Unathi had made scrambled eggs and sausage for them all by the time Busi came out of the bathroom. They sat down together around the table and ate hungrily, washing the meal down with large cups of tea.

When the table was cleared and the plates had been cleaned and put away, Khanya turned to Unathi. “Busi has told me where her baby is,” she said in a clear voice, turning to smile gently at Busi.

Busi sat quite still, and looked down at her hands. She was frowning, and Unathi could see tears gathering at the corners of her eyes.

“I am so proud of you,” said Khanya gently, sitting down next to Busi on the sofa and putting her arm around her. “You made a very brave and difficult decision. You put your baby first, and made sure that she would be safe and taken care of.”

Then Khanya stood up, and turned to Unathi. “I know you should be at school, Unathi, and I am very grateful for everything that you have done for Busi today. There’s just one more thing I need to ask you to do.”

Unathi stepped forward, clasping his hands together in front of him. “It’s nothing, Auntie,” he said with a shrug. “During exams most kids stay at home anyway when they’re not writing. I have no exam to write today.” Then Unathi smiled at Busi, and added, “I’m just really glad you ran into me today, Busi. I wish you had asked me for help earlier.”

“But I thought you–” She stopped.

“What?” he asked.

“Nothing,” she said. “Nothing at all.”

“So,” said Khanya, gathering her handbag and putting on her jacket, “can Busi stay here with you for a few hours?”

Unathi nodded. “She will be safe here.”

Khanya moved towards the door, stopping on her way to look at Busi. “Things are different now, Busi. I am back for good. Together we will deal with everything.”

Busi looked up her mother and nodded.

Khanya continued, “And Gogo will be coming home soon as well.” Then, smiling broadly, she said, “Don’t worry, Busi. We will get your baby back, you’ll see. And together the three of us will cope absolutely fine.”

With that Khanya opened the front door and went out.

After Busi’s mother had left Unathi glanced towards Busi. Busi sat curled up on the sofa.

“What do you feel like doing?” asked Unathi, moving to the television. “Shall we watch?”

Busi nodded, and Unathi put on the television.

Busi and Unathi sat together and watched some shows. Unathi spoke every now and then, to tell Busi some bit of gossip about school. Busi listened and smiled. She was so happy that Unathi was here with her, looking at her like he used to. But her thoughts were also far away, with a small baby girl wrapped in a fluffy pink blanket.

*****

A few hours passed. Unathi had turned off the television and sat quietly next to Busi, who had fallen asleep on the sofa. He was startled by the sound of voices and footsteps approaching his front door.

He stood up and moved the curtains a little so that he could peer out. He was relieved to see Khanya and another woman walking up the path to the front door.

Quickly Unathi opened the door. “You’re back,” he said. “Busi is sleeping.”

Khanya led the way in. “Yes,” she said, nodding towards her companion behind her, “and this is the social worker dealing with Busi’s baby. Busi has had a very exhausting time. It’s good that she is sleeping.”

Just then Busi sat up, startled, her eyes still blurry with sleep. She had heard her mother’s voice.

“Do you have her?” she asked. “Mama, where is my baby?” Seeing her mother’s arms empty, she looked frantically around, then sprang up and ran towards the door.

Khanya took Busi by the hand before she got through the door and hugged her tight.

“It’s all right, Busi,” she said gently, “We are going to take you to your baby now. Everything is going to be all right.”

*****

Unathi, Ntombi, Lettie and Asanda waited at Busi’s house for her to arrive home with her baby. They had gathered together some gifts: a beautiful top and some fragrant hand cream for Busi, and a pack of three babygros and baby vests for the baby. Asanda blew up a few balloons.

“Just make sure you don’t pop any,” said Lettie with some concern. “We don’t want to terrify the little thing.”

“You’re right,” said Ntombi, with a shake of her head. “She’s had an adventurous enough start to her life already.”

Busi climbed out of the social worker’s car and walked towards her friends, crowding the door of her home. The girls came forward and gathered around her, all peering excitedly at the baby held tightly in Busi’s arms.

“Oh,” said Ntombi gleefully, “she’s so gorgeous.”

“Let me hold her,” said Lettie, edging forward, and reaching eagerly for the baby.

“Just a minute, girls,” said Khanya, putting her arm around Busi, and guiding her inside.

Once inside, the baby was passed from one girl to the next, and they all kissed her soft brown cheeks and wondered at the size of her tiny hands and fingers.

Then the baby started crying. “Here,” said Asanda quickly, “over to you.”

Busi tried to rock her, but the crying just got louder.

“Let me take her,” said Unathi. He picked the crying baby up and started dancing around the room with her.

“Be careful,” said Busi. But she saw that he was holding the baby safely and steadily, even as he danced around. Almost instantly the baby quietened. Unathi slowed down. The baby started crying again.

The girls collapsed with laughter. “You’re going to have to do that all day, Unathi,” said Ntombi.

Unathi suddenly made a face, and came quickly to Busi. “She’s done something in her nappy. I’m afraid I can’t help with that.”

Busi’s mother took the baby and, laying her on a towel on the sofa, cleaned her expertly. “She needs feeding soon,” she said to Busi.

Busi sighed. Having a baby was a full-time job.

“Before you do that, come and say goodbye. Mrs Mbewu is leaving,” said her mother.

They started walking out to the street.

“All of us at St Saviour’s Church will be here to help you as much as we can,” Mrs Mbewu said, lifting a large hamper of nappies and baby clothes from the back seat of her car. “We didn’t have her with us for very long, but we all fell in love with her. I will come back tomorrow to make sure everything is all right.”

“What do we do if Parks comes?” asked Busi.

The social worker shook her head and turned to Khanya. “I’m sure he will stay away now. I traced him and told him he could be facing a charge. He has received summons to appear in court on a charge of statutory rape, as Busi wasn’t 16 yet when they had sex.”

Busi looked down, embarrassed at these words in front of her mother. But the social worker continued. “Apparently his wife is also on their books, as she assaulted a mother with a baby in a supermarket last month. If they harrass you, or try to take the baby, we will help you to get a protection order against him.”

“Thank you, Mrs Mbewu. Thank you so much,” said Busi. “I feel so much safer knowing that you are here for me if I need you.”

“Busi, the baby’s crying!” Ntombi called, and Busi shook the social worker’s hand and thanked her one more time and went back inside.

“I am glad to see Busi so happy. Now are you going to be all right, Khanya?” the social worker asked.

“My mother will be coming home next week,” said Khanya, “and I will find some work very soon. I know I will.”

“We can help you with that,” said the social worker, getting into her car. “And next year Busi can go back to school to finish Matric.”

Khanya waved goodbye as the social worker drove away. Then she turned and walked towards the open door of her house, where she could see Busi’s friends sitting around the table. Her daughter was not there – she must be feeding her baby behind the curtain.

Busi heard her mother’s voice as she walked in, heard her friends’ excited chatter and laughter. She looked down at her baby and smiled. I know my life will not be easy with a newborn child, she thought to herself. But now my tears have dried and my heart is overflowing with hope. That will be your name, my little one. Thembisa. Hope in Xhosa. Because after the tears came hope.

The end