Busi was sitting at the kitchen table with application forms spread out in front of her. Samke walked in with baby Khwezi on her hip and picked up one of the forms. She skimmed through it before letting it drop to the floor.
“Samke!” Busi clicked her tongue as she picked the paper up. “These are important. I need to start applying for courses for next year.”
“Usuke wacasuka; don’t be annoyed for no reason. Where do you think you are going to get the funds to study? Look what happened to me,” Samke said, as she jiggled Khwezi to stop him from crying, while she mixed his bottle.
Busi had an answer that would put Samke in her place. It was burning on the tip of her tongue. Really, dropping out was Samke’s fault and she needed to take responsibility and stop blaming her situation for her bad decisions. But Busi didn’t want to fight. She had more important things to worry about. Before she knew it, exams would be starting and she needed to have a plan in place for her future. Samke wouldn’t understand.
Just then, Themba walked into the room. He had overheard everything – that came of living in a tiny house. You could hear everybody’s business.
“Hee, Samke, you were busy jolling and didn’t have time for your books.”
“What do you know, Themba?”
“I know that Busi is clever. If she goes to university she will come back with a degree, not a baby.” Themba took a sweet out of his pocket and gave it to baby Khwezi, teasing him playfully.
Busi agreed with Themba. Samke had not been serious about her studies. That’s why she failed. Had she passed she could’ve found a bursary to pay for her fees. There were so many opportunities out there. You just needed to be committed enough to find them. And you definitely had to work hard to keep them. That’s where Themba was wrong; being smart alone was not going to help. She needed to work hard too or else she would end up just like her sister: jobless.
That was Busi’s worst nightmare. She loved her sister and appreciated her great qualities. But the truth was that Samke was a burden to their father. Busi wanted to be the solution that took her family out of poverty, and not a cause of stress.
Busi gathered up the papers on the table and went to the lounge to try and find a bit of peace. Her siblings were starting to argue about who was better and more responsible than the other.
“Phela mina, I’m working. When are you getting a job?” said Themba.
“Not everyone is meant to be a worker bee, Themba. I’m a business woman with amazing networking skills. When my time comes you’ll be working for me, selling my products, Mr Sales Man.”
They were still arguing when Baba came in and sat down on the sofa next to Busi. He looked stressed. Busi noticed that he was getting more grey hairs by the day.
His cellphone rang and he looked at the screen, debating whether to take the call or not. He answered it and walked outside. Busi went to make him some coffee. Themba and Samke were gone and Busi could hear Baba through the kitchen window.
“Don’t worry. I have a plan and I will soon start to repay it,” he said, pacing up and down the yard. She didn’t like the sound of it. She was sure it was the loan shark. Busi knew her father didn’t have money and she wished she could do something.
She could try to talk to him, but what good would it do now?
Her family was falling apart. They were sinking deeper into debt and poverty. Did they not see this; that their ‘short term’ solutions actually created more problems? She was the only sane one around here, she thought.
She came through to the lounge to find Baba with his head in his hands. Without a word, she put Baba’s coffee on the coffee table in front of him and walked out. She needed to breathe.
“Haibo, where are you going?” Samke stopped her at the gate. Busi knew she wanted her to look after baby Khwezi again.
“I’m going to meet my friends. We’ve got planning to do.”
“Planning for what?”
“Woooh, I hope your friends show you how to have some fun in between all that work. You need to lighten up a little. You’re too serious for a teenager, you know.”
“Leave me alone, Samke.”
“Tell me, Busi, have you ever had a boyfriend? Shem!” Samke laughed.
“It’s none of your business. Besides, look where boys got you. I don’t have time for that,” Busi said, as she walked out onto the street.
Samke had a cheek. How could she keep expecting Busi to take care of Khwezi all the time? And how could she afford that new outfit she was wearing, without a job? She was using the baby’s grant money again, Busi was certain.
Busi met up with her friends, Sive and Nolwazi, outside Nolwazi’s house. Nolwazi’s family ran a shebeen-come-spaza shop. Nolwazi liked business and was an entrepreneur at heart. But she wanted to learn more and grow the business. She was planning to study accounting at college.
“Awu, mngane. Vele you’re sorted with your career path,” Sive joked when Nolwazi returned to the sunny spot next to the shop. They liked to chill here when Nolwazi wasn’t helping customers.
“What? This little spaza? I’m gonna manage big monies one day. I’m going to work my way up: bookkeeper, accountant, business woman of the year …”
“A bookkeeper? An accountant, Lwazi? Those won’t even be jobs in 10 years mngane,” Sive chipped in.
“What are you talking about now? Look at Slender from up the road. She did Accounting and now she’s working and earning her own,” Nolwazi said.
“Sive might be right,” said Busi. “We need to choose careers that will last – 21st century skills. Computers will do all that accounting stuff soon and you and Slender will be jobless.”
“Buka, Slender is doing great. Did you see her new wheels? Hee, hard to believe that it’s the same girl who used to wear her braids till they turned to wool,” Nolwazi laughed.
“Yho, I knew computers were gonna wipe us off the face of the earth!” Sive said. “Mara, what are we supposed to study manje?”
“We’ll have to figure that out,” Busi said. “I’m looking into options. I’m thinking maybe Data Science. I heard there are companies that will pay you to study that, or let you study while you work for them.”
“But what about your dream of going to university?”
“I’ve got to save for the future while taking care of my family in the present.”
“Ja, neh,” Sive agreed.
“I’ve seen the reality of things in my family. You never know what’s going to happen.”
Busi had thought about this a lot; she needed security. She had to make sure her big dreams became a reality and didn’t get lost in debt.
“Me? I want to show all those men out there that women can farm too – and make a success of it. I’m looking at TVET College, you know, to study agriculture,” said Sive.
Just then Busi’s phone rang. It was Themba. It was a quick conversation – Themba giving Busi orders not to cook because he was bringing supper tonight.
“Yhoo, mngane! Ubhuti wakho shem,” Sive said when Busi dropped the call. She was grinning like a love-sick puppy. Themba was a charmer and the girls loved him.
Busi went home and found Baba talking on the phone. He was calmer now. Busi knew only one person who could do that to Baba now that Ma was gone.
“Cha Ma. Sizolikhetha sonke itshe singumdeni (We’ll all choose the stone as a family).”
“Gogo wants to talk to you,” Baba said and handed the phone over to Busi.
Gogo had phoned to congratulate Themba on his job, but he was out. Gogo said she was a bit sick, and Busi told her to go to the doctor.
“Anginayo imali yokugibela i-taxi, mzukulu (I don’t have transport money, my grandchild),” she said.
They ended by talking about exercises Gogo could do at home to keep her healthier, then Busi said her goodbyes and passed the phone to Lerato. She was thinking of ways she could help Gogo maximise her grant money, when Themba barged in. He had bags from the clothing store and a new phone. He also had bought take-aways for the entire family.
“Babe, you’re gonna love this phone,” Themba said, showing Lerato the camera and how it took amazing pictures. “Smile! We’re celebrating,” he said when Lerato wouldn’t smile at the selfies he was busy taking.
“Themba,” Lerato said, pushing the phone away from her face. “We need to talk.”