I’M SITTING in Maths class, my chin propped in my hand. My eyes may be pointing towards the board where the teacher is explaining some new geometry theorem, but they’re totally glazed over and my mind is a million trillion miles away.
The theorems are all in the textbook, anyway. All you have to do is learn them off by heart for the exam, but I honestly cannot think of one good reason why I should be trying to learn one now.
It’s a hot, hot February day. One of those muggy Joburg days where the clouds are building up dark purple in the south and you just know (and hope) that there’s going to be a massive thunderstorm at about half-past four. But until then, there’s no relief in sight. It’s easily 32 degrees outside, and my school shirt is clinging to my back. How we are supposed to concentrate in this weather, I have no idea.
I should be feeling all irritable right now. Maths is my least favourite subject. But instead I’m blissfully happy. I’m seeing Zach tonight, and it’s not some vague “I might pop round later” arrangement. It’s an official, one-hundred-per cent definite date.
I can’t pretend I wasn’t upset by his no-show on Friday. Especially when he BBMed me the next day and didn’t even mention it. The really hard part was that I had no one to talk to about it. I didn’t want to admit to Lael or any of my other friends that I’d lied about why I hadn’t gone to the social. The only one who knew the whole story was James, and he’d already told me what he thought.
When Zach messaged me the next day, he sounded so normal and friendly that I started seeing it from his point of view. I’m pretty sure he never actually said he would come and visit me on Friday night. He just said that he might pop by and that he’d probably see me then.
I’m the one who turned it into a definite thing. Basically it wasn’t his fault at all – I was the one who jumped to conclusions.
I felt a lot better after that.
So I didn’t nag Zach or reproach him or give him the cold shoulder, or use any of the million-and-one tactics I’ve used on boys in the past. Instead I just acted friendly and normal.
And today I got my reward, because he’s invited me to a party at the Postmatric Annexe tonight. Each postmatric can invite a maximum of two guests, and Zach is inviting me and only me! So at first break I dashed back to Sisulu House to ask Matron if I could go, and she said yes. The party starts at half-past seven, and I have to be back in my dorm by half-past nine.
I’m so excited about this, I can hardly sit still. Lael just BBMed me a question that I read under my desk.
What u wearing tonite???
I’ve spent the last two hours thinking about nothing else. I’ve almost decided what I’m wearing – but not quite. If I were still living at home I’d be dashing out this afternoon to buy myself a new outfit, but as it is, I’m restricted to what’s hanging in my cupboard. Tonight definitely calls for a dress.
I’m normally careful with dresses. Because I’m a bit bottom-heavy I have to make sure that the skirt length doesn’t make me look more like a pear than necessary. About mid-knee is the perfect length for me, and I’ve got two dresses that are exactly that long. Only problem is I can’t decide which one to choose. I send Lael a quick reply.
Either lilac handkerchief-hem scoop-neck dress or black shift dress.
I can see her holding her phone under the desk and frowning over my answer. If we get bust messaging each other in class, our phones will be confiscated for
24 hours. Luckily the teacher is still facing the board, using her laser pointer to take us through the steps of the theorem. Lael’s not concentrating because she’s already quite good at Maths, and I’m not concentrating because if I don’t get my outfit sorted for tonight, I’ll go crazy.
My phone flashes and I open her reply.
Blk is nice. Lilac gorj but maybe too smart?
Urgh – I didn’t think of that. Lael’s right, this party is probably very informal. Zach said they hold one party a term, and the way he was talking about it made it sound like not that much of a big deal. Just some drinks and snacks. If I go over the top with my clothes, I’ll look like an idiot. So now what?
The teacher’s voice snaps me to attention. I jump and I drop my phone, coughing loudly to cover the sound of it hitting the floor.
“Would it be asking too much to suggest that you occasionally concentrate in my class?”
