“We’ve lost her!” Thandi shrieked. “You stupid fool, we’ve lost her!” Parks did not point out that she was the one driving.
“Calm down, Thandi,” he said. “I tell you what. Let me take you back home. She is more likely to give the baby to me. I can still get her to listen. She still …” but he stopped. If he told Thandi that he knew Busi still had feelings for him, she would fly off the handle.
Thandi opened her mouth to say something.
“Remember, Thandi,” said Parks, “you have everything. She has nothing. She won’t want to give it to you. But she may give it to me.”
Thandi sat silently for a moment, hands on the steering wheel. Her painted nails were chipped where she had picked off the varnish.
“All right,” she said, “take me home. But come back here quickly to get my baby!” She began to cry and moved across to the passenger seat so that Parks could get in on the driver’s side.
Parks breathed a sigh of relief. Thandi was dangerous in her rages, but once she started crying the danger was over, and she would listen to what Parks said.
He drove home at speed, enjoying a sense of control now that he was behind the steering wheel. When he reached the house, he stopped at the garden gate and Thandi got out, still sniffing and dabbing her eyes. He parked Thandi’s car in the garage and got into his taxi. As he pulled out into the street he watched her letting herself into the house.
What he was about to do felt impossible. Why had Busi been alone? Where was the child? What had she done with it? And even if assuming Busi told him where it was and agreed to give it up, was it worth it? He wasn’t sure if he even wanted a baby in the house. It was bad enough being responsible for a dog, let alone a baby. How would Thandi cope with the sleepless nights? She was volatile as it was. And she wasn’t young any more. She would still want her beauty sleep and he would have to do night duty. One thing was for sure: Thandi would order him around even more than she already did.
At the same time he knew that his life would be over if he did not come home with the baby.
He was about to drive off when he heard Thandi’s voice. “Wait!” she shouted. She was running down the garden path holding a yellow crocheted blanket. “Take this, to wrap our baby in. And you have to let me know everything. Phone me, OK? And don’t come back empty-handed!”
Unathi double-locked the door of his house and stood for a minute, looking up and down the street. Parks was nowhere to be seen. With his hands deep in his pockets, he began walking casually towards Busi’s house.
He clutched the key to her door in one hand, and as he walked he kept a sharp lookout for Parks’s taxi.
“Hayi Unathi,” said a familiar voice, as he turned a corner, “why are you not at school today?”
Unathi looked up. It was a neighbour, standing in her yard, hanging her wet washing on the line.
Unathi paused, thinking fast, and then he smiled broadly. “It’s exam time, Auntie,” he said confidently, “we go in later. I only write at 10 o’clock today. So I’m just getting some fresh air.” Unathi breathed deeply. “I need it after all that studying.”
Auntie frowned at him, clutching a wet shirt, the water dripping down onto the ground. Unathi could see her mind ticking over. She probably didn’t believe him. She was the suspicious type. Unathi knew his father would hear about this when he came home. Oh well, he thought, walking on, I’ll deal with that later.
Unathi was getting closer to Busi’s house. He kept checking for Parks’s taxi, and for the lurking presence of Parks himself.
With relief Unathi arrived at Busi’s front door, and after a final check of the road, he slipped the key into the lock, opened the door, and moved into the dim interior of the shack.
Unathi shut the door and looked around. The house was just as Busi had left it. Her bed was unmade, the sheets stripped off and lying in a pile next to the bed. Drawers were pulled out of her bedside cabinet, as if she had dressed in a hurry. Some items of clothing were lying on the floor. Unathi noticed that the cupboards in the kitchen were bare. Busi’s grandmother’s bed was well made and empty. On the kitchen table was a half-drunk cup of black tea and an empty plate, strewn with a few white bread crumbs.
Unathi shook his head. He opened the fridge. It was empty.
I wonder how long this has been going on, he thought. Busi must have been starving.
