It is a hot Sunday. It is doubly hot in Tin City because the metal sheets absorb the heat and swirl it around the neighbourhood. Zelwande, Aphile and Senzo are running late for church at Shalom Assembly.
Shalom Assembly is a church for the well-to-do. Most members of the congregation drive expensive cars. The pastor stops as Zelwande and her siblings enter the already packed church. Everyone turns to look at these three in their clean, but old, clothes.
Today is a big occasion at Shalom Assembly. The congregation is celebrating the return of Zelwande’s friend, the pastor’s son, Mxolisi, from Norway, where he just completed his Master’s Degree in Chemical Engineering.
“Today we celebrate this great feat!” the pastor continues. “Our son has returned, having succeeded in getting his Master’s Degree. The Lord says his blessings are endless for those who believe!”
A round of applause rings out. Zelwande’s heart sinks when she recalls that Mxolisi was her classmate in high school.
But as the applause reaches a crescendo and instruments clang out tunes, she is overcome by a feverish wave of optimism. One day she will also succeed!
The pastor usually pays Zelwande R50 for cleaning the church after Sunday service. She does so and then waits for him while her siblings are playing with other children outside. Tears roll down her cheeks as she sits in the empty church. She wipes them away quickly when she feels a hand on her shoulder.
“Why is such a beautiful lady crying? What’s the problem?” says Mxolisi, the pastor’s son.
“I’m not crying. Something got into my eye.”
“Hawu! Zeh, it’s you? How are you, my friend?”
“I’m good, my friend. Congratulations on getting your Masters!”
“Thank you. It’s been a long, hard journey.”
“That’s why they say patience breeds success.”
“That is true.”
Chatting with Mxolisi lifts her worries for a while. They laugh and exchange high fives as they reminisce about high school. Theirs was a deep friendship, bound together by the love of schoolwork. Zelwande was on the right track to fullfil her potential. Then the accident …
When it happened, it was month end. Taxis were in a rush to make as much money as possible. Zelwande’s parents had already phoned to say they were on the way home. The taxi collided with a truck; no-one in the taxi survived.
Their relatives left as soon as the caskets reached the bottom of their graves. Dreams of a tertiary education died along with her parents. Zelwande had graduated from being a child to being a parent, in the space of six days.
Mxolisi walks with Zelwande and her siblings until they reach their shack in Tin City. The playful tones and laughter disappear when Mxolisi sees the poverty in which Zelwande lives. The last time he visited her, she lived with her parents in a flat in Chatsworth.
“Eish, Zeh. I’m sorry to see you living like this,” says Mxolisi. “What happened to the flat?”
“We were only renting. The money from burial policies was only going to last for a few months if we continued to live in the flat. I had to make a decision, fast. So we found a plot here in Tin City, bought building material and put this up to put a roof over our heads.”
“I’m so sorry, Zeh.”
“It’s okay, Mxo. We do what we can with the little I get from odd jobs.”
Mxolisi fishes out a R50 note from his wallet. “I’d help you with more but I haven’t found a job yet.”
“Thank you. This will go a long way.”
Mxolisi’s contribution may not be much, but it is everything to Zelwande and her siblings. She sends Senzo to the shops and that evening she cooks rice, minced meat, and makes a coleslaw salad. Their shack also smells of Sunday supper cooking, like most of the shacks in the area.
They go to sleep early, with full stomachs.
Tell us: Do you think Zelwande acted wisely with the little money left from the funeral policy?