“Orange!” Lettie shrieked excitedly. “I want the orange!”
“Orange nail polish?” Busi laughed. “Where did you get it?”
“It belongs to my mum,” said Zinzi. “She has many other colours …” Ntombi had brought her sister Zinzi along to help them dress at Asanda’s house. They were primping and preening, doing one another’s hair and nails and trying on each other’s clothes.
“Busi! Where’s your head, girl?” Lettie exclaimed, blowing on her freshly painted orange nails. “Get done, or we’ll be late.”
“I can’t wait to meet your mystery man,” laughed Asanda.
But Busi was worried. She had SMSed Parks the directions five times and he hadn’t replied. “Trust me, I’ll be there. And I’ll never let those girls laugh at you. I’ll charm them all. Just wait and see.” He would be there. Of course he would.
“Why are you so quiet?” Ntombi asked in the taxi on the way to the school hall. “Is anything wrong?” She too had noticed Busi withdrawing from their group of friends. Ntombi knew that Busi was in trouble with Parks. She recognised the signs. It had been the same with Mzi – the lies you told yourself and others, the promises that were broken.
When they got to the hall there was a bustle of activity. Everyone was commenting on everyone else’s choice of clothes and how this one and that one looked.
“Kwenzeke ntoni ezinweleni zakho.”
“Is that really …”
“Oh my god, what is Selwyn wearing!”
Busi waited outside. It was getting cold and the rest of the girls and boys had gone in. She could hear the music starting. It was Malibongwe – one of her favourites. It used to get her onto the dance floor, no matter what. But not tonight.
“Are you okay?” Mr Khumalo asked Busi. “Are you waiting for your date?” He had come to check that all the students were in the hall.
“Yes, he’s been caught in traffic,” she lied.
“You can wait for five minutes more. Then you’ll have to come in,” he warned. “There are quite a few girls and boys who have come on their own. It doesn’t matter at all. We can all dance together. You don’t have to have a partner.” It was kind of Mr Khumalo. But it did matter to Busi. She had told all her friends that Parks would come. She had boasted about her smart, rich boyfriend who was a man, not a boy.
Eventually she was forced to go inside the hall, but she didn’t dance. She waited by the door, nervously checking her cell phone for messages. When she could, she ran out to check the parking lot. “Of course I’ll come, baby. I’ll be there after ten,” he had promised. So, where was he? Her friends were losing patience with her.
“Come on, Busi, you haven’t danced all night – come and join us,” Asanda pleaded with her. Then Unathi came up and held out his hand. “May I have the pleasure?” he asked her. She hovered between going with him and running outside again. He looked very handsome in his suit and she knew what a good dancer he was. But if she went with him she might miss Parks.
“The night is young, Unathi. You’ll see – I’ll dance with you later.”
So he too stopped asking her, dancing instead with all the girls who wanted to dance with him. There were many of them, as he had long legs and good moves. But still he kept watching Busi out of the corner of his eye. Why couldn’t he talk some sense into her?
It was midnight when Busi tried Parks’s phone for the last time. This time it went onto voicemail.
The number you have dialled is unavailable. Please try again later.
Busi was close to tears. Where was he?
“What if something happened to him?” she asked Lettie.
“Something like what?” Lettie wanted to know.
“Something bad, like an accident …”
“Or something like, maybe he’s married. Or maybe he’s too old to come and dance with a lot of teenagers.”
“But he could have said so …”
Asanda laughed. “I can just imagine the look on Mr Khumalo’s face if he pitches up and wants to come in.”
“Yes,” Unathi added, “Mr Khumalo said admittance strictly for schoolchildren.”
“He’s not coming to dance,” Busi argued now, changing her tune. “He’s coming to fetch me.” Her friends looked at one another and rolled their eyes.
“How well do you know him?” Lettie wanted to know. “Did you meet his family? Do you know where he lives?”
“He lives in Milnerton,” Busi answered proudly and, as an afterthought, “His family lives in the Eastern Cape.”
“Conveniently!” Lettie snapped. “You know what, Busi? You hardly know this man. I only hope you use condoms.”
“I know what I’m doing, Lettie,” said Busi. “Mind your own business. Besides, he isn’t HIV-positive. He said so.”
“Hmm, yes, and he’s so reliable, Busi!” retorted Lettie.
Busi decided to ignore this hurtful remark. Anyway, she had something more urgent to think about. Where was Parks?
The music had stopped. Happy young teenagers came tumbling out of the hall while the team who had organised the dance stayed behind to clean up and pack away the plastic chairs. Busi saw this as her opportunity to get away from her friends. She took off and ran all the way home. She wanted to go and look for Parks, but where would she begin?
“Is that you, Busi?” her grandmother called as she entered their shack.
“It’s me, Gogo!” She was cold and out of breath. She had taken off her shoes to run through the dark streets – too frightened to slow down or stop.
“I thought you were all sleeping over at Asanda’s tonight,” her grandmother said, smiling, as Busi bent down to kiss her on her cheek. “You’re exhausted.”
“All that dancing,” Busi lied. “I left before the end. Asanda’s being such a show-off, I decided not to spend the night there.” Her grandmother smiled. “Girls! I remember all the fights we had at school. Then we would hug and make up.”
Busi sat up all night – watching, waiting, listening to the sounds of the night. Part of her still expected Parks to come and knock at her window, armed with a big smile and a sound explanation, a can of Coke and a whole-nut chocolate. His phone was still on voicemail and she couldn’t think of a single person who might be able to tell her what had happened to him. She was angry and worried.
She didn’t know what to think.
Where was he?
As the night grew still around her, a million possibilities raced around her head. Did he owe her anything? Did he really love her? What did she know about him and his life? In giving her money and buying her things, Parks didn’t have to explain anything to her. And suddenly she felt like that prostitute in the hotel. He had bought her sex with pretty lockets and meals in fancy restaurants. She wasn’t sure what to wish for – that he would come for her or that she could forget him forever.
As the sun rose she could no longer fight the tiredness, and she drifted off to sleep. But Parks wouldn’t leave her alone. There he was in her dreams, opening the door of his taxi. And there she was getting in, looking back. But in her dreams the gaadjie had gone. In her dreams a woman sat on the back seat. It was the woman from the smart black car, staring at her.