Busi turned to face the woman sitting behind her in the taxi. Anger flared inside her at the sight of this woman who had Parks, who had everything she wanted. But then she saw the wife’s cold, hard eyes and the anger turned to fear. This woman hated her, that was for sure. Was she going to beat her here with no one seeing?
Busi looked at Parks. Surely he would protect her. She noticed how his body had tensed up. He was gripping the steering wheel and looking straight ahead. Busi wished that he would slow down. He was weaving in and out between the cars. People were hooting.
Busi’s hand moved to her stomach and she found herself talking to her baby in her head. It’s all right, little baby, she said silently, it’s all right. Everything is going to be all right.
“Slow down, Parks,” said Busi out loud, “What do you both want with me? Just say whatever it is you want to say. And then take me home.”
She was surprised to see Parks’s wife trying to smile – a wide, fake smile that showed the gold star in her tooth. “Don’t be frightened, Busi,” she said soothingly. But her eyes still glared. “I’m sorry you are in trouble now, Busi. But you do know that you aren’t anything special, don’t you? My husband can’t help himself.” She flashed a deadly look at the silent Parks who had slowed down a little.
He didn’t look at them.
“Just say what you want to say, Thandi!” he said gruffly.
Thandi turned back towards Busi. Her smile had disappeared. “The only thing special about you,” she hissed, “is that you were the only one who was stupid enough to get pregnant. You are the only one who ever managed to get that right with him. Not even I succeeded in getting that right with him.” She looked at him. “The accident made sure of that.”
Busi sat in silence. I got pregnant? she thought. I didn’t get pregnant on my own. Parks said he knew what he was doing. Parks had promised her everything would be all right.
Busi opened her mouth to speak, but then closed it. She did not want to speak to this woman about Parks and condoms.
“And now you are carrying our child,” said Parks’s wife.
“Our?” Busi cried out in amazement, but Thandi cut her off.
“That child in your belly,” said Thandi, pointing a long, red nail towards Busi’s stomach, “is just as much his as it is yours. And what’s his … is mine.” Busi recoiled from Thandi, who suddenly smiled again, that false smile that stretched her face into a grimace. “I know,” continued Thandi, “that you and your granny are so poor that you can hardly afford to put food on the table.”
Busi frowned and looked away.
“And I know that those parents of yours in Jozi have forgotten all about you.”
“How do you know anything about my parents?” said Busi. She was shocked by what Thandi was saying.
Thandi continued, “Not even your own mother cares. Not about you. Not about your baby. Not about your grandmother.”
“That’s not true!” said Busi, but tears welled up in her eyes and rolled down her face.
“It is true!” said Thandi, her voice rising again. “It is true.”
Busi began to sob silently and could not stop, even though she wished she could.
“Don’t cry.” Thandi’s voice was suddenly soft and soothing again. She produced a tissue and waved it towards Busi. “Don’t cry.”
Thandi waited as Busi blew her nose hard and wiped her wet cheeks.
“You see, dear,” said Thandi, “I am going to help you.”
Busi blinked and stared at Thandi through her tears.
“Yes,” said Thandi, nodding her head, “I am going to help you. You and that little baby you are carrying.”
Busi blew her nose again. She noticed that Parks had turned out of the traffic, and was making his way back the way he had come. Busi hoped that she was being taken back home.
“Most wives would kill you,” said Thandi, smiling again. “But not me. I am going to make sure that you and the baby have absolutely everything you need.”
Busi stared at Thandi. She did not know what to say.
Thandi nodded. “Just think. I can provide lovely food and warm clothes, for you and your granny. And beautiful little baby clothes. And bottles and nappies and little baby blankets. I will get everything ready for when the baby comes. And I will make sure that you stay nice and healthy while that sweet little baby is growing inside you.”
Why was this woman being so caring all of a sudden? What was she thinking? But then Busi got a picture in her mind of a little cot, with fleecy blankets and nappies all piled up neatly next to it. She knew that babies needed lots of things. Where was she going to get them?
“That is very kind,” she said to Thandi. Looking out of the window she noticed, with relief, that the taxi really was driving back in the direction of her home. She wiped her cheek again, with her damp tissue.
“It is kind,” said Thandi. “I am a very kind person. Aren’t I, Parks?” she added, her voice suddenly rising.
Parks glanced briefly at his wife, and jerked his head in an unconvincing nod. Busi thought she detected a sneer on his face.
“Yes,” continued Thandi, “Parks knows just how kind I am. I’m always giving him things. Everything he needs. Always tidying up the little messes he makes. Taking him back again.”
Thandi’s voice grew more high-pitched, and Busi clutched at the door handle. The taxi was now only a few streets from Busi’s home.
“Here,” said Thandi, opening her handbag and pulling out a roll of banknotes. She held it towards Busi between two long, crimson fingernails. “Take it. It’s the first of much more money. Much more money for you and that baby!”
Busi put out her hand slowly. The roll of money passed from Thandi’s hand to hers. Busi felt the crispness of the banknotes between her fingers. She closed her fingers around the roll and saw that they were all one-hundred-rand notes. How many were there? Ten? No, more than that. Twenty?
The taxi drew to a stop at the corner at the end of Busi’s street. Parks turned to look at Busi. Busi looked at him. Suddenly it was as if Busi saw him for the first time. Really saw him. And to her he looked like a little boy. A little boy in a big man’s body.
