“Take me somewhere nice,” Busi said. She didn’t want to go home. There was nothing for her at home.
“I think it’s beach weather. You been to the beach?” Parks asked as he weaved between cars, then accelerated into the fast lane. “You ever get out of that dump you call home?” She shook her head. He was right. Their shack was small and cramped and cold. “Well, you deserve it, girl. Let me treat you.”
Busi had only been to the beach twice in her life. Once, when she was six, her mom and dad had taken her to Monwabisi. She had built a huge sandcastle and played in the waves. It was New Year’s Day and the beach was packed. Then in Grade 7 the school had taken her class down to Muizenberg on an outing. Twice – in her entire life. And she lived so close to the sea. “Beach weather,” Parks said again. “Wat sê jy?” he called to the gaadjie in the back.
“Beega, beega, make the circle beega,” the guard sang. Uyaphara. What was it – dagga, tik? His brain was fried, that was for sure.
“You’re right, Parks,” she said, feeling braver now, “It is beach weather.”
“That’s my girl,” he said and took her hand. She felt the thrill of his skin against hers.
“What are you thinking?” Parks said, smiling at Busi. It was so easy for her to talk to him. He wasn’t awkward when he spoke to her, like the boys at school. Talking to him was like chatting to one of her girlfriends. When she couldn’t think of anything to say he filled the gap.
“I was thinking about you – about the way you make me feel so good,” she said.
“That’s because I’m a man who has money and treats his women well.” He sped up. They were nearing the sea. She could smell it. “This is only pocket money, driving this taxi. My other businesses, that’s where the real money is. You don’t get that if you’re a fool.”
Respectful, intelligent, handsome … She had hit the jackpot! But every kilometre on the clock was a kilometre further away from her home, her granny, and her friends. And she was out of airtime! “It’s okay. I’ll get you home before dark,” he reassured her. “We wouldn’t want your granny to worry now.” So he knew she was anxious. He knew what she was thinking. That’s what true love was, wasn’t it? You didn’t have to say anything. You just understood each other.
She didn’t stop to wonder how he knew that she lived with her granny.
“We’ll stop at KFC. We can’t go to the beach hungry.”
“I am hungry,” laughed Busi. “I could eat a horse.”
“That’s what I like to hear.” His chuckle was low and rich. “I’m glad you’re not one of those girls who don’t eat. I like my women curvaceous.” He put his hand on her thigh and gave it a squeeze. “Don’t give a man scrawny chicken wings when it’s juicy meat he wants.”
So he liked the way she looked. And it gave her secret pleasure thinking that Lettie wasn’t his type. He wouldn’t look twice at her. She was skinny and her chest was flat as a pancake. And Asanda, well she would annoy him with her constant questions and jokes. No, it was her that he wanted – Busi.
Just then her cell glowed and she let out an, “Oh!” It was Lettie. Why had Lettie SMSed her, just when Busi was thinking bad thoughts about her? She turned around. Stupid, she thought, how could she be in the taxi with me?
Wats up? Wer u @?
“My friends are looking for me,” she told Parks.
“So call them,” Parks answered, turning the volume down.
“I can’t,” Busi laughed. “Where must I get the airtime? And anyway, I’m sick of them wanting to know where I am all the time.” Parks put his hand on her thigh again. “They just care about you,” he said. “And I can see why. You’re special. I care about you too. I’ll buy you airtime, my baby. I told you, I treat my girls well.”
She liked that. She liked being called his baby. It gave her a warm feeling. Nobody had bought her airtime before. She had always had to earn the money to buy it. This was so much easier. She closed her eyes and put her head back and let the music carry her away.
Parks was true to his word. He stopped and got Khentakhi to take to the beach – a Streetwise Feast. And not just R29 airtime – R110! She had never had so much before. How could she thank him?
“Aren’t you going to call your friends now?” he teased her. They were coming up to Sunrise Circle. She could see the beach.
“Later,” she said. She liked the way it sounded so casual and grown-up. She didn’t want to be a silly schoolgirl with him, on the cell to her friends all the time, talking nonsense about boys and stuff that wasn’t important. No, phoning Lettie and Asanda was the last thing she wanted to do right now.
Parks pulled into the parking lot in front of the water slides. He grabbed the KFC bag from behind his seat. Then he opened the tub and tossed a piece of chicken at the gaadjie, like he was a dog. “To shut him up,” he laughed.
There were other couples strolling down the beach, hand in hand. As they walked down onto the sand, Parks put his arm around Busi and pulled her close. The comforting warmth of his body next to hers made her want to cry. Her granny gave her a quick hug sometimes. But her mom and dad – she couldn’t remember the last time they had hugged her, or held her close. They had been gone for so long. And she realised how lonely she had been.
The sea was pearly grey and still, like the sky. Not a wave in sight. Like a magician, Parks pulled one thing after another out of his bag of tricks: a blanket, two glasses, a bottle of champagne, KFC.
“Let’s celebrate,” he said, filling their glasses. Busi had never had champagne before. It was what movie stars drank. She had only had a sip or two of beer at a tavern once, with a boy who couldn’t afford to buy her a Savannah.
“What?” she said. “What are we celebrating?”
“You. We’re celebrating you.” Parks leaned over and kissed her cheek.
When they got back into the taxi to go home, it was getting dark. They had splashed in the shallow water. He had picked up shells for her and told her she was clever and funny and beautiful. The champagne made her feel dizzy with love. Not even the gaadjie’s coarse voice irritated her. And when Parks stopped at the end of her road he leaned over and took her hand. “I’ve had such a good time,” he said. “You make me happy. You’re my sugar baby, Busi – so sweet and so cute.” Then he kissed her on the lips.
It was different from awkward schoolboy kisses. This was dreamy. His lips were soft and warm and firm. She was lost. When his cell phone beeped with a message, he pulled away, reluctantly. “I could do this all night,” he said. “But I’ve got some business to attend to …”
“Bye, cutie pie.” The sound of the gaadjie’s voice startled her. It was the first time he had spoken. He was waving his fingers at her and licking his lips. He had watched them kissing! Ugh!
After Parks had left Busi stood and gazed down the road after him. She felt dazed, like she had just woken up and didn’t know where she was. She was still lost in the clouds when Unathi came up behind her. He jolted her out of her dream world and back to the cold, dirty street. “I didn’t recognise the taxi,” he said. “Or the driver.”
“A friend,” Busi said quickly.
“Of your father’s?” Unathi’s voice was bitter. And
when she didn’t reply, he added, “Lettie and Asanda were worried when you didn’t pitch for soccer.”
“I don’t see them here?” she said, looking around, “What are you, their messenger boy?” They were cruel words and she saw that she had hurt him. But he deserved it, stalking her like that. She turned her back on him and started to walk home.
“Be careful with your taxi driver,” Unathi called after her. “Be careful, Busi. Remember Ebenezer. Sometimes people aren’t what they seem.”