He found a plastic bag and walked over to Busi’s cupboard. He felt strange as he began to sort through her things, but then told himself that it was the only way. Busi was in no state to help herself and, besides, with Parks on the loose, it was too dangerous for Busi to be out and about.
Unathi had his back to the door and was gently folding some of Busi’s clothing when he had the idea of using Busi’s school bag. He lifted out the contents of the bag onto the bed – just a couple of school books – and packed the clothes into it. Just then he heard a noise at the front door. Unathi froze, then looked around as he heard the handle turning. It seemed to him that his heart stood still in his chest. The only place he could think to hide was under the bed.
As Unathi dropped to the floor his last thought was, why didn’t I lock the door behind me? He didn’t even have anything with which to defend himself against Parks. He should have heard the taxi pulling up outside. He must have come on foot. Unathi’s heart raced. He needed courage.
The door opened quickly and someone stepped into the room.
It was a woman’s voice. Unathi looked up.
Busi’s mother, Khanya! Relief flooded over Unathi as he peered at her over the top of Busi’s bed. She was frowning at him, the door still standing wide open behind her.
“Close the door, Auntie,” was all Unathi could think to say, adding, “Close it quickly!”
Khanya turned and did as he said. Then she turned back to Unathi, dropping her heavy suitcase on the floor as she did so. “What are you doing here, Unathi?” she asked, moving towards him as he stood up from the floor, “And where is Busi?”
Unathi sat down heavily on Busi’s bed. “I’m so glad you are here, Auntie,” he said, rubbing his hand over his face. “Something terrible has happened.”
Unathi told Khanya all he knew about Busi’s situation. Khanya listened intently, her brow furrowed. Then she turned to Unathi and said, “Let’s go to her now, Unathi. Come with me. Quickly. And keep an eye out for this Parks. I don’t know him, so you will have to watch out for him.”
Unathi grabbed the school bag and went out of the house. He looked up and down the road. The coast was clear, and so he called Khanya, and the two of them began walking back towards Unathi’s house.
They were walking quickly, Unathi constantly looking over his shoulder, when they turned a corner and walked straight into him.
Unathi stepped back. “Parks!” he said, shocked, looking up at the big man towering over him.
“Hello, boy,” said Parks, gripping Unathi by the arm and ignoring Busi’s mother. “Where are you coming from?” He pulled Unathi closer. “And where is Busi? I know you know, boy! Tell me!”
Unathi felt pain in his arm where Parks was holding him very tightly.
“Let him go,” said Khanya as she laid her hand against Parks’s chest and pushed. Parks did not move an inch, but he glared at her for a minute. Then, choosing to ignore her, he looked back at Unathi.
“I said, let him go!” said Khanya. Parks ignored her, and Khanya continued speaking, raising her voice. “I don’t think you know who I am,” said Khanya, her voice steady and strong.
Parks looked back at Khanya, who stood, frowning angrily at him, her arms folded across her chest.
“I am the mother of Busi,” she said. “I am Khanya … and you, yes, I know you. You are Parks!” Khanya paused as Parks released Unathi, and turned towards her.
“You are the man who made my under-age daughter pregnant, are you not?”
Parks blinked, and was about to speak, but Khanya silenced him. She put up her hand, and shook her head.
“Get out of my way, Mister,” she said, as she took Unathi’s hand. “I have no time for you now. Come, Unathi!”
Khanya and Unathi strode in the direction of Unathi’s house, neither looking back at Parks. He stood as if glued to the ground, his mouth hanging open.
Suddenly Khanya whirled around. “And you’d better keep away from my daughter!” she shouted, as they walked away. “I am here now. Busi is not alone any more. Keep away from us all!”
Unathi was impressed. After a few paces he looked back. Parks was still there, looking after them. But he had made no move to follow them.
Just before they turned the corner Unathi saw Parks unlocking his taxi and climbing in. For a moment Unathi thought he was going to follow them, but then the taxi drove off in the opposite direction.
He and Khanya walked on to Unathi’s house, and after looking around one more time, Unathi unlocked and opened the door.