Sthembiso knows his wife; he has known her since they were kids. So he knows when she is about to cry. He doesn’t want her to cry because the twins will also cry if she does.
“Don’t worry, Ayanda. You are the engine of this household. I don’t know what I’d do without you, my queen. It’s only a matter of time before you find a job.”
“I worry when I see you struggling alone. I feel useless.”
“But you do more than me, Aya. I don’t know what I’d do if you were not by my side,” Sthembiso says and smiles, hooks an arm around her. “If I were the one helping the kids with their homework they would fail all the time.”
They giggle into each other.
“At least the walls have been fixed,” says Ayanda, smiling.
“Yes, at least half the work is done. We will see what we can do about the roof. I’ll buy the material bit by bit. I’ll make a plan.”
“You always do, Sthe,” says Ayanda, kissing him on the cheek.
The twins laugh, seeing this moment of affection between their parents. Ayanda jokingly points a wagging finger at the girls. They follow her to the kitchen to unpack the groceries into cupboards and the fridge. Sthembiso counts the money in his wallet. He has to pay the builder today and tell him about the roofing situation.
“The money for the roof is not coming together,” says Sthembiso, handing a wad of cash to the builder.
The man wipes the dirt on his hands down the sides of his overall. A smile steadily appears as he quickly counts the notes.
“Thank you,” says the builder. He shoves the money into a pocket of his overalls.
“I wish I had a skill like yours. Something that I’d do on the side to make extra money,” says Sthembiso.
The builder wipes away the sweat on his face with a facecloth hanging out of his pocket. He takes a long swig of water from a 2-litre Coca Cola bottle.
“I wish I had a steady job like you,” replies the man. “You can never be sure if you will be paid or not in my job. People pay late; sometimes not at all.”
“But people can be unfair,” says Sthembiso, shaking his head. “How can they not pay you after you have worked so hard?”
“It’s a terrible feeling I wouldn’t wish on anyone else. Listen, call me when you have put something together. At least with you I know I’ll be paid the exact amount we have agreed on.”
Sthembiso watches the water below. Further downstream, piled high against the pillar of a bridge connecting both sides of Power, is debris dumped by the river during the flood. Plastic bags, flour sacks, a contorted bicycle with wheels missing, a toilet seat and a big uprooted tree, its roots up and branches down.
His eyes lock on an old woman pushing a wheelbarrow. She stops in front of a pile of concrete blocks, picks up one block and struggles to put it in the wheelbarrow. She turns, pushing it a few meters, then stops. Her whole body shakes with effort as she offloads the big concrete block next to a pile of others. Sthembiso’s heart tears into pieces because there are floor tiles where she offloads the blocks. This flat ground, this floor without walls, used to be her house.
Tell us: What do you reckon is best: a steady formal job or being a freelancer?