Sophie is a South African working mom who recently became a Christian. But her abusive, gangster ex-boyfriend continues to disrupt and endanger her life. She says her faith is helping her to fight back. But it is hard. This is her story. It’s a reality too many South African women face every day. Because Sophie shares her story at length, we are publishing it in three chapters. Names and places are changed for safety reasons.
It’s Friday the 13th…
While the world may be engulfed in superstition of what this day may bring, I was enjoying a nice, normal day.
Morning rituals done, productive day at work, en-route home…
My phone goes haywire in my handbag and when I saw his name full on my screen, I just got this weird feeling in my stomach. My ex is calling.
Usually I would not answer his calls – especially while travelling public transport – but seeing that our daughter is turning three one of these days, we are quite civil in the arrangements for her birthday party.
“Hi?” I hold my breath for a short while.
“Where are you now?”
“On my way home. Why?”
“I will get you halfway. Will pick you up, so I can give you the rest of the money.” Referring to the rest of the amount he promised for the party.
“Okay.” Deep down I knew it couldn’t be a good idea, but this time it is different. It’s just for my daughter. The first party she will ever have.
On the way to his house, we have a light conversation.
His brother and girlfriend are home and they greet and talk as if no time has passed between us all.
While in conversation, he asks for my phone. I unlock and give it to him, no questions asked.
A few moments later he starts to question me on photos I took not too long ago. Photos with my family members, I might add.
Seeing it as frivolous and trivial, I explain each setting as he goes through each one. One catches his eye and he hovers over it, then asks me in a louder voice this time: “And where is this?!”
I look at this picture we took at the beach. Me with a few girlfriends, posing in our bathing costumes underneath a cover-up dress. Still not understanding the frustration he so desperately tries to hide, I tell him who’s who and where we were.
Maybe it is because I don’t comprehend the gravity of his distress, or I’m too naïve to remember what this man is capable of… I do not know. But the next few moments change my view of him forever.
He starts shouting at me for exposing my body in such a manner and smacks me, right in front of the audience. I get upset, because what is he on about? And to top it all, it is to no concern to him as we are no longer together!
Yet, I keep my tone low to cool him down. “I was with my family, you saw them in the other pics? And I am wearing this thing over it. It covers my whole body…”
Yet, no words can quench the fire in his eyes…
He starts shoving me around and hits me over the head with my phone. The other two slowly and silently move out of the room and leave me alone with him. He goes outside and speedily returns with something in his hand. He lifts it high and bashes me with it. An iron bar.
I start to cover my face. The agony of each blow on my arms, shoots through my whole body. He strikes again, every time aiming for my head. I cannot shield myself with my arms any longer and he hits me over the head again. A stream of blood fountains to the floor.
He does not listen…
It’s like no words hit his ears, as he continues to hit hard, blow after blow…
Suddenly silence… It’s dark all around me.
“Call out to The Lord” — a loud voice resounds in my ear. I pray in silence to God, to help me.
As if curtains opened, light break through and this man is hovering over me, with eyes wide in shock. That’s when I know I must have been unconscious. I do not know when or how I landed flat on my back, on the floor.
He stretches out his arm to help me get up. Blood still streaming all over my face and on my clothes, he realises what he has done. “Go upstairs and clean yourself up.”
He shoves me upstairs into the bathroom and he brings me a clean cloth and towel.
I clean myself up and in my mind I am getting ready to go home. My family did not even know where I went after work. It was just supposed to be a short visit.
He leads my out of the bathroom and shoves me into his room. He locks the door from the outside.
This time I knew, it may be over with me…
Before he used to get mad and hit me, but not as badly as today. He really was furious, slightly more than the other times…
With no phone close by, I just have to sit and wait to see what he decides my fate to be.
In his room there are screens linked to the cameras that are set up all around the house. The whole time I watch his every move. He fidgets in the garage, then he moves to the front of the house. Up and down, up and down. Then he disappears.
In the early morning hours I hear him coming up the stairs. I pretend that I am asleep. He swings open the door and I pray to God that he is calmed down now and will take me home.
“We have to go somewhere.” He mentions the place and I know it is close by, so maybe if he does what he has to there, he will take me home afterwards. I can only hope.
He idles the bakkie outside and comes back to fetch me.
All this time, his brother and girlfriend are nowhere to be seen.
He drags me into the vehicle by my hair, while cussing and clearly still mad.
We pass the place he said he had to be. Further and further away…
When we take the N7 turn-off, I know this could be the last time I ever see my hometown. He will kill me and dispose of my body.
I do not want to aggravate him by asking any questions, so I just internally pray as as we move along. I close my eyes a few times, so he may think I am sleeping, but I am actually praying in my mind and planning my escape.
But I do not know any place nearby. Will I get to someone who can help me in time? If I can get away from him and hide anywhere, how will I get home? I could jump out while he is driving, but what if I hurt myself and upset him even more? I have to fight my tears, silence and compliance are the only option.
