Zandile stood gawking. The Ntethes’ house was bigger than anything she’d ever seen on the TV show, Pimp My Crib. It wasn’t a house, it was a mansion. She had found it easily. She had got off the train at Claremont station as the SMS had instructed. She had taken the Main Road and made her way to Eaton Road in Upper Claremont. The road went uphill and it made her calves ache. As painful as the incline was, Zandile told herself she wasn’t turning back. The walk up the steep slope was better than the walk back to her aunt’s house.

There had been so much hope up this slope and the promise of a new life ahead: a better life, a brighter life.

The Ntethes’ house towered above all the other houses, tall in its splendour. Zandile stopped and took it all in. From where she stood the new life promised glamour. It promised splendour.

She rung the bell at the gate and a voice she recognised answered, the same voice from the phone call. The gate opened and Zandile walked slowly to the door.

She was wondering why Pamela had called her personally and was answering the intercom herself. Didn’t she have a PA, or maybe she had given them a day off? The door opened and a petite woman in a long blue dress came out. It was Pamela, she recognised her immediately from the magazine photos.

They greeted each other, shook hands, and Pamela invited her in.

When you spoke in the foyer, your voice echoed. There were glass walls and mirrors everywhere. The chandeliers that hung from the living-room ceiling looked like they were made from diamonds.

She was shown around, but they didn’t tour the whole house. She only saw the foyer; the dining room, the downstairs bathrooms, the kitchen, the entertainment room and her room, which was next to the boys’ rooms. Each of Pamela’s sons had their own room and bathroom, and they shared their own study, living room and games room – all on the second floor.

Pamela and her husband’s rooms were upstairs, she was told. She could only clean up there when they were out. They liked their privacy.

Zandile listened to Pamela, but she didn’t know how to respond. She just nodded. She agreed to the pay for the stay-in position, which was generous. She agreed to cook when Pam was not available; to doing the laundry and cleaning the whole house, giving special attention to the entertainment rooms daily. She agreed to stay with the boys when their parents took frequent business trips and were out at meetings.

She looked at Pam’s fragile physique as they sat outside on the patio and discussed her duties. She didn’t know what to call Pam, she looked so young. She looked younger than Nikiwe, who used to work for her. As if reading her thoughts, Pamela asked about Nikiwe.

“So, you’re cousins?” she asked as she took a drag of her cigarette.

Ewe, Sisi. Our mothers are sisters.” Zandile was looking longingly at the cigarette Pamela was smoking. She was not allowed to smoke; it was one of Mr Ntethe’s rules. Only the Ntethes were allowed to.

“So she went to look after your mother then?” Pamela asked looking at Zandile, reading her reaction, gauging her knowledge.

Zandile tried to think of something to tell her new employer. She knew Nikiwe had lied about going to the Eastern Cape to look after her aunt. But what she didn’t know was why.

“No, Sisi. It’s our other aunt, the firstborn, our mothers’ eldest sister,” Zandile lied blatantly. Why had Nikiwe left such a well-paid job? Zandile knew she found it hard; but was she really that frightened of Mr Ntethe? Had he tried something with her, when his wife wasn’t looking? What was it?

“Are you two close, Nikiwe and you?” Pamela asked as she ashed her ciggy. She blew the smoke away from her, watching her intently.

“Very close, Sisi. We grew up together in the same village. Her mother left the village after she gave birth to Niki. My mother raised her as her firstborn. So when my mother married and had me, we were like sisters. Then her mother called for her when she was a teenager, and she’s been here ever since.

Pamela concluded that Zandile was none the wiser about the state of affairs in her household. So she stopped prying. They had a long chat, getting to know each other. Zandile noticed that Pamela didn’t look happy. She only sounded happy when she was reminiscing about her childhood, how she had met Ndumi. After that it was like she was reciting events, but with no emotion.

Zandile told Pamela about her uneventful life and the plans she had for the future. She left out the ill treatment she was getting from her aunt. No need to tell her everything on the first day, she thought. It was good to hold some things back, just as Pamela was from her.

Pamela had watched as Zandile talked about the bakery she wanted. She watched her eyes dance with ambition, passion and excitement. She was reminded of her younger, happier, carefree self, before Ndumiso.

The boys came home after five that afternoon, all dressed in the same school uniform, that of Bishops Diocesan College. The family was loaded, they lived in a luxurious house, the boys attended a private school, but their mother was an unhappy woman.

Zandile did notice, however, that the boys adored their mother. From the time they got into the house, till the time their dad pulled up in the driveway, they didn’t leave her side. There was laughter that echoed throughout the whole house and it was contagious. There was joy, a lot of running around, and rough and tumble.

Zandile was made part of the joy; they made her feel at home.

Then all the laughter and joy stopped when a car pulled up in the driveway. One of the boys ran to peep out the window, and then came back shouting:

“He’s here, he’s here!”

The boys ran up the stairs to their rooms, leaving Zandile confused and Pamela staring into space.

Then Pamela got up from where she had been sitting. Her face was blank, no emotion registered as she looked at Zandile and said:

“I think you should start on dinner.”

* * *

Tell us what you think: How do you think the boys feel about their father? How do you think Zandile’s stay will be?