spot, his face implacable and now rather haunted too. Almost unconsciously Tebogo squeezed Charles hand. Tebogo
thought: Everywhere men are complaining about how women are ruining and using them these days; I am so lucky to have a wonderful, good, caring wife. Poor Charles...
"Ah I was a laughing stock for years my friends..." Charles went on. "It is a pity when one is crazy over a woman one is just that - crazy. One becomes like a wilful dog refusing to heed the whistle of its owner...it is like a curse. I lost everything. I was close to suicide when two things happened to keep me alive somewhat: firstly a distant cousin of mine, knowing my plight gave me his small mukhukhu to stay in. It is a beastly, disgusting place, but I appreciate it. Then I was given this job by another man who had heard what had happened to me,"
Biggie was thinking that yes, Charles' plight was unfortunate but it was not the end of the world. He should move on. He is a defeated man psychologically, Biggie thought. That hang-dog expression of his and
the sickly, weak way he carried himself. What he needed was some spirit! Charles must bounce back!
Biggie said diplomatically: "Eh Ntate, you know it is not really the end of the world. Whilst we are still alive great things can happen to us again. At least you are still alive..."
Charles' mournful look became accentuated. "Actually I am not really alive. I am a dying man. There is no fight left in me. I must just wait till the inevitable end comes. You see, Betty also gave me aids...hiv...she herself died from it a couple of years ago,"
Tebogo winced. Biggie felt an overwhelming sense of frustration. Nobody deserves this, he thought.
Charles sighed. "So you see, I understand what a 'pyrrhic victory' can be. I wanted Betty at all costs...I got her, and I was ruined in the process. Suke..."