The next day it rains. It pours from the sky, non-stop. Nobody is playing soccer. Nobody is playing anything. Except for Mrs van Rheenen’s son, who has a new album by Pitbull. He’s sitting in the shell of his car, listening to it full blast, in the rain. The troubles have died down. The workers in Site B were given their jobs back after the strike. It is quiet again – for now.

The whole week it rains, and the next. But Aimée doesn’t care. In fact she doesn’t notice the rain, because Mandla is there. He sends her SMSes that make her smile. Princess glares at her in class and she doesn’t care. Mandla holds her hand at break time, despite the other boys teasing him.

“Hey, mjita. Utya i variety, udikwe yi pap en vleis?” they say, slapping him on the back. (Hey, dude. Are you tasting a variety now? Are you tired of pap and meat?) But he just laughs and takes Aimée’s hand.

“What are they saying?” she asks Mandla.

“That you are cute and I’m the luckiest guy in the world,” he laughs. She knows it’s not true, but she doesn’t care. He’s hers.

Noki just shakes her head and laughs.

At break she and Mandla sit under the tree and talk. He puts his arm around her at the school gates, in full view of Princess and her friends. Sometimes he kisses her behind the shed, where no-one can see them. But they only see each other at school. “You are my girlfriend,” he tells her. But he never arranges to see her outside the school gates.

“He’s royalty,” Princess tells her in the toilets. “His family has arranged a marriage for him. To the daughter of a chief. You don’t stand a chance. Every day is a day closer to him dumping you.”

But every day Mandla is waiting for her, and every day they sit together, talking, laughing, and kissing secretly.

“Maybe I was wrong about Mandla,” Noki tells Aimée, when, after three weeks, they are still together.

“Maybe you were,” Aimée laughs.

And still, after three weeks, he hasn’t given her coin back.

“In case you lose interest in me,” he teases her. “Then I’ll have an excuse to see you one last time, to try and win you back.”

“My family wants to meet you,” she says. “My sister found your photo on my phone. Now they’re teasing me.”

He laughs. “You tell your sister I’m coming to visit one day,” he says. “And if she’s lucky I’ll bring her something special.”

“Hey, come see us soon,” she says. “Promise?”

“Promise.” He says.

“When am I going to meet your family?” she asks softly.

“When the time is right,” he says. But it’s been a month and the time has never been right. And he hasn’t kept his promise and visited her. Not yet.

“And your father? The chief?” she had asked him.

His face always clouds over when she mentions his father, and he changes the subject.

“What is it? Why don’t you want to talk about your father?” she had asked.

“It’s complicated.”

“I like complicated.”

“Not this kind of complicated,” he had said.

When she asked Noki, she had just shaken her head. “Sometimes families are stronger than sweethearts,” she said. “His father is putting pressure on him. He expects Mandla to do as he wishes, to marry whom he chooses.”

On the month end, Noki takes Aimée shopping.

“So we can chat about something other than Mandla,” she teases. “Hey, what about these jeans? I think they’d be cool on you.”

They are laughing as they come out of the shopping centre. Then Aimée sees Mandla. He is crossing the parking lot, carrying shopping bags. Next to him is an older woman. This must be his aunt who he lives with, she thinks. They will meet at last.

His aunt is always busy on weekends. Or she’s at church, or visiting relatives.

But now Mandla is here with his aunt, and they are heading for Jet. She nearly calls out to him, but Noki puts her hand on her arm. Just then Mandla turns and looks across the parking lot. He sees Aimée and Noki, she is sure of that. But, instead of coming to greet them he turns back and follows his aunt, into the store.

“Perhaps he didn’t see you,” Noki tries to reassure Aimée. But she isn’t sure herself.

“Perhaps,” says Aimée, downcast.

That afternoon Aimée goes to her uncle’s second-hand furniture store, a few blocks from where they live. She takes her homework with her, putting her book down on one of the second-hand tables that is for sale. The light is very dim inside, and there is hardly any space. There are no windows, just an overhead bulb, rigged up to the electric cable outside. However it’s quiet here. She will be able to concentrate.

She tries not to think about Mandla, and his aunt. But she can’t help it. Surely he saw her. Why would he ignore her? Is he ashamed?

“Have you been to Mandla’s house?” Aimée had asked Noki.


“Just because.”

“I went there once, with friends,” Noki laughs. “Plasma TV, surround sound, new couches. VIP Ayoba!”

