WE SPLIT the “Brand New You” stuff up into two parts – three months for Lael and one month for me – and hide it away in Lael’s cupboard. The need for secrecy is something we don’t even discuss. Neither of us wants to be a target for the kind of comments you get when you tell your friends that you’re on a diet.
There’s the “why do you want to go on a diet when you’re perfect the way you are?” school of thought. And then there’s the “So you’re finally going on a diet – about time too, you whale” faction. It’s hard to say which is more irritating.
We just want to be left in peace to get on with it. Yes, things might get a bit complicated tomorrow when we start refusing all food for breakfast and lunch, and mixing up shakes and soups in the dormitory. But we’ll worry about that when it happens.
Tonight is our last night of not being on a diet, so we make the most of it. There’s lamb stew for supper, with rice and veggies, and apple crumble for dessert. I have two helpings of everything, and so does Lael. By the look on her face at the end of supper, she’s feeling just as uncomfortable as I am. But it was worth it. This way we won’t feel deprived when the diet starts.
I’m slightly worried about fitting into Sophie’s dress after that second helping of dessert, but I reckon it will be okay. The whole point of the dress is that it’s very forgiving. And who cares if it has an extra roll to forgive tonight? I’m going to be losing loads of weight from tomorrow.
Sophie helps me get ready for the party. That’s something else that’s new. In the old days, her idea of helping me to dress for a party would have been to ask me whether I had a spot forming on my forehead and didn’t I think I should have bought my outfit in a bigger size.
She gives me a sharp look as the zip sticks for a moment halfway up the dress, but manages not to make any comments about apple crumble. She even brushes my hair and helps me clip it back with a matching inky-purple clip.
“Should I put on some makeup?” I ask, staring at myself in the mirror.
“Yes,” says Lael.
“No,” says Sophie. “You’ll look like you’re trying too hard – like you’re expecting too much from tonight. You look fine just as you are.”
“Okay.” I sag against my cupboard, feeling a sudden rush of nerves. “What do you think it’s going to be like tonight? I suppose everyone will know everyone else except me.”
“It’ll be great,” Sophie says briskly. “Just relax and be yourself. You’ll be fine.”
An hour later, I’m wondering whether just being myself is going to cut it this time.
This party looks exactly like a suburban braai, with the women standing chatting in one corner of the room and the men in another. Because all of this year’s postmatrics are guys, all of their guests are girls, and the girls mostly don’t know each other. I’m the youngest by far. There are a couple of matric girls, but the rest are in their first year at university or taking some kind of gap year.
We’d be getting on better if the guys had introduced us to each other, but there’s some day-night cricket match going on, and most of them are glued to the TV.
I’m trying to have a conversation with a girl who’s doing Graphic Design at Wits. I’m making an effort to sound interested in her course, but it’s an impossible situation. She obviously can’t believe she’s stuck talking to a Grade 10 at her boyfriend’s party, and I know how she feels because I can’t quite believe it either.
There are some snacks and drinks on offer, and I’d love to sneak a Brutal Fruit, but with the house warden watching, I don’t dare.
The Graphic Design student has wandered off without a word and I’m standing around feeling lost. I notice a girl on the edge of the cricket-watching crowd peel away and come towards me.
“I’m tired of pretending to be interested in cricket,” she says with a smile. “I take it it’s not your favourite sport either?”
“Not really,” I pull a face.
“I’m Vusi Maleka, by the way,” she says, putting out her hand.
“Trinity Luhabe.” I shake her hand enthusiastically because I’m so grateful to be talking to someone at last.
“Luhabe?” She looks at me more closely. “Any relation to…?”
“Abel Luhabe,” I say resignedly. “Yes, he’s my father.”
“Oh, right … well, that’s interesting.” She looks as though she’s going to pursue the topic, but something in my expression warns her not to go there. “So, you’re a learner here, Trinity?” she asks instead.
“That’s right. I’m in Grade 10.” I’m expecting her to back off as soon as she hears how young I am, but she doesn’t.
“And how do you like it? Is this a good school?”
“I love it – it’s a great school. Where were you in matric?”
“In Mpumalanga, so Joburg is quite a different scene for me.”
“And who are you here with?”
“Mpume Thlogoane. Do you know him?”
I can’t help laughing. “Yes, of course I know him. He’s one of the heroes of the school. He was our top athlete last year. Are you going out with him?”
“For three years now,” she nods.
“Three years?” I’m gobsmacked. “Really? So all this time he’s had a long-distance girlfriend?”
She frowns slightly. “Yes … why? Has he been acting like he’s single?”
“No, no!” I rush to clear up this misconception. “On the contrary. He’s always been completely immune to us Brentwood girls. We thought he was suffering from a giant ego. Like none of us were good enough for him, you know? And all this time it was just because he already had a girlfriend.”
“He does have a slightly giant ego,” she giggles. “I know how to control it, though. He doesn’t go over the top with me.”
I’m fascinated. Now I’m torn between wanting to pump her for more details about what Mpume is really like, and wanting to BBM the news to Lael and the girls immediately. This is the best piece of spreadable gossip I’ve heard in ages.
