“Busi? Busisiwe?” I questioned, tilting my head quizzically to one side.
I was convinced it was her. I’d been watching her across the quadrangle for about ten minutes. She looked the same as she had at six: large doe eyes, angular cheek bones, and long model-like legs. Now everything was just bigger and more grown-up. But it had taken me a while to find the courage to say her name.
She turned and looked at me with vacant eyes. I could almost see her thinking, ‘Who is this girl?’ Then I saw her eyes twinkle as she smiled. “Lindiwe? Lindi?”
“No way! I don’t believe it! Really? How? How did you get to be… here?” she said, pointing to the historical Cape Dutch-style building which was the school hall.
“I won a…” I struggled to get the word out: “I won a… scholarship.”
“No way! That’s amazing! I thought I’d never see you again. And here you are, my sister: Lindi! How long has it been?”
“Ten years!” She stepped back and looked at me. “Ten years, and now you’re…”
“A bit fat,” I interrupted.
“I wasn’t going to say that. I was going to say, and now you’re here. Girls!” Busi called to a group huddled in chatter. “Come here! Come and meet my sister, Lindi!”
“Well, not exactly sisters,” I said.
But back then, at six years old, Busi and I were like sisters. We were township neighbours, with no wall or gate between our houses. We ran freely from house to house, eating in each other’s kitchens, playing with each other’s dolls, and sleeping in each other’s rooms. We shared everything: food, toys, clothes, laughter.
Our parents were also very close friends. Both our fathers and Busi’s mother worked at the same company. They were young, ambitious people, rising in the ranks of the corporate world. As we were no longer hovering on the brink of poverty, my mother was content as a stay-at-home-mom, baking biscuits and chatting with all the kids who visited our house.
As Busi’s parents were working long hours, my mom took on the role of caring for myself, my two brothers, plus Busi and her siblings.
Mom never complained in her role of childminder, nor did she ever ask Busi’s parents for money for caring for their children. She was just happy to spend her time caring for her house and family, and knitting and chatting with the neighbours in the street.
That was, until the day everything changed.
It was late afternoon, my brothers and I were watching kids’ TV, and the phone rang.
“Mrs Malusi, please come down to the Insure offices immediately. There’s been an accident.”
“What happened?” said my mother.
There was a pause, as my mother listened and then she clapped her hand over her mouth.
“Shot! Shot? How? Why?” she screamed.
What I remember from then on is a blur: a ride in a taxi, people huddled together in the foyer of the office block, shiny red blood pooling on the tiled floor, police with notebooks, a never-ending stream of tears, a body covered with a sheet.
My father’s body.
I clung to my mother. My hands clawed into her fleshy waist.
“What happened? What happened?” she cried.
“Armed intruders. Your husband was walking across the foyer. He tried to talk with them, reason with them, asked them what they wanted. Then there was a loud bang, and he fell to the floor,” said the security guard. His hands shook as he spoke. A woman brought him a cup of tea. “He was brave, your husband. Too brave,” said the security guard.
My mother fell to her knees and wept. My brothers and I fell around her, clinging to her, crying, “Tata, Tata, Tata!”
* * * * *
Afterwards, life was a painful rush of activity. There was a huge funeral, and we had endless visitors streaming into our house offering comfort.
And then the house went quiet. Without the visitors and my joking father, our home felt dead. A thick fog of grief hung over it.
My mother shuffled around, her bouncy stride lost. I often noticed her quietly crying, then as soon as she saw me, she quickly wiped away her tears with a tattered tissue.
My father’s company gave us monthly money that they called a ‘pay out’. But one day the money stopped being paid into our account.
My mother queried the problem: “Hello, this is Mrs Malusi speaking. We haven’t received Mr Malusi’s pay out this month.” She waited while the admin person checked her computer.
“Mrs Malusi, I’m sorry to say that Insure made their last payment last month,” said the admin person.
“So we’ll not be getting any more money?”
“No, I’m sorry.”
“But I thought we would be getting a pay out monthly for a year?”
“The board revised the rules last week.”
My mother put down the phone.
We were broke.
* * *
Tell us what you think: How will the family’s life change now?