I tell her I’ve forgiven her.
It’s in the past. Soon it will be forgotten.
I say it, slowly, pace it just right so it doesn’t feel rushed, like I’m saying it to get it over and done with. I make eye contact with her as she sits across me at the kitchen counter. I say that I, too, have made mistakes (even if in this I’m completely blameless). I don’t sit with my back straight; I bend the vertebrae slightly so it appears the weight of what I’m saying presses down upon me. I’ve been told forgiveness is a heavy burden. So I make my shoulders look like the cross bites into my shoulders—I pull them down and in, but not too much. Although I’m prepared to carry her absolution towards our Calvarific hill, where we seem destined to crucify ourselves for the love we say we have for each other, she needs to know she’ll have to do her share of lifting. We can move on from this. I stress the togetherness of our future joint efforts. We. You and me. “In time,” I tell her, “we can put this behind us.”
The thing remains unnamed, seemingly diminished, the pain of its hurt reduced by lack of specific nomenclature which would resurrect talk of fault, its resultant liability, and the reluctant reparations.
She searches my face for pretense. She finds none. Even when I was younger it was hard for my parents and friends to tell when I was being sincere and when I wasn’t. The trick to hiding subterfuge is to adopt a blanket policy of silence—I was a quiet kid, so it was never hard for me to keep my volume button dialed right down to mute. It made my parents believe I was smart, that I was thinking deep, mysterious, and complex thoughts. My school friends found it creepy at first, my reserved demeanor. But when they discovered my lack of abrasive jocularity, boyhood boasting, and toxic taunting provided them with bigger stages for their own raucous performances they welcomed my silence. I realized, growing up, that noisy people have a strange way of exposing parts of themselves without being aware they’re doing so. Sound has an uncanny way of magnifying a voice’s faltering octaves when falsely praising someone’s achievements, amplifying the crack in the timbre when donning ill-fitting bravery, and resonating and reverberating the cut of a sneer. It is impossible to hide in noise; the silent and patient listener will always pick up the flaws clamoring to be heard. Silence radiates nothingness—not anger, not joy, not jealousy, not fatigue, not guilt. It conceals and caches many things: like envy, hurt, loss, and disagreement. It scares me to think of what the universe hides behind its great unyielding and unending hush.
She looks at me the same way stargazers look at the night sky, hoping to find something, anything—any noise—in my face. I cover it with indecipherable frequencies, like the treatment masks she put on before going to bed, focusing on the hollows and edges of the eyes where most feelings hide; the corners of the mouth that can Judas kiss and betray the slightest untruth of an utterance with a mere tic; and the cheeks and ears that could inadvertently break cover, giving away the location of a hidden sentiment.
I watch her, the nostrils which flair slightly as she breathes, the arched eyebrows that test everything I say for deceit, and her throat whose peristaltic movements nervously swallow what I’ve just told her.
I forgive you.
The light in eyes changes. She smiles, but not with happiness. She’s accepting her bondage to my pardon; she’s bound and condemned to do better, knowing whatever she does will never be enough.
I tell her friends the same thing: I’ve forgiven her. I say it matter-of-factly, and follow it up with the quietude of those who’ve transcended possessiveness, pettiness, and resentment. They cross-examine me—Are you sure? Is this what you want? Are you doing this to prove a point? How do you know it won’t happen again? In their prattling they reveal themselves to me: they wanted the bitterness and drama. They were holding out for the calling of chits, determination of alliances, and the ensuing divvying up of friends and spaces.
There’s none of that. There’s only what I’ve said: I’ve forgiven her.
They’re disappointed. Peace is a poor conversation starter. It’s the conclusion, not the climax; peace is never the story, it’s the black screen and the end credits. To lighten they talk about nothing and everything before, once more, I have to tell them that everything will be fine. They hug me, and when we part they say she’s lucky to have me.
I tell them, no: “I’m the lucky man.”