I’m fingering my phone longingly when the group gathered around the TV breaks up with loud cries of disappointment.
“What’s wrong?” I ask as Zach comes up to me, looking annoyed.
“Rained out,” he says. “And the weather people say they probably won’t be able to come back on tonight. Looks like it’ll be a Duckworth-Lewis situation, and that means we’ll lose because our run rate is much slower than theirs.”
I try to arrange my face into a suitably sympathetic expression, but all I can think about is the Mpume news. I’m about to introduce Zach to Vusi, but he’s already steering me towards the drinks table. He helps himself to a Windhoek Lager and twists the cap off in one practised move. As I watch the muscles in his throat move as he swallows, I find myself losing interest in anything else. He really is quite ridiculously hot. And I’m not the only one who thinks so. A few of the girls are also paying attention, even though they’re here with other guys.
“Sorry to have abandoned you like that,” Zach says once he puts down his drink. “But it was a very important match.”
“Of course.” I wave away his concern. “I understand. I had other people to talk to. You don’t have to worry about me.”
Zach smiles and flicks my cheek. “That’s something else I love about you,” he says. “Your ability to talk to anyone. I love how you arrived here knowing no one, and within seconds you were chatting away to people like you’d known them your whole life.”
“Oh, it’s nothing,” I say, but inside I’m glowing with pride. It’s crazy how a single word of praise from Zach can turn me to jelly.
“No, it’s not nothing. You’re an amazing girl, Trinity. You’re always so patient and cheerful, and I really don’t deserve you.”
“Of course you deserve me!” I’m incredulous. “I’m the lucky one. I’m the one who doesn’t deserve you. Every day I have to pinch myself to believe that this is real – that I’m really going out with you.”
“No,” he says gloomily. “I’m the lucky one. It’s just a matter of time before you realise that and break up with me.”
“I’m never going to break up with you!” I say, alarmed by this sudden train of thought. “You’ll get bored with me long before I get bored with you.”
“So you admit you’re going to get bored with me?”
“No! It was just a figure of speech. Of course I’m never going to get bored with you. You’re smart and gorgeous and clever and … and … gorgeous. I mean, sexy.”
“But you’re the daughter of one of the most famous men in the country. Your parents must introduce you to amazing guys all the time. I bet they’ve got a boyfriend lined up for you already.”
He’s watching me closely to see my reaction. I almost feel like I’m an actor on stage, speaking somebody else’s lines. I have to force my mouth to drop open and my eyes to widen in shock. Then I give a little laugh to show how crazy I find it all.
“Of course they don’t have a boyfriend lined up for me,” I say. “They’re in Chile. All they’re thinking about is sinking mine shafts and having all their environmental ducks in a row. I’m sure I’m the last thing on their minds.”
“But you are in touch with them, right?”
He looks so concerned that for a moment I think I’ve overdone it. I’ve made it sound like my parents don’t care about me at all.
“We’re in touch all the time,” I explain. “I BBM my mom all day long. But the point is that they’re not trying to choose a boyfriend for me. To be honest, I think they’d be happier if I didn’t have a boyfriend at all at the moment. They think I’m too young and should be concentrating on schoolwork.”
It looks as though Zach’s going to say something else, but then somebody turns the music up really loud, and it’s no longer possible to have a conversation unless you’re prepared to scream.
I smile at him and shrug, then hold out my hand for him to come and dance.
He shakes his head and mouths something that looks like “I’m not a dancer”.
So I give a little wave and move into the centre of the room where all the chairs have been pushed back and everyone’s starting to dance. It’s mainly the girls who take to the dance-floor at first, but after a while, a few of the guys do too. I keep hoping that Zach will come and join me, but he stays on the sidelines, sipping his beer, and chatting to some of his friends.
Every now and then I see him glancing over at me, so I really throw myself into the music, trying to look extra sexy for him. Nicki Minaj is singing her heart out and the party is really starting to heat up. If only I didn’t have such an early curfew – I feel I could keep this up all night.
But of course I don’t. I’m here with Zach and it would be bad manners for me to dance all evening when he doesn’t feel like it. So after about twenty minutes, I break away from the dancers and head back to him, snagging a bottle of water on the way.
He smiles and puts his arm around me. It’s impossible not to feel proud. Because this proves he didn’t invite me just as a friend, doesn’t it? Friends don’t hold friends the way Zach is holding me, with his arm slung warmly over my shoulders, my body pulled firmly against his, and his hand resting barely a millimetre above my butt.
“I’ve got to go in a minute,” I whisper reluctantly into his ear, as I notice the time creeping closer to half-past nine.
“I wish you didn’t have to,” he murmurs back, his breath tickling my cheek.
“I know, me too, but if I’m late, Matron won’t let me out again this term.”
He smiles and gives me one last squeeze. “Come along then.”
Zach walks me back to Sisulu House without taking his arm off my shoulders. The evening is very dark and quiet. There’s no moon and the only light is coming from the boarding houses. There’s the high-pitched chirp of crickets that for me is the sound of a Highveld night. I can also hear the sound of my own breathing and feel my heart banging away inside my chest.
