Nothando Luthuli tosses and turns in bed. Her boyfriend, Xolani, has not been seen in 24 hours. When he left yesterday afternoon he said he was going to buy airtime at the shops. Xolani’s cell phone is off, and now Nothando is worried something bad has happened to him.

Nothando lives with Xolani in the back room of his parents’ house. Nothando’s mom passed away when she was just a baby. Her father got sick and stopped working a decade ago he had been in the construction industry. For most of her life she had lived with her aunts in their shack in Zidindini informal settlement. But they treated her badly, so after she met Xolani she chose to live with him in his back room.

There are many problems within Xolani’s own family. He comes from a violent family and there are always fights at his house. Xolani didn’t fall far from the tree because he also has a violent temper. Sometimes, at odd hours, he barges into the back room looking for his knife because he has had an argument with his brothers. 

Xolani’s disappearance has made the past 24 hours terrible for Nothando. With Xolani not being around there is no one to bring her food. Xolani usually dishes a plate for Nothando after the family has cooked and dished their own plates. 

But with him not being around Nothando hasn’t eaten for 24 hours. Her stomach grumbles, she feels her intestines twisting. She lies on her stomach and tries to think of something that will make her forget about hunger. 

Suddenly Xolani barges in. The first thing that gets Nothando’s attention is the blood dripping from his hands. There is also blood splattered on his jeans.

“So much blood on your hands, Xolani!? Where were you? What happened?”

Xolani washes his hands at the sink. Nothando stands behind him and sees the water turning red from all the blood. 

“I haven’t had time to even breathe, yet you are already asking me questions. Just leave me alone. And close that mouth that doesn’t know when to stop talking,” Xolani sneers.

“I’m not playing with you, Xolani. Where were you? What’s with all this blood? What happened to

“I was in a fight, Nothando! Now stop talking, your voice is getting on my nerves!”

“So you have been fighting since yesterday? Some power you must have to fight for a whole 24 hours! What did you think I was eating for all these 24 hours? If you cared about me you’d realise I haven’t eaten for a whole day!”

“And why didn’t you just go back to your home? Stop being a burden to me! You are not my child and I never said …” Xolani doesn’t finish what he was saying.

Nothando has also become quiet. She asks no further questions. She knows Xolani will say he is not the one who said she must be poor. She has heard this line many times. Her heart is torn into pieces. She can feel tears itching behind her eyes, but she remains strong and decides not to cry because crying doesn’t help.

Nothando is hungry. She gets madder as she irons her work clothes. She lies on the bed and tries to sleep. Her sadness multiplies the more she thinks about her situation. She can’t hold it any longer and cries silently until her pillow gets wet.

Just as she is about to doze off she hears Xolani saying, “Do me one favour, Nothando. Wash and dry that pillow case that you are busy making wet with your tears. You are always looking for a reason to cry. I would have never spoken to you the first day I met you if I knew you were such a cry baby.” 

Nothando opens her eyes, but she can’t see him in the pitch blackness of the room. Xolani strikes a match. Nothando sees the amber of Xolani’s weed blunt. 

Soon the smell of marijuana fills the room.

***

Rage boils in Xolani’s red eyes as he looks at Nothando coming back from work. He watches her take off her shoes and stretch on the bed. He quickly rolls another marijuana blunt and lights it. He takes two powerful drags and tries to calm down. But he can’t. He looks at the skirt that is part of Nothando’s work uniform.

“So you have no shame at all? Why do you keep embarrassing me all the time?” says Xolani.

“What have I done now, Xolani?” Her question is laden with irritation.

“How do you leave the house dressed like this? How do you leave the house in a skirt this short? You are showing your thighs to the whole world!”

“Xolani, please. Can you please just let me rest? I’m tired, we worked too much today. I’m tired of arguing with you all the time. I just need peace.”

“Fine by me. Just don’t ask me where I’m going. And another important thing you need to know is I don’t want to find you here when I come back. I want you gone.”

“What do you mean, Xolani?” Nothando rises to her feet.

“I don’t see a future with you. It is better we go our separate ways.”

“Just one small thing, like the length of my skirt, and you want us to break up? That means you never loved me in the first place.”

“Please just leave, Nothando.”

“How can you do this to me? You treat me like trash because you know I don’t have anyone.”

“Stop trying to make me feel guilty, Nothando. Let’s not make a noise. Let’s peacefully go our separate ways.”

Tell us: Nothando is upset by Xolani assuming he can criticise her for every small thing. Is it fair that he immediately breaks up with her when she does not want to argue?