My friends ask me if I’ve really forgiven her. Like for real-real, Not on some be the bigger man type of shit because that shit is for losers, yo—what she did was unforgivable. And I say, “Yes, I have.” They shake their heads. One of them walks out of the room, disgusted. I tell them life isn’t black and white, that things aren’t always clear even when you think they are. Nothing is ever solved by looking at the present alone. There’s history. And the unknown future to think about. Even with this, I tell them, there’s something to be salvaged. They laugh. They jeer. They make jokes about the suckers they’ve made out of other men—“Every single one who’s forgiven shit like this thought they were the king of hearts but turned out to be jokers.” I tell them since I’ve forgiven, they should forget. Most shake their heads. Only one supports me. He tells me to do whatever I need to feel he way I need to feel. That’s all that matters, man. Just make sure you’re leaving the past in the past. I tell him that I am. He wishes me luck because forgiveness is foreign territory to him, to me, to us.
When we meet for lunch she says she’s glad we can do this again: be us. She always loved our small moments the most. The walks. Watching trash series together. Knocking back reps together at the gym in perfect syncopation with everyone staring us. She’s happy she has me back in her life, that we’re easing back into familiar routines—like leaving our offices to get lunch together. She reaches across the table and holds my hand. My palm sweats so I let her go.
She says: “I love you. I’m sorry I ever made you doubt that.”
I tell her I never did, not for a second, minute, hour, day, week, or month of the past year. I tell her: “If I did I’d have moved on.” I say it confidently, like I’ve always had the chips stacked in my corner, aware my river card was on its way. I pick up my sandwich. “These things happen. People are tested. Some fail.”
She flinches. I tell her I didn’t mean it like that.
“I know,” she says. “But still.”
When we walk I pull her close to me so the world knows I’ve forgiven her. I laugh loudly at her jokes and slip into the ghost of our past. I encourage, I cheer, I support—I play my familiar role. Yes, she should change her job if she can. Yes, I think it would be good to move in together. But later, not now. Not so soon after…everything. She says she understands. I tell her I still see the same future with her. No, a better one. I tell her this many times until she believes it too.
Later, in bed, she says she missed me, that she missed this—exactly this. She says I’m all she wants, all she needs. She breathes into my ear that I’ve always been hers and she’ll always be mine. She cries. I kiss her and tell her we’ll be new. Just like before.She puts her arms around my neck and pulls me to her heat, and deeper into her body. When I peak I’ve no choice but to come down into her. She holds me, forcing me to leave parts of myself inside her. I think she thinks that completes her atonement.
When I’m lying next to her, catching my breath, I notice how much she’s changed. She lay on the bed as inviting and unashamed as Goya’s Las Maja Desnuda—confident, with a fresh strip of womanhood she’d never had the courage to sport before, something new for her, something frightening for me. In our old days—before forgiveness—she’d be demure, a dim shadow in the soft lights of our rooms. Now she’s as careless as a reclining nude, full of provocative angles which reveal her newfound freedom, perhaps something she couldn’t realize with me. Her kissing changed—forceful, hungry, bruising. She moved her body in perfect sine waves when she was on top. She directed me where to go, and what to do. And when we were finished, she was undignified. She didn’t shower me with the usual thousand whispers of kindness. Like a piglet after a big meal she rolled over, sighed into the pillow, and yielded to sleep without any romance.
On the street, I see him—the Man With No Face, the Stranger With No Name—in every man. The Other Guy who turned me into the other guy. I avert my eyes from passers-by; I yield the right of way on the pavement to shorter men. Do they cast curious glances my way?
My jaw clenches. My fists close. My breath quickens. I pick up my pace to get away from every man I pass.
I almost run.
In the morning The Other Guy is a foot flitting around the kitchen’s door as I leave her eating her breakfast. He’s a shadow in the corridor’s slanting late afternoon light. At night, in our room, he’s an invisible weight at the edge of the bed, an unknown assailant I can’t crush or kill. I imagine his cologne, his rough beard, his fingerprints unlocking parts of her I didn’t even know existed.
And when I’m inside her I can still feel him.
I’ve told her I’ve forgiven her.
But I haven’t.
Rémy Ngamije is a Rwandan-born Namibian writer and photographer. His debut novel “The Eternal Audience Of One” is forthcoming from Scout Press (S&S). He is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Doek! Literary Magazine, Namibia’s first online literary magazine. His work has appeared in Litro Magazine, AFREADA, The Johannesburg Review of Books, Brainwavez, The Amistad, The Kalahari Review, American Chordata, Doek! Literary Magazine, Azure, Sultan’s Seal, Santa Ana River Review, Columbia Journal, New Contrast, Necessary Fiction, Silver Pinion, and Lolwe.