All I can think of is my phone possibly having broken to pieces as it hit the floor. What if the screen cracked … or worse? But I don’t dare take a peek under my desk. “Um … sorry?”
She clicks her tongue. “You’re in no position to be daydreaming, Ms Luhabe. Your maths results so far have been nothing short of abysmal. Come and see me for extra homework after class.”
And then, thank goodness, she turns back to the board. I shove my chair back and scrabble on the floor for my phone. It’s still in one piece, thank goodness. I heave a sigh of relief, then I put it away. The last thing I need is for it to be confiscated now. My stress levels are through the roof as it is.
A few hours later, I’m having a full-on meltdown.
Lael was right. The two dresses I was thinking of are far too smart for tonight. So now I’ve tried on everything in my cupboard and everything in Lael’s cupboard, and nothing looks right. Even Yasmin, Nosipho and Priya have been waving their clothes under my nose for me to try, but they’re all the wrong size.
Especially Yasmin. She’s so tiny that her dresses look like dolls’ clothes when I hold them up against me, which hasn’t done wonders for my confidence. So now I’ve got tears pouring down my face, and the thought that I’m going to have red eyes later makes me sob even harder.
Some small part of me is looking down on this scene and realising that I’m acting like a total drama queen, but I can’t seem to help it.
“Why does it absolutely have to be a dress, Trinity?” Lael says, exasperated. “You’ve got so many divine little tops that you could wear with jeans or pants. Why are you doing this to yourself?”
“Zach has seen me in jeans and a top too many times,” I wail. “I want him to see that I can do other looks too.”
“And does that absolutely have to happen tonight?”
“Yes,” I say stubbornly. I’m way beyond the point of being rational.
“Well, then I honestly don’t know what you’re going to do.”
This makes me break out in fresh wails. Any moment now, Matron or one of her deputies is going to come steaming in here to see what all the fuss is about.
“Perhaps I can help,” says a soft voice behind us.
I turn around, switching the tears off at once. It’s Sophie. If there’s one person I don’t like to fall apart in front of, it’s her. That’s the kind of thing she’ll store up and use against me later.
“What’s the problem?” Sophie asks Nosipho.
“Trinity’s going to the postmatric party with Zach tonight and she needs something to wear. It has to be a dress. That’s non-negotiable.”
I hear the slight weariness in Nosipho’s voice and realise that my friends are also sick of all the drama. But Sophie listens carefully. Then she goes to her wardrobe
and starts flicking efficiently through the clothes hanging there.
“You know,” she says, “I think I’ve got just the thing.”
This almost makes me start crying again. “Oh, no, Sophie. No, no, no! You’re not doing this to me. We both know you’re skinnier than me. You’re not going to humiliate me by making me try on something in a size 8.”
“Not at all,” Sophie says with a calm smile. “This has always been a bit big for me. Try it on, Trinity. I just know it’ll look gorgeous on you.
I eye the dress she’s holding out to me with suspicion.
Okay, it’s a colour I never wear for a start – a sort of inky purple. Then Sophie swishes it from side to side on the hanger and I notice that it’s lighter at the top, getting darker on the way down, until the hem is almost black. It has spaghetti straps, a bit of ruching over the bodice, and the kind of A-line skirt that I like. I’m making it sound quite formal, but it’s just a cotton frock – the kind of dress you could easily wear on a sunny day, but that would look right in the evening too.
My hand seems to have a mind of its own, because it’s already reaching out for the dress.
“I knew you’d want to try it on.” Sophie gives a satisfied smile.
I start flinging off my clothes in front of everyone. By now everyone knows I’m wearing mismatched underwear, and I just don’t care anymore.
“Hey, that’s nice!” Lael says enthusiastically as I’m still pulling my arms through the dress. “That’s very nice.”
A chorus of agreement breaks out among the others. All except Sophie, who says nothing. I hold my breath
as she walks slowly around me, checking out the dress from all sides.
“What do you think?” I ask, unable to bear her silence any longer.
