Sipho was a believer. Yet his faith in the mysteries of the universe only went so far. He did not believe in fairytales or happy endings.
It was this attitude that made him shrug, blink, and reach for the bottle of water under the counter, when he thought he’d seen a familiar face in the crowd. He went back to punching into the tiny black reception computer.
I am too tired. Hopefully ,I should knock off soon, he thought to himself, as he continued to register the last batch of people they had brought in. He rubbed his eyes and sipped his water again.
He could feel the exhaustion seeping off him. He was not surprised though, because he had been awake since six in the morning and it was already past nine at night. His entire body was exhausted, right down to the bones. At least his uncle paid him good money, he thought, and the guests sometimes tipped well too.
He started towards the wing where their new guests would be allocated their rooms. The crowd followed, their anxious faces revealing that none of them wanted to be here.
Sipho turned again, and again saw the girl. She was clutching another girl’s arm, her jaw almost hanging from its socket.
He refused to believe his eyes and continued on his way, till he reached the correct wing and handed them over to another staff member.
“Ladies and gentlemen, please continue down the passage with Thabiso,” Sipho said, addressing the crowd behind him. “You will be shown your rooms and can get some much-needed sleep. I will see you all in the morning at breakfast.”
The former bus passengers, now turned guests, did as directed. Sipho turned around to return to the reception, his coat swooshing, breaking the air behind him as he continued his way.
He was about leave the wide hallway when he noticed the girl again and stopped dead in his tracks. He could not believe it. He stopped and stared again, and still there she stood, talking in hushed voices with another girl in a black hoodie.
As he approached, each footstep felt more and more like his feet were heavy and made of glass.
“Amanda?” he said in disbelief. The girls looked up and stared at him. “Sipho?” Amanda responded, her voice shaking. The two stared at each other and time froze again.
Aelin was about to extend her hand to shake his when Amanda jumped in front of her and landed a bitter slap across his cheeks. Sipho’s eyes looked as if they were about to fall out as Amanda slapped him again, and again. He just stood there, looking stupefied. Sipho grabbed Amanda’s hands just as she was about to slap him once more.
“How could you?” Amanda said to Sipho, as she began to sob. “How could you not call me?”
Aelin had just stepped forward, put her bags down, and gotten ready to defend her best friend when Amanda grabbed Sipho’s arms and started muttering inaudibly under her breath. Then she slapped him flat across his cheeks one more time and stormed off down the passage, leaving Aelin standing stunned by the entire scene.
Sipho ran after her, wanting to atone, to explain what happened. But Amanda would not have it. She played mum to Sipho’s shouts as he called after her. She stopped at the end of the corridor and glared back at the young man calling behind her. Her eyes looked glassy as she fought back tears.
“Uhh hhmm,” Aelin said, clearing her throat loudly as she walked towards the ‘perfect strangers’. “I hate to break up this pleasant reunion, but we are the only ones left without rooms. We need to go. And you’re probably disturbing the guests with all that yelling!”
Sipho could feel the suspicion in Aelin’s voice, and could see the tension in Amanda’s eyes.
“Am I dreaming?” Sipho said, with a soft voice that sent electricity up Amanda’s spine. She could barely hear his words as she wept quietly in her hands. Her tears left salty stains on her hoodie. She edged away from him and walked towards Aelin.
Sipho gripped her hand, gently pulling her towards him.
But Amanda whimpered, pulled away from him, and walked off, without giving him an answer. She was first through the door and her bestie followed close behind, as if she was a shield guarding her friend from any danger that may lurk in these unfamiliar spaces.
“She doesn’t want to talk to you,” Aelin muttered in Sipho’s face. “Leave her alone.”
“I just want to talk to her!” Sipho defended himself.
“You’ve put her through enough already,” said Aelin.
“But I really like her.”
“Don’t sweat it. There are bigger tragedies than unreciprocated affection,” she shot back at him, as she walked after her best friend into the room.
Tell us: Do you think Aelin is being a good friend to Amanda? Have you ever been in a similar situation with a friend?