Then Busi looked back at Thandi. She was sitting quite still, eyes burning into Busi’s face. Her hands were folded over her large stomach, which bulged against her soft, expensive-looking winter coat.
Thandi seemed triumphant now. “There will be more where that came from. And then, when the time comes, we will take the baby and you won’t have to worry any more. I already have a room for the baby – it’s beautiful. I will even let you see …”
And then Busi realised, with horror that they weren’t there to help her. They were there to buy her. This leering woman was buying the baby. “Nothing is mahala, my child,” she remembered her mother saying.
Busi was disgusted. There was no way she was going to let Parks and his wife go off with her baby, as if she, Busi, didn’t exist.
But then she thought of her friends at school. If there were no baby, she could be at Asanda’s house right now, planning parties, having her hair done, going out late … like old times. If she had no baby … Suddenly that wad of real money felt good as she imagined all she could buy with it. And she could work out the problem of what happened to the baby later. Right now she was cold, and hungry. After all, didn’t Parks owe her?
The taxi stopped and, still clutching the money, she slid off the front seat, her feet reaching to the muddy ground. Just then she heard a call. It was Unathi, who had spotted her and was walking towards her. At once the money felt dirty in her hands. No! She could not be bought. This woman wasn’t going to own her baby. She wanted nothing to do with her! In an instant she threw the banknotes back into the taxi and slammed the door behind her.
Parks started shouting, but she couldn’t hear what he was saying. She started running towards Unathi.
The taxi roared off, splattering mud onto people walking by.
“Hayi!” a pedestrian shouted angrily.
“Busi!” Unathi’s face was so open, friendly, compared to Parks and his wife. But then he saw the taxi roar past. “Busi, you’re not still seeing Parks, are you?” Unathi looked shocked.
Busi looked after the taxi. She felt hollow, drained, like she had just written a difficult exam – and failed.
“Busi, wasn’t that Parks’s taxi?” Unathi asked.
“So what if it was?” she asked. Who was Unathi to tell her what to do?
But then she saw his hurt face. How could she say such things? It was because of the terrible regret she felt now, her hand empty when it could be filled with banknotes. She should have taken the money. Parks owed her!
Unathi turned away.
She couldn’t let him go now too. “Unathi, I’m sorry …” she started saying.
But just then Asisipho came down the road, the pretty girl in the grade below. Her braids were in a neat ponytail, her skin was chocolate smooth, and she was giving Unathi a delighted smile. “Hey, Unathi. I heard you were DJ-ing at my cousin’s party on the weekend. Can I give you some suggestions?”
And now he was smiling back. “Sure … Why don’t you come to my house and I can show you what I’ve got planned?” He hesitated, looking at Busi’s scowling face. “You could come too if you want, Busi.”
Asisipho said nothing.
“No, it’s OK. I’m not even going to the party. What do I care about the music?”
She sounded offhand, even rude. But they couldn’t see that when she turned away from them to walk home, she was crying. She longed for her mother, but she knew that nobody could sort out all her problems. It wasn’t like when she was little, and her mother would dry her tears and make her hot chocolate, and all her problems would disappear. Right now her problem was getting bigger by the day.
Parks was right. He was the father. She should take the money, not chase him away. And maybe he and his wife could even give the baby a better life. Maybe she was being selfish? Her mind was seething with doubts and regrets.
She got back to her shack. Her granny was asleep on her chair.
“Gogo,” she said, shaking her gently.
“It’s all right, Khanya, I’m coming now,” she murmured.
Busi felt cold. Khanya was her mother’s name. Was her granny losing her mind?
“It’s me – Busi,” she said. “My mother is in Joburg.”
Her granny’s eyes opened. “What are you telling me that for?” she said. “I know who you are.” She pointed to the counter. “I got some stock and vegetables from the uncle at the spaza shop,” she said. “Will you prepare them?”
But by the time the spinach and pap was ready, her granny was asleep again, and did not want to wake up. Busi ate alone, the candle throwing long shadows across the table.
After she had managed to help her grandmother to bed, she lay down herself, listening to music on her cell phone. The song’s lyrics were about love. Why were songs never about being hungry or penniless or pregnant, and wondering what would happen to you? They were always about falling in love or dancing or following your dreams – things that had nothing to do with her life now.
As if the cell phone understood her irritation, it beeped with a low battery alert. She lay in the dark, hearing the cars in the distance, and shouting and laughing, as other people got on with their lives. But then her cell phone beeped again and an SMS lit up her screen with an unfamiliar number.
This isn’t ova yet.
Parks’s wife. That evil woman. There was no way she could let her have the baby. She pressed DELETE just before her phone went completely dead.
Parks and Thandi drove in silence. Silence so thick you could slice it with a knife. Only when he jumped a red robot did she hiss, “Slow down. You’ll kill us.”
“Let’s just leave it now,” Parks said. “We don’t need that baby.”
“We need that baby.” His wife’s voice was steel.
“So what do we do now?” Parks’s voice was tense and loud.
“Now we wait,” said Thandi. “We wait. Her life gets harder. She thinks of the money. We wait. There are still five months to go. Slowly, slowly, Parks. That’s the trouble with you. You can never wait for anything. I, on the other hand, have had to wait 10 years for this. It’s not going to hurt to wait a few more months …”
Unathi says that Lettie plays games with the boys. What does he mean?