Samke was woken by an early morning call. It was way too early for her to even be thinking. She picked it up. It was a woman who had got her number, from some other woman whose name Samke didn’t recognise. It was too early for names and she wished the girl would just tell her why she was calling.
“I’m getting married tomorrow and my hair stylist has been in an accident. Can you do our hair? I know it’s short notice …”
Samke sat up in bed, trying not to wake Khwezi, who was snuggled in beside her. She tip-toed out of the bedroom with the phone pressed to her ear.
“Yes, of course. How many people? Uh-huh … And where do you live? I see… Okay, I’ll need a deposit,” she said, writing down all the information. When she got off the call she sat down and started to make a list of the things she would need.
“Yho Samke, isn’t it a little early for you to be up?” Busi said, as she walked into the kitchen rubbing her eyes.
“Money doesn’t sleep. I just got a client for a wedding! Imagine how much money I’m gonna make if I do a few weddings and private parties.”
“Don’t overbook yourself. You still have to do my Matric Dance,” Busi reminded her.
“I know, but that’s a few weeks away. Can you watch Khwezi for me? I have to go get some supplies for this wedding.”
“I can watch him today, but I have the fundraiser tomorrow.”
“Oh yeah, I forgot. I’ll ask Lerato,” Samke said, going outside to Themba’s room.
Khwezi woke up and started crying and Busi attended to him. When Samke came back, Khwezi had been changed and was happily having his bottle.
“Mama will be going soon, my boy,” Samke said, kissing Khwezi’s forehead on her way to the bedroom to get dressed.
She was out of the house in half an hour and only returned that night, with a lot of bags. She was tired, having done three of the bridesmaids’ hair. She needed rest so she could do the bride the next day. This would set her business up, so everything had to be perfect.
The next day she worked flat out and came back ready to collapse. She found the family sitting around the kitchen table. They were talking about Busi’s fundraiser.
“We made a good profit from the cake sale today. It will cover our transport and DJ. And we’ll have a little extra to help out if someone needs it for their dress, or to hire a suit,” Busi said proudly.
“Ah Busi, that cake was the best. I wouldn’t mind another slice,” Themba said.
Busi had brought back what was left over. She and Nolwazi had worked hard, baking the whole week for the sale. They had carefully worked out how much the ingredients would cost, and what they could charge for the delicious treats on sale.
“That’ll be R15,” said Busi and they all laughed.
“First, Samke must pay me back. Come lady, pay back the money,” Themba held out his hand to Samke, who looked close to tears with exhaustion.
“I don’t have it. Truth is, I didn’t make any profit,” Samke said, looking down, dejected.
“But you were doing an A-list wedding. Young Busi here made a profit on her operation.”
They were laughing when Samke jumped in. “You make it sound like Busi does this all this by herself. She doesn’t.” Samke started to cry.
“That’s not what we mean …” Lerato tried to console her, but Samke cut her off.
“She had the whole school to help her. And who do I have? Just me! And I still make it work. You should have seen the bride. Everyone commented on how beautifully her hair was done.”
Samke was really crying now. Busi walked to the toilet and brought back some toilet paper and handed it to her.
“You are the best at styling, Samke. That’s not what we’re saying. It’s not easy running a business. We’re proud of you,” she said. “And yes, I had help. We all need help.”
“What kind of business woman will I be if I can’t even make a small profit?”
“It takes a while before you can break even or even make a profit,” Lerato tried to reassure her.
“Yeah, Ma Ruby helped us with the ingredients and we got donations for most things. We didn’t spend much. We’ll go to her and she can give you advice. You need someone to help you when you start out.”
Samke looked up at Busi and then around the table. There was a glimmer of hope in her eyes. She could feel the love and support of her family and it made her feel better.
The following day the girls went to Ma Ruby to get some advice about running a business.
“Oh Samke, it didn’t happen overnight. Did you know that I started with only a stall, back in the day?” Ma Ruby said.
“One stall Ma Ruby? What were you selling?” Samke asked in dismay.
“Everything,” Ma Ruby laughed. “I sold everything, my baby – from amagwinya to nappies. I would sometimes take orders for people and find the things they needed.”
“That sounds like a lot of work,” Samke said.
“It was, but all that hard work helped me build a spaza shop. And now I employ people to also do door-to-door deliveries for me.”
“Is your business registered?” Busi asked.
“It is. I got help from the Small Enterprise Development Agency. But girls, I had to prove myself first.”
“But how do you make money when already you need to be paying employees?”
“They teach you and help you with information on how to work out your profit and loss margins. You have to work out what you need to charge to make a small profit at first, then you build up. You can’t charge much at first. You need to prove to your customers that you do a great job and are reliable. Don’t be impatient.”
“I think that’s Samke’s problem. She’s too impatient,” Busi said.
“I just want a hair salon; the best one in Soweto.” Samke was impatient for success. She wanted it all – now!
“Then you need to work for it, my girl. I will help you.” Ma Ruby sounded so positive that she made Samke believe that she could do it.
The next day Baba returned from the hospital. He was still in pain, but trying hard to be strong. The girls were fretting over him and Baba soon began to feel smothered. He decided to take a walk to Ma Ruby’s for a chat.
“Makhi, when did you return?” Ma Ruby asked, inviting him in.
“This morning. But the girls are driving me crazy. They won’t leave me alone.”
Ma Ruby laughed. “What did you expect? You scared them with your accident. Of course they’ll treat you like a baby.”
“And now that I’m out of work, who will take care of them? I can’t work with this arm.”
“Don’t worry, the girls are strong. They are not doing too badly. Even Samke’s starting a small business. She was just here yesterday morning getting advice. None of us can do it alone, you know. We all need some help. I think this accident was a blessing.”
“Hawu, Makhi! How could you say such a thing?”
“Have you listened to them lately? All Samke talks about is making her business work. They help each other more now. I think your family will be fine.”
“So they won’t need me anymore?”
“I didn’t say that Makhi. But maybe it’s time you took care of you and gave them a chance to try and grow up.”
“And what will I do if I can’t work, Makhi?”
“Come to my stokvel meeting.”
“It’s all legit, I promise. We even keep our money in the bank to get a bit of interest. We split it at the end of the year and we all get a little extra.”
“How much interest are we talking about?”
“Come and find out. Just come once and then you can decide.”
“Okay, I will. And thank you for taking care of us all.”
“You would’ve done the same for me too. I owe it to Grace to take care of you.”
“Well, thank you.”
Baba knew that things were looking up – like the weak winter sun trying to keep everyone warm. With Terror’s debt gone, he could focus on other ways of getting the tombstone for Grace. The stokvel would really help. He also knew that he would pay Ma Ruby back, one way or another. But he would pay her back in cash. Not through just helping her in the garden.