Busi flew into her mother’s arms when she saw her walking through the front door. The two women clung to each other, both of them sobbing. Unathi stood awkwardly by, grinning. He dropped Busi’s school bag and went to put the kettle on.
When he came back into the room, carrying two cups of strong, sweet tea, he was surprised to see Busi and Khanya standing far apart. Busi looked angry.
“Busi,” Khanya was saying to her daughter with her arms outstretched, “please let me explain why …”
“No,” said Busi fiercely, “I don’t want to hear now. You’re too late. And it’s all your fault …” Busi’s voice trailed off, and she sank down into a chair and dropped her head into her hands.
Busi’s mother approached her slowly, speaking soothingly. “I understand how you must feel, my child,” she said softly, “and maybe later there will be time for me to tell you why I could not come before.”
Khanya stood behind Busi and put her hand on Busi’s shoulder. “For now you must tell me one thing, Busi,” she said, stroking Busi’s shoulder slowly. “Where is your baby, my child?”
Busi pulled away, and lifted her face, wet with tears.
“She’s safe, she’s alive.” Busi took a deep breath, and then sighed, looking away from her mother. “You are too late, Mama. Too late. You took too long to come. And I didn’t think you would want me to keep the baby, anyway.”
Khanya stood in silence, her head drooping.
Busi turned and looked up at her. “Why didn’t you come, Mama? I begged you to come. For so long …” Then Busi looked away.
Khanya turned to Unathi and took the cups of tea from him. She gave one to Busi, who absent-mindedly took it, and sipped from it. Khanya pulled a chair closer to Busi and sat down.
“Listen, Busi,” she said, leaning closer to her daughter, “and I will tell you.”
Busi remained silent as her mother spoke. Occasionally she would raise her tear-filled eyes to Khanya as she mentioned some or other fact. Gradually she allowed her mother to reach over and touch her hands, still stained with mud.
“Your father left me for another woman very soon after we arrived in Jozi,” began Busi’s mother. Then she looked down, paused and drank deeply from her cup of tea. “It wasn’t long before he moved away from me and went to live with her. He had his job already, but that woman took all his money. He gave none to me. I had a few cleaning jobs, but I struggled to find full-time work. I begged him for money to send back to you and Gogo, but it was like he didn’t care. He thought only of her.”
Unathi shifted uneasily and moved away to his bedroom, leaving the two women alone.
Khanya continued. “I didn’t want to tell you, Busi. I knew it would break your heart. Just like mine was being broken. I kept hoping for better work. I kept hoping that your father’s heart would soften. I prayed so hard for that.” Khanya looked up at her daughter. “But it never did. I sent you what I could. I should have told you and Gogo both the truth. I see that now.”
Busi looked up at her mother and held her gaze.
Khanya continued. “When I heard that you had fallen pregnant, I felt desperate. I did not want to tell your father. I thought he would get angry and that would make the situation worse. But when my mother got so sick I went to him. I begged him. I begged him.”
Khanya fell silent. Softly she said, “Thank God his heart softened a little then. He promised to help me come home.” Khanya shrugged her shoulders and a little smile played on her lips. “And here I am, my daughter. Here I am.”
Busi leant towards her mother and her mother leant towards her, and they held each other tightly for a long while.
“But Gogo is dying, Mama,” said Busi, looking up into her mother’s face. “She is so very sick.”
“No,” said Busi’s mother, looking down at Busi, and shaking her head, “that’s not so. I went to the hospital before I came here. She’s going to be all right, Busi. I’ve seen her. She really will be all right. She will come home again.”
Busi couldn’t believe it. She smiled at her mother through her tears, and allowed her mother to wipe her wet cheeks. Khanya stood up, walked to the school bag and picked it up.
“Now,” she said firmly, “you need a good wash, my child. Wash yourself clean and put on clean clothes, and then we can talk.”
Khanya called Unathi and he led them to the bathroom. Khanya turned on the taps and mother and daughter stood deep in thought as the water ran into the bath and the white, frothy bubbles rose high out of the water. Then Khanya smiled lovingly at Busi, gave her a towel and left the bathroom, shutting the door behind her.
She found Unathi sitting in the lounge, staring though the window. She knew what he was thinking. For Khanya too it was a burning question: where was Busi’s baby?