I proposed to Meg at the lakeside. We were sitting on a rock that jutted out onto the water, watching the sun drop behind a half-submerged canoe. The waves sang as they crashed onto the shore. Birds chirped as they hunted for fish. Mosquitoes and lake flies buzzed around us. It was just the two of us in the wilderness. I took out the ring and held it in front of her. It gleamed in the dying light of the day, like a true diamond, though it was a cheap aluminum piece of artwork that a friend had fashioned for me. She said yes.

It struck me as odd that I had proposed to a girl whose family I had never met. She said they lived in Merikit, a small town ten miles from my home, and that I would meet them during the kwanjula, the traditional marriage ceremony where I would pay her father a dowry. I brushed aside the alarm bells, and trusted everything she told me. I was madly in love.

We set a date. We would have two ceremonies. On a Friday, my family and I would go to her father’s home and deliver the bridal gifts. The next day, we would go to church for a Christian wedding. But two weeks before the date, she changed her mind. She no longer wanted to marry me.

She had gone to visit her family to prepare the festivities. I did not expect to see her for several days, so when I heard her banging at my door in the dead of night, crying for me to open, I knew that something had gone terribly wrong. I dashed out of bed and snapped on the lights. Cockroaches fled into hiding. I ran stark naked to the front door, where a ghost confronted me.

I could not recognize her. I still cannot describe the color of her skin. She was the light skinned type, but that night she looked like an albino… No. Not albino. Her skin was transparent. I could see a net of blue veins crisscrossing under her skin. I never knew Africans could become this pale when frightened. Her face was a mess of tears and snot. Her lips bled where she had bitten them. Her scalp bled where she had yanked out the hair. Or maybe someone – something – had yanked out her hair. I tried to comfort her with a hug. She was cold and hard like a rock. She pushed me away and would not let me touch her again.

Not knowing how to handle the situation, I did not insist. I collapsed onto the sofa. She sat down beside me. Forgetting the moment, I nearly smiled in surprise. She had avoided sitting on that sofa for many months, after we discovered a rat family inside it. I killed the rats, but sofaphobia gripped her. She wanted a new set. I could not afford it. I was hoping my uncle would give us one as a wedding gift. That night she forgot about the rats and sat beside me. Something worse than a thousand rats had terrified her.

“Oh Boke, my love,” was the only coherent thing she could say for about ten minutes… To read the rest of this story and more stories in A Killing In the Sun by Dilman Dila. Available at Amazon, Book Lover’s Market, Smashwords, Createspace and Clarke’s Bookshop in Cape Town