Sbongile’s colleague, Nobuhle, stands at the door of Sbongile’s classroom in KwaManzini Primary School in KwaNdengezi Township. Nobuhle has been standing at the door for a few minutes, watching Sbongile staring into nothingness.
“Knock, knock! What are thinking about?” says Nobuhle.
“What? What are you saying?” says Sbongile, startled.
“I said what are you thinking about? I can see that your mind is far away.”
“I’m thinking about problems I’m having at home,” says Sbongile.
“What’s the matter?”
“Where do I start, my friend? For two years now I, alone, have been maintaining our house. I bought all the furniture. I pay for the electricity and rates. Bhekani doesn’t help me one bit. His salary does nothing for our family. As soon as he gets paid he sends all his money back home to his mother and sisters.”
“So he doesn’t even bring a sack of maize meal for his wife and children?” Nobuhle claps once and shakes her head.
“No, my friend. He does absolutely nothing. He knows that I buy everything.”
“Men will show you flames, my friend.”
“Marriage is tough, I tell you,” Sbongile says and yawns.
“But if we were to analyse this situation, it is obvious that his family is the problem.”
“But as a man he should stand his ground and let them know he is married and he needs to take care of his own household. He needs to put his foot down and tell them that he doesn’t have money. I have no problem with him sending money for food and electricity … but to send his sisters money to do their hair and nails?” Sbongile frowns.
“Don’t they have boyfriends to do that for them?” Nobuhle claps her hands. “How I wish I also had a big brother to send me money to do my hair and nails,” she says mockingly.
They both smile. The end of lunch siren blares out.
“Jokes aside, you just have to sit down and talk to Bhekani. I’ll see you after school. Stay strong, my friend,” says Nobuhle.
“Thank you, my friend. Just talking about my problems has made me feel a bit better.”
“No problem, you do the same for me when I’m worried. Let me know if you need anything else, or if you just need to talk.”
“I’ll do that, my friend.”
As soon as Nobuhle leaves, worry is back, eating on Sbongile’s mind. She takes a deep breath and casts her eyes on the concrete floor.
Sbongile’s Grade 3 learners flood into the classroom after lunch. Some of the boys’ shirts are dirty after a serious playing session on the school playground. Sbongile is deep in thought; she has not noticed that the learners are sitting at their desks and waiting for her to start the lesson.
After seeing their teacher staring at the floor, not saying anything for a few minutes, Lihle, who is class prefect, walks to Sbongile’s desk. She shakes Sbongile’s shoulder.
“Mam, are you not well?” asks Lihle.
Sbongile looks at Lihle. She sees that the little girl is worried. Sbongile feels loved, and smiles.
“No Lihle, I’m fine. Go back to your desk. Class, take out your isiZulu exercise books!”
* * * * *
It’s only a few hours since Bhekani got paid but half his salary is gone. He has had to pay back people he borrowed money from last month, because his family sometimes asks for money in the middle of the month. He looks at his bank balance on his cellphone and shakes his head; the money he has left won’t be enough to for the deposit on new sofas for his home. He’ll only be able to buy winter clothes for his children.
The end of school siren rings at Bhekani’s school. He stays in his classroom as most teachers rush to their cars. He is afraid to go home, scared of the disappointment he will see on Sbongile’s face when he tells her he doesn’t have enough money for the deposit on the new sofas.
Another teacher, Mr Zungu, stops at the door to Bhekani’s classroom.
“Bhekani why are you all relaxed on payday? Aren’t you worried about long queues at the mall if you don’t leave now? And why are you so sad on payday?” asks Mr Zungu.
“I’m not sad. Who wouldn’t be happy on payday? It’s just my stomach is acting up. I ate too many chillies yesterday,” Bhekani lies.
“I see. I’m going to the mall to run errands and buy groceries. But before that I’m going to multiply my salary.”
The words ‘multiply my salary’ grab Bhekani’s attention.
“How are you going to multiply your salary?”
“Worldbet, my friend. That’s how I’ll multiply my salary!”
“You mean you are going to gamble?”
“Yes, I have won big money twice already this year. You’ll see me driving a convertible soon!”
“How come you never told me about Worldbet?”
“I thought you didn’t need money. You are well off.”
“That may be, but extra cash is always welcomed.”
“It’s late, let me be off. It gets packed early at Worldbet.”
Mr Zungu hurries to his car. Bhekani counts all his needs against the money in his bank account. The money he has left won’t cover his needs. Multiplying his salary at Worldbet suddenly becomes enticing.
Tell us: Do you think Mr Zungu has really won more than he has lost? Or do gamblers fool themselves by only remembering their wins?