Is he going to kiss me?
We haven’t kissed since that day he took me to his room. But tonight, surely he will? It’s the perfect opportunity. There’s no one around. We’ve got a couple of minutes before I have to clock in with Matron. And everything about the quiet atmosphere of the night – from the filtered golden light from Sisulu House, to the faint scent of the rose garden – seems to whisper romance.
“I had a really great time tonight,” I say softly.
“Thanks for inviting me.”
“I did too,” he replies, pulling me even closer. “Thanks for coming. I loved watching you dance”
Ha! I knew it. I knew he was watching me.
I slow down as we get closer to the entrance. Surely now would be a good time for a kiss? If we get any closer, there will be too many people around.
Zach looks down at me and for a second I think he’s going to stop. But then he keeps right on going, up the steps, into the entrance. And immediately the spell is broken. Its all bright lights and noise as the matrics clatter up the stairs after their last homework session of the night.
A few heads turn to watch us curiously and at that exact moment, Zach swings me around to face him and brings his mouth down hard on mine. The kiss takes my breath away with its intensity. I hear a couple of wolf-whistles from girls who have stopped to watch.
Then just as my knees feel like they’re starting to buckle, a voice barks, “Okay, that’s enough. Break it up.”
It’s Matron, carrying a clipboard and looking seriously annoyed. I jump away from Zach as if he’s burning hot, but he gives Matron the full beam of his most charming smile.
“Thank you so much for letting Trinity come to the party tonight,” he says. “I’ve brought back in good time, as you can see.”
Matron isn’t buying it. She glances at her watch and makes a sort of growling noise in her throat.
Zach’s smile dims slightly. “Well … I’ll just be going then.” And he speed-walks towards the door.
Matron escorts me all the way to the Grade 10 dormitory, muttering at me in Xhosa about how boys won’t respect me if I carry on like that, and what would my father say if he could see me now, and how could I make a spectacle of myself in front of all the matrics? Then she looks around to check that no one is listening and lowers her voice even more.
“You must be careful of the white boys, my girl. They only want one thing. You can’t trust them to know where to draw the line. I’m telling you this for your own good.” I turn my head so I can roll my eyes without her seeing. I know she’s just looking out for me, but I don’t agree with classifying people like that, and I also don’t think that one kiss in a public place is going to turn me into a fallen woman from the Bible. I mean, it’s not like we were in his room – like the kiss could develop into anything. When are grown-ups going to realise that it’s not the public kisses they have to worry about?
Matron delivers me to my dorm and hands me over to Lael, as though she’s the only one who can physically restrain me from rushing back out and smooching the face off Zach. I’m actually surprised I’m not in handcuffs by this point.
I look closely at Lael, wondering why she’s not saying anything, and notice that her cheeks are bulging suspiciously. As soon the door has closed behind Matron, Lael pulls a box of doughnuts out from under her duvet. They’re from the tuckshop, which makes the best doughnuts in the known world.
“Ooh … gimme!” I say, reaching for the box and helping myself to one with white icing and sprinkles.
We’re not really supposed to eat in our dorms. I think the official reason given is that the crumbs might attract rats and mice. But girls have been breaking this rule every day for the last twenty years, and Brentwood has never had a rodent problem. It’s one of those rules that everyone turns a blind eye to, although it probably wouldn’t be a good idea to flash a box of doughnuts right under Matron’s nose.
“What’s the occasion?” I ask, as I polish off my first doughnut and take a second.
“We’re celebrating our last night of freedom as non-dieters,” Lael explains. “Tomorrow we’re going to be as good as gold, but tonight we stuff our faces.”
“Oh … right. Of course.” To be honest, I’d almost forgotten about the diet. I feel a twinge of anxiety at the thought. It’s omelette day at breakfast tomorrow. I’m not sure how enthusiastic I’m going to feel about drinking a strawberry-flavoured milkshake instead.
But as the second doughnut goes down fast, and I take a bite of the third, that feeling of over-stuffed nausea kicks in. I start to think how nice it would be to feel lean and empty for a change.
And, of course, how nice it would be to zip up my jeans and find that they’re too loose for me.
Okay, now I’m getting my mojo back. I can’t wait to get started on this diet. Lael and I are going to be the best dieters that Brand New You has ever had.
Lael offers the box of doughnuts around the dorm, but the other girls only take one each. Except for Sophie, who takes none.
“I’ve never had a sweet tooth,” she explains, watching in disbelief as I lick icing off my fingers. “Give me a nice apple or some carrot sticks any day.” Nosipho pulls a face behind her back, making me giggle.
Later, after lights out, I lie in bed, running my hand over the unfamiliar bulge in my tummy. I must have eaten more today than I ever have in my life before. I feel uncomfortable and a bit disgusted with myself. But never mind. By this time next week, that bulge will be gone and my tummy will be flatter than ever.
I don’t usually see eye to eye with Lael’s mother, but she’s actually done us a favour this time. This diet is going to be a great experience for us. And I can’t wait until Zach sees the new, improved me.