Now as she sits in the dim light of her uncle’s furniture store Aimée can’t concentrate on her homework. She can hardly read the textbook in the dim light. It’s so stuffy in the shop. She can’t stop thinking of Mandla. She feels his lips on hers and his arms around her, his sweet words. And then she thinks of him walking away from her at the mall – like she was a stranger.

In the afternoon her uncle lets her go to the nearest shop to buy a cola and chips.

She takes her time in the queue, paging through the magazines in the rack. Beautiful holiday destinations: Explore Africa for only R10 000! Fly to Kilimanjaro. Enjoy Lake Victoria at your leisure. The woman in the picture has a passport and money. She can go anywhere. She can fly in and out of countries. She can see the lush tropical bush and listen to the music, eat the food. Aimée’s family would give anything to be free to travel where they pleased. But they have no money, no passports, not even proper papers yet to stay in South Africa.

There is only one solution. She has to do well. No, not just well. Brilliantly. She is their hope. She must forget Mandla, and get back to her homework.

She shuts the magazine and runs back to the shop. It’s started raining again.

Her eyes take a few moments to adjust to the dim light in the shop. Just when she starts to make out the chairs, tables and beds stacked up against the wall, she hears someone calling her.

She squeezes through the gap between two tables.

And then she sees him. He’s sitting in an old arm chair, smiling at her.

“I thought it was time to give you back this.” Mandla holds up the coin.

“How did you find me? Does this mean we are… over?”

He shakes his head. “No. Hell no. Really, it was just an excuse to come over. Noki told me I’d find you here.”

Now… now he is going to say he saw me at the mall, she thought. Now he is going to explain and say he is sorry. But he doesn’t.

“And I was thinking,” he said, “that I might just buy this chair. It’s comfortable. And my aunt is so large she takes up the whole sofa.”

She wants to ask him why he hadn’t come to greet her. But now, he is so warm and friendly, she is sure it was a mistake. That he hadn’t seen her.

“You serious?” asks Aimée. “Why would you want that old chair?” She thinks of what Noki said. How he has a new couch.

It’s too dim in the shop to see his expression properly.

Then her uncle comes over.

“I’d like to buy this chair,” says Mandla. “Is this the price?” He looks at the white sticker that is stuck on the leather. He takes notes out of his pocket and holds them out to Aimée. She hesitates. She doesn’t want his money.

Her uncle nudges her. “Kokoma te zua mbongo Aimée, merci.” (Don’t be rude, take the money Aimée. Say thank you.)

She reaches out her hand. But her eyes are challenging. “Thank you,” she says, and does a mock curtsey.

Mandla laughs.

“I can drop it off,” says her uncle. “When you are ready I can borrow a bakkie to use.”

Mandla looks up quickly. “Great. I’ll SMS Aimée directions.”

Aimée breathes a sigh of relief. She is going to meet his family at last. It’s going to be OK.

“Come. Walk with me a little.” He stands up.

He buys her a cola at the spaza.

As they are leaving, some guys he knows greet him.

Kuth’wa i-timer lakho lizwakele. Ay’gqitywangana na ‘ba uzotrowa la way yakho yakdala? Uz’gade, Joe. Ahh Mandla, nzala ka…” (I hear your father’s back. Hasn’t it been all arranged that you’ll marry your childhood sweetheart? Better be careful, Mandla – next in line to the royal clan of….”) the guy teases.

“That’s what my father thinks,” says Mandla.

Udlala ngomlil’wemoyeni,” (You are playing with fire.) the friend says. “Uya yazi?” (Does she know?) He winks at Aimée.

When they are gone, Aimée asks Mandla what they said.

“That you are very beautiful and I’m a lucky guy,” he smiles.

“They didn’t,” she says, but she laughs. “They can’t always say the same thing.”

They sit down on an old concrete pipe and drink their colas. The clouds have lifted; the sun has come out.

“Why me?” she asks, thinking of Noki’s warning, and Princess’s threats.

“Why not?” He smiles that cheeky smile.

“And what will happen when your aunt and father meet me?” she asks. “Will they approve? And if they don’t?”

“I don’t care. I’m my own person. I’ll do what I want. ”

But he is frowning, and there is a shadow of doubt in his voice.

* * *

Tell us what you think: Why hasn’t Mandla introduced Aimée to his family?