My mouth is dry and my head throbbing when I wake up the next morning. I feel feverish and sick to my stomach. I must have drunk something poisonous to feel this bad. I think I’m going to die.
Memories of the night before pulse inside my head like flashing lights in a club. Dancing. Drinking. Smoking. Tripping and falling a few times. People helping me up. A blurry memory of Themba half-carrying me home in the early hours of the morning. I turn my face into my pillow in confusion.
“Buhle, get up and go and buy us Disprin,” snaps my aunt, as she shakes me awake.
As I get up my head feels as if it’s been struck by a lightening bolt. It’s a struggle to get dressed and walk along the dusty road to the spaza. I feel nauseous. I slow down when I get closer, suddenly remembering that Themba might be working at the spaza today.
My heart jumps. Thandoza and the girls are there, standing outside the spaza.
Thandoza is leaning against a street pole, wearing big sunglasses and lots of bling. She looks like she’s effortlessly posing for a shoot for a glossy magazine.
There’s a man with them. He’s holding a strip of airtime up in the air like a prize. I figure he must be Thandoza’s Minister of Communications.
Thandoza reaches for the strip of yellow airtime vouchers and he playfully pulls it out of her reach. This happens three or four more times. Suddenly Thandoza leaps forward and viciously snatches it away from him. He looks angry and my heart beats anxiously in my chest for a moment. But then I see that Thandoza’s smiling her million-dollar smile and the Minister of Communications is laughing, so everything must be ok.
I file that. Thandoza’s knows what she’s doing and it seems that flashing a smile can make some problems go away.
The Minister of Communication pulls Thandoza up against him and kisses her goodbye.
As he leaves Thandoza tucks the airtime into her bra, somehow even making that look pretty glam. Gugu snaps a pic of her with her phone, and they all crowd around to look.
“You look hot Thandoza,” I hear Lindiwe croon. “Post it on Facebook.”
Lindiwe spots me. “Hey! Buhle! Come over.”
My head is pounding and I’m feeling shy, my skin is clammy with hangover and I worry I might still actually be drunk, but there’s no way’s I’m missing the chance to hang with the group.
When I get there Thandoza takes off her sunglasses and I see that her eyes are red, and her skin looks tired. She opens a box of cigarettes, and offers me one.
I take it, knowing that if I smoke it I’ll puke, but if this is the moment when Thandoza welcomes me to her club, I’m in.
Thandoza puts her hand out. “R2,” she says.
I use the Disprin money to pay for the cigarette.
Thandoza’s face suddenly lights up, and I return her mega-watt smile before I realize it isn’t meant for me. I swing round to see a smartly dressed man coming round from the back of the spaza – with Themba walking beside him. My heart starts pounding against my ribs.
Gugu nudges me and whispers quietly, “So that guy in the suit is the one Thandoza’s reeling in as her new Minister of Finance. He owns dozens of spaza shops in Cape Town. How hot is he?”
I’m standing back quietly, taking this all in, when Lindiwe nudges me and says in a voice loud enough for everyone to hear, “Isn’t that the schoolboy you were kissing last night?” Then she laughs.
Her high-pitched squeal of mirth pierces the air, drawing all eyes.
The Minister of Finance stops and fixes me with a look that makes me go hot and cold.
“Ah, so are you the Buhle from last night? Themba’s been telling me all about you? Themba and I are old friends you know. He’s been working at my spaza for years.” His eyes rake over me, and then he looks at Themba as if it say ‘Watch this.’
An uncomfortable wave of feeling sweeps over me as I think of how forward I was with Themba last night. And I remember him half carrying me, half supporting me home to my aunt’s house in the early hours of the morning, but I can’t remember how that came about. What’s Themba been telling this man about me? The kissing? The running away? How drunk I was?
“No Buhle, it’s not like that,” says Themba, as if he thinks he can read my mind.
But I can’t read his, and I have no idea what he’s trying to say. I just have a storm of feeling pushing and pulling in every direction.
“It would be good if we could talk Buhle,” says Themba quietly.
I can feel Lindiwe’s eyes on me, watching to see if I’m sticking to her advice from the night before about getting nowhere in life if I kiss a schoolboy. Watching to see if I have what it takes to get out of the poor rut and be someone.
The look on Thandoza’s face says she already thinks I’m a waste of time. But I’m not. I’m sure I’m not.
“There’s nothing going on between us Themba, so we’ve got nothing to talk about.” My voice sounds like it’s coming from somebody else, and when I lift my eyes from the ground I look at the girls, not Themba.
“Well, if there’s nothing going on with you and Themba, maybe you’d like to talk to me?” says the Minister of Finance with a look on his face that reminds me of a hungry crocodile.
Themba gasps, Gugu and Lindiwe look impressed, and my skin prickles as Thandoza fixes me with a furious, slitty-eyed glare.
I’m way out of my depth here. I’ve got NO idea what to do next. So I take a leaf out of my Thandoza’s book, and flash my best imitation of her million-dollar smile.
WHAT DO YOU THINK? The tension is crackling outside the spaza. Buhle’s getting herself in deep water! What do you think is going to happen next?