You are six when you complain to your mother that you have no one to play running with and she tells you to play by yourself. What you want is for her to play running with you, but she’s busy now, and you won’t ask her because when she says no you cry and then she cries too.
You are eight when she buys you a stopwatch for your birthday. It’s so you can time yourself. You are more into running than ever. She is perfectly athletic, able to run, and jump, and climb, but you are already much, much faster than she is. You are like a little speeding bullet. And anyway, she is very busy. She is a single working mother and she has to work hard to make ends meet.
At first you just run a certain distance and you time yourself, but in order to make it into a proper competition, you make up two characters who hate each other and take it in turns to run. One of them is called Limarra, which is your middle name, and the other one is called Jacques, which is your mother’s maiden name. Limarra runs slightly faster than Jacques, but Jacques runs dirty. She tries to distract Limarra from the sidelines, throwing sticksleaves at her and sometimes, when she’s really in a mood, throwing stones. Limarra knows this is just because Jacques is jealous, and she tells her this when she’s finished her race. Sometimes she says, “I know it’s hard for you because I’m just faster than you are,” and other times she says, “There’s no need to be jealous. Not everyone can be as fast as me.” When she says things like this, Jacques pushes her in the mud. When you return home from your races, you’re sometimes covered in the stuff and your mother thinks you’re getting clumsy. You don’t tell her that Limarra was tripped up and pushed, or that Jacques held her head down while she jerked her face from side to side, scared that she would stop breathing altogether.
You are ten the day that Jacques and Limarra are able to race each other at the same time. This is what happens. First Jacques races 100 metres, and then Limarra races 100 metres, and of course, Limarra is faster, she does it in 17 seconds, which is her personal best. She says, “Don’t be sad Jacques, it’s okay to be slower than me,” and Jacques grabs Limarra by the ear and wrenches her head around so it’s under Jacques’s armpit and Jacques falls to her knees, forcing Limarra’s body down to the ground. They fight for ages, and you say, “Okay,” and, “Enough,” but they continue. And then Jacques gets up from the mud. She looks exactly the same as you, exactly the same. And she’s wearing exactly the same clothes as you. But you know she’s Jacques. Then they race. They race together, at the same time, Jacques coming in a very close second to Limarra.
When you take Jacques home, your mother screams and then starts crying. “How did you do this,” she says, over and over again. You are angry. Your mother always said she would give you a little brother or sister if she could so why can’t she love Jacques like you love her?
Your mother says you have to keep Jacques a secret, you can’t take her to school, or out running. She has to stay in the house when you go out. Your mother makes her use the makeshift yard toilet, not the house toilet. Your mother says she has to take Jacques to the sangoma. “I’ll come too then,” you say. You think your mother is going to say no, but she says yes, and all three of you go, Jacques wearing a cloth over her head so nobody recognises that she’s the spit of you. Limarra has been very quiet since Jacques appeared, and she says nothing about the trip to the sangoma. But when the sangoma asks you questions, it’s all Limarra who replies. “She pushes me in the mud,” Limarra says, “She’s extremely violent. Quite dangerous actually.”
“Yes, yes,” says the sangoma, taking notes.
“What should we do?” says your mother.
“Leave it with me,” says the sangoma.
Three days’ later the sangoma invites you all to a ritual. You, your mother, Jacques. It is held in the dead of night and when you get there the sangoma is holding two wax dolls and a big candle.
“No,” you say. Your body rushes full dread and you bend to vomit. The sangoma offers you a wooden bowl, and a cup of bitter root tea. “No.”
“No, thank you,” your mother corrects you.
You look at her and you laugh and you laugh. She is about to watch someone get killed and still she’s correcting your manners.
When the sangoma lights the candle, you bolt. You tell Jacques to do the same. For once, Limarra is not going to beat her. Limarra plants her feet square on the ground, you fall over backwards, and the sangoma and your mother drag you back into her hut while Jacques runs off into the night.
“Let her go,” your mother says.
Your mother sends out word that a dangerous person who looks exactly like her daughter is on the loose. You know people will think it’s you, but your mother is too embarrassed to say it. You don’t care. When your mother sleeps, you creep out. You find Jacques under the marula near the old pharmacy. “You have to beat her,” you say. You get out your stopwatch. Limarra takes over your body and she’s fast, she’s strong, but you plant your feet on the ground like she did, pulling her towards the earth. When Jacques reaches the eucalyptus tree finish line first, Limarra falls and cries like a dog. When Limarra gets up, Jacques is gone.
You know she won’t be back.