The papers in the street whipped around Busi’s ankles as she battled against a stiff north-west wind on her way to Harmony High. She bent her head and tugged at the large school jersey she was wearing, pulling it down over her trousers and the zip that she could barely close.
When she went through the school gate a group of girls was waiting for her. But they weren’t her friends, wanting to know if she was OK after the weekend. No, it was Princess and her ‘groupies’ who seemed to be waiting for her around every corner, poking fun with their bitchy words.
“Hey, girl, no one to give you any fun any more,” Princess said.
“Nah, she’s given all she’s got, and it obviously wasn’t enough to keep him,” the other jeered. They all laughed.
“Shame, at least she’s got something to remember him by when she gets lonely in the night,” Princess said. “A little baby that will make her fat and old before her time, so no one else will look at her.”
Busi knew the girls loved to be mean to anybody they could get their claws into, but the words hurt her nevertheless. She tried to ignore the remarks, but the girls didn’t let up with their cruel teasing. “I hear that …” Zikhona started saying.
She looked up with relief. There were her dear friends coming towards her. The girls behind her melted away. “Hey, you didn’t come to Asanda’s.”
Busi shook her head. “There’s lots on my mind. I’m sorry.”
“So you’ve made a decision to keep the baby, then.” Lettie’s voice was serious now. They were huddled together against the wall, trying to get warm against the red bricks of the school building.
“Hayi,” said Asanda, frowning at Lettie, “ignore her, Busi. It’s not her business.”
Lettie shrugged and added, “It’s pretty obvious, isn’t it?”
Busi looked up sharply, her hands flying to her stomach.
“Oh, sorry!” said Lettie as she realised what she had said, “No, it’s not obvious at all, Busi. Not that way, I mean. You don’t look any different at all.” Lettie turned to Asanda and Ntombi, “Does she, girls? She still looks slim and …” Lettie’s voice trailed off.
Asanda and Ntombi shook their heads.
“Why don’t you just shut up, Lettie?” said Asanda.
“Yes,” agreed Ntombi, “you’re just opening your mouth to change feet!”
Busi looked around at her three friends and shrugged slightly. “It’s OK,” she said awkwardly. “It’s OK, you guys. I understand what Lettie was trying to say.”
The group of friends huddled closer to escape the wind.
Lettie looked up at the grey sky and frowned, “And now I suppose it’s going to start raining in a minute.” She reached over and put her arm around Busi’s shoulders. “You’re really going to have to start looking after yourself now, Busi,” she said with a gentle smile. “It’s not just you any more.”
“Yes,” said Ntombi, reaching out and touching Busi’s hand, “and we’re all here for you, Busi. I hope you know that.”
Busi nodded gently. “I do know that,” she replied softly. “Thanks, guys.” But inwardly she knew that, however much they reassured her, they couldn’t know what it was like being pregnant. She was on her own.
The group stood in silence for a moment, until they felt the first cold raindrops falling heavily on their backs.
“Run!” said Lettie, breaking free from Busi and running towards the shelter of the classrooms.
Asanda and Ntombi shrieked and turned away, putting down their heads to follow her across the school yard. Busi hesitated for a moment. She looked up at the sky and paused. Raindrops beat down on her cheeks and she closed her eyes, imagining she might be able to wash herself away. The school yard was rapidly turning to mud. She stood and watched her friends as they leaped over brown puddles, screeching and laughing and splashing. She could feel herself getting drenched, but she stood quite still and watched them as they ran away from her.
“Busi, come on. You’re going to get soaked!” said a voice close by.
Busi turned. “Hey, you.”
It was Unathi, pulling his anorak off and throwing it over her shoulders.
“Don’t worry – I’m OK,” said Busi as he did so. But Unathi had her firmly by the arm and was tugging her along with him. The rain had started to pour down forcefully, and Busi had no option but to run with Unathi, her feet sliding and skidding in the mud. She almost slipped, but Unathi caught her in his tight, comforting grip.
“Thanks,” said Busi, giving Unathi his anorak when they got inside.
He smiled at her. “You coming to the hip-hop session today? Some of us are performing at the end-of-term party.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” she said. “Maybe …” She didn’t notice the look of disappointment on his face as he slung the anorak over his shoulder and walked into his Science class.
Her three friends were already in their English class, helping each other to dry off their hair. They were laughing and giggling and chasing each other around, flicking water at each other. The sexy, handsome Themba came over and Lettie pressed herself against him before the teacher came in. They looked so happy together, so in love … He was a real catch.
Busi slipped quietly into her seat and wiped her hands over her damp cheeks. She turned her back to them and their jokes. They don’t even notice me, she thought to herself. And why should they? They are all still so trouble-free. Why would they want to take on all my troubles? They are all just being kind. She leant forward and put her head on her hands, lifting it only when she heard the teacher come in.
“Quiet now,” said Mr Khumalo’s stern voice. “Take your seats and take out your books. You have exams coming up. Goodness gracious! One would think none of you had ever seen rain before!”
Gradually the class settled down and Busi opened her text book. Looking up she caught Mr Khumalo staring at her. She knew her grandmother had already been to see him. He had agreed that Busi could stay on at school for as long as she could.
Busi held Mr Khumalo’s gaze for a moment. His eyes were steady and clear as he looked at her. There was no hint of a smile. His face was closed and still. Busi was the first to look away. She felt her cheeks grow hot and she fumbled with her pencil. She remembered sitting in his office, trying to tell him about Parks. “He drives around looking for young schoolgirls. I–he–” she had stammered.
“Let me get this clear – you are telling me that you went off with a grown man on your own, without knowing who he was?” He had looked at her as if she was mad. She had wanted to fall through the floor.
But he had listened, and told her that he would tell the teachers to look out for Parks’s taxi. It was all they could do. Then she had got up to leave. He had started looking at papers on his desk, and did not answer her quiet “Thank you” as she pulled the door closed behind her.
She was jolted back to the present by the siren sounding for the end of the day. She managed to escape through the school gates before her friends could catch up with her. She wanted to be alone. But as she turned the corner she stopped in her tracks. Wasn’t that Parks’s taxi with DJ Ganyani pumping from the speakers? She looked for the gaadjie in the back. But then the taxi pulled away from the curb. She turned quickly and ran until she was safely in the next street. She hoped he hadn’t seen her in his rear-view mirror. If he had, he would come looking for her, asking if she had got rid of the baby. What would she say?