I woke up that summer morning to the warm air blown lazily by the fan by my bedside. It was only seven but the sweltering heat made sleeping beyond that time impossible. Several warnings about heatstroke were on the weather report; citizens were advised to stay indoors and avoid heavy physical labour during daytime. Newspaper headlines ran wild with heat-related fatalities: “Two more deaths attributed to heatstroke.” “One-year-old dies from heat exposure – mother in custody.” As a result of the severe hot weather, the two local schools let their learners out two weeks early, as neither was equipped with air conditioning or fans.
I switched off my fan and lay staring out of the window, contemplating the day ahead. There wasn’t much to do for a fifteen-year-old at Sibaya. It is a small stop-over railway village of just a few thousand residents in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands. The place was just a line of shops consisting of Cheap-A-Lot Supermarket, Discount Mart Clothing Store, J & J Fish & Chips, Grand Bottle Store & Tavern, a host of small shops run by foreigners, and a one-pump fuel station. They provided the only source of employment and entertainment for the citizens of Sibaya.
The railway line was once the largest source of employment, but after a bigger and more accessible line was built many kilometres away, all the business went too. All that was left as proof that a better life may have existed was the train station, now a dilapidated single-story, greyish building with a sagging red roof. A few hundred metres from the town centre stood a small building that housed the community clinic, post office, a municipality office, and a one-roomed police station.
Except for the birds chirping outside my bedroom window, the house was quiet. I turned over one more time and cursed myself for waking up so early, as if I had important places to go. I had spent the previous day at my cousin Thembi’s house. We had sneaked four ciders (stolen from her family’s liquor store) and cigarettes into her bedroom and locked ourselves there the entire afternoon. We smoked the cigarettes out the window, and declared these holidays the most boring yet. Then Thembi had said something unexpected.
“Lena, I was just thinking,” said my cousin, taking a sip of her drink. She was lolling on the edge of her unmade bed with her feet on the windowsill. “You know how you sometimes get upset about growing up without a father? Well, I was just thinking that maybe we should go look for him – your father.”
“What? Are you out of your mind? Is the alcohol getting to you already?” I replied, dragging the study chair closer to the window, and blowing ringlets of smoke into the warm, breezeless air. “You’d better not say anything drunkenly stupid in front of your father otherwise you’ll get us both into trouble.”
“I’m not drunk!” she retorted. Her braids swayed side-to-side. “It makes sense that you at least find out about your father. I know what Gogo says about him – that he is useless and irresponsible – but Gogo is not always fair.”
What do you think? Should Lena look for her father?