It was a new term, almost spring, and harder to hide her growing belly. She had failed most of her June exams, and as all her classmates were filling in application forms for tertiary institutions, or else thinking up crazy ideas for new businesses, she was wondering whether she would even be able to write her finals. When they weren’t talking about exams they were talking about the Matric dance – what they were going to wear, who they were going with.
“There’s no way I can go,” Busi told her friends. “There’s no Matric dance dress that will be able to hide this bump in two months’ time.”
She could tell from the half-hearted way the girls tried to persuade her to come, that they secretly agreed.
“So it’s your Matric dance coming up,” said her granny one afternoon.
She was surprised. “How do you know, Gogo?”
“Auntie May was here. She is making the dress for her granddaughter. Shiny, soft, red material, and lots of lace. The way she talks about it, it sounds like she’s preparing for a wedding, not just a silly dance.”
Busi could sense some envy in her voice.
But then her granny sighed, “Maybe it’s a good thing you can’t go. It’s costing Auntie May. She’s using her stokvel money, poor woman. On a silly dress!”
Her granny sat down on her chair. “Can you heat up the leftovers from last night, Busi? I’m feeling very tired.” She leaned back, watching Busi at the stove. “If your mother was here, Busi, she could make you a dress for almost nothing. Remember all those lovely little dresses she made when you were little.”
“Well, she’s not here, is she!” said Busi sharply, and then regretted her words. She should never be impatient with her granny, the only person in the family who had stayed with her. It wasn’t that she resented her granny’s reminder of the things her mother had done for her as a child. It’s just that it had deepened her feeling that nowadays her mother did not seem to care about her any more.
But Gogo was right – she should stop judging her mother. There must be a good reason why she hadn’t yet come to Cape Town to help Busi. She would surely come soon. Perhaps her mother had sent her a message since she last checked her SMSes.
She reached for her phone, reflecting on how much time she spent waiting these days – not just for the baby to come, but for news from her mother, and from Parks. She couldn’t believe how Parks had pushed himself into her thoughts again …
There were no new messages. The truth was that her phone hardly beeped at all now. Her friends had just about given up inviting her out at the weekend.
“Ooh, there’s the new mommy!”
“Looking so healthy and big!”
Princess and her friends were at it again as she walked into school on Monday.
Busi ignored them and kept her head down, though she was tempted to turn around and run straight home to the comfort of her bed and her gogo’s gentle company. It was getting harder to attend classes. She felt so tired and unmotivated. It seemed that, as her tummy got bigger, she found it more and more difficult to concentrate. As the Matric exams approached, she fell further and further behind.
“Busi, do you know the answer? Busi?”
Busi jolted in her seat.
“What?” she said, responding to her name, “Sorry, Miss, what did you say?”
“Never mind,” said Miss Nombembe. “Can anyone else answer?”
After class Miss Nombembe called her in. “Busi, we talked about you at the staff meeting. You are not going to manage your finals this year. It’s probably best that you keep coming to school, but you will have to register again next year. Can you ask your parent or guardian to come in and we can talk about this?”
Busi thought of her sick granny at home. “It’s fine. They know.”
At break time she walked across the quad to meet Unathi. He often had some tasty something for her in his lunchbox. “I’m not hungry,” he would say. “It would be wasted if you don’t eat it.” And she would eat up the leftovers of delicious chicken stew, or strips of fried fish. Unathi and his father really knew how to cook. Sometimes it was the best meal she had all day, as her granny’s pension money began to run out towards the end of the month, and they lived on very little.
But today Unathi wasn’t alone. Asisipho was chatting to him, playing him a song on her cell phone. They both looked up as Busi approached. Busi saw Asisipho frown, but Unathi had his usual wide smile for her.
“Want some chicken pieces, Busi? My dad did them just the way you like.”
Busi didn’t want to look needy in front of this girl. “I’m not hungry,” she said.
“Sounds good,” said Asisipho. “Can I taste one?”
And Busi had to watch her chomp through the chicken drumstick that her own stomach was aching for.
“Thanks, Unathi.” Asisipho gave him a sunny smile.
Just then her friends walked by, and she went off with them, giving a wave to Unathi as she went and ignoring Busi.
“She’s got some good music,” said Unathi. “I wouldn’t be surprised if she was a DJ one day; she’s got an ear for it.”
Busi felt a rush of jealousy. “I’m also quite musical.”
Unathi looked surprised. “I didn’t know you were interested in music, Busi. You’re not even in the choir.”
Busi felt foolish. Of course she wasn’t very musical; her friends even teased her about how she couldn’t sing in tune.
“Well, I know what music I like,” she said.
She looked over at Asisipho, now talking and laughing with her friends.
Unathi followed her gaze. “She’s a nice girl,” he said. “She’s going through tough times. She was telling me how her mother’s just lost her job.”
So what, thought Busi. That was nothing compared to her problems. How could Unathi think that Asisipho needed his support. Anyway, Unathi was her rock. He couldn’t be someone else’s rock too. She realised how strongly she felt about him, how possessive. At the same time she knew she was being unfair. Why shouldn’t he care about Asisipho?
“She seems happy enough,” Busi said.
The bell rang and they started walking back to class.
