Masixole took out the key, and unlocked the padlock on the thick chain securing the door. When the chain came loose, he pushed the door open. The stale smell of wet, rotting fabric welcomed them as they stepped in. It hadn’t been open for over a year.
Masi put the bags in the middle of the two-roomed shack, then went to pull open the old blue curtain that served as a door to the bedroom. It was dark and musty.
“Uzolal’apha – you’re sleeping here,” he said.
He turned to open the only window in the house, in the living room, and went outside to survey the yard. It was fenced with thin wiring, with a small iron gate that gave a screech, like the door, when you opened it. The toilet was outside and they would share it with most of the neighbours. It had a tap and a basin outside.
In the living room stood Nana’s old floral brown single sofa, a small wooden table, with a stone under one of the legs to keep it from wobbling. There was a small cabinet in the kitchen, just one piece of a kitchen set, in which to keep the food. On top was the gas stove and the kettle, black from use. Next to it, in the corner, was the water bucket, still half filled. Behind the curtain-door was just a simple bed with three thin mattresses.
Pholisa stood and remembered Nana’s tiny body, soft and frail, rocking violently from the coughing fits she sometimes got. It’s best that she’s passed now, Pholisa thought. And it was her other gogo that she missed, the one who had woken her up in the morning, and kissed her to sleep every night.
Masi walked in, blocking the light from the doorway with his tall frame.
“Lungisa, prepare. I’ll go and see if I can get us some food for dinner,” he said when she turned to the shadow.
“Kodwa, we can eat umphako – it’ll be enough for both of us.”
“Pholisa, su’phendula, don’t talk back. Do as you are told.”
He gave the order and walked out.
He can be such a pain sometimes, she thought, spreading herself out across the bed. She planned to get up and start cleaning, but first she needed some rest. She knew Masi just wanted to get out of the house, walk around and stretch his legs. He wasn’t the type to sit around.
Pholisa’s phone vibrated in her pocket. She took it out and saw that she had received a message.
Hav u arrived???
It was Lelethu. Just as she was about to hit the reply button, she paused. Telling Lelethu she had arrived wouldn’t be a good idea. Lelethu would want to come over immediately. And then what if Masi came home in that same bad mood? Pholisa didn’t want to be defending him in front of Lelethu.
No, she would see her friend tomorrow when she had the whole day to herself.
Instead of replying, she switched her phone off and lay there on her back.
She woke up the next morning refreshed. She walked outside in the sun and found Masi sitting on some bricks leaning against the wall, eating porridge.
Pholisa couldn’t help but smile at him. He looked like he was still back home, basking in the sun and enjoying his breakfast. Some things will take a while before they change, she thought.
“Molo, bhuti,” Pholisa greeted, stretching her body in the sun. Masi didn’t even look up, he just nodded. “So, uz’okwenzani namhlanje? What will you do today?” she asked, trying to make conversation.
But he did not look up and she realised he was not in the mood to talk. She wished she hadn’t said anything.
He got up to go inside and put his dish on the cupboard.
“Is’dudu sisembizeni – there’s porridge in the pot,” he said when he walked back out.
“Enkosi,” she said softly, embarrassed that she had woken up so late that he had to make the porridge himself. That must be why he is annoyed, she thought to herself. It was always hard to tell with him; his moods swings were unpredictable. He walked out of the gate without another word.
Pholisa watched him walk briskly down the street, as though he was in a hurry to get somewhere. Where is he going? she asked herself. And then, suddenly, as he turned the corner, Pholisa felt lonely in this new big city.
She went inside and fetched her phone to text Lelethu.
Awake and alone. Plz cum visit. xoxo
She hit ‘Send’ and dished some porridge for herself. She sat out in the sunshine and soaked up the sun like Masi had just done. Then her phone beeped with a message from Lelethu.
“Chommie yam!” Lelethu screamed from Pholisa’s gate, her cousin Bontle close behind her. Pholisa jumped from where she had been sitting in the sun, reading a magazine she had found on the bus. They hugged and kissed, and hugged again. Then they held each other for a while.