Later, I gather all the courage I have left and ask him where we are going.
“I have to take care of something. I could not send you home, looking like this.”
He is referring to my swollen face. I look in the mirror in front of me and almost my whole left eye is swollen shut. It is as warm as coals when I touch it. On my forehead, the scar from which the blood streamed, is closed. And tiny. I could actually not believe so much blood came from such a small snit. My head is pounding.
Hours pass and all the way I think of my small children. They will be motherless. I greeted my family in the morning thinking we would see each other again, but it may never happen…
We stop at a garage and I consider running up to one of the employees and asking him to phone the police. Fear grips me when I remember how he used to hurt other people in front of me. That skinny guy at the till is no match for him. He could have a heavy weapon on him in any case, so he could hurt even more people than just me. I have to stay put.
I engage in normal conversation with him. To remind him of who I am. He used to love me, I was his girlfriend before. If he can only remember, he will not do anything to hurt me.
His temper has subsided by the time we reach our destination.
It is a room he booked at a hotel. He checks in while I stand in the background as ordered, to hide my face from anybody we may encounter. Once settled in, he leaves me again. “I have to be somewhere.”
I have this whole place to myself and I could run out any time, but fear keeps me locked up in the room. I do not know if he is just around the corner, or when he’ll be back. I have to play it safe, just for the slightest chance of survival.
I use the ice in the bucket in the room and roll it in a cloth to get the swelling down. It is so painful, but I force myself to keep it on my face. I take a R20 of his money lying around and hide it in my shoe. Just in case I will need it later.
Later I become so tired from the whole ordeal, that somewhere during these early morning hours, I fall asleep…
He comes back after settling his business and I ask him to take me to hospital. By this time I can’t move my head. Every movement sends a sharp shot of pain through my spine. Amazingly he agrees and goes in with me to see a doctor.
I am sent for x-rays. By this time my stomach is also growling, so I reluctantly, yet courageously ask for something to eat. He probably feels the same, as he immediately agrees to go. I ordered all my favourites as I know this will take a while to gather and he knows in his heart he owes me at least that. He now leaves my phone with me. “Phone me when you are done.” I nod.
When he disappears around the corner, I immediately phone my sister. The worry in her voice overpowers her ability to clearly grasp what is really going on. “No you can’t phone the police! Just now they go to his house and his family lets him know they were there!”
She wants to come fetch me right there and then, but I know a few hours’ travel lies between us and by that time he would have the phone back. Where would they find me? “Just please, wait until I get home. I just wanted to let you know where I am.”
We say goodbye and I put the phone down, just in case he comes back. We continue chatting via WhatsApp and I explain every detail. As we chat, I delete our conversations.
He returns when the x-rays are done and I go to the doctor again with the results. As I enter his room I whisper to him: “He did this to me.” He nods in understanding.
The images show I had a concussion.
My ex comes to sit next to me and the words of this wise man in his profession just blow me away: “Why would you hit this girl?”
I experience that moment where your whole body just goes numb. I do not know how to salvage this situation. ”Doctor, I have to go back with this man!” I wanted to scream. My ex just looks at me as if to see if it was me who said anything and I just shrug my shoulders. I do not know where this doctor would get such an idea. Maybe the doc saw the tension between us, that he left the whole story? Only he would know.
The doctor makes more scribbles on his document and he writes out a prescription for me.
We go back to the hotel and I eat my meal in silence. What is this man’s plan?
“When you are done, we will leave.”
I can’t hide my smile and want to shout in joy. I am going home!!!
I send my sister a short message to let her know we are coming. I know she will not reply, but I still keep the phone on silent, just in case.
We get back in the vehicle; this time I get in willingly. On the way we talk about anything and everything. Me, not mentioning once what has happened. He gives lifts to those along the road with a few bucks in their hands. Back in town, he does not, however, take the turnoff to my house. We drive back to his…
Just a few hours left before another day will break. All this time I am wondering what my kids are thinking, why Mommy didn’t come home. But I wait it out. He knows I will have to go back to work the next day, so he will take me home soon.
I can’t sleep a wink. The brother and his girlfriend are still there, but they keep their distance.
They know not to intrude.
The next morning we are downstairs and he goes out for a smoke on the porch, in front of the house.
“Your mom’s here,” he whispers.
I can’t believe my ears! “Seriously?” Thank God, I am rescued!
I want to step outside, but when I hear my mom and sister’s voices. I instinctively halt.
They ask about me, where I am. My daughter was apparently crying non-stop for me. I get up and walk closer to the front door. They act as if they never heard from me.
“She is not here. We argued and she left yesterday already.”
“Did she tell you where she was going?”, my sister asks.
“No. I don’t know where she is. I just got here myself.”
My mom this time: “So she is not here?”
“No. You can go in and have a look for yourself.”
