Sbu watched K8 coming around the corner from the car, carrying two paintings. She was wearing dark glasses, and in the bright sunshine her white and yellow T-shirt seemed to glow. She propped up the pictures on the table in front of him, and wiped her brow.
“That’s the last of them,” she said.
They were in Greenmarket Square, just up from St George’s Mall, and this time they were official. They had hired the end section of a long table used by other vendors, next to a girl selling homemade jewellery. They had a batch of new paintings to sell. And K8 had even brought a beach umbrella to shade them from the sun.
Airtime was strutting around, calling out to potential customers.
“Paintings! Get your paintings here! Real art, good price! No carved giraffes!”
“You don’t need to do that,” said Song, gently pulling him back to his place behind the stand.
Sbu saw the young metro cop who’d helped them out. He was on the other side of the square, talking to some buskers. He looked up at Sbu, and held up a hand in greeting. Sbu held up their official vendor’s licence. The cop nodded, satisfied.
“Hey, K8, have you told Sbu about the letter?” asked Song.
“What letter?” said Sbu.
K8 looked hesitant. “It’s a letter from Rhodes University. I… got a scholarship. For this year.”
“Isn’t that great?” said Song.
Sbu felt his stomach sink, and a chill rushed over him despite the mid-day heat.
“I don’t know if I’ll go,” said K8 quickly. “I mean, it would be great to take this scholarship, because then I won’t have to use my parent’s money. But I don’t want to leave you guys.”
Neither of them were saying out loud what they were thinking. They hadn’t told Song or Airtime about the kiss yet, and now didn’t seem like the time. But they were both full of questions.
K8 looked into Sbu’s eyes, trying to read his thoughts. Rhodes was in Grahamstown – a long way away. If she went, they wouldn’t see each other again for five months, maybe a year. A lot could happen in that time. But this was her big opportunity.
Still, what they had started couldn’t be ignored.
“I said I wanted to go with you,” said K8 quietly. “I mean it.”
“I know,” said Sbu. “But this is big for you.”
“I know that, too.”
Sbu took a deep breath.
“Whatever you need to do,” he said, “I’ll understand. Okay?”
“Excuse me?” K8 and Sbu were interrupted by a young woman with blonde dreadlocks and her boyfriend carrying a backpack with a German flag. The young man pointed at one of Sbu’s street scenes.
“Did you paint this?” he asked. Sbu nodded.
“How much is it?” said the young woman.
Sbu sold the painting for three hundred rand. The young man peeled three crisp blue notes out of his wallet, and handed them to Sbu.
The young woman held it at arm’s length to admire it. “I love it,” she said. ‘Finally, some real Cape Town art.’
She put it under her arm, and the two of them walked off between the stalls.
“Nice one!” said Airtime. “Our first sale!”
“This calls for a celebration,” said K8. “Lunch? I’ll get it. Burgers for everyone?”
“I’ll help you carry,” said Song.
“Will you be okay, running the stand for a while?” K8 asked Sbu. “We can talk later.”
“I’ll be fine,” said Sbu. “See you now-now.”
K8 opened her mouth, about to speak, but there was nothing she could say right then. Instead, she took his hand and squeezed it, and walked away with Song towards the fast-food places on Long Street. Sbu watched them go.
“Three hundred bucks!” said Airtime, sidling up next to Sbu. “Not bad.” Then he put his elbows onto the table, and sighed.
“What’s wrong?” said Sbu.
“I wish I really had fifty thousand rand, you know? I really believed I had it. And I thought that maybe if I believed really hard, it would be true. So stupid.”
“Well, you were smart to call the cops, anyway,” said Sbu.
“I’m not smart. I just had help from smart people.” Airtime looked towards Song as she walked with K8 through the throngs of tourists. For the first time, Sbu wondered if maybe it wasn’t just K8 and him who had a secret.
Airtime pushed up off the table and stretched his shoulders back.
“No point in being down!” he said cheerfully. “You can’t win them all, hey? Things are okay. It’s not the end of the world.”
“Right,” said Sbu. He didn’t know what he’d say to K8 when she got back, but they had to talk. Maybe she would stay, maybe she would go, but in the end it was something they’d work out together. For Sbu, that was what mattered.
Across the market, K8 and Song disappeared into the crowd. It wasn’t the end of the world. In fact, it could just be the beginning.
WHAT DO YOU THINK? What should K8 do – go to Rhodes or stay in Cape Town with Sbu?