The week leading up to the exhibition goes by without any major surprises. My mission to match make Nomusa and Zack continues. I keep looking for opportunities to get the two of them together. 

So when we realise that the time has come to move our artworks from the art room at school to the Durban Art Gallery in Anton Lembede Street for the Red Eye exhibition, I hatch a cunning plan. I tell Zack we have loads of stuff to get down there and ask if he can give us a hand. 

“Sure thing, Hope. Just say when,” Zack replies.

He walks from his school one afternoon and meets us at ours, and once we’re all on the Mynah holding our portfolio cases – which are full of our AfroBollyMe cartoons – I start to drop a few subtle hints. 

“It’s amazing how much you guys have in common,” I add to their conversation as Zack and Nomusa chat about their experiences of teaching kids to surf at the surf school on Suncoast Beach.

Nomusa looks closely at Zack and then giggles, which I take to be an encouraging sign.

Later, when they are busy hanging our cartoons in our exhibition space I overhear Nomusa say to Zack, “Be patient. Taking it slow is the name of the game when it comes to love.”

Oh yeah! Things are definitely hotting up between those two. My plan is slotting into place faster than I’d hoped.

On Thursday Zack’s mom invites my mom and I down for supper at their flat. January is humidity hell in Durbs, and the tiny flat is boiling hot. Zack and I take our plates of supper on to the little balcony and sit side by side on the bench out there. Our moms are happily nattering away inside the lounge beneath the ceiling fan that’s spinning like a helicopter about to take off.

I’ve got a mouthful of Durban curry when out of the blue Zack asks me one BIG question.

“Hope, I hope you don’t mind me asking, but are you at peace with what happened to your dad?”

Whew! The surprises just keep coming. Nobody’s asked me about my dad for a long time. You remember I told you that my dad disappeared with his yacht off the North Coast of KwaZulu-Natal when I was two? Neither the boat nor his body was ever found, so he was presumed dead. 

Am I at peace with all of that? What to say? I don’t really know so I just keep chewing on my chicken bone like it’s the last piece of food on the whole entire planet. And then when it’s done I make a big deal of fanning my mouth to indicate that that was one spicy piece of curry.

Zack sees right through my stalling tactics.

“Sorry Hope. You don’t have to talk about your feelings if it makes you uncomfortable. I know you must have painful memories about what happened to your dad. I’ve just been wondering about how you feel about all that, that’s all,” says Zack “but I’ve never asked. So I thought I would, but…”

“It’s cool Zack,” I reassure him. “You just took me by surprise…”

My sentence trails off as I gaze off into the distance, lost in my thoughts. 

As I look down over the twinkling lights of the docks further down the hill, I realise that there’s a part of me that’s really glad Zack’s asked me about how I feel about my dad. Especially because my dad is often on my mind, but he disappeared so long ago that nobody thinks to talk about it anymore.

“I still think about my dad every day,” I say softly without turning to look at Zack. “And I like to think I’m ok about it, but there was this one time on the beach that I’ve never told anybody about.”

“Tell me,” says Zack very softly.

I turn to look at him and he looks directly into my eyes.

Even though I’ve kept this secret from everybody, I find that the words just come so easily. 

“It was a Sunday morning at the end of last year and I was having a coffee down at BAT Centre, on that beautiful deck that looks out across the yacht basin in the harbour. You know the one?”

“Ja, I do,” smiles Zack. “It’s one of my favourite places.”

I nod and carry on.

 “Well, this small yacht was sailing towards me and it looked just like my dad’s.”

My eyes suddenly start to get teary. Zack hands me his paper serviette and nods for me to keep talking. So I do.

“There was just one man on board and I’m sure he was looking at me. Then he waved and my heart started beating so hard. I stood up and I started waving back. Crazy, but right then I really thought it was my dad. And then – about two seconds later – I realised it wasn’t him. And whoever it was wasn’t even waving, but just trying to shake loose a rope that had hooked around the mast.”

I stop at this point to take a few deep breaths. My throat is so tight and I find I have to swallow before I can keep talking.

 “It felt like my heart ripped open and I burst into tears right there in front of everbody else on the deck. I didn’t really care what they thought. I was just so confused. I couldn’t understand why I was so upset. Zack – how can I miss somebody who I can’t even remember?”

Zack is silent for a few seconds. Then he clears his throat Рtwice - and then he answers.

“Well… my dad left my mother before I was even born. He never even held me in his arms once when I was a newborn baby, and he’s never ever laid eyes on me. He doesn’t even know what I look like. And to tell you the truth I really miss him sometimes. So I guess what I’m trying to say is that I think I understand how you feel, even though it doesn’t make logical sense.”

Zack and I look at each other for at least a minute. I hadn’t expected this conversation to happen, but now that it has I feel like a lighter space has opened up in my chest. And it’s such a relief. 

Zack’s been my downstairs neighbour for so long, and I’m so used to him being around that he’s kind of like wallpaper. I’m glad we’ve had this conversation. I hadn’t really realised how alone I’d felt without a dad. Talking about it can’t bring my dad back, but I feel a little less alone knowing that Zack lives with this too. And that he understands. And it makes me think that I need to stop taking him so for granted and start looking out for him too. 

“Thanks Zack,” I say quietly. “I needed that chat. You’re a good friend.” 

He smiles a sad smile at me. 

I shift up a little on the bench and lean against him. I’m not really sure why.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Don’t you think it’s great that Zack and Hope are such good friends?