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Alex Smith

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

A purse of kisses (#41 Niq Mhlongo)

In high school, due to my frequently-voiced suspicion of the bondage of marriage and my absolute disinterest in millionaires, the Matric class bet that in life-after-school I would be ‘mostly likely to divorce a millionaire’, not exactly an auspicious title. It doesn’t quite have the same ring as ‘most likely to win the Sunday Times Fiction Prize’. This year I think that propitious title belongs to Niq Mhlongo, and so not straying too far from the archaic contractual union called marriage, here is a kiss from After Tears:

My eyes were fixed on her lips as she was speaking. I noticed, for the first time, that her small, sharp nose spoilt whatever beauty her face had.

‘So you want me to help you organize a longer work permit?’

‘Actually, the favour that I want to ask you is a bit more than that. What I’m asking you will require you to suspend your respect for the law and your tradition.’ She paused. ‘I want you to marry me. I’ll pay you fifteen grand.’

‘Marry you?’ I asked in a shocked tone of a voice.


I scratched my head and looked away briefly in thought. Fifteen grand was a lot of money. I only had R8 000 of Mamma’s money left, and Vee’s money would help me pay rent for the office.

‘I know we’re just friends,’ she said, looking away and then back at me, ‘but I’m desperate.’

I thought for a while, but deep in my heart I knew that I needed the cash.

‘I want to help you, Vee,’ I finally replied, ‘but imagine what would happen if I told Mama that I wanted to marry you. Although she likes you, she’d say that it’s too soon. I’m just starting out with my career.’

‘You don’t have to tell her anything. We’ll just organize two friends as witnesses and sign the papers. Then, later, we can go and file for divorce.’

‘I understand, but you know that I’m not allowed to work in the legal profession if I’ve committed a crime. Suppose our secret blows up? I’ll be in deep shit,’ I argued.

‘But no one will find out.’

‘Well, you never know, Vee,’ I said, ‘but for a good friend like you I think I’m willing to take the risk.’

‘Did I hear you right? Did you say you’ll do it?’ she asked excitedly.

Vee squeezed me in a long, warm hug and kissed my forehead.


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