Bebenya looks at this stranger-brother of hers as she and Tsietsi leave the house. Tsietsi is acting so casual, but she can tell he’s putting it on.
Closing the house door behind them, Tsietsi says, “So now it’s the opposite of the way they say it used to be. Like, I have to look after you now, Ma says.”
Bebenya feels curiosity stirring. “Meaning I used to look after you?”
“So they say. I don’t remember. Do you?”
“I’m … not sure.” Bebenya frowns. “I think I might. Not clearly. It’s not really remembering, just a feeling I’ve always had with me. The feeling of my hand holding a smaller hand that’s all hot and sticky. It’s crazy, because sometimes this memory – if that’s what it is – it makes me feel sad, the way you feel when you’ve lost something. Other times, I dunno, I feel afraid, or angry.”
“That’s too much feeling for me,” Tsietsi jokes. “I don’t do feelings much. But are you afraid now? That’s why I have to look after you, Ma said – because you’re scared of being out of the house.”
“I thought I was,” Bebenya confesses, surprised by the way she can talk to this young brother about these feelings of hers. “Let’s just stand here for a bit, while I think about how I’m feeling. Oh sorry, more feeling. But you see, The Daddy was always somewhere around in the background if we were out on the streets or in his friend’s studio. In case of trouble, you know?”
“Not really.” Tsietsi grimaces, and Bebenya realises his face is a young boy’s version of the face she sees in the mirror. “So you’re not scared because this is the door you came out of and never went back in? That last time?”
It’s a good question, and clever. Bebenya looks at him with new interest.
“Could be that’s part of it, part of what I’m feeling right now. Which way would I have gone?”
“To the shop?” Tsietsi points.
Bebenya takes a few steps that way, stops, and turns back.
“It feels … familiar,” she admits. “Just a little.”
“The shop isn’t there anymore,” Tsietsi tells her. “That whole corner is a panelbeater’s now.”
“I sometimes took you with me to the shop, didn’t I?” The knowledge comes to Bebenya from some mysterious place inside her, and it has something to do with that half-memory of holding a small hand.
“I told you, I don’t remember anything from before you disappeared.” Tsietsi pauses, thinking. “Afterwards, I remember some stuff. Ma and Pa being upset, shouting and crying, with no time for me. Then later, the opposite: she wouldn’t let me out of her sight. I had to sleep in the same room with her and Pa, like a baby, and Pa needed to do a lot of talking to get her to let me go to school when it I was old enough.”
“She didn’t want to lose another child.”
“I guess. Like she never sent me to the shop, until I was much older and Pa said I had to have a normal life. You know, meeting my crew, cruising, seeing what’s what.”
Bebenya can’t stop a rush of bitterness rising.
“A normal life?” Her question is savage. “What’s that?”
Tell us what you think: Bebenya and her young brother seem to be getting along reasonably well. Is this a hopeful sign for the whole family, or is it just that they’re the same generation?