“Hola, Nelani,” Loyiso said.
Somehow, seeing her always lifted his mood, not that his mood was bad to start with. It was Friday afternoon, for one thing, the whole weekend ahead. Plus he was on his way home from buying the ingredients for the side-hustle he and Vusi had got going.
“Hey, Loyiso.” As always, Nelani seemed surprised at being greeted.
“You going away somewhere?” He indicated the pink travel bag hanging from her shoulder.
“To stay with my friends.” There was a touch of shy pride in the way she said the word ‘friends’.
“Sweet.” He tried to think who her friends might be, but he hadn’t seen her hanging out with anyone particular at school. “Overnight, or for the whole weekend?”
“Um, the weekend … maybe longer,” she added, suddenly awkward.
“Cool, they live around here then?” he asked, thinking about school on Monday.
So maybe they had a car … and of course there were buses and taxis. Loyiso felt that asking might be one question too many, now that Nelani was coming across so uncomfortable. It was obvious she was wishing he would stop with the questions.
But how else did you get into conversation with a girl as reserved and quiet as she was? Maybe tell her some stuff about himself?
“Working weekend for me,” he volunteered, showing off a bit, and smiling as he showed her his shopping bag. “Me and Vusi, we make vetkoek and sell it around this part of Tonga. You know my friend Vusi?”
“The poet,” she confirmed, her sweet smile flashing out, like the sun finding a break in the clouds on a grey day.
“The extremely bad poet. He’s a much better cook. You’ll have to try our product one weekend.”
The smile had disappeared. “I don’t know if I’ll be around much … around anymore … I have to go.”
Now she was clearly upset about something. Loyiso wanted to ask what was wrong, but she was already starting to move away from him.
“Well, okay then. Azishe-ke! I mean, enjoy your weekend.”
She stood still again, looking at him in a way that was almost sorrowful … or maybe regretful was a better word.
Then she said, “Sala kahle, Loyiso, and thank you.”
The words were spoken slowly, weighted with meaning, as if they were never going to meet again.
“Thank you?” Loyiso was confused, because what had he ever given her or done for her? “For what?”
“For … for seeing me.” It burst out of Nelani, in a rush of complicated emotion, but next moment she was turning and hurrying away from him.
Loyiso stared after her, his mind in a mess. For seeing her? Of course he saw her; how could he not? The sight of her pleased his eyes more than most other things in his life.
Should he go after her? And say what? Do what? He had the discouraging suspicion that he was wasting both his time and emotional energy, trying to get something started with Nelani.
Especially now that she had changed so much.
Tell us: What is behind the way Nelani said goodbye to Loyiso?