I know what he is up to. If they don’t believe him and come into this house, they will face the same fate I am facing. I come forward, just enough for my sister to see me. She looks up at me and I can see the relief on her expression. I signal that she should keep quiet and rather go. I would rather face this nightmare alone, than drag the two of them into it.
She looks back at him and pretends she never saw me. “Maybe we should go look at Cousin’s place,” I hear her say. “Maybe she went there.”
My mom, still wanting to interrogate, stops mid-sentence.
“Come Mom.” She pulls her away. “If you talk to her before we do, please tell her we are looking for her.”
He agrees and they get in the car and leave.
I feel better for just seeing them at least.
I run back to my seat and await his verdict.
He finishes his smoke and joins me in the living room. He asks for my phone again. I unlock and give it back to him. He already went through all my pics; all my chats and call logs were deleted, so there is nothing incriminating left. Nothing to worry about.
But I have forgotten about Facebook.
He goes on my profile and scrolls down through all my updates. The most innocent photo catches his attention, because as fate so has it, a guy that I probably saw about 10 years ago, commented on it and that is the comment that still lingers underneath the photo. “You are still as beautiful as when I last saw you.”
“Who is this man?!”
“A friend from school. I don’t know when last I saw him.” Here we go again…
His fury flares up again and this time I know there is no calming him down. I have to escape!
I run to the kitchen and I grab a thick cast iron pan still on the stove – with sausage from the residents’ previous night’s meal still in it – and I take a swing at him.
“If you come any closer, I will HIT you with it!” Now I am the one that is angry. I have been obedient in this traumatic affair for long enough!
He ducks and I race backwards.
The usual clients and friends are quite settled in the garage. I pass them and they know not to comment or ask a thing.
“Where would you run? Put down the thing,” he tries to calm me down. I know I cannot give in. I have to run like my life depends on it. That is the only way.
I still have the pan in my hand. He now gets irritated as I am embarrassing him in front of people that have to look up to him. Respect him. I d0 not care. They also know who he is and what he is capable of…
I get through the first iron gate that leads to the front of the house. I pull it closed. If he wants to come through it, he has to run into the house first, to get the key to unlock it. This may buy me some time.
Still gathering my thoughts on the way out, he makes a request again. “Come back inside.”
I know that pretentious composure. It cannot be trusted.
I step back through the second gate. “Where are you going with the pan?!” I look at it and throw it back at him, through the gate’s railings.
I turn and literally run for my life.
I hear him shout at his guys: “Catch her and kill her!”
I run down the long street and I turn to see if they are on their way yet. A few of his guys are standing on the corner, probably watching which turn I am about to take. I had to make a split-second decision: I could run to my cousins who stay only a few streets away, but those repercussions I would not be able to take on myself. He would kill them too.
I rather decide to take the road which leads to his mom’s new home. Maybe they will think I am running to her house. But I’m not.
I run relentlessly and reach the river and I pray to God to help me, to give me strength to continue. My lungs painful, as I deeply gasp for air. My body still sore, my legs could not carry me.
I stop. Maybe I should just give up. Surrender and let him kill me.
…But my kids! I never said goodbye to them. I pray again: “God, please give me strength!”
I start running again, and I see a taxi standing at the pavement, busy loading people. I run towards it and jump in. In my jacket’s pocket I still have R6 change. I hand it over and burst into silent tears. I know there are eyes fixed on me, but I don’t care what people think of me at that moment. They probably made their own assumptions when they saw the state I was in. I look through the windows to see if the guys are coming.
We leave and they are nowhere in sight yet. I remember the R20 in my shoe and turn to the driver. “Do you have a phone I may use please?” I give him the R20, but he shakes his head. He knows what is going on and he won’t take a cent for helping me.
I phone my sister. “I’m in a taxi. Get me at the corner by the school!” I know she will react immediately. We have watched many programs with ordeals like this before. We know what to do in situations like these.
Suddenly his car passes the taxi. At high speed. The car is loaded with guys, he is driving. I know they will wait for me where I am supposed to get off. I phone my sister again. Drive past! Get me on this corner! I am getting out now!”
I am hesitant to get out. What if the taxi drives on and they come back, catching me right here, exposed?
But then I see my Mom’s car and I shout out loud in pure delight! “Stop! Here!” They drive like animals and almost have an accident themselves. I run and get in the car.
I duck down on the backseat and my cry is spontaneous. “I can’t take it anymore!”
My sister shouts at my mom to take a different route. She turns towards me. “This time, we are taking you to the police station,” she says sternly. This time I do not argue.
We cannot go to the police station in our area, as we know the guys are roaming the streets at the moment, so we go to another one, they will never guess.
I open a case against this man that I earnestly loved for almost five years of my life. One that fathered my youngest child. All this time I couldn’t get myself to do it, because I was scared he would get out one day and kill me. But now I know he will kill me regardless…
Something had to be done!
The case and the interdict against him sound like the end to all this misery, but it was just an ignition of the terror that was to follow…
It was only the beginning of my fight… back.