Ntombi’s head gently banged on the taxi window and her eyes flew open. She began ferociously rubbing the throbbing spot on her forehead, sighing, as the heavy feeling she had momentarily forgotten, settled within her chest. She glanced at the backs of the people around her. One guy had a mess of dark, curly hair she had always found attractive. The lady next to him had long black dreadlocks similar to her own, except the lady’s had been embroidered into this tapering beehive, giving her a regal appearance.
Ntombi began twirling her own locks and thought about the beauty of being in a taxi coming from Gugulethu, with a multitude of skin tones. She was thrust back to memories of her and her mother packed into a taxi, a collage of brown faces staring back at her as she sat facing the passengers in the space between the driver and the lady who’d count the money. Some days it’d been her mom, others not. Nowadays nobody would dare trust her mother to.
A pang of guilt engulfed her and she shuddered away the recent memory of a skeleton skin figure with black teabags underneath her eyes. Ntombi gave a bitter chuckle as she debated about when her mother, Xoli, she called her now, would finally notice that she was gone. She wouldn’t be able to find Ntombi that was for sure. She’d need to know something about her daughter to do that.
The taxi hit yet another road bump, triggering an eye-roll from Ntombi.
The streets were littered with them now, the most irritating part of the new laws. She guessed that times had changed from when the working class were forced to become desensitized to the road dangers they faced as the middle class frowned upon the very thought of public transport. She understood the necessity of having the taxis in good condition, the cameras everywhere and the heavy security in train stations, since the remodelling of the trains. But not the speedbumps.
People even opted to take the trains, purely to avoid them. So she guessed that strategically getting people to take trains meant she could see the stars clearer at night, and boy did she need that. That was a reason she was glad that with Global warming refusing to be described as a merely a theory by some and with the deafening absence of running water, most people had become environmentally conscious. Nobody wanted a repetition of ’28, where a tsunami demolished the Camps Bay – Sea Point area, ironically followed by a drought in ’34. And this was just the incidents in South Africa.
Ntombi’s thoughts fell once more upon the stars and how they had always brought a wave of calm over her. They reminded her of herself; little bits thought to be distant but making up one person, one whole. Their light traveling for years, searching to meet our eyes. Whenever Ntombi felt lost, as she often did, she felt as if she was searching. When she grappled with what reality meant, what is was. When it felt as if she was the only one truly comprehending the world, seeing it for what it was, a microcosm of something bigger.
Then she’d disappear into her head and attempt to get out and it’d feel like she was merely dreaming, like nothing was real. No matter how many times she’d touch the droplets on the kitchen window, the smooth surface of the counter, the meaty smell of beef two minute noodles humming in the microwave. Sometimes she was just floating, detached from reality, she’d feel herself unable to perceive any of it.
What Ntombi dreaded most however, was when she couldn’t feel herself. When she’d sailed all the way out of her body, even her mind and it was as if she was watching herself. Every action she took was pre-programmed, just what was expected of her. She’d walk into school, the enticed chatter and distinct laughter echoing down the hallways, clichés of students preoccupied with trivial matters. And Ntombi would just edge onto the outskirts of one of them and just stand there, staring till a bell would jerk her to the next destination, the next instruction, the next execution.
At home it was the same, except it was empty. A space for her to travel to lands of ecstasy, where her dad was home, her mom still had that glimmer in her eyes and being wrapped in her hugs was the symbol of comfort. The smell of KFC as a treat would waft into her nose bringing an unexpected excitement. Sometimes Ntombi would imagine she was completely elsewhere, at a concert performing for millions of fans, living in her head had its pleasures too.
Yesterday however, she had walked into a shell of a home once more and went to fetch the little money her mother left lying around when she’d gotten drunk and left her reeking clothes on the floor in the afternoon. She fumbled the jackets, scratched the pockets and found nothing. She let out a huge grunt as her shoulders subconsciously tensed and her breathing grew shallow. She allowed herself to let out an even bigger grunt and that’s when Ntombi’s flip switched.
She couldn’t have cared less that all the big corporations had fired thousands of employees as technology was rapidly advancing and was more efficient and economically sound investment. She didn’t care that her mother had studied for numerous years as a Chartered Accountant and had been deemed useless by a society that doesn’t need humans. She was tired of being a parent to herself, of having to stay in one piece as Xoli shredded into unrecognisable fragments.
So Ntombi packed her bags, grabbed her monthly train ticket and the little money she had saved up and left. She had always thought she’d finish school, but instead decided to do for once what she felt like. She was living her life, making decisions, creating a realty she could not escape. And there she was, in a taxi and after a day of travelling, she was finally close to her destination.
Then she felt it begin. That feeling that connected her to millions of people. Things had gotten better in the world. Wars were rare, people more accepting, teachers paid higher salaries for working in disadvantaged areas, scholarships available to anybody who needed them, overeating killing far more people than malnourishment, all these things yet there was this eerie rate that kept growing as the years went by.
More and more people were on antidepressants. More and more people were taking their lives and philosophers gave many theories as to why and Ntombi had found these incredibly interesting. One in particular was how these feelings would befall upon one by having so much pain or by having none and experiencing that as the pain. Ntombi had both.
And as she looked to the side, watching as the rain slapped the windows and the skies turned a dark grey as if they were closing in on her. A restless, anxious empty sensation followed by a fluttered of butterflies across her chest crept in, then it stamped and crumbled into a heavy rock. Her head began spinning; she had no semblance of control.
The taxi was in Mowbray now and a barely audible whisper left her lips. Then she tried again, willing the driver to stop the taxi. He did and barely glanced her way as she rested her arm on each seat, stumbling her way out.
The minute the door opened, a gust of cold wind and water hit her face and she closed her eyes and gently pushed her shoulders back. She then stepped down onto the now dark grey shimmering concrete floor and pushed the door shut, catching a glimpse of herself on the window. She drew a quick breath in as she glimpsed at the unrecognisable figure. Who was it? Was it really her? But she didn’t believe it was, she didn’t feel it could be.
Her breaths grew hurried and as she began staggering, tears rushed out her eyes and she couldn’t stop them. Instead she began shaking and shrivelled onto the floor to stop her head from spinning, to contain herself, to let go. With the cold no longer pleasant, soaked and drenched, Ntombi lay, a heart still beating but with a fractured mind.