The night of the spring ball was here!

I stepped into my dress and pulled up the zip, felt it hug and accentuate my breasts, my waist and hips before floating free at my knees and falling ankle-length . The silky fabric made a glamorous ‘swish-swish’ noise as I moved. Aunty, our helper, had steamed it better than any dry cleaners could have done so that it shimmered without the slightest crease.

Next: the too-high stilettos. I don’t know what I was thinking when I chose them. I sat on the edge of the bath and slipped on the left sandal, then the right. I stood up, unsteadily, clutching the towel rail. Maybe I should have listened when Mama suggested the other pair was a wiser choice, the ones with heels that didn’t feel like they were going to snap my ankles. But it was too late now. Besides, they matched my dress perfectly. What was a little pain when you looked this good?

I looked around the bathroom. My toilet bag was open, spilling its contents. Specks of toothpaste flecked the mirror and foam bubbles remained in the bathtub. I opened the cold water tap and quickly rinsed the bath. I could imagine my mother complaining once again that I behaved like I was living in a hotel, expecting people to pick up after me. But I couldn’t be much later getting ready for the dance so I shut Mama’s voice out of my head and turned off the bathroom light.

“Aren’t you ready yet Mpho? He will be here any minute!” my mother was calling anxiously.

“Haven’t you heard about being fashionably late, Mama?” I asked as I entered the living room.

“That’s just bad manners, Mpho. You really need to be more considerate.”

I strutted up and down then I twirled once, twirled again – and almost fell, but recovered quickly. “So, how do I look, Ma?”

“Beautiful, Mpho. Beautiful … but isn’t that too much eye-shadow? Let me get a tissue.” She got up and I braced for what was coming as she passed my bedroom door. “Oh, Mpho. No. No. No! You’ve left your room in such a mess … and the bathroom. Who do you expect to pick up after you?”

“Sorry Mama, but Aunty is going to be here tomorrow isn’t she? She’ll clean it up better than I ever could. Dad, how do I look?”

“Did you hear what your mother said about your room?” he said gruffly.

I knew that was all I was going to get from my father. He was old-school like that. When the bell rang he strode over to open the door. There was John, my date, standing scaredy-cat-like.

My father looked him up and down. “Yes?” he said – even though he knew why John was there.

I had had doubts about the colours our designer Divine had suggested, but when John stepped into our living room, I knew I had made the right choice: mauve and cerise were working really well. I remembered Divine’s words: “Set against that colour you dress will pop and it will bring out the highlights in your weave. You’re going to look spectacular honey.” He knew his stuff, Divine.

I settled into the back seat of the limousine that was taking us and smiled. My life was exactly how I wanted it to be. I lived in a lovely house in one of the poshest areas in the city. A date with the coolest guy. The most amazing dress. The limo… I smiled happily. I was going to have an unforgettable night.

* * * * *

As the sun rose over Sandton we were lying back in the luxury of the limo, exhausted and happy, still basking in the magic of the glittering night. John was holding my hand. Next to us were take-aways we had picked up from the McDonalds all-night place.

Then I became aware that we had taken an unexpected turn, and were on a detour home.

“Why are we going this way?” I demanded.

“There’s a march taking place that side,” the limousine driver responded.

“A march?”

“Yes – you know – service delivery stuff – people demanding water and electricity and houses.”

I had never been out on the streets at this time and I’d never been this side of the city – except to fly in a plane over it. We drove past a cemetery on the left that I had never seen before. There was an old man lying on a ‘bed’ of cardboard and paper on the pavement. Next to him was a young boy. They huddled together. When we stopped at an intersection the little boy rushed to our limo, palms extended. Then as we approached the next intersection a woman and two children held up a sign: ‘Unemployed. Will do anything’. The robot was orange; the limo slowed down and stopped.

“We could give them some of our take-aways,” said John.

“Didn’t you see that sign earlier that this is a ‘crime hotspot’? I am scared of carjacking,” I responded, nervous.

I was grateful when the limo sped away and I went back to examining my one nail. It looked like the polish was chipped. Damn. But actually, all I was truly interested in was getting home and releasing my feet from the torture they had endured for the last ten hours.

* * *

Tell us: How would you describe Mpho? What does she value?