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Arja Salfranca
Born in Spain in 1971 to a South African mother and a Spanish father, Arja Salafranca came to SA at age five where she lived until recently (she has relocated to London). She holds a BA degree from Wits University and has won several awards for her work including the 1999 Sanlam Award for a poetry collection, “A Life Stripped of Illusions”, the 1999 Sanlam Award for a short story, “Couple on the Beach”, and third prize in the Herstoria fiction award for “The Love Accountant”. She has been published in local journals, anthologies and internet sites and a second collection of poetry, “The Fire in Which we Burn”, was published by Dye Hard Press in 2000. By profession a journalist, she has worked on community newspapers, as a feature writer on a home focused magazine, and was a sub-editor at the Saturday Star in Johannesburg for four years.
  Arja Salfranca


Arja Salafranca


I dreamed about you again last night. You were warm and funny as you helped me with some problem I had. Just like old times.
Except you did not like to help me with my problems, preferring to stay out of whatever would disturb the stasis.
I wondered then about the patterns in our lives and what brings us to the decisions we make, the people we choose to know. Whether we do it consciously or whether the reason’s hidden somewhere back in our brains, somewhere that’s not easy to find.
I dreamed about you, and all of the next day I remembered what it was like to have sex again. Your body was so strong and I held it often in my mind as people came to talk to me or tell me something. When I sat in training the trainer’s words were lost. I remembered you between my legs, your hands and arms draped over my body, the hairy feel of your naked chest, your neutral sweet breath.
It lasted only a day because I soon shut out of my mind what it had been like to have you as a lover, no matter how briefly. You’re almost forgotten now, a hazy fuzzy memory. There are bonds between us still, I can’t ignore you entirely. But such are the patterns in our lives.
I wondered how it was that we came together, only to part so soon after. And I wondered whether we’d met in another time in our lives whether that would have made the difference. What if we had been different people, or what if we’d met sooner or later - before you were so hurt? Would the patterns of life have eddied around us, swallowing us into the inevitability of the situation anyway?
It’s so easy to speculate now when this no longer matters, and when we’ve both had time enough to step back from the great wound that was us.
I wonder about you, it’s occasional. And sometimes when I’m at work and the phone rings I get that old rush of enthusiasm and I wonder if it could be you.
But it is never you. If it is a man, it is not you, it is another man or woman wanting something, and I provide it.
But what if we’d been able to make the great leap, cross the divide of who we are. Could we have forced the barriers; the borders of our personalities, got on with the business of trying to find the happiness we both knew was out there. Had to be out there.
When we were busy breaking up I thought about time. I was reading One by Richard Bach. He was exploring other possibilities of living, how we can simply leap into another pattern, how the forks in the road are so arbitrary. One decision affects us our entire lives. Or if he wasn’t saying that, that’s what I got from him.
It was a difficult time then. Just before Christmas, and you had run off to the coast with a female colleague of yours. I didn’t know if we were ending or simply starting something else. Perhaps a friendship out of the tangle of what we had become. I had never been so optimistic, strong, so determined to be cheerful. I had to be, I had to convince myself I could go on without you.
I could, I discovered that. It was only later that I discovered I missed you, and did not want to go on without you. But by then it was too late. I had hurt you, or you had hurt me. We were both good at retaliating. Our downfall?
The trouble was that I met you as you were coming out of your first real relationship. She’d hurt you hard, and you could not feel for some time. But I could not understand that. You were confused, you are confused, and that flummoxed me too. It does still.
There was a time years ago, when we might have met at a luncheon you attended. I was planning to go too, but I was studying. I did not have the money, as students invariably don’t, and so our coming together waited a few years. That was before you met her, and I speculate over it. The irony is at that same luncheon you met the friends I would get to know later on. And they would introduce us.
‘Do you believe in fate?’ you asked me that first night we went out. And I had to say no.
I said, ‘For me fate is a witch clothed in black, hooked nose, warts, a hood. I can’t believe in it.’ I spoke to you about the concept of a Higher Self, that we all have something in us, higher than us. Of attracting to yourself what you need, good and bad. You were intrigued with the concept, you said you’d have to think about it, but that it made sense. You didn’t like the idea of not being in control of your life, which is what believing in fate presupposes. Neither did I.
I introduced you to something that I would question over a year later. Things now seem more predetermined and destined as I sit here, reflecting, noticing the patterns of our lives that came together, merging for a while.
Things moved after that first night we attended a wedding. Friends of ours had long since left for home by the time we emerged from our talking.
I had never had a man before. Of course I had been licked and sucked and told by men in the moonlight that I had beautiful breasts. (They could not see the scars in the night light.) But I had never had a man or wanted one as much as I would grow to want you. And I had never felt desire for another man who had almost succeeded in taking me to bed, surrendering my old-fashioned virginity.
You were different.
I knew it then, that first night when you only left near three in the morning.