Her face breaks into a smile. “It’s perfect!” she says. “If you don’t manage to seduce Zach in that dress, you’re just not trying.”
“I’m not out to seduce him!” I hate how flustered I sound, but something about the combination of Zach and Sophie does that to me. “We’re just going to be at a party with loads of other people. It’s not like we’ll be allowed to slip off somewhere. And anyway, I have to be back here at half-past nine.”
I shut up when I notice how amused everyone is looking. I’m sounding way too defensive. To cover my embarrassment, I walk over to the full-length mirror on my cupboard door to take a look at myself. Immediately, I feel a lot better.
Every now and then I try on something that makes me look less like the Trinity I see all the time in the mirror and more like the Trinity who exists in my head. Trinity-in-my-head is way cooler than Trinity-in-the-mirror. She’s taller, slimmer, sexier, and more confident. Her hair always falls perfectly into place and she never has a shiny forehead or spots on her chin.
That’s what I look like now. Sophie’s dress emphasises all my good points and plays down the bad ones. It falls in a smooth, flattering line from my shoulders to my knees. My arms look toned and smooth, my waist looks tiny, and my legs look slimmer and longer than I know they are in real life. I usually only look like this in fitting-room mirrors in shops. I don’t know what they do to those mirrors to make everything you try on look good.
Sprinkle them with fairy dust, probably. And then you get the new clothes home, and they don’t look half as good in a normal mirror.
But I’m looking in a normal mirror now, I remind myself. I’ve got no makeup on, my hair is all over the place, and there’s no trick lighting in here. But I still look fantastic. This is the dress for me. This is the dress I’m wearing tonight.
Then I’m struck by a horrible thought. What if Sophie was never really going to let me borrow it? What if she just wanted me to try it on to see how fabulous it looked, so then she could say, “No, of course you can’t actually borrow it – what are you thinking, are you nuts?” That’s exactly the kind of thing she’d do.
I turn around to face the girls. I’ll be mature about it, I decide. I won’t give her the satisfaction of seeing I’m upset. If she won’t let me wear it, I’ll just wear my black dress, even if it is a bit formal for tonight.
“So,” I say casually. “Can I actually borrow this for tonight? Because if not, it’s fine, really.”
Sophie opens her big blue eyes as wide as they’ll go. “Of course you can borrow it tonight, Trinity. That’s the whole point. I want you to knock Zach’s socks off.”
“Well … thanks. That’s very kind of you.”
I turn back to the mirror, feeling all warm and fuzzy. Who says elephants can’t change their spots?
I mean leopards.
Sophie has changed – she really has. She’s been making a real effort to be nice to me ever since the beginning of the year. She must finally be forgetting about that silly Miss Sandton feud all those years ago.
Well, if she can be that mature, so can I. I’m going to stop expecting the worst from her all the time. It’s
completely thanks to her that I’m in this relationship with Zach at all. If it weren’t for Sophie, I’d probably still be lying in wait for him outside the Postmatric Annexe, trigonometry textbook in hand, begging him to explain some stupid problem or other.
Actually, to be honest, I’d have given up by now, and Zach would be going out with some matric girl with a short skirt and a loud laugh. The thought of it makes me shiver.
Just before supper, I’m trying to calm my nerves by hanging out with Lael.
We are alone in the dormitory. She’s packing her schoolbag for tomorrow and checking her homework. This gives me a slight twinge in the conscience department as I remember the biology assignment and history essay I haven’t quite finished, not to mention all that extra maths homework I got landed with today.
Once again, I’m grateful that I’m not living at home or I’d be much, much further behind. I went to a double session of supervised homework this afternoon and got a lot done, but I should really go to an evening session tonight to get it all finished.
Yeah, like that’s going to happen.
“So do you agree?” I ask as Lael hunts distractedly for a lost protractor.
She looks up blankly. It’s obvious she hasn’t heard a word I just said. “Agree with what?”
