Sbongile glances at her husband, Bhekani, as he takes off his shoes and socks in their bedroom. She has a serious look on her face as she stands in front of him. Bhekani sighs, and drops his head in his hands.
“Bhekani, you have to take care of your family, like a man,” says Sbongile.
Bhekani shakes his head. It’s been years since he last felt the joy that comes with payday. That spark of delight that comes with the SMS from the bank notifying that his salary has been paid is a feeling that is no longer present in his life. Instead of joy Bhekani feels sorrow and regret and pain hanging over his head like a cloud every time he gets paid. All his worries just multiply on payday, because his salary doesn’t cover his needs.
Never in his days after completing his teaching degree did he think he’d end up like this. His mind goes back to graduation day. On that day he thought he was finally out of poverty. He thought that as soon as he found a teaching job his life would be as sweet as honey. And yes, it all seemed sweet in the beginning, when he found a placement at Swazini Secondary School in Saint Wendolins Township, commonly known as ‘KwaSanti’.
Bhekani actually used his money well when he started teaching. He saved enough to put down a deposit on a house in KwaNdengezi. He got married to his wife, Sbongile.
“Sbongile, it’s easy for you to speak like that because you come from a rich family. It’s tough for me because I still have to look after my family back home in Inanda. You know very well that there is no-one working at home,” says Bhekani.
“That’s exactly my point, Bhekani. All of your salary goes to your mom and your siblings! There is nothing left for us. Have you seen our sofas? They are torn to shreds. I’m the only one who is buying everything and it’s not fair! You give your money to your mom and siblings, and then I have to look after you as well.”
“How can you say that, Sbongile? Are you resenting me?”
“Yes. I have to tell you the truth. But I’m not resenting you or complaining unnecessarily. It’s only fair that you and I work together to maintain this house and our lifestyle. We have to help each other financially and that is not happening. It hasn’t happened for two years now. It’s tough on me as well,” says Sbongile in a low voice.
“You are driving me insane with your complaints one hand, and Mom and my sisters are driving me insane with their complaints on the other hand. Can you just stop for a minute? Can you just leave me alone and allow me to breathe?” Bhekani exclaims, scratching his head.
“I’m not fighting with you, my husband. All I’m asking is that you consider me and your children in your salary. Our children need winter clothes. The sofas in the lounge are torn. I’ve had to drape throws to hide the tears from visitors. I’m just asking you to help me, and play your part as the man of the house.”
“I don’t know, Sbongile. I’ll think of something. I’ll work something out.”
“Bhekani why are you giving me vague answers? You seem to not care. Are you having an affair? Is that why you don’t care about our home?” Sbongile raises her eyebrows.
“No, Sbongile! How can you even think of something like that?”
“How would I know? I have to ask.”
Sbongile walks out of the bedroom. Bhekani can hear pots clanging in the kitchen – Sbongile is starting to cook supper. Bhekani finally gets a chance to be alone. He finds peace.
But it is a momentary peace because his cellphone buzzes in his trouser pocket. His mother is calling.
“Mama are you well? Is everyone well at home?” asks Bhekani in a low tone.
“We are well, my son. We are happy because you are getting paid tomorrow. I’m so grateful I gave birth to you. I looked after you when you were young and now the roles have reversed. You have become like a parent to me now. Thank you, my boy.”
“It is fine, Ma. Thank you.”
“Praise God, Bhekani. The reason I called, my son, is because your sister needs your help. The boy who got her pregnant has abandoned her and as you know, my boy, you are the one who has to look after her and the baby. On top of that there is no food in the house. So please don’t forget us when you get paid.”
“Mama, what do you mean there is no food? I gave you R3000 just last week! What happened to that money?”
“Bhekani, your cousin Buhle wants to speak to you,” says his mom.
“Hi, big brother. Please buy me a laptop. I need it for school!” says Buhle.
Bhekani realises he is on speaker-phone on his mom’s side because his sisters and their children blurt out their requests in the background.
“I need a weave, big brother!”
“I need a calculator!”
“I need Nike sneakers!”
Bhekani wishes he could just smash his cellphone against the wall. This is exactly what drives him to the edge of depression on payday. He knows he cannot refuse when his mom and sisters ask for his help.
When he was at university he made a promise to himself that his family would never be in need of anything, as long as he is alive. But he is coming to regret making this promise. This promise is burying him alive.
“Who created money?” Bhekani silently whispers in the dead of the night.
Sbongile stirs next to him in bed. He quickly wipes away the tears so that Sbongile doesn’t see him crying.
Tell us: Is Bhekani just being weak, giving in to the demands of his family for luxury items?