Your name was Robert. A name that suited you. I looked it up in my baby’s book of names. From the old German Hrodebert, it means ‘fame’ and ‘bright’. You were an artist, you were going to be famous. And you were indefatigably enthusiastic as a friend of mine once described you. Bright, they’d say.
We had been going out a few months. We both hadn’t defined it. A night lying next to each other in bed when you were high after a braai you’d given didn’t count. You’d wanted me to lie with you the whole night. But I couldn’t. Not then. I thought I shouldn’t. When everything in me was aching, asking for it.
But we were going nowhere. ‘He hasn’t even kissed you!’ the guy I worked with exclaimed, and I pretended you’d tried.
One day a fortune teller told me you would be the man I would marry. Maybe from then I changed, expected more, got more frustrated when you still didn’t touch me, and I looked in the mirror and thought I must be ugly. But her words seemed to confirm all that I had been feeling about you, and I became convinced of the truth of it. I had forgotten all I’d told you about fate, and I was falling deep. There was nothing to stop me.
Even the doom and gloom message from the Tarot cards did not do it. Remember that mutual friend, Lesley, who was responsible for us knowing each other? It was Lesley who read the cards, and did not say a word about us when they came up against everything that was about to happen, and still I went along with it.
But I was not well either. I looked to you for security, who knows why I thought you might be able to provide it. Perhaps because I believed as intrinsically and idealistically in love as you did. And perhaps because I was so tired, so tired from trying to get above it all, from earning a living, being a success, trying to get beyond the past. But I got so tired when I was with you, always sleeping, or trying to, snatching it wherever I could. I had never been like that before.
It’s no use going into the feminist I had blossomed into at 16, 17. Oh yes, you and I argued about women changing their names after marriage. I railed against it, while you said if a woman loved a man she’d do it for him.
But we were talking in abstracts. Mostly everything promising had died by then.
I was no longer the feminist I’d wanted to be as a teenager. I was 23, and I said you were wrong, but I had been working for a bit now. And I had grown used to arms around me, expressions of ‘sweetie’ or ‘lovey’ as strange men were introduced to me and thought it their due. I did not believe it was worth fighting against now.
And I was no feminist when it came to you. You called me a strong woman, even after I’d confessed my sins, but you led it all. I was too scared of it ending if it didn’t. There’s another irony, of course, that I ended it when I could no longer stand it. But I’m getting ahead of myself.


We made love on my dead grandmother’s birthday.
We had gone down to your aunt’s place in a little town in the Orange Free State. We wanted to be alone. We wanted privacy to build up to what we both knew was inevitable.
It had been six months since we’d started going out. You’d slept over once on a pretense of not wanting to be around while your parents’ chain-smoking visitors from America were in the house. We had lain together then, getting to know each other’s bodies, techniques. But I was already starting to compare you to other techniques I’d known.
We had gone camping after that, shared a tent. You’d wanted to do it then. I’d refused.
‘I don’t know what’s happening between us,’ I told you. ‘I don’t want to do it till I know.’
But you didn’t know either. We talked long into the night. You were so hesitant and uncertain about starting up another relationship. All you knew was that you didn’t want to get hurt again. Could I understand that?
How could you throw me away like that, I thought.
Despite that, a week later I went away with you to that sleepy dorp, and we made love. You were gentle that night, you were always gentle, but that night even more so.
I was conned into thinking this all mattered. It did to me. But the next morning when I looked for the tell-tale signs of blood, there were none. I hadn’t bled. I had hurt as you pushed in, and you’d been afraid to go in too far, to hurt me more. It saddened me the next morning, that there was no sign to indicate what I’d done.
When I thought I spotted a drop of brown on some clothing, I told you. But you were non-committal, cold, already getting ready for the day. I lay back on the mattress, alone with my deed, my feelings. You were already gone.

