“Yima, angizwa kahle, what do you mean there’s no money for the tombstone?” Baba Majola pressed the phone closer to his ear to hear what the woman at the insurance company was telling him.
“But … but we paid. I thought the policy covered everything. Surely the tombstone was part of the package? Do you know we used all our savings on that policy?”
But it was like the woman didn’t hear him.
“Yes, but we can’t afford the tombstone. The one we want is R7000 and I have to … you don’t understand …”
Grace had been buried six months ago and they planned to erect the tombstone in six months’ time. Gogo wanted to order it now, and she wanted it to be the very best. Grace Majola: wife, mother, daughter, had left a huge hole in their lives and the family were grieving. The tombstone was to be their tribute to her. They were all meant to go back to her birthplace, where Gogo lived, to commemorate her life.
“It is all there in the small print of the policy document, Mr Majola. If you read it properly …” the woman told him.
“Ngenzenjani manje? What must I do now?”
There was silence at the end of the phone and he cut the call. Baba rubbed his forehead, a clear sign that he was lost. His daughter Busi’s heart broke as he sank into the couch next to her. He looked tired, and suddenly so old. His wife’s death was already too much to handle and he was now left alone to deal with everything.
“Can I make you some tea, Baba?” Busi asked, shutting her Accountancy textbook and taking his hand.
“No thanks my girl. I have to go see Thembinkosi.”
“Bra Terror, Baba? Why?”
“Awu Busi, angithi you know we have to do the unveiling of your mom’s tombstone. I promised Gogo and now the lady says it wasn’t covered in the funeral policy.”
“I know Baba. We should have read the policy carefully before signing. These policies can be confusing. But Baba, the insurance company should have explained everything to you before you signed.”
“Well I’ve learned my lesson, Busi. Next time I’ll go through any document with a fine comb. But right now, I need money. The policy people won’t pay.”
“But Baba, borrowing money from a loan shark is not a good idea. You will get the money now, but you will keep paying forever. And if you don’t pay back … Does Mama really need such an expensive tombstone? She wouldn’t want us to get into debt for her.”
“Oh, Busi, you know Gogo. That’s what she wants. I’ll pay it back. I still have a few weeks of work left on the building site before the rainy season starts.”
“Busi, leave it wena. Focus on your school and leave me to be the parent.” He shoved his phone deep in his jacket pocket and walked out of the house.
“Where’s Baba?” Themba walked in, wearing his nice new uniform with ‘AG Fashions’ emblazoned on it, plus his Sales Assistant badge. “I need him to help with this tie.”
“Baba went to see Bra Terror to borrow money for Mama’s tombstone.”
“Yhoo! Kanti, what about the funeral policy?” Themba asked.
“They won’t pay. Evidently it was all there in the fine print that Baba and Ma didn’t read. These people are cruel. They take advantage of people like that. Not explaining properly. I tried to tell Baba about the loan shark and the interest–”
“Awu, en-ta-pri-nee of the year, always with your business talk. Bona, can you help me with this tie?”
Themba walked over to Busi, handing her the red tie.
“It’s great you got a job Themba; a proper job with chances of promotion. We really need it now that Mama is gone … Maybe you can help uBaba? You know, pay for the tombstone, instead of him borrowing money. You know … with your first pay cheque coming up?” Busi suggested.
“Awu Busi, how much do you think I’m being paid? I can’t pay for a tombstone. And I need to get a phone. There are some great deals on contract for the latest–”
“But you have a phone!” Busi butted in sternly. “You can’t spend your first pay cheque so recklessly. You should be saving.”
“Ah-ah-ah, don’t you start. You sound like Lerato, always talking about ‘savings’ and ‘long term goals’. She wants me to save for a car, ‘so that we can get better jobs’,” Themba said, mimicking Lerato’s voice.
Busi couldn’t help but laugh. “Your girlfriend is smart and very sensible. She has a five-year-plan you know. You better be careful … or you might not be in it!”
“Hey wena, watch it,” Themba warned. “Yimi omdala. I’m not going to listen to my younger sister tell me what to do with my money, or my relationship.”
She let go of Themba’s tie, stood back and admired her work. Themba looked good in his black shirt and pants and the red tie was the perfect finish. He looked like Baba, so handsome. But he was so childish; nothing like Baba.
