Busi stood outside the shack where she lived with her granny. She had to get her story straight before she went in. Her grandmother would ask her a hundred questions. Where were you? Why weren’t you at school? She would say that she had stomach cramps. Her granny would believe that. But when she finally opened the door and went inside, she wasn’t there. Something was wrong.
Her grandmother was old and didn’t get out much. She went to the clinic on Wednesdays and she had umgalelo with her friends on Fridays. But today was Monday – she should be at home. Busi went out into the yard to check if she had fallen. But the yard was empty. If she went to ask the neighbours, rumours would fly. No, she would wait a while and see if her granny came home. Perhaps she had gone to visit a friend. If she came back after three o’clock she would never know that Busi had come home early.
It was cold lying on her bed. Their shack was dimly lit and an icy wind was blowing through a hole in the zinc sheeting. They would have to fix it before the winter rains. If only they had more money. Her mother and father had gone to Jozi to look for better jobs, but they hadn’t sent any money back. Then she thought of Parks with his fleet of taxis. He was rich, and he liked her. He made her feel like a queen and he wasn’t awkward like the boys at school. Yes, that was the difference. They were boys and Parks was a man.
She thought of his smile. What she had done was dangerous – she knew that. If she saw him again she would just keep walking. But what if he stopped and opened the taxi door? What would she do then?
Parks had joked about kidnapping her. But it happened every day. She read The Sun. There were so many photos of children who had gone missing. She remembered one little girl’s trusting face. Her name was Cheryl and she disappeared the day before Christmas. She left to go to the shop and never returned. Where were those missing boys and girls?
But Parks had taken her home when she’d asked him to, and he had opened the door for her. He was a gentleman. Busi fell asleep and dreamed of him.
When she woke up it was already late in the afternoon. She could smell the wood smoke from fires in the street, and the sweet smell of roasting meat on the fire drums. Then she heard the familiar sound of her grandmother’s cough, and the clatter of dishes. “I wondered if you were going to sleep until tomorrow,” her granny said when Busi pushed back the blanket that separated the bedroom from the kitchen. She wasn’t sure when her grandmother had returned. She wasn’t sure if she knew that she had missed school.
“I was feeling ill,” she said, to be safe. “I came home early.”
“I know.” Her grandmother put her hand against Busi’s forehead. “Are you feeling any better now?”
“Yes,” said Busi, trying to see if her granny believed her. “Thank you.”
“I was feeling ill myself earlier. I went to the clinic. On the way back I passed some friends of yours from Harmony High. That boy, the nice one, greeted me. You know, the one who helped me carry my shopping that time.”
“That’s it.” Her face lit up, remembering. “He told me you weren’t at school. He was worried, Busi.”
Busi thought of how, not so long ago, she had written love letters to Unathi. And how upset she had been when he returned them unopened. He seemed so cool and sexy and all she wanted was to be his girlfriend. But now that she had met Parks, Unathi seemed so young and inexperienced – such a boy. Now she had met a real man.
“Why should Unathi worry?” said Busi quickly. “He doesn’t really care about me.”
“No? That’s not how it seemed to me.”
“What did they say at the clinic, Gogo?” Busi asked, trying to change the subject. “Are you sick? Did they give you something to make you better?”
“It’s just my blood pressure. I forgot to take my pills.”
“I can help you to remember to take them, Gogo. I can even get a pill box for you. Asanda’s granny has one. It has a place where you put the pills for every day of the week. You can easily see if you have forgotten one.”
“That sounds like a very clever thing. Thank you, Busi,” her granny said, taking her hand. “You know something, my child? I like to have you living here with me. I am lucky to have such a kind granddaughter.” Busi smiled and hugged her. “I’m sorry it’s sometimes boring for you,” her granny continued. “But I am blessed that you are such a good girl. I know you would never do anything stupid. Utata Nomama abanangxaki. They have nothing to worry about.” She looked at Busi closely.
What did her parents care what happened to her, Busi thought. They had left her here with her grandmother. When last had they phoned her? It was easier for them without her. Hadn’t she heard her mother tell their neighbour that she wished she hadn’t had a baby so young; that Busi had ruined her chances in life?
“I’ll go get us some meat for supper,” Busi said. “Before it gets too late.”
“Come straight home,” her granny cautioned.
Out on the street she felt better. Her head felt clearer. It had been dangerous climbing out of the window and getting into Parks’s taxi – dangerous, but exciting at the same time. She was lucky, she told herself. Things could have gone differently. He could have taken her away, raped her and left her for dead in a ditch somewhere. It had been dangerous. But she knew she would do it again.
She heard a shout from the end of the road. It was Lettie and Unathi. They were waving. She waved back. This time when she came up to Lettie she gave her a big hug. “Well done for winning best dancer in the talent show. Mtsalane!” she said. And she was surprised to find that she really meant it. Suddenly it didn’t matter so much that her friends were popular. Now she had something of her own. Something exciting that her friends didn’t share. She had her own thrilling secret – and his name was Parks.
“Where did you go?” Unathi asked her.
“Why does it matter to you?” Busi said cheekily.
“It doesn’t really,” he shrugged.
“So, why are you asking?”
“Mr Ntlanti wanted to know where you were. I told him you had stomach cramps,” said Lettie.
“Phew, thanks,” Busi said.
“Did you have stomach cramps?” Unathi questioned her.
“Yes, I did. Do you think I’m lying?” she snapped.
“How come you didn’t tell anyone that you were sick?” He wouldn’t leave it alone. He was like a dog with a bone.
“Enough with the questions,” joked Lettie, seeing Busi’s face. “Uyadika!” Then, as Unathi walked away, she said quietly, “It’s just because he likes you.”
“He has a funny way of showing it,” Busi replied.
Where was he last term when I liked him, she thought? With another girl! Busi had bad luck with boys. She thought of Ebenezer. She had dated him until that day when they’d had a terrible fight. He’d pushed her and she had fallen hard onto the tar behind the sports shed. At the sound of her screaming, Asanda and Ntombi had come running and Ebenezer had fled, leaving her with a broken arm. Parks was different, she told herself. He was a gentleman, and so funny and good-looking. He had taken her home when she had asked him to and offered her free rides in his taxi.
“Are you coming to soccer tomorrow afternoon?” Lettie asked, interrupting Busi’s daydream. She put her arm around Busi’s shoulders. “You’re the best goalie our team has ever had,” she coaxed. “You know how we lose when you’re not there.”
“We can take the taxi together. I’ll wait outside the gate after school.”
“Sure,” said Busi. But as she walked back with the meat for supper, she wasn’t so sure she would be going to soccer. She found herself thinking about Parks again. She couldn’t get him out of her head. Why had he come past Harmony High? Why had he changed his taxi route that day?