“I just told you my whole theory about Sophie’s new leaf and you weren’t listening to a word of it.”
“Sorry.” Lael finally finds her protractor and slides it into her bag. Then she sits back and looks at me. “Tell me again.”
“It wasn’t much really,” I say sulkily. “Just that I think she really has changed for the better, and maybe we should try to be a bit nicer to her.”
“You mean you agree?”
“Yes. Why not? I’m sure you’re right.”
I look more closely at Lael and notice that her eyes are sliding away from mine. They’re also just a little bit red and swollen. I didn’t notice it before while I was having my what-to-wear meltdown, but I’d swear I’m not the only one who’s been crying.
“Hey … what’s up?” I sit down on the bed next to her and put my arm around her shoulders.
She turns her face away. “Nothing.”
“It’s not nothing. If it’s bothering you, it must be something. It’s okay if you don’t want to talk about it, but you’ll probably feel better if you do.”
“It’s just my mom, as usual. I’m never going to change her, so there’s no point in talking about it, is there?”
“Yes, there is. You know it always helps to talk about it. And you also know she doesn’t mean half the stuff she says – you just take it too personally.”
“Oh, she means it this time,” Lael says bitterly. “And there’s no way I can’t take it personally, seeing as it’s aimed at me.”
“What do you mean?”
Lael hesitates and I feel a beat of apprehension. What can her mother possibly have done now? What could be so bad that she doesn’t want to tell me about it? I’m practically a world expert on Lael’s mother. I know all
about how she criticises Lael and runs her down all the time. How she can’t be bothered to be a real mother to her, but keeps farming her out to friends and relatives so that she can spend all her time globetrotting. And how whenever she does spend time with her daughter, Lael turns into a nervous and insecure version of herself.
Basically, if you take the stereotype of the traditional Jewish mother – warm, nurturing, fussing over her kid, making her wear a jersey when she goes out, cooking up delicious meals – and imagine the exact opposite of that, then you’ll have Shirley Lieberman.
“What has she done now? You know you’re going to tell me anyway..”
“She sent me something,” Lael says at last.
Slowly she stands up and starts fiddling around in her cupboard – moving jeans and T-shirts out of the way. Whatever it is, it’s well hidden.
“It’s this.” Lael pulls out a box and puts it on the bed next to me.
I stare at it for a moment. There’s a picture of a skinny blonde woman wearing a tank top and tight shorts on the box. She seems to be doing knee-bends for some mysterious reason, and has a smug smile on her face. There’s also a twirly graphic of a tape measure wrapped around the box.
“A Brand New You” it promises in attractive pink writing.
“Is this … some kind of diet?” I hazard.
Lael nods miserably. “It’s not available in South Africa yet. Mom found it in Los Angeles. You can lose up to 4 kgs a month, apparently. She bought me enough for three months, so she obviously thinks I need to lose at least 12 kgs. For a start.”
I put the box down and give her a hug. “Ah, honey, you know that’s not true. You’re gorgeous just the way you are. You have guys queuing up to go out with you. Why would you want to starve yourself on some stupid fad diet just because your mother tells you to? You know she’s always been obsessed with weight, but that doesn’t mean you have to buy into it.”
“She wants you to do the diet, too.”
There’s a sudden silence.
“She wants … what was that again?” I ask carefully.
“She wants us to do the diet together. She thinks I’m more likely to stick to it that way. Hang on, I’ve got her letter here somewhere. Let me read it to you.”
Lael dives back into her cupboard and rootles around among her shoes. She comes out with a much bigger DHL box, with lots of little “Brand New You” boxes inside it. The first box was obviously just the tip of the diet iceberg.
