Nomsa Lungu: Glass Doors

Jun 18, 2021 | Blog | 6 comments

As I walk up to my gate, I witness the wind wrestle with the trees. It is a cold evening but the moon remains bold and big and full, probably shining brighter than my future. Work finished late today. That annoying Indian client decided he wanted wooden doors for his house, instead of the glass he’d initially ordered because he didn’t like people looking into his life like that. And God, was the paperwork for the refund a mess! It’s the third time he’s done this and I’m starting to wonder if he’ll ever finish building his house . . . at this rate anyway.

But I’m also starting to understand him. No, not the indecisiveness but the glass doors. If I were his house, I wouldn’t want glass doors either. Yes, the people outside would get the chance to see just how beautiful I can be on the inside but they also get to see the ugly. Nobody likes the ugly. I know that because you didn’t either. And no, not the house’s ugly but my ugly. You didn’t like my ugly.

“Welcome back.” I hear the guard say. I merely nod and mumble a response.

Just as quietly as I arrived, I walk on to my room. I throw my shoes to one end of the room, my bag to the other and myself onto the bed. I am lying face up to the ceiling, where the bulb I’d flicked on earlier shines. Compared to the moon, the bulb is closer, brighter and it doesn’t make me think of you.

I sigh before sitting up because if I lay too long, I’ll fall asleep and I need to exercise and prepare for tomorrow. I don’t have the time to relax, as much that is probably what I need. Relaxing also means I’ll have to think and no matter how hard I try, my thoughts always find their way to you.

You and I met when I was eighteen and you twenty. Just like all cliché love stories, there was a zing when our eyes met. Palms were sweaty, stomachs churned. I was a meatball of nerves every time I saw you. In my head, all my sentences made sense but from my mouth, every word uttered just tumbled out in a mess.

It wasn’t just because you were strikingly handsome. I’m sure of that because the first time I ever saw you was at a football match and you were drenched in sweat. Football was not my thing but I was a month fresh into college and trying so hard not to be socially awkward. Maybe I had imagined it but when you scored that winning goal, I saw you look my way and smile. I felt my heart go up in knots, unsure of whether to smile back or just look away and pretend I hadn’t seen a thing. I did the latter. Well, I did part of the latter. I couldn’t bring myself to look away because your smile . . . your smile was enough to light up the entire city, and evidently enough to stir my heart.

“I’m going for my jog.” I announce and only my mother nods in acknowledgement.

Plugging my headsets in, I try to set my pace. I never actually play the music because I like to stay aware of the cars. I live in a quiet neighborhood but at this time, most residents are still coming back from work. I exhale sharply as the wind blows against my nose. Today is colder than most, which drowns my head with memories of you.

I hadn’t imagined the smile, you later on confessed. You said you had seen me around campus a few times, once with your cousin, my roommate. According to you, every time you had come to the room, I had been in class studying. You almost thought I was purposefully avoiding you. I wasn’t, of course. I hadn’t even known you yet. Thinking about it now makes me wonder if it was better if I had never known you at all.

“I’m Zizwa.” You had said, the same bright smile still stuck on your face.

I shook the hand you had stretched out, “I’m Mphatso.”

I remember you held my hand a little longer than necessary, with your gleaming eyes stayed on mine. I know you knew that if you had held on even a second longer, I would have forgotten how to breathe. Do you smile the same way to someone else now?

Those few minutes of being introduced to you threw me into a whirlwind of emotions. That’s all it took: a few minutes. Frankly, it scares me just how quick I was to love you. Was it because you were lovable? Was everyone so easily drawn to you? You surely must have consulted your ancestors before you met me!

I went from never noticing you to seeing you everywhere that I went. Sometimes, you even followed me to my dreams. I was confused, so much so that on a cold night like this one, when I saw you again, I thought I was hallucinating.

“Hi,” you had said, smiling and I thought Do hallucinations speak? I must have been quiet for a second too long because you added, “Are you not going to greet me back?”

“Is this another coincidence?”

“No, Patricia told me you’d be walking here.”

I’d flinched, a little taken aback. Patricia was your cousin, I knew that, but why would you have been asking her about me?

“Meeting you would be so much easier if I had your number, especially so I wouldn’t have to pretend that bumping into you was a coincidence.”

“Have you been following me?”

“Sometimes, yes.” You had rubbed the back of your neck, nervously. “But I promise you, I am not a stalker.”

I was quiet again before asking, “Why?”

“Well,” you looked to be deep in thought. Yet, the frown on your face took nothing away from your attractiveness. How could anyone be this handsome? “You never smile back. Every time I smile at you, you don’t smile back.”

My nose must have crinkled in confusion because you’d started to panic and everything else you had said after that came out in a fumble. “I’m not saying you’re obligated to smile at me . . .  I’m just- you have a beautiful smile and I’ve seen you smile at others so I was hoping, maybe . . . I- I found myself wishing you would smile at me the same way. I know that must sound weird.”

