Busi kept walking for a long time, her eyes fixed on the pavement. Eventually she reached a shopping mall where she found a taxi going in the direction of her home.
Busi fumbled in the pocket of her coat and found a collection of coins. It was enough to pay for her fare.
“Hayi xeko!” said a woman to Busi as she squeezed in next to her in the taxi. The woman clicked her tongue.
Busi looked down at her hands. She saw now that they were covered in dirt, grass and dried mud. Pieces of twigs and dried leaves were stuck in her braids, and she absent-mindedly pulled at them.
Busi sighed and looked down into her lap. Her gogo’s yellow winter coat was covered in mud stains.
I suppose they think I’ve been drinking, or sleeping in the bushes, getting up to no good, thought Busi to herself.
She didn’t care. She sat slumped in her seat, holding her bag loosely on her lap. Her body felt battered, and her breasts still felt full and uncomfortable. How strange to feel her arms so empty. They had never before felt so empty, so light.
When the taxi came to a stop in her neighbourhood Busi stepped down onto the street. She looked around for a moment to make sure there was nobody around that she knew and then she began to walk in the direction of her house.
She was concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other, her head down, watching her feet move from under her – heel toe, heel toe – when suddenly she became aware of a vehicle moving slowly alongside her in the street.
Busi turned her head to one side, and blinked at it from behind her dangling braids. It was Parks’s wife’s car! Thandi was in the driver’s seat, with the window down.
Instantly Busi began to walk faster. Parks was in the passenger seat. As the car got closer to her he leaned across the driver’s seat and started shouting through the open window.
“You’ve had the baby!” he yelled. “You’ve had the baby, haven’t you? We went to the hospital. Where is it?”
Busi gathered all the strength she had left and, trailing her bag from one hand, she began to run as fast as she could.
Behind her she heard the car accelerate.
“What have you done with our baby?” she heard Thandi’s voice screaming after her.
Busi ducked down an alleyway and ran between the houses, turning down narrow streets and running deeper and deeper into a maze of small lanes until she could no longer hear Parks.
She stopped for a moment and leant, panting, behind an outside toilet in someone’s yard. She looked around then, unsure of where she was.
“Busi! What are you doing here?”
Busi looked around quickly and searched, with relief, for the familiar voice.
“Unathi!” she said, turning towards him as he walked towards her, smiling. It was not the first time he had appeared just when she needed him the most. “Unathi,” she said again, watching his expression change as he became aware of her dishevelled appearance, “you’ve got to help me.”
“Come,” said Unathi.
Busi realised then that it was still early, and Unathi must be on his way to school. Maybe he even had an exam to write. But Unathi didn’t hesitate for a moment.
“Come with me, Busi,” he said, placing a reassuring arm around her shoulder. “Come, this way.” Unathi led Busi quickly to his house and opened the door for her.
“It’s OK,” he said, “my dad has already left for work. There’s no one here.”
Unathi closed and locked the door behind them, and then took Busi’s arm and led her to an armchair. Busi sank down into it and closed her eyes.
Unathi took a bottle of Coke from the fridge, poured Busi a large glass and gave it to her. “Drink this,” he urged her as he pushed it into her hand. “You look like you could do with some sugar.”
Busi sipped the Coke slowly and gratefully, feeling a little strength returning to her body.
“Tell me what’s happened,” said Unathi after a moment. Then he paused, and looked at Busi carefully. “You’ve had the baby, haven’t you?” He couldn’t be sure, as Busi was still wearing her gogo’s large coat.
Busi sat in the chair, her body slumped. She sipped and nodded slightly.
“But where is the baby now?” asked Unathi, alarmed. “What have you done, Busi?”
“Don’t you need to get to school?” answered Busi. Her voice was tired.
“Never mind that,” said Unathi, coming to kneel beside Busi, and looking anxiously into her face. Perhaps he did love her still.
“Where is your baby, Busi?” he asked again.
“Safe,” said Busi. She looked intently into Unathi’s face. Then, after a long pause, knowing that she could trust him, she added, “But Parks is out there, Unathi. And he’s angry. He’s after me, Unathi. Him and his wife, they want the baby. They want to take the baby away from me.” Busi began to cry softly.
Unathi sat on the armrest of Busi’s chair and put his arm around her. He patted her shoulder to comfort her. “It’s OK, Busi,” he said softly.
She had imagined Unathi’s arms around her in the last few months, but not like this – not when she felt so tired, so utterly spent.
“Listen, Busi,” he said, “I will go to your house alone, and see if Parks is anywhere around. I’ll get you some things if you like.” He brushed some leaves off her back. “You must stay here. Then you can rest, have a bath, and I’ll make you something to eat.”
He stood up and looked down at her. “But, Busi, you need to tell me what you have done with your baby. You haven’t done anything silly, have you?”
“No, no, Unathi,” said Busi. “I promise you she is safe.” But she couldn’t tell him yet what she had done. Had she just made the biggest mistake of her life, giving her baby away to strangers?