I wanna be a billionaire … na na na na …

… all the things I never had… na na na na …

“You never had a proper job. That’s what you never had!” I shout out of the rusty window to Lunga, who is jiving around the yard, his skinny jeans stretched to the max every time he dips down.

“Nawe, Sisi! You can’t talk! Telling me I’m a no good slacker. What you doin’ right now? Oh look, the dishes. While Ma is out doing someone else’s dishes. Shame, sorry for you!”

I bite my lip. I don’t bring up the fact that I would be at varsity right now, like my bestie Thuli, if Ma wasn’t struggling as the only earner around our house, and can’t afford the registration fees and the transport money and … and …

I don’t bring up the fact of how painful it is, hearing how lit varsity is from Thuli on WhatsApp every night, as she ‘shares’ her day with me. Thuli is definitely an over-sharer. But she can’t share her university education or her degree with me. Sorry for that! And what can I share back? Let me see: washing dishes, cleaning, looking after Ma Hlati’s grandchildren next door.

Last year we had such dreams, Thuli and I. And now she’s living them!

Oh, she’s messaging me now … ping … ping … ping … they come flying onto my phone from her cool new social world.

Best time eva!

Wsh u were here

Selfie of her and some white chick eating ice cream on campus and grinning. Beautiful people. Beautiful lives.

Washing dishes

Wsh u were here

I text this back and send a picture of a bucket of dirty water.

And a tearful emoji …

Ping.

Shame!

Km to a kwl party

friday

Kwt guys

Be gd 4 u

I take a look at the white chick in the selfie; I name her Miranda.

I don’t reply to Thuli’s text. Then I think what a downer I’m being, and I hit the smiley emoji face and go on washing up.

Lunga is bouncing a ball around in the yard now. He’s hyperactive. Twenty-four and still a kid.

“Aren’t you going to be late for work?” I shout at him.

“So now you call what I do work?”

Lunga hands out pamphlets at traffic lights. It was meant to just be temporary – a stepping stone to something better. But hey, it’s a job; it’s more than I have right now.

I wanna be a billionaire … he sings. Lunga has the worst voice ever – he sounds like a constipated goat pushing out those lyrics.

“Don’t give up that day job!” I yell.

“Don’t give up that job you haven’t got.”

“Hey, I’ve got a date on Friday. What are you doing?” he says, as he picks the ball up and comes inside to get his jacket.

“I don’t know; maybe hanging with Thuli,” I lie, because she will be hanging with her new bestie, Miranda.

“Gotta roll!” he shouts. “Love you Sis.”

“Get out of here already,” I shout back, but the truth is I don’t want him to go. I’d rather put up with his shit than with the empty silence, alone in the house.

The house is squeezing the fresh air out of my lungs. I am down … down … down … on my knees. Can’t go much further.

“Stop feeling sorry for yourself.” I hear Ma’s impatient voice in my head, then her encouraging one. “Don’t give up. Perseverance will get you where you want to go.”

I can see how people go crazy. How people say things like: “Shame. She was such a promising girl. She did so well at school. I don’t know how she could end up like this, on the street.”

I think of the ‘kwl’ party.

‘You should go.’ That’s what Mama would say.

I can just imagine me, in amongst all those students, in some fancy house in the burbs, and everyone’s talking about their latest iPhone and bitching about their lectures.

I can’t even go on Facebook right now and read about all those beautiful, inspirational lives everyone is living out there:

Here I am with my bff at the Waterfront. Best day eva!

Fuck off. My life sucks. I don’t care about your ‘best day eva’!

Only … I do!

So I don’t go on Facebook anymore, which is a mental health choice. LO teacher would be proud of me.

“Yes, but mntanam, that Facepage thing, that’s not real life,” Mama reminds me when I scroll down those selfie shots. “Anyone can do that. Here give me your phone. Which button do I press?”

And there we are grinning together, mother and daughter, out of focus.

Having an awesome time

with my kwl daughter

Smiley face

That’s what she types; it takes her ten minutes.

“Oh that’s just sad,” says Lunga.

I love my mother. She put me through school so that I wouldn’t end up in a job like hers. She has big dreams for me, even bigger than my own.

I pick up my Matric certificate and Mrs Ndlovu’s letter of recommendation.

… Lelethu will be an asset to anyone who employs her…

Mrs Ndlovu said I was a ‘shining star’ but now that shining star is flickering and about to die.

I start to write another application letter. I will go to the library and type it up and email it this afternoon. They have free wifi when the internet is working. That’s when I’ve finished cleaning the house.

“I’m sorry,” Mama said, when Thuli registered at varsity. “Things are really tight. But next year things will be different. You can apply for a bursary in time. Mrs Clarke (that’s her employer) said she knows about somewhere you can get bursaries from. She said she would find it on her computer and ask her husband if there are any opportunities …”

But that was in February and it’s already May and Mama doesn’t like to nag Mrs Clarke, because she’s worried she’ll lose her job. And Mrs Clarke is too busy planning her next holiday … Bursaries are way down on her ‘To do’ list.

So here I am washing dishes.

***

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