When the bell for the end of school rings, Thando shoots like a bullet out of the school gates. He can’t wait to get to the library where he works as a library assistant. He works after school and on weekends. The pay is meagre, but he loves being in the library so much he’d do it for free.
Besides being around books, Thando loves the library because it is the one place where he gets to be with his only friends: Thembi and Albert. They make an odd trio: Thando, fifteen, Thembi, the fifty-five-year-old librarian, and sixty-five-year-old Albert, the library cleaner.
“Slow down, Thando! You’ll hurt yourself,” Thembi says, when Thando bursts through the library door. “How was school today, my dear boy?” she asks, with motherly concern and a warm smile.
“School was good,” he says.
Thembi pats him on the shoulder. “There is food in the kitchen for you.”
Thando rushes to the small kitchen at the back of the library. He is starving; his last meal was the bowl of sugarless porridge in the morning. While eating, he hears shuffling feet outside the kitchen. He knows it is Albert, the cleaner. He also knows that without fail he will turn to see Albert’s gentle, wrinkled face, and his warm smile, and hear his rich, husky voice ask, “How are you, old son? How is the lawyer of Paradise Road doing today?”
As they say goodbye outside the library doors at the end of the day. Thando feels a warmth, standing between his two friends; a tenderness that helps him forget the hardships of life on No Paradise Road.
His heart carries this pleasant feeling as he walks home. He knows he will get home to find Zikhona tired, dozing in front of the TV, after another hard day working as a maid for the Hamiltons in Bergvliet. Nandi will be on the opposite sofa, chatting on her cellphone.
He gets home to find no-one inside. Thando worries because it is getting dark. He tries calling Zikhona, but has no airtime. He seriously considers going to the spaza to get some, when Zikhona breezes in.
“I have a very important meeting this evening,” Zikhona says.
She dumps a plastic bag with groceries on the kitchen table and rushes into the bedroom she shares with Nandi. In no time she is back, looking elegant in her finest clothes. She clutches her prized possession: the red leather handbag she saved the whole of last year to buy.
“What about supper?” asks Thando.
“There’s meat in that plastic bag. I told you in the morning, you guys need to help me out.”
“I’m worried about Nandi,” says Thando. “She’s not back yet.”
“She told me she is studying with her friends.”
“I doubt it. The only studying her crew does is boys. And you guys are supposed to cook.”
“What?” Zikhona squints at him in anger. “Don’t you have hands, Thando?”
“I’ll never cook. That’s a woman’s job.”
“You know our situation. We don’t have parents, we live on my maid’s income. Thando, you have no right to act like a brat.”
“Well, today you will cook. I can’t miss this opportunity. If this goes well, it will change my life. Things will be much better for you guys. I’ll even have enough money to study at varsity part-time.”
Thando watches Zikhona walk hurriedly out of the gate. An unsettling, sad feeling that he cannot quite explain courses through his veins.
“Stop being selfish,” Thando whispers to himself. “Just be happy for Zikhona. Everyone deserves a bit of happiness.”
Tell us: What do you think of Thando’s ideas about what females and males do around the house?