“Okay, here it is.” She unfolds a letter that was stuck between all the boxes. “Let’s see … lose up to 4 kgs a month with this easy, blah blah blah, okay here it is. ‘I’m sure your friend Trinity would be delighted to join you on this weight-loss journey, and have therefore included a month’s starter pack for her too. You are both more likely to be successful if you have a weight-loss buddy to keep you on the straight and narrow and see that you don’t cheat. I’m really looking forward to see a new, svelte you in the April holidays, blah, blah, blah.’ So what do you think of that?”
What I think is that I need to take a few deep breaths before I answer, or else I’ll end up saying something about Lael’s mom that I’ll regret. Because no one likes you to slag off their family, however much they might do it themselves.
“So that must mean she thinks I need to lose about 4 kgs,” I say in a fairly calm voice.
“Let’s say between three and four kilograms,” Lael says. “You can’t expect to lose 4 kgs every month.”
I stand up to look at myself in her mirror. I’m trying to imagine myself three to four kilos lighter than I am now. I’d be a size 10, bordering on a size 8, if I lost that much weight. No more needing to take a size 12 in some brands of clothes.
Here’s the thing. I’m basically happy with my body from the waist up. It’s my hips, bum and thighs that I’d like to change. And a month isn’t that long, is it? I mean, surely it’s worth putting in a month of my life to end up with the body I’ve always dreamed of? Especially now that I’m dating Zach.
I sit back down on Lael’s bed. “Let’s see what this diet is all about.”
Lael breaks open two of the boxes, revealing an intriguing glimpse of Tupperware, sachets and pill bottles. She takes out two information leaflets and we both settle down to read them.
Almost immediately, I can feel myself being seduced. It all sounds so reasonable and scientific. “Just replace two meals a day with our deliciously filling meal replacement shakes or soups, and enjoy a balanced meal with your family in the evening. Let us do the hard work for you. We’ve taken all the guesswork out of calorie-counting. Simply choose three items from our extensive list of permitted foods and watch the weight melt off in all the right places.”
I imagine the weight melting off in all the right places. It’s such an attractive prospect that the corners of my mouth tug upwards. Lael has a similar faraway look in her eyes.
My glance lands on a section called “No Hunger Pangs” and my smile grows wider. “Our specially formulated, all-natural capsules will ensure that you suffer no hunger pangs and have plenty of energy to face your day. White Fennel is a herbal product that is scientifically proven to reduce hunger, while our patented formula Energex-Z will ensure that your energy levels stay constant, with no listless dips during the day.
“You know…” I say casually, trying to keep the excitement out of my voice. “This actually doesn’t sound too bad. I mean, I know it was a cheek for her to send it to us and everything, but just … just imagine.”
“Yeah,” Lael says wistfully. “Just imagine if it actually works.”
“What else is in the boxes?”
“I don’t know. Let’s have a look.”
We start unpacking them like a couple of kids at Christmas. There a plastic shaker for mixing the soups and shakes. There are lots and lots of sachets containing powder, and three kinds of pill bottles labelled “vitamin and mineral complex”, “Energex-Z all-day energy formula” and “No-Hunger formula”.
“Ooh, look, an exercise booklet!” says Lael.
She holds up a little book featuring the skinny woman from the box doing all kinds of exercises with a kettlebell.
“Except I don’t have a kettlebell, do you?” I point out.
“No, but we can buy one on our next exeat.”
“Our next what?”
“Exeat. That’s Latin for outing. Don’t you know about those? We get to go to Sandton City or Montecasino or somewhere for a few hours on some Saturdays. It’s for the kids like us who don’t go home on weekends. There are usually about two a term. You can go to the movies, grab a coffee, and do some shopping. It’s a lot of fun. But the point is, we could pop into Verimark or one of those places and buy a couple of kettlebells.”
“Awesome! And look, the shakes and soups come in different flavours so we won’t get bored. There’s chocolate, strawberry and vanilla for the shakes, and butternut, beef, and carrot and coriander for the soup.”
Lael looks at me and grins. “We’re really doing this, aren’t we?’
“Yes!” I laugh. “We really are.”