“What’s this tree called, Dad?” Jonasi asks his father. The tree is one of many planted in green plastic pots and kept under shade nets. His dad stops watering and looks up at his son.
“Let me see. That is a coniferous bonsai.” His dad is proud of his bonsais. They are perfect, miniature trees.
“What makes my son sigh like that?”
“It’s so ugly,” Jonasi says. “I have never seen such an ugly little tree!”
“No, son, the tree is beautiful.”
“That one is beautiful!” Jonasi points at a tree which has striking pinkish leaves.
“That’s a deciduous.”
“Can I feel its leaves, Dad?”
“Yes, son. But don’t rub them so hard between your fingers,” he says, watching his child.
“It’s so beautiful. I love it.”
“No tree is ugly. They are all beautiful, each in their own glory. Can I tell you something?”
Jonasi nods. His dad laughs softly. “All these trees need different things to thrive. The conifers need a lot of patience and care. They are slow-growing, but once they are grown they are your pride. They are like children: each one is unique and beautiful in its own way.”
Jonasi’s phone rings from inside the house.
“I hope it isn’t one of your friends calling you away from helping me. Each time they call–”
Before Mr Mangilasi can finish speaking, Jonasi has rushed into the house. He sees he has two missed calls and one WhatsApp message. It’s Rudzani.
We r chilin @ Shoeb’s supermarket
Zol is der but no cigaret
bring some zak
Jonasi hesitates. He wants to help his father and was enjoying gardening with him, but the pull to go and smoke with his friends is stronger. The craving wins the battle. He grabs his jacket and runs past his dad and down the street, heading to the supermarket with the R27.50 he has saved.
He finds his friends behind Shoebs, leaning against the dirty cream paint of the wall.
“I gai tshelede? (Where’s the money?)” says Rudzani. “We’ve got to get some loose draws right now.”
“Here,” Jonasi says and pours all the coins into his friend’s cupped hands. “It looks like you’ve smoked already. I can tell by your eyes. So, have you?”
Nobody bothers to answer.
“Hey, Jonasi,” says the only girl among them, Pretty. “Howzit?”
“I didn’t see you after school today.”
“My dad wanted me to help in the garden. I had to go straight home when the bell rang.”
“But you know we normally get together around four,” complains Rudzani. “What time is it now, Pretty?”
She peers at her phone and “Past five,” she says.
“C’mon, guys – it’s not like we’re here to work,” Jonasi says. “I had to help my dad in the garden. I am the only child at home. Sometimes my parents need me around to help them.”
Pretty shakes her head and frowns. “You can always dodge them. We didn’t have money for cigarettes and you kept us waiting. Rudzani called and you didn’t answer.”
Jonasi shrugs. “Guys, stop complaining. I saw the missed-calls but I couldn’t call back. My dad is already on my case about hanging with you.”
Just then Bethuel joins them. He has cigarettes and ice mints and shares them out.
“Let Pretty make a zol,” says Jonasi. The sight of the cigarettes makes his craving stronger. “Pretty does it so well – thick and strong. She’ll make you enjoy smoking mbanzhe (dagga), this one.”
“Sure,” agrees Bethuel as Pretty starts to roll the zol.
Tell us what you think: Are teenagers usually more loyal to their friends, or to their families?