I can hear the baby crying even before I reach the shack door. And there is Naledi, sitting on the bed beside her baby. I catch my breath in shock.
Her hair is wild. Her clothes are a mess. And her eyes look dull and hopeless. I can hardly believe this is the same girl I knew last year. She was about the prettiest girl in the class. She was a lead dancer for the traditional dance group. She was a drum majorette – and only a few special girls get chosen for Mrs Thebe’s drum majorette troupe.
I try to smile. “So? Is it a boy or a girl?” I ask.
“A boy,” says Naledi and picks him up in her arms. He carries on screaming and arching his back.
“What’s his name?”
“Joel. But I don’t know what’s wrong. He’s been crying all night.”
“Maybe you should take him to the clinic?”
Naledi shrugs. “Yeah, right. Where am I supposed to get extra money for taxi fare?” But at least Joel has stopped screaming. “So how is school?” she asks. “Man, I can’t tell you how much I miss school. And all my friends. And dance practices.”
I say, “Well, at least you have Joel. At least you have a cute little baby.” What else can I say?
But now Naledi is crying. Tears run down her cheeks. “Crazy. That’s what I thought when I was pregnant. I thought it would all be so lovely, you know, having my own little baby to cuddle. Being able to dress him up. Just like in all the TV adverts. Well, real life is not a TV advert, that’s for sure. Real life as a teenage mom sucks. It sucks big time! You tell all those girls at school, Tumi. Tell them to be careful and abstain. Or else use protection. Tell them having a baby is a nightmare.”
I pat her shoulder. I try not to let her see the dismay on my face. But it won’t be like this for me. No ways. My mom will never throw me out the house. My Beyonce won’t be crying and screaming all the time. I won’t let myself turn into a hot mess and stop caring how I look. And for sure I’ll keep going to school. Yes, we’ll work something out: me and Mama and Vincent.
Then Naledi says the most appalling thing: “I should have had an abortion.”
I look at her in horror. How can she say such a thing, sitting there with baby Joel in her arms? How can she even think such a thing?
“Don’t look at me like that, Tumi,” she says. “It’s legal. It’s not against the law.”
I can’t help myself. I say, “What does it matter if it’s legal or not? It’s murder.”
Naledi glares at me. “Oh yes, that’s easy for you to say. It’s easy for you to act all holy and self-righteous. You don’t know what it’s like trying to keep a baby fed and clothed with no money. You don’t know what it’s like to lose everything. My life is destroyed, Tumi. I feel like my future has been murdered. My future and all my dreams. I wanted to be a model, you know. But look at me now. No chance!”
I empty out my purse onto the bed for her. All my money. Then I run out of there, out of the shack and the backyard. With the beads in my packet clattering against one another wildly. I run from the sound of Naledi’s baby who is screaming again.
* * *
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