Bebenya looks around the room. It still doesn’t feel like home, but at least it’s less like a shrine now. All that stuff that was on the table the day she arrived has been put away, except for the photo. The bouquet and balloons are gone too.
She sits slumped in a chair, fretfully shredding the tissue she is holding and staring at the photo of her young self. Was that really her, so happy and innocent? So normal? Earlier, she had looked out of the window and seen a boy about her age coming out of the house next door. He looked so nice and normal, and pain had sliced through her as she thought: A boy like that wouldn’t want to have anything to do with me.
She stiffens as Estere enters. Her mother, but it’s easier just to think of her as Estere.
“I’m making tea.” Estere sounds nervous. “Will you have?”
“Something else then?”
A surge of resentment and frustration makes Bebenya jump up.
“You know what I want. I’ve told you! Pills, powder, smoke, drink! Anything to make me feel better.”
Estere shakes her head. “Four days now, and you still … I don’t … no matter. That top I got you looks so pretty on you. I wish you’d come shopping with me. We could get you such nice things … those shoes that all the girls are wearing. Shoes are one thing you really need to try on.”
“I want my old clothes.” Bebenya lets go of the tissue, and the pieces drift to the floor. “And the chains and bangles The Daddy gave me.”
“You know they’re gone, my dear. So why not come with me and choose something more feminine and attractive than those jeans and takkies Ms Khumalo got. My stokvel granted me some emergency money, a special case, when I explained you came to us with nothing. There’ll be school uniform to get too, when you feel ready … if that’s what you choose to do. Your father thinks you may prefer a course in something practical.”
What is she saying?
“Too bad you’d have so much catching up to do, but there would be people to help you. Even your old friends. Do you remember Zeni and Dibote from primary school? They’re still around, and they remember you. They asked when they’d get to see you.”
Why is this woman insisting on trying to make everything normal?
“Well, I don’t remember them.” Bebenya doesn’t try to hide her irritation.
“I can understand that.” Now she’s being soothing. “It’s so many years. But you had so many friends; you were such a popular little girl. Clever too, reading before all the others in your class. And pretty! I suppose that’s why … those people, the ones who … it’s why they chose you.”
Bebenya throws herself back into the chair. “Chose me to be one of The Daddy’s girls.”
“You remember who took you?” Estere asks the question so carefully, Bebenya guesses she’s afraid of what her reaction might be.
“I remember they were … cruel,” Bebenya admits. “I was scared, and they hit me when I cried. The Daddy wasn’t like that. He was kind to us, so we were good girls for him.”
“Oh, my child!” Distress lifts Estere’s voice. “You remember all that, yet … Do you really not remember us? Your family? Or are you punishing me?”
Bebenya takes a big breath. They’re getting closer to one of the things that has been troubling her since she was brought home.
She asks, “Do you think you deserve to be punished?”
Tell us what you think: There’s such tension between mother and daughter, and both are in pain. Do they both equally deserve our sympathy?