“Zinzi, my love, you are going to sleep at Sis’ Pholisa tonight.” Zinzi’s mom was looking beautiful with her new hairstyle, and she was wearing a dress that Zinzi had not seen before. It reminded her of the days when her mother dressed up and went out until late with her boyfriend Zakes. Zinzi didn’t like it.
“Why can’t I stay here?” she asked angrily. “Have you found a new man?”
“Don’t talk to me like that, Zinzi!” her mother snapped. “And for your information, no, I have not found a new man.”
“So who are you dressing up for?”
Zinzi’s mother sighed. “Tonight I am going to meet your father and speak to him. That’s all. He wants to see you girls so badly. But before that can happen we need to talk …”
Zinzi jumped up and down. “That’s not fair, Mama! I want to come too! I need to see him.”
“Stop it, Zinzi!” her mother scolded. “I knew I shouldn’t tell you. Just trust me, you will see him very soon if all goes well tonight. I promise.”
Zinzi still couldn’t believe that she was being pushed off to Sis’ Pholisa when her mom was going to meet her dad. For a moment she thought about sneaking after her mom. But the look on her mother’s face made her change her mind. Instead she went into the bedroom and slammed the door behind her. As she got ready to go to Pholisa’s she strained her ears to work out what her mother was doing. Was she going to come and shout at her for being rude, or was she going to come and apologise and kiss her, like she did in the past when she felt guilty about Zakes? But she did neither. When Zinzi came out again her mother was carefully putting on make-up. “The taxi money is next to the stove,” she called. “Be good, and don’t forget to offer to help Sis’ Pholisa with the baby. I promise I’ll talk to you tomorrow!”
Zinzi was left alone in the house. She felt abandoned and lonely. Her mom out with her dad, and Ntombi having fun in Jozi, doing who-knows-what. And here she was having to stay up half the night with a crying baby. Life couldn’t get much worse. And then Sis’ Pholisa phoned. Where was she?
She was so jealous of Ntombi and her mom it made her sick inside. But her luck was about to change. She locked the door of the shack and walked out into the street. There, on the opposite side of the road, was Olwethu. And he wasn’t alone. He was walking with a girl, a girl who was talking and laughing with him. She was pretty, with braids tied up in a ponytail. Olwethu was carrying two bags of shopping and the girl was carrying one. Who was this person going around with her sister’s boyfriend? Zinzi saw an opportunity to get back at her family. She wouldn’t be left out. As she crossed the road, Olwethu looked up and saw her.
“Hey, Zinzi, this is Sinovuyo.” Sinovuyo smiled a greeting. She had dimples in her round cheeks. How could Olwethu be going around with someone so soon, and not even ashamed of it? What would Ntombi say when Zinzi told her? She needed to tell Ntombi right now!
Olwethu saw the look on Zinzi’s face and quickly said, “Zinzi, Sinovuyo is my cousin. You can stop looking so suspicious.”
“Oh,” said Sinovuyo, “so you must be Ntombi’s sister. I’ve heard so much about her.” Sinovuyo smiled. “Nice to meet you, Zinzi. You must be proud of your big sister, there in Jozi.”
In one easy second Zinzi went from feeling protective of her sister to feeling jealous of her all over again. Everything is about Ntombi, she thought to herself, faking a smile for Sinovuyo. I’m sick of it!
“Must go, I’m late for my aunt,” she said, and walked off quickly. She found a taxi and sat squashed beside a man with stinky breath and a woman who smelled of a mixture of perfume and sweat. Zinzi thought about Olwethu and Sinovuyo, and how they seemed very close and chatty for cousins. The thought of telling Ntombi about Sinovuyo cheered her up. Maybe she wouldn’t even mention that Sinovuyo was his cousin. After all, Ntombi was having a good time. It would do her good to remember not to take Olwethu for granted. She would be doing her a favour …
The next morning she hurried home. She was tired. She never slept well at Sis’ Pholisa’s. The baby always woke up in the middle of the night, and this time Pholisa had asked her to warm the bottle. She’d had to get up, heat water and put the bottle in it for a bit, while the baby screamed louder and louder. When the bottle seemed warm enough she took it back to the bedroom, where the baby’s cries were louder than ever, but before she could put the teat in the little boy’s mouth, Pholisa had snatched the bottle from her. “You silly girl! This milk is far too hot! Are you crazy? You will burn my baby!” After all she had done for Pholisa, Zinzi couldn’t believe that this was all she could say. No thank you for staying up half the night – just cross words. Ungrateful woman, thought Zinzi.Tired and cross she had lain next to Pholisa, struggling to get back to sleep.
In the morning she’d had to go to school tired and hungry, and afterwards wait for hours until her mom came home from work. But now she was home and she wanted to hear everything.
“So, what happened?” she asked her mother, as soon as she walked in the door.
“Zinzi, it’s such a long story,” said her mother. “But I have to say that it was good to see your father. And yes, I’ve said he can see you. He’s coming to visit this evening.”
Zinzi felt a wave of excitement. “And where was he, Mama? Why hasn’t he come before?”
“You sound like your sister,” her mother said. “Which reminds me, Zinzi, don’t talk about this to Ntombi yet. I don’t want anything to upset her while she’s rehearsing for the finals.” She smiled. “Your dad was so disappointed she wouldn’t be here too. But he is very proud of her.”
Zinzi’s excitement smashed down and her jealousy rose up. But her mother didn’t notice anything. “He brought things for you – look, my girl.” On the table were chocolates, and two envelopes with their names on. Zinzi looked in hers. R100! At least he realised that she wasn’t a little girl any more!
“Thanks, Mama,” she said, and kissed her on the cheek. “Can I play on your phone for a bit?” She took the phone to the bedroom and dialled Ntombi’s number. “I don’t want anything to upset Ntombi” – that’s what her mother had said. Zinzi thought of Olwethu and Sinovuyo. She dialled the number but then quickly ended the call. No, she must think carefully about how she was going to play this game so that Ntombi would believe her when she broke the bad news …