Olwethu walked Ntombi home. It was starting to get dark as they turned past the spaza shop into her street. She was grateful to him. She didn’t like to be out on the streets when it was dark, and she was feeling bad for leaving Zinzi alone in the house. “So it’s true, what they say about Zakes?” she asked Olwethu.
“My gogo doesn’t gossip. If she told you it’s because she wants you to know, and she wants to protect your mother,” Olwethu said.
“I knew that he was up to no good,” said Ntombi, “and I know I have to make my mother see sense … but she won’t listen to me anymore. She’s like a stranger.”
“That’s tough,” said Olwethu, and he looked like he really cared.
“It’s okay, really. Compared to what your family has been through.” She looked down, embarrassed. Olwethu fell quiet as they drew close to her house. Ntombi saw a familiar but worrying sight. There was Zakes’ BMW parked outside.
“I tell you what else I know about Zakes,” said Olwethu as they approached the pimped-up car. “In the school holiday I work at my uncle’s panel beating shop in Site C. One day this guy comes in with a black BMW, says he wants them to re-spray it silver. But there’s nothing wrong with the car – not a dent or a scratch. And when I asked my uncle, he told me to be quiet and keep working. It was like he was scared or something.”
“Yes. He had an Orlando Pirates sticker on the bumper.” There was the sticker now, on the bumper of Zakes’ car, staring them in the face.
“You’ll be alright?” Olwethu asked.
“Yes,” said Ntombi, “and thanks for everything.”
“It’s a pleasure,” he said. “See you at school sometime.” He seemed to hover, like he wanted to say something more, but then he turned and walked away down the street just as Zinzi came across from the spaza shop carrying a big bottle of cooldrink.
“Zakes said I could buy this, because I’ve been such a good girl,” she said smiling.
“And you bought it?” asked Ntombi, disgusted. “Don’t let him buy you off so easily, Zinzi. You’re worth far more than a bottle of cooldrink.”
“So you won’t be having any?” teased Zinzi.
“No way,” said Ntombi, although the ice-cold bottle looked so good. And she was so thirsty. I’m stronger than that, she thought. I have to be.
Zakes was taking up the whole couch when she got inside. The smell of his aftershave filled the small house.
“Aren’t you going to greet Zakes?” Zinzi asked, taking a gulp of cooldrink. Ntombi mumbled a greeting, dumped her shopping, and walked quickly past him to go to the bedroom. But he grabbed her arm and pulled her close. She could smell the beer reeking from his whole body.
“How’s SA’s next Teen Voice singing queen?” he said mockingly. “I hope you gave what I said some thought.” He smiled at her, and she wanted to slap his hand away and run. He made her sick. “Because you know, when I move in here with your gorgeous mother, I don’t want anything to ruin it.”
It was a threat, she could tell. And for the first time, besides feeling sickened by him, she felt fear. How could she tell her mother the truth about him? Just then her mother came swanning in from the bedroom in a pair of new shoes. “What do you think?” she asked Ntombi and Zinzi. Ntombi pushed past her.
“What’s got into her?” her mother asked Zinzi.
“She’s just jealous,” said Zakes loudly, so that Ntombi could hear. “That’s really sad – when a daughter’s jealous of her own mother.”
Ntombi stayed in the bedroom. She got out her photo album and started to page through it. There was a picture of her dad holding her in his arms when she was a little girl. They looked so happy. What had gone wrong? There was one of her mother and father looking so proud as they held their two daughters up to the camera. Would those days ever come back? Were they gone forever?
The music was switched off and the TV on. Zakes had brought them a new TV and her mother and sister were so grateful! It was Isidingo and Ntombi liked to watch it. She liked to lose herself in the characters’ lives. It made her forget about her situation for thirty minutes every day. But tonight there was no way she was going to squash on a couch next to Zakes, drink his cooldrink, and watch a TV that he’d probably stolen. There was no way she would ever be grateful to him for anything, or put herself in his debt.