“See you after school. Wait for me. Let’s walk home together,” Unathi said, and flashed her one of his great smiles.
She still had him, that’s what that smile told her. Something in her eased.
But as she waited for Unathi after school, her heart sank to see him coming towards her with Asisipho walking alongside.
“Asisipho is coming to download some music on my hard drive at home,” he told her.
He had a sheepish look on his face.
As they walked, Asisipho and Unathi chatted about various bands. “Oh, he’s my favourite rapper,” Asisipho said. “You like him too, Unathi? Hey, we’ve got the same taste.”
“Do you like his music?” Unathi asked, trying to include Busi.
“Never heard of him,” said Busi. And she hardly said another word all the way to her house. She knew she was being rude, but she couldn’t help it.
When they got to her gate Unathi frowned at her. He was angry that she was behaving badly, she knew. But she couldn’t stop herself.
She watched them walk off together. She watched to see if they would hold hands. Unathi had said they were just friends. But Busi could see that Asisipho really liked him. She could tell. It was a matter of time. Busi knew what happened when guys got girlfriends. They weren’t your friend any more. The girls wouldn’t let them. Anyway, girlfriends took up all their time, especially in those first months … if Unathi and Asisipho got together it would probably be just when her baby was due.
“I’ll be there for you …” Unathi had promised her. It looked like that promise was about to be broken.
As she pushed the door open she heard her grandmother’s hacking cough. She hadn’t managed to shake it off after the winter and it was getting worse and worse. Sometimes there were flecks of blood on her handkerchief.
“Let me prepare the supper, Gogo. You relax,” she said.
“There’s hardly anything left,” said her granny. “We will just have to have the leftovers from last night.” She saw Busi’s worried face. “Don’t worry, child. I’m not hungry. There is enough for you. And I’m sure your mother will send something soon.”
Busi could hear the tension in her granny’s voice. It was too much. Busi lay on her bed and sobbed. Then she wiped her eyes and sent an SMS to her mom:
mom we need u. wen r u comin home?
She lay down and waited for a reply. But deep down she knew her mom wouldn’t come anytime soon. The light was fading outside. She could hear the sounds from the streets as people came home from work, relieved that it was the beginning of the weekend.
Then the beep of a message.
Please let this be from you, Mom, thought Busi to herself, as she sat down on her bed to read the message. Please.
I need to meet u 2mor. It’s important. Parks
She thought of his wife in the back seat of the taxi. She remembered the feeling of the money in her hand.
Busi frowned to herself and then texted back a reply:
ok. no wife. Jst u.
Busi held her breath as she waited for his reply. She felt a wave of relief when it came.
ok. Same place. 10am
The next morning Busi changed into the baggiest clothes that she could find, and covered herself up with her grandmother’s large coat.
Her grandmother was still sleeping. She was sleeping later and later in the mornings – so unlike before, when she would be up before Busi. It certainly made it easier for Busi to sneak out without saying anything. But Busi was worried. It was like her granny was slowly slipping away. Somehow her grandmother had always managed to make sure that there was food in the house. Lately, though, she had not left the house at all to buy food. Busi knew she had to do something. She began to walk determinedly towards the corner where Parks always met her.
He wasn’t late. He stopped at the curb and Busi looked into the taxi carefully before she opened the door.
“She’d better not be hiding in the back,” she said firmly.
Parks shook his head.
“I’m alone,” he said. “Get in.”
“I don’t want to go far,” said Busi. “Just park along the road somewhere, OK?”
Parks shrugged and Busi got in.
Parks did as Busi had asked and stopped under some trees, away from the houses.
Busi sat with her arms folded across her chest, her body turned away from Parks. When she spoke she looked out towards the trees. Their branches almost reached the taxi window.
“OK,” she said briskly, “what do you want?”
“You probably don’t believe me,” said Parks, the gentleness of his voice taking Busi by surprise, “but I really just want to help.”
Busi turned just a little to look at Parks. He shrugged and sighed, smiling softly at her.
“It’s my baby that you are carrying, and I am worried about it,” he said, quickly adding, “and about you too, of course.”
Busi sat in silence for a while, watching the bare branches waving in the wind. Her head was spinning and she hardly knew what she was thinking. “None of this has anything to do with your wife?” she said softly.
“No,” said Parks gently, “she doesn’t even know I’m here.”
“Here,” said Parks.
Busi looked away from his closed fist, reaching towards her. She knew what he was clutching in his hand, and she hesitated.
Thoughts of her grandmother at home filled Busi’s mind. Thoughts of the empty cupboards and the cold, leaking shack. Before she could stop herself Busi opened her palm towards Parks. She looked away as she felt the roll of banknotes pressing into her hand. Tears prickled in the corners of her eyes, and she pressed her lips together and swallowed hard. “Thanks,” she said softly. “Please take me home now.”
The wind tossed up papers and leaves against Busi’s legs as she walked the distance from the corner where Parks had dropped her off, to the closest shop. She shook her head against the wind, and lifted her chin. I’m thinking about hot samp, soft red kidney beans and a juicy piece of meat, so tender that it just falls off the bone, thought Busi to herself, already imagining herself and her grandmother tucking in.
Do you think Busi should take money from Parks? Why or Why not?