‘Ever since I was twelve I wanted a girlfriend,’ you told me that weekend in the Free State. ‘And until I was twenty-five, nothing. Then I met Bianca, and I thought that was it. You know, I was thinking the other day that it no longer hurts? For months and months there was a pain whenever I thought of her. It has finally eased.’ I murmured encouragement.
You continued, ‘But it’s got to be right. I’ve got to be sure. I don’t think I could ever love as intensely again. I don’t think I could give of myself like that ever again.’
I listened to you and I sighed. And later that night we made love again. And you were less cautious because now you knew how far you could go. But already you were cold, refusing to stroke me in the way others had. I took this to mean you were not attracted to me, but I did not say much. When I asked why you didn’t kiss me, you tried it, but it didn’t work. By daylight you did not touch me at all.
We made love a few times after that. You told me you did not love me and still looked at other women. I felt alone that night, despite you being there. And I resolved that we were never going to sleep together again.
And we never did, but it wasn’t the way I’d planned.
Friends ask if I was in love with you by then, and I always reply no. ‘I’m very fond of you,’ you told me that night when I was crying because you were so brutal with your honesty.
I had been fond of you too. But by then I was obsessed, I wanted you as I’d never wanted another human being. The sex wasn’t great, as I would tell you a couple of months later, in fact it was awful, but there was something about being next to you, with you, talking to you, listening to you, that made me certain I should carry on, even if you did not bring me to orgasm, or you thought I just ‘lay there’. These things could be worked through.
But there again Bianca reared her head again. You remembered her all the time.
‘That was one thing that was right between us,’ you commented. ‘But maybe that’s all it was - lust, sex, the physical.’ I couldn’t answer your queries. I didn’t know myself.
I could only swirl around in my own complicated emotions and hopes and watch it all drain away. I didn’t know why you could not love, but that much I had now figured out.
And there was your friend Erin. The one who held me that Saturday night as I cried in his arms, him telling me you had never been attracted to me. And I believed him as I stood in the cold night, traffic shooting past us on the main road outside the bar where all three of us had come to hear music. You walked out, saw us together and said you hoped we were going to tell you what was going on.
But I believed Erin, I already thought you did not like me enough. It was over from that moment. But we carried on limping along. Never touching, never making love. When we were forced to spend a night in the same bed, the distance between us was wide. We didn’t need to close the bedroom door that night.


In the end I was the one to finish it all properly and formally.
We met in another bar, one early evening. I was rushing off to the theatre after that. I had asked that you bring along all the books I had leant you, and you had then asked if I would bring along your CDs. We made the swap, ordered drinks, and I said I could not go on like this. I had to know what was happening. I was going crazy with the indecision, the lack of any real commitment.
‘What’s the rush?’ you asked. ‘My parents took ten years to get it together.’
I didn’t feel like I had ten years to wait.


What if we had met earlier? Before Bianca, for instance. Do you think we could have made a go of it?
Was I still too afraid of men? Did you need to meet her and get hurt before you came to me and spurned what I had to offer? Perhaps we might not even have spoken if we had seen each other at that lunch? Or maybe we would have and been put off forever.
Whatever. Robert, you needed Bianca, maybe that Higher Self I convinced you about decreed it. You needed those 15 months of great sex, ‘spark’ you named it. Arguments and passion and love-making and holidays together, whatever. You chose it.
You looked like a monk the last few times I saw you, with your hair almost shaven, wearing black cardigans with hoods that intensified the aesthetic appearance. Now Lesley, tells me you’re into Buddhism, and no longer eating meat.
But that’s all I now know of you. That you’re into a Buddhist phase, like all the phrases before it, like the time you were into astral travelling or flying. I think of you, I can’t help it. But we were not in love.
That was the problem, another friend of mine commented. My friends seem to be my advisors. They were also the ones who suggested I break up with you, you were tearing me apart, I was going nuts.
We were not in love, you couldn’t fall in love because all you saw was Bianca.
You’d lost faith in love, temporarily, and I stepped into that temporary void.
And me? I couldn’t love you either. You wouldn’t let me, for a start. You thought I was desperate. Perhaps I was, perhaps not. Perhaps I glimpsed something that could have been wonderful.
But we both jumped in at the wrong time. Your patterns were swirling one way, and mine another.


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