She got out her diary and started to doodle on the page. She had promised Mr Ntlanti that she would come up with the lyrics to a song for the magazine. She could write about an evil stepdad and a mother gone crazy with love. Or a teenage girl whose dreams to become the next teen idol came to nothing because she was trapped at home looking after her younger sister… who was drinking cooldrink and making out like Zakes was her best friend.
Ntombi wished one of her girlfriends was with her. They were always good in times like these. They would sympathise with her. Asanda would make fun of Zakes. She was good at impersonations and she would have them rolling around the bed with laughter, as she pushed out her tummy to make a beer belly and scratched her bottom like he did.
Just then Ntombi’s cellphone lit up in the dark. She smiled to herself – that would be one of the girls now. Often when she thought of them, one of them would SMS. It was like they had some telepathic connection, and could read each other’s thoughts. But when she looked at the screen, she did not recognise the number. She checked the inbox. There was a message:
Hey gojus. I’l b waitin on da taxi 2morow 4 u. Can’t wayt 2 spend mor tym wit u.
Ntombi read the message ten times but it didn’t change. He called her ‘gorgeous’; he “couldn’t wait to spend time with her”. No guy had ever said that to her before. She held the cellphone against her heart. She knew she was being sentimental, like the girls she laughed at in class, who carried around love notes from guys and lost their heads – but she couldn’t help it. Mzi made her feel something she had never felt before.
She wanted to SMS Asanda immediately to ask her advice on what she should SMS back to him, but she stopped. How could she? Her friends didn’t approve of him, or his brother. Ntombi thought again how unfair it was for them to bundle him and his brother together as if they were the same person. Look how different she was from Zinzi It was hard sometimes to think they were related. No, she was on her own for now.
she typed… and pressed the send button…
Perhaps she should have made him wait, act like she wasn’t waiting for the phone to ring, but it was too late, the SMS was gone. There was no turning back. She waited, expecting another SMS to bounce back, but her screen remained blank. Anyway, it would be uncool of him to respond so quickly, she told herself. And tomorrow was just another sleep away.
“Ntombi, Zakes is going. Come and say goodbye,” her mother called to her from the lounge, but she didn’t respond. “I don’t understand that girl,” she heard her mother say, then she heard them all laughing. But now their laughter didn’t matter any more. It was going to be alright because Mzi had SMSed her and she would see him on the taxi the next morning.
When she heard Zakes’ BMW revving outside and then speeding off into the dark, she came out into the lounge. Her mother had left her a plate of food. But suddenly she wasn’t hungry. Is this what love does to you? she wondered.
“What’s got into you?” her mother asked her. “Why are you so rude to Zakes?”
“Why do you think?” Ntombi shot back.
“Maybe Zakes is right,” her mother said. “Maybe you are jealous.”
“Jealous of what?” Ntombi was getting mad.
“Because you haven’t got a boyfriend,” Zinzi chipped in.
“So whose side are you on?” Ntombi turned on her younger sister. She couldn’t believe her sister was changing sides because of one lousy bottle of cooldrink.
“Mama, Zakes is not what he seems,” Ntombi whispered to her mother later, as they lay in the dark trying to sleep.
“What do you mean?”
Ntombi hesitated. She didn’t know if she could tell her mother what Olwethu’s granny had said; how Zakes was a thief. It would hurt her mother terribly, and although she thought her mother had gone crazy and she didn’t like her at the moment, she didn’t want to hurt her before she was sure. Besides, maybe the granny’s friend had made a mistake. She could not speak to her mother until she knew the truth herself. If only there was a way she could find out more about Zakes.
“Have you ever been to his house?” Ntombi asked. Her mother was silent.
“Zakes is a proud man,” she eventually replied. “I think he is ashamed of how small his house is.”
“I thought he earned all this money?”
“He’s saving. He wants to give us a good life one day.”
“Has he ever introduced you to any of his family?”
Her mother sat up in bed. “It’s not easy for him. I am separated from your father. But we are not divorced. Until we are…” Her mother went quiet, just as Ntombi’s cellphone buzzed, and all thoughts of Zakes were forgotten. Ntombi could almost hear Mzi’s voice, whispering in her ear, as the words
gudnyt bby …
glowed green on her screen.