“Mntase, you’re early,” Zandile said opening the door.
“Hey, early at three in the afternoon? You must be dreaming. Kha’ze ndiphuze, give me a kiss.”
Zandile gave her cousin, Nikiwe, a kiss and a hug. They stood at arm’s length and scoped each other out. They hadn’t seen each other in four years, but they always kept in touch and they were still thicker than thieves.
Nikiwe was round and bulky compared to Zandile, who had a small frame. Nikiwe was also older and two shades lighter compared to Zandile’s dark complexion. She was stylish even though most of the things she liked she could never get in her size. Growing up, she relied on Zandile’s dressmaking skills to make her clothes that every large girl in the village fought over, or paid a lot of money for.
“You got off early from work?” asked Zandile as she put the kettle on.
“Haai, yhu, it’s my day off today. I went to town for some light shopping,” said Nikiwe as she opened one of the Mr Price bags she was carrying and took out two pairs of jeans. She handed them to Zandile with instructions to try them on. Zandile wasted no time. She stripped down to her underwear right there in the living room. Both pairs were a perfect fit. They hugged her tiny butt and gave it a great shape. One was a skinny jean and the other a bootleg. She tried the rest of the clothes on: there were some tops, a dress, and a denim jacket. They all fitted perfectly. She was beaming with joy.
“Enkosi, Mntase. I’ll pay you back as soon as I get a job,” she said putting the clothes back in the bag with teary eyes.
“How is the job hunting going? Any luck?” asked Nikiwe as she took a sip of the sweet, black tea.
“Not yet, but I’m hopeful. Doesn’t your boss have friends who need a cleaner or a nanny? If I don’t get out of here my aunt will work me to the grave.”
“You must be exaggerating. She can’t be all that bad,” said Nikiwe leaning closer.
“Exaggerating? The woman made me scrub her floors at 10 at night. I’m talking scrub, polish and shine. All because I didn’t clean the house while she was out on Saturday,” said Zandile, feeling the annoyance rising.
“But, cuz, why didn’t you clean, wena? You know the woman …”
“I was doing the washing! I only have two hands!” snapped Zandile, clicking her tongue to stress her anger.
“Yhu, calm down. I didn’t know it was that bad. Besides, Sis’ Pam doesn’t have any friends,” Nikiwe shook her head.
“How is that possible?” Zandile didn’t believe her cousin. “A famous woman like Pamela Ntethe. How come she doesn’t have any friends? But, hey, I guess who needs friends when you have all that money and that fine husband?” Zandile laughed as she said this. She had been keeping up with social news about the Ntethes ever since Nikiwe told her she worked for them. The Ntethes always made the social pages. She was so engrossed in her animated talk about what she would do, the places she’d visit, and the clothes she’d wear if she was Pamela Ntethe just for a day, she didn’t notice that her cousin had stopped talking and was now frowning.
Nikiwe was deeply troubled; flashbacks of the night before haunted her – the fear on Pamela Ntethe’s perfectly made up face when her husband came home. The sounds later from behind closed doors when he beat his wife up. The feeling of helplessness and anger that Nikiwe felt at having to listen, but being unable to stop it. But perhaps Zandile could. And she needed a job so badly. She feared her cousin was about to throw it all in and head back to the village in the Eastern Cape.
You’ve always been a daredevil, bold and outspoken even when we were kids, thought Nikiwe staring at Zandile. Perhaps Zandile’s drive for success would be enough for her to stomach working for the Ntethes. She wouldn’t be afraid of Ndumiso. Perhaps she could do it. Of one thing Nikiwe was sure, she couldn’t do it anymore.
She stood there hurting. Her body ached. She tried to drown her thoughts in the sound of the running bath water. The kids would only be back at five, so she still had time.
She winced as she stepped into the bathtub. Every muscle in her body was painful. She looked at her face in the mirrored wall and tried to force a smile. Perfect, she thought. She tried to lift her right hand to touch her blemish-free, beautiful face. Her arm hurt so much that it was impossible.
Her face was the only part that wasn’t hurting from the beating. She looked at the bruises on her body. There were fresh ones and fading ones. Below her left rib was a dark blue mark, from two weeks ago, that still made her wince when she touched it. Her upper right arm was filled with the fresh marks from this morning.
Her phone rang. She wished she could ignore it, but that would be a grave mistake. She knew it was Ndumiso calling; it was always Ndumiso calling. She reached out for the phone on the chair next to the bath. It was still ringing. She stared at the beautiful headshot of Ndumiso that he had made her put on as his caller ID. Then she answered.
“Hello, hun,” she said with all the fake excitement she could muster.
“What the hell took you so long? What are you doing? Where are you?” The questions were always the same, fired in that order, when she took more than three rings to answer.
“I was in the bath. I had to get out to fetch the phone from the room,” she lied in a trembling voice.
“How many times must I tell you to always keep your phone on you? Why do you like making me angry, Pamela?” Ndumiso barked.
“It was charging. I’m sorry, Ndumi,” she said meekly. She heard him breathing deeply in, then out. She could picture him, eyes closed, biting his lower lip, trying to calm himself down.
“Get ready, I’ll be there shortly to pick you up. I don’t want to be late.”
He hung up without waiting for a response. Pamela’s hands were trembling as she put the phone down.
She lay in the bubbles and allowed the hot water to do the healing on her body as the aromas did the work calming down her mind.
* * *
Tell us what you think: What do you think Pamela should do?