Noni woke up. Thabo was jumping on her bed. Noni smiled and cuddled him sleepily.
“My birfday! My birfday!” the little boy said, excitedly.
“Thabo! Thabo! Where are you, you little monkey? You little birthday boy!”
Thabo’s grandmother, Thozi, came into the room and greeted Noni.
The two women made eye contact and smiled. Noni could see that Thozi had been crying. The joyous three year old boy bouncing on her bed would not have noticed that. A wave of sadness swept over Noni as she remembered what day it was.
“Come Thabo, come,” said Thozi, taking the little boy’s hand. “Let’s give Mama a chance to get up. Come with Gogo. Come.”
Thozi lifted Thabo onto her hip and walked to the door, where she paused. She looked back at Noni. “I cannot believe how he looks more and more like Jabu every day,” she said, before leaving the room. Noni nodded.
As they left the room she dropped her face into her pillow. Deep sobs threatened to engulf her. Noni breathed deeply, squeezing her eyes shut. Even so, a tear escaped and ran down her cheek.
“You can’t do this now,” said Noni softly to herself. “Thabo wouldn’t understand.”
Noni breathed deeply once more and sat up. She swung her legs off the edge and stood up. Since coming to live with Thozi and her husband, Noni had had this lovely room all to herself and Thabo. Noni made her bed, pausing to pat the pillow next to hers. Her hand lingered over it. She swallowed and fought back a painful longing that rose up in her. It was a longing for something that could never be – a longing that had never been fulfilled.
Noni shook her head, shaking loose her long extensions that fell around her shoulders. She pulled her shoulders back, took a deep breath, and went to the bathroom.
Noni could hear Thabo giggling with Thozi in the kitchen. She paused after splashing her face in the basin and patted it dry with a towel. She looked at herself long and hard in the mirror.
Noni smiled at herself, but her eyes remained sad and dead.
“Come on, Noni, you can do this!” she said quietly to herself.
Then she opened the door and walked with a smile on her face to Thozi and Thabo in the kitchen.
“Mama has to go to work now sweetie pie,” said Noni, kissing Thabo all over his chubby cheeks.
“We will have a special party later, when Mama comes home from work!” said Thozi.
“You stay at home with Gogo and have a lovely time playing with all your new toys,” said Noni as she scooped up her handbag and moved to the door.
Thozi stood at the door with Thabo on her hip and waved to Noni as she walked to the taxi stop. Noni waved back and blew kisses to Thabo, until she turned the corner and was out of sight.
The taxi came and Noni climbed aboard. It was crowded. Noni was squashed up against the window. The music was so loud that the speakers vibrated and the sound was distorted.
Today Noni hardly noticed anything. Today her head was filled with memories. They played out in her head like reruns of a favourite movie. Jabu. Oh Jabu, she thought to herself, I miss you so. If only you could be with me today…
Tell us what you think: Why are Thozi and Noni so sad on Thabo’s birthday?