“Yhu, I missed you,” Pholisa said breaking off the embrace. She was about to cry and she didn’t want to.
“Xoki, liar! You didn’t answer my SMS. When did you get here?” Lelethu asked, pretending to pout.
“Late last night,” Pholisa lied. “My phone’s dying, chommie. Can you charge it for me?” She took out her phone, an old Nokia 3310.
“You still have that old brick? Girl, you need an upgrade,” Bontle laughed, walking over to give Pholisa a hug. They laughed and Pholisa shoved the phone back into her jeans pocket, embarrassed. They sat outside and chatted a while about the trip, the village, and new life in the big city.
“Don’t worry, wethu, I’m here,” Lelethu said when Pholisa voiced her concerns about fitting in at Harmony High.
“Ewe, yes, we’re all here for you. So you have nothing to worry about,” affirmed Bontle.
“You have a school uniform yet?” Lelethu asked.
“Not yet. But I have some money for it.”
“Masiyoy’funa ke, let’s go buy it,” Lelethu said.
“Yes,” Bontle agreed, “let’s go to the mall.”
Pholisa looked at the two girls. They looked so smart in their jeans and bright tops. Lelethu had told Pholisa all about the mall – the shops, the cool things to do – and, she had said, it was the place to meet all the cute guys.
Pholisa looked down at her old jeans and her top, once pink but now faded to almost white. She wasn’t dressed for the mall; she couldn’t be seen in these old rags, especially by cute guys.
“I must change,” she said shyly and headed inside the shack to put on her only set of new clothes, the outfit she had got for Christmas.
“You look great,” Bontle said when Pholisa came out of the dressing room in the shop wearing the full school uniform.
“But something has to be done with that afro, girl,” Lelethu said chuckling. “Change and let’s go eat – I’m starving.”
Pholisa paid for the skirt, the shirt and the pair of socks. She didn’t have enough to buy new shoes, so she would have to wear her old ones. They were still in good condition, she told herself.
They walked to a KFC and sat down. It felt almost the same as the one in Willowvale, near her village, except the people here all looked a lot smarter. But at least Pholisa was wearing her high-waist skirt and shirt, so she looked as good as any of them.
“You’re in the city now, so you must look the part,” said Lelethu, noticing how Pholisa was staring at the people in the crowds. She always could read my mind, Pholisa thought smiling at her best friend from across the table.
Pholisa noticed a group of boys come in. One of them caught her staring and smiled. Pholisa blushed and looked down at her milkshake.
“That’s Lazola,” Bontle said, following Pholisa’s eyes. “Mr Harmony High himself.”
The boys walked over to a booth of their own. But Lazola stopped at the girls’ table.
“Three beautiful girls at one table – it must be my lucky day,” Lazola laughed, greeting the girls. The girls giggled and Lelethu rolled her eyes. Pholisa kept her eyes down on her milkshake and didn’t dare look up.
“And who’s this beautiful girl?” Lazola said, looking at Pholisa.
“My best friend, Pholisa. She just arrived from the Eastern Cape,” Lelethu said proudly.
“Hi, I’m Lazola.”
Pholisa couldn’t speak. Lazola was leaning on the table, his face just centimetres from hers. She could feel his warm breath on her face as he introduced himself. His eyes were small and beautiful, and they shone even brighter when he smiled. Pholisa couldn’t understand why she was feeling flustered, even hot at the presence of the stranger.
“You be going to Harmony High?” he asked.
Pholisa smiled and nodded. She still couldn’t speak.
“Beautiful and shy – sexy combination,” he smiled. But then his friends called him and he straightened up. “See you in drama club,” he said to Lelethu and walked over to the guys in the booth.
When Pholisa turned to steal a glance, he winked. The girls all laughed.
“Is he the one you’ve been telling me about – the one who always wants attention at drama class?” Pholisa asked Lelethu.
“That’s the one. Such a playa,” Lelethu said, tossing her braids. But Pholisa could see something in her eyes that told a different story …
Lelethu liked Lazola more than she admitted.
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