Busi lay in bed in the dark, frightened by the emptiness and silence around her. Usually she would hear her granny’s soft snoring. She reached for her cell phone and sent an SMS to her mother. “Gogo has had a heart attack. You must come quickly, Mama. You must!”
Busi pressed SEND and then lay back heavily against the pillows. She imagined her mother, somewhere in Jozi, being woken by the sound of her buzzing phone. As she lay, she gently stroked her belly with one hand. She could feel no movement. The baby must be asleep, she thought.
Busi stared for a long while at her cell phone, willing an answer from her mother. None came. She fell into a deep and dreamless sleep.
Busi woke up with a jolt. Her heart skipped a beat. It was a beep from her cell phone that had woken her.
“Mama!” Busi studied the text message on the phone before her:
I will be there soon my daughter. Stay strong! Do not lose hope!
Busi read the message over and over before replying:
But I am not strong Mama. You must come. You must come. Now.
No reply came then.
As daylight filtered through the gaps in the shack walls, Busi stood up and slowly washed herself. She tidied the whole house, stripped her grandmother’s bed and washed all her linen. Then she went outside to hang up the sheets, which smacked and tugged in the wind as she pegged them on the line.
She was still outside when a message finally arrived. All it said was:
I will come
Mrs Mathabane, the neighbour who had travelled with her grandmother in the ambulance, came back later that morning.
“Your gogo is comfortable,” she said. But then, clicking her tongue, she added as she walked out, “Your poor grandmother. It’s you who have caused this. It’s all been too much trouble for her to deal with. Too much.”
Busi looked down at the floor and bit her lower lip. Shaking her head, Mrs Mathabane walked away, shutting the door firmly behind her.
Busi sat slumped in a chair all morning. Sometime in the afternoon her friends came to the door and knocked softly. Busi did not move.
“Hey, Busi!” came Lettie’s voice through the door, “Open up. We heard about your granny. Hey, Busi! Open up and let us in.”
Still Busi did not move.
“Hey, Busi!” This time it was Ntombi’s voice. “Let us in. We are all here. We brought you something.”
Busi ignored her, resting her head on the back of the armchair and closing her eyes.
“Hey, Busi!” Busi recognised Asanda’s voice. “We’re getting hungry and cold out here. Let us in. We’re not going away until you do.”
There was silence for a moment, then Asanda added, “And if we all catch cold, it will be your fault.”
Busi heard a faint giggle from someone.
“Come on,” said Lettie. “We’re freezing out here.”
With a sigh Busi stood up from the chair and moved towards the door.
“OK,” she said, her voice heavy, “I’m coming.”
Busi opened the door and her three friends all tumbled in. She hadn’t wanted to open up, but suddenly her home seemed lighter, brighter as they all spun around her, hugging her and all talking at once. Despite herself, Busi couldn’t help smiling a little.
“A cake!” said Lettie, producing a white box from under her arm. “We brought a cake.”
“Shame your gogo is so sick,” said Lettie with a frown. “We wanted her to have some.”
“Are you alone here?” asked Ntombi. “Is your mother not back yet?”
“She’s coming tomorrow,” said Busi, lying. She did not want their sympathy.
Ntombi opened the box to show her the squares of chocolatey, creamy cake inside.
“You forgot my birthday,” said Ntombi, pretending to be cross, and then, laughing, “but we didn’t forget you!”
Asanda boiled the kettle and made tea, and the others sat down on chairs and on Busi’s granny’s unmade bed. Busi listened as they chattered on, telling her all about who had been getting up to what at school.
“You hear Asanda’s in love?” joked Lettie. Asanda smiled and looked at the floor.
“Wow, Asanda not fighting back and denying the story? It must be true,” said Busi, trying hard not to seem down.
“It’s true, all right,” said Ntombi. “You will have to meet him.”
Busi tried to look interested. But it was a huge effort. There was only one thing now she really wanted to know.
The girls looked at each other. “Fine,” Ntombi and Lettie said at once.
“I haven’t seen him for a while. He used to bring me school notes. But since I’m not writing the exams this year I haven’t seen him since that night.” She took a deep breath. “Is he going out with Asisipho?”
The girls looked at each other. “I think it’s more the case that Asisipho went out with him for a little bit,” said Asanda, and the others laughed.
“What do you mean?” asked Busi, her heart beating faster.
“Poor Asisipho really likes Unathi,” said Asanda. “And they did date a few weekends. But it’s over now. I don’t think Unathi’s heart was really in it.”
“I think Unathi’s heart was broken by somebody else,” said Lettie, looking at Busi. “Someone who rushed away before he played his set at that party, and since then has been avoiding him.”
“Oh, Lettie,” said Busi. “Do you really think that he’s still interested in me?”
“I honestly don’t know,” said Lettie. “You haven’t been very nice to him, have you?”
“Can I put a piece of cake here for your granny?” asked Ntombi quickly – kind Ntombi, changing the subject.
“We need to go,” said Lettie. “We need to go and do that revision for Geography tomorrow.”
And with a flurry they left, and Busi was alone again.
She sat wondering about Unathi. Now he would only be thinking of exams, no doubt, exams that would be his passport to a whole new life next year, very different from Busi’s. All of her friends – they were like birds ready to fly, ready to soar into the sky and taste freedom at last. All except Busi.
“I can’t do it, Mom,” Busi said into the empty silence of the shack. I can’t keep going. Why don’t you come?”
The baby kicked her hard and she winced, holding her stomach.