“I’m not asking you to pay for everything. You and Samke can go halvies,” Busi said.
“Awe Ma! You think Samke Slay Queen could pay for something other than her hair? Sudlala wena, don’t joke.”
Busi knew that Themba was right. Their sister Samke was not reliable, especially with money and doing things for others. Her life was in chaos. It wasn’t all her fault, of course: there was no money to continue studying. But when she dropped out she fell pregnant. And now she didn’t even take care of her own child, and used his grant money to buy herself things.
Busi sat down on one of the kitchen chairs. There had to be a way to help Baba pay for the tombstone: his last gift to the love of his life.
“Go to Aunty Busi my nunus. Mama has to go.” Samke’s voice brought Busi back to her sad reality.
She looked up at Samke, who was standing in the doorway, dressed up to go out on the town. She would probably head straight to the local shisa nyama. Baby Khwezi was clinging to her thigh and Samke prised him off then lowered him down into Busi’s lap.
“No, no, no!” Busi protested. “I can’t watch him. I’m doing the dishes and I have an Accountancy test tomorrow.”
“Oh come on Busi, I need to go …”
“Let me guess. You’re going ‘networking’ again?”
“It’s only for, like, three hours. You don’t know what potential I could meet out there.”
“Where? At Tigers Tavern? I’m telling you again, you’re good at doing hair. With my Matric Dance coming up you never know, maybe the girls will want their hair done. You should be making a poster, or advertising on social media, not–”
“Busi, I have to go. We’ll talk later. Please give him his bottle; it’s in the fridge.” Samke was already out the door before Busi could protest further.
Busi looked at little Khwezi’s sweet face, so innocent. Poor kid, he didn’t deserve to have an absent mother. A child needs their mother, and right now Busi needed hers more than ever.
Khwezi, realising that his mom was not coming back, started to cry. Busi took him outside to keep him busy and distracted. As she was playing with him in the yard a taxi pulled up and Ma Ruby, their neighbour, got out holding some plastic bags. She was home from her stall at the taxi rank. The driver got out too and helped her carry boxes into the house.
“Sawubona Ma Ruby,” Busi greeted.
“Yebo ngane yami, sawubona Khwezi.” Ma Ruby walked over to the fence and gave Khwezi a lollipop.
“Hawu, Ma. All those boxes. You have so much stock? Was there a sale?”
“It’s my ‘Spring Special’.”
“But it’s still winter…”
“I’m planning ahead, you know. My door-to-door sales are going just great. I’ve got three ladies working for me now. And when the customers see this new range …”
“Oh neh? What is it? What’s in the bags?”
“I’ll tell you later and you can tell all your friends. Everyone will want to have one of these. I saw them in a magazine. They are trending.”
Busi laughed so much that she startled Khwezi, who started laughing too. Ma Ruby was a character. What did she know about ‘trending’?
“You think I don’t know what you kids talk about? Ha, I’m woke, mina.”
Busi burst out laughing. Ma Ruby was definitely ‘woke’. She always had just what her customers needed. All her stock always ran out and her stall drew the most people. Busi had to admire her. She was business savvy, a role model for her; a business woman of note.
Just then, Bra Mike walked past them. He was waving his Lotto ticket. He looked like he’d come from the tavern.
“Dudlu ntombazane, awuve umuhle namhlanje,” Bra Mike praised Ma Ruby’s beauty, like he did daily. And Ma Ruby clicked her tongue in annoyance, like she always did.
“Why are you smiling? Did you finally win the Lotto?”
“Not today. But when the day comes – and it will come – my sweet chicken, you’ll be mine. I’ll take you out for a drink or some lunch.”
“Suka wena! The day you stop gambling away your money is the day I might think about it. Not before then.”
“But this ticket, this one has my lucky numbers. This is my jackpot. Look, it’s got 27 – your birthday – and 20 – how old I was when I got my first job on the mine. Young people don’t understand about life these days,” Bra Mike said and shook his head at Busi. Then he kissed the ticket and put it in his pocket.
Busi sat on the ground, feeling the laughter still inside her. Even though grief was tearing her family apart, there were still some precious moments in her life.