Noni climbed out the taxi and said goodbye to the driver. “See you later at Thabo’s party,” she called back to him.
Noni walked to the Curio Shop, in the little shopping centre, on the main highway where she worked. She fumbled with the keys to open the door. Her eyes were misting up with tears again, and she swallowed hard.
Noni closed the door behind her. She put her bag down and began getting the shop ready for customers. A new box of T-shirts had to be unpacked. Noni lifted the lid and pulled one out.
Now, alone in the shop, Noni suddenly sobbed out loud. It felt like a knife had pierced her heart. She doubled over, clutching the new T-shirt to her chest. Noni sobbed again and again, loudly. Slowly she straightened up, stood quite still and battled to control her emotions.
“Oh God,” said Noni out loud, “will this pain ever get any easier?”
Noni looked down at the T-shirt which she was clutching, and which was now creased and crushed in her hand. Jabu had worn one so similar. He had loved football so much. He had watched every game in the World Cup, and when he couldn’t get to the TV, he had listened on the radio. Noni put the bright yellow T-shirt down on the counter and left it there. She sat down heavily on the high chair behind the till. The shop door was still closed.
Surely, thought Noni to herself, I can have just a few minutes to think of you. Just a few minutes…
Jabu and Noni had been to the same school, over the mountain from where she now lived. They had both stayed in the school hostel. Noni had only moved to that school in Grade Ten. She had felt so determined to finish school, and leave the small town she lived in, and go to the city.
Noni had had so many dreams.
Dreams to make something of herself.
Dreams to maybe even study further.
Her mother had been angry when Noni went away to the school over the mountain.
Her mother wanted Noni to get a job and bring in some money for them all. Noni had fought against that.
Noni had never seen Jabu before, even though they came from the same town. It didn’t matter. From the first time Noni had laid eyes on Jabu at school, that first day, she had never really seen anybody else.
Noni was sixteen, and in Grade Ten. Jabu was nineteen and in Grade Twelve. It seemed so long ago.
Well, Noni thought to herself. Whether anyone believes me or not, I know one thing for sure. I loved Jabu from the first time I saw him. Love at first sight. It happens. It happened to me.
Jabu was dazzling. He was a fantastic sportsman, captain of the first football team. Winner of Races. Thrower of Javelins. The Highest Jumper of All. Jabu could do anything except school work. But then Jabu had always felt that he didn’t really have to do school work. His Dad owned a fleet of taxis. His Mom was a leader in the Church. Jabu was an only child. He had always believed that he could have anything he wanted.
After a while Jabu decided he wanted Noni. Nearly as much as Noni wanted him. No one had ever wanted Noni before. Not even her mother. Or her father, whoever he was.
Nonis’ mother wanted men. Noni had always known that. There was always a new one around. Sometimes those men had wanted Noni. They wanted to touch Noni’s breasts, or her bottom, or her secret parts beneath her skirt. Noni’s mother never seemed to notice.
Noni’s mother also wanted alcohol. Noni had also always known that. There was always a bottle of something around. Sometimes those bottles caused fights and windows to be broken and many jobs to be lost. Noni’s mother never seemed to notice that either.
So, when Noni looked up over her mielie pap that first morning in the school hostel, and saw Jabu looking up and over at her, she had paused right there, with her spoon in mid air.
If there was a moment that Noni could pinpoint and say that was the moment, then that was it. The moment Noni had fallen in love.
“And I am still in love with you,” murmured Noni, “but there are some days when I wish that I had never met you at all.”
Tell us what you think: Could Noni really have fallen in love when she was only sixteen? Does Jabu seem like the kind of guy a girl could trust?