I’d been previously told that I have the worst timing but I didn’t believe it until I had chosen that very moment to burst out laughing. You chose not be offended by it, and instead laughed along with me. I’m sure people must have thought we were crazy that night because we laughed and laughed and laughed, maybe even harder than we had ever laughed before.

Just as I turn to the next street, I trip and almost sprain my ankle. The pain isn’t enough for me to conclude my jog but I massage the muscles surrounding the bone anyway. Physical pain goes away eventually. This physical pain is nothing compared to how I felt when you had decided to give up on me. I can’t blame you. I was not used to being loved so all this was new for me. You were new to me.

You found me at a time when maybe the best thing for me was to remain hidden. I knew about love but not what it was. All my life, I had been fed the wrong definition of love so I didn’t know how to love you back the way you loved me. We were young and too busy discovering our individual selves to learn each other. Does that sound like an excuse?

“I’m just not the one for you, Zee! Maybe it’s time we move on.”

“How is that only for you to decide?” I could tell you were doing your best to remain civil with me but I was pushing you to the edge. “Every time we have a disagreement, you’re always so ready to push me away!”

“Maybe because I know you’ll leave eventually . . . everyone else did.”

You had scoffed, frustrated with having to go through the same cycle again and again. That was my ugly. I wasn’t worthy of being loved. My father left. My best friend left. Even now, I could feel you were ready to leave. Every smile I had given you had been accompanied by the years of pain I had carried along with me on my back. Every time you had directed your smile towards someone else, I had convinced myself that you didn’t want me anymore, that you had changed your mind about me. I tricked myself into thinking you didn’t love me

“It’s been two years, Mpha, and every day of those two years, I have continued to choose you. Why won’t you believe me? I am not everyone else! I won’t leave you!”

Staying true to my bad timing, my tears had decided to come in hot, then. I could see how hurt you were. It was different this time. I couldn’t continue to bring you this much pain. I couldn’t continue to be the reason you were held back from finding true love . . . true joy.

“I’m tired of this back and forth.” I had finally said. “I want us to break up.”

Your face had dropped, and so had my heart, as you’d rushed towards me, ready to change my mind. I’d reclined, convinced that the only way you would be happy was without me. I had to give up on me for you.

“I can’t love you. I only know how to hurt you and that’s not fair to either of us.”

“Don’t do this, Mphatso. You know this isn’t what you want.”

I must have walked away then because I don’t remember what else you said. I remember crying the whole night. It was also cold, just like today. The stars had been shining just as bright. It was a beautiful night, not deserving of the memory attached to it.

Still, I’m reminded of the glass doors. You saw me at a time when I’d felt invisible. When you saw the ugly, I should have let you clean the house of my heart with me instead of bolting it shut and hiding it away under concrete. Maybe that way, we would have worked out.

Suddenly, my chest tightens and I forget to breathe. The tears threaten to pour down my cheeks, just like that night and I will myself to behave. There’s a couple jogging in front of me and it would be too embarrassing to cry in the middle of the street about a five-year-old break up. It wouldn’t make any sense to be crying about you when I’m the one that left you.

So, I take a few breaths and continue to jog. It might not be today but eventually, I will forget you. I have to remember to breathe without thinking of you. I have to-

“Mphatso?” I hear my name being called out, just as I pass by the man from the couple.

The lady is already gone ahead as he had stopped to tie his shoelaces. It’s gotten dark so I can’t quite make up his face but his voice . . . this voice . . .

“Mphatso?!” this man excitedly exclaims, moving towards me, most likely to see me clearly. “I was right! It is you.”

“Zizwa?” I feel the oxygen being knocked out of my lungs and I stand still, shocked as I realize this man is you. “What are you doing here?”


  1. Kwengwere

    Well, mai mwalemba. I like the style. The top 10 nomination is very well deserved. Good luck.

  2. Klthm

    Perfect 🙌🏼

  3. Bustan Sav

    Very emotional and the narrator interacts very well with the audience. The author has also tried to use two points of view; first POV (I, me, we, us) and second POV (you) which is very rare and difficult to use. The story is good.

  4. Jonathan

    Good story

  5. Thandi

    Very nice. Some expressions especially at the start of the story made me laugh. I think the author can develop her sense of humour more and let it run through her whole story if possible-she seemed to lose this at the end. I was impressed with how she linked the ‘metaphor’ of the glass door to being transparent in a relationship. In some parts language could be better eg somewhere there is an expression along the lines of ‘nerves being tied up into a meatball’, to me that could better expressed. Overall, a relatable, touching story. Left me wanting to know if there was going to be a reunion perhaps.

  6. Asinyeka

    Genius narrative


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