It was a stormy Saturday afternoon. Busi sat alone in her grandmother’s armchair, holding her stomach as if to protect the baby growing inside her. The light was dim as she watched the rain pelting down outside. It had been raining all week and their shack was leaking. The bucket she had placed below the most rusted section of the corrugated-iron roof wasn’t much help. Everything was damp and cold and uncomfortable. The plop … plop … plop … of the water droplets hitting the bucket made it hard to sleep at night; that and the cough that racked her granny’s thin, frail body.
Sleepless nights made Busi so tired and depressed that she could hardly concentrate at school and her marks were slipping. If she didn’t make a big effort now, she wouldn’t pass Matric. But somehow the weekends, when her friends were out having fun without her, were even more depressing than weekdays. It was not like they didn’t invite her along. The truth was that when she was with them, surrounded by their laughter and listening to their holiday plans, she felt even worse – like a stranger, even to herself. She knew what she would be doing in her holiday: she would be looking after a baby. Her life was about to change forever, while they would go on being young and carefree. No, it was better to be alone sometimes.
Just then Lettie’s SMS popped into her inbox:
Cum join us. Talkin bout matric dance plans
Busi quickly replied:
Then she pressed SEND.
She was going to put the phone down, but she hesitated. Instead she started scrolling through her old messages until she found it: the first ever SMS she had got from Parks:
Hey babe – had the best time – EVA
It was strange to remember the thrill she felt when she first received it, when Parks was still the cool older guy paying her compliments, not the father of her baby. The SMS had popped into her inbox the evening of the day she met him, the day she jumped out of that broken window at school and he drove by in his taxi, Loyiso booming out of the speakers … and she had climbed inside. The beginning of their affair seemed so long ago now.
Her heart still skipped a beat when she read it. But almost instantly she was filled with sadness. Her Sugar Daddy Parks – oh so sweet in those first months – taking her to fancy restaurants, buying her gifts, treating her like a princess. Why had he turned so sour and angry when she fell pregnant – even angrier when she refused to have an abortion?
Now all she had were his old SMSes. She should have deleted them, wiped him out of her life completely – that’s what her girlfriends and Unathi had urged her to do. But she just couldn’t. Not yet, when there might still be a chance. For what? For him to leave his wife?
Lettie had shaken her head. “Never. Give it up, Busi. Why would you want him back, anyway, after how he treated you?”
Even though she knew it would upset her, she made herself read his last SMS. It still made her shudder:
Get rid of the baby. Just do it.
The nice Parks who had loved and spoilt her had disappeared completely. Instead that horrible Parks was out there somewhere, wanting her baby gone. She was alone and vulnerable. If only her mom were here to protect her, not so far away in Jozi. Her granny needed protecting too. There wasn’t even a proper lock on their door. If Parks wanted to get in it would be easy.
Busi looked out at the rain again. She tried to slip her cell phone into the pocket of her jeans, but she couldn’t do it any more, even though they were stretch denim – she was gaining weight by the day. The top button had to be undone now and she had to wear long, loose shirts and tops pulled down to cover the large safety pin that kept the zip from slipping down.
Busi closed her eyes, and leant back her head. She just wanted to escape into sleep, to curl up under a blanket and forget about everything. She was beginning to nod off when the door banged open and icy rain swept in on the winter wind. Seeing her grandmother in the doorway, wrestling with a buckled umbrella and a large bag of groceries, Busi leapt up. Jumping over the puddle at the door, she grabbed the umbrella and held it over her granny while she stepped inside.
“You should have woken me this morning so I could come with you,” said Busi as she shook the umbrella and closed it.
The harsh wind cut into her face.
“Come, shut the door quickly,” said the old lady, tugging on Busi’s arm with her thin, frail hand.
A moment later the women had managed to secure the door shut. They stood facing each other, the young and the old, shaking off the raindrops. Busi shivered. The rain had drenched her in a matter of seconds.
“The shops are far and you need your rest,” said Busi’s granny, putting down the shopping bag and walking slowly towards the armchair.
Busi helped her grandmother out of her navy blue coat and plumped up the cushions as the old lady eased her aching body into the chair. Then she bent down to remove her granny’s sodden shoes from her feet and rubbed them dry with a towel. Her grandmother’s feet were gnarled and small. How could they keep walking the distances they did every day? She looked up at her grandmother with concern. What would I do if Gogo got sick now, or even died, Busi thought anxiously.
“I’ll make you a cup of tea,” said Busi, turning to light the gas and putting on the kettle. She tried to control the wave of fear as she poured out two hot cups of tea and ladled in the five spoonfuls of sugar she knew her granny liked. Her granny was the only person she had right now. What if something happened to her? “Here you are, Gogo,” she said gently, placing the cup on a table nearby.
“Thank you, my child,” said her grandmother, taking the hot cup between both her hands to warm them. Then, after a moment, she added, “Have you heard anything more from your mother?”
Busi shook her head. Her mother had promised to come for the birth. But it was right now that she needed her. Her tea tasted bitter, like the disappointment that she felt.
Her grandmother sipped her tea slowly and smiled weakly at her. “You must not worry too much, Busi,” she said softly. “Your mother will come. She will be here when the baby is born.”
Busi looked away, frowning, trying to stop the tears from coming. Even my own mother is not here for me when I need her, she thought angrily.
As if reading her thoughts her grandmother spoke again. “Your mother is my daughter, Busi. And I know her. If she is not here there is a good reason. Perhaps she will lose her job if she comes now. She is strong and good. Just like you are. You will be that kind of mother. Don’t lose hope. She will come.”
Busi stood up. She didn’t want to hear any more. She excused herself, saying that she was tired and wanted to lie down. On her bed, behind her curtain, Busi let the tears roll down her cheeks. She closed her eyes and there was Parks with that smile and that look in his eye that had made her heart beat faster. She remembered the sensation of his firm, warm lips on hers. She remembered the feeling of his hands running over her body, touching her most secret and hidden places.
But then she remembered the nights in the sleazy hotels and that other Parks: the crazy Parks who had screamed at her when he found out she was pregnant, the Parks who had dropped her at the doctor to have an abortion and then driven off, leaving her alone. She could see him smiling down at her, then sneering at her, sharing a joke with his wife about what a silly little girl she was. And when those unwanted thoughts came rushing in, tears came too and Busi let them. She could taste them, bitter and salty on her lips.
“You stupid, stupid girl,” said a voice in her head, over and over again. It was her inner voice, the voice of regret, but it echoed the voice of Parks. It belonged as much to her as to him. Where was he now?