Surprisingly, the conversation I had last night with the king made me think, a lot. Think of how my parents could be hurting. How much they love me, even though they did what they did. A part of me feels consoled. I have decided to head home for a few days and I have packed all my clothes already.
As I waltz into the lounge, feeling happier, there is the king with Bantu in the lounge, watching television. For the first time since I arrived in the house, I appreciate its beauty. It was so much more than what we had aspired to, wanted to own, whilst we were growing up, Bantu, Lizo and I. It outdoes most houses in the village. It is not made of clay like my home. It is a brick house, spacious and modern – a dream house. It oozes comfort, just not my idea of comfort.
“Sir, can I please have a word with you?” I ask politely.
“Yes. Yes, of course. Come and sit,” the king says, and Bantu rises to leave.
“No, Bantu, you can stay. I was thinking of visiting my parents for a few days.”
“Oh good. When do you want to go?” the king asks.
“Today. Now, actually, if that’s fine with you?”
“Of course. Bantu will take you.”
I sit rigidly on a chair holding my tea, suddenly feeling this is a big thing. I stare intensely at the cup in my hand, trying to keep it still. My stomach is in knots. I am going to my own home, where I grew up, but I feel like I am preparing to go somewhere new. The fun and loving character I once was there is lost.
“Siziwe?” The King’s voice echoes in my ears. I shake my head and look up at him. “What’s wrong, Sizzly?”
“Bantu asked if you are ready to leave.”
“Yeah,” I say, standing up slowly and placing my cup of tea on the table. I have packed my clothes and am wearing something that oozes urban glamour, but it is all a disguise.
Bantu is already in the car. As I step inside I feel my heart sink and I begin to feel numb to reality. I stare straight ahead as we drive.
“You haven’t really been yourself lately. It breaks my heart to see you like this,” Bantu says. I look at him, doubting what he is saying. “I mean it, Siziwe. I want to help.”
“There’s nothing you can do,” I say, sounding defeated.
“I’m asking as your friend, Siz, not as the king’s employee.”
“Bantu, it’s fine.”
“No. It’s not,” he says, frustrated.
“Bantu, you’re not my friend. You betrayed us. I will never trust you again!” I say.
“Maybe I can help you … arrange a meeting with, you know…?” he offers, trying to make amends.
“Just drive the damn car and leave me alone,” I say. How can I even entertain the thought of seeing Lizo again?
Soon enough we are in front of the house I left a year ago. I start to cry. Bantu stops the car, turns to talk to me, but I cut him off.
“You all did this!” I scream. “You, my parents and that creepy old cockroach. You did this!” I jab my finger in his face. I open the door and start to run.
“Siziwe, where are you going to? Siziweee!”
I find myself sitting under our tree. I ran for hours; all I wanted was to take away my pain. I want to feel like my young and carefree self. Impossible now. I curl up under the tree and begin to weep. I remember standing in front of Lizo and telling him to take the money. What for? Was it worth it?
I look down at my phone as it continues to ring in my hand. I have missed calls from Bantu, the king and my parents. I don’t want to talk to any of them. I switch off the phone and lie under the tree.
I close my eyes and pretend to be somewhere else – with Lizo. I want to feel him again. I want to feel like myself again. I search for the part of me that I lost, the one that came alive here with him.
“Guys … there’s someone here,” I hear a young boy’s voice say.
“Mhm, you’re starting with your tales again Vusi,” I hear another voice at a distance.
“Yoh! She’s beautiful,” the first voice says, and I feel a rough finger running down my arm. My nose fills with the smell of grass and red dusty soil and small children – the smells of home.
I open my eyes. “Who are you? What are you doing here?” I ask, seeing myself surrounded by four children.
“I’m …Vusi. I’m from the village over there,” he says, pointing to the village across the fence, in the distance.
“I’m Dana, this is Fix – Fikile – and the other one is Masivuye,” says Dana.
“And you sisi?” Vusi asks, a little frightened.
“Ziwe,” I answer.
“You’re beautiful,” Vusi says, and his friends laugh at him. I’m flattered, but it reminds me what my beauty has cost me.
“And what are you doing here?” I ask, still confused as to how the children have come to my spot.
“We found this place a few months ago.”
“Anele showed us. His older brother had shown him a few days before he was taken away …” The boy pauses, touching his mouth hesitantly.
“Where does this Anele stay?” I ask, standing up as they point towards Lizo’s home.
“Why didn’t he come with you?”
“Anele is our boy; he’s a good soccer player. He’s at practice.”
“Can you please tell him to come here with you tomorrow, at this time?” I ask, excited now for some sort of contact with Lizo. Even if it was through his brother it was something. The children look confused by my request.
“Whisper in his ear, OK? Tell him Siziwe told you to come,” I say, stressing the word ‘whisper’ to ensure the children know that no-one is to know that I sent them.
“The Siziwe? The beautiful Siziwe? Now, we see … he had boasted so many times about his brother’s girlfriend who is beautiful.”
“Don’t let anyone hear you or see you come here, OK? Be careful.”
“Yes, sister!” they say, as they run off in the direction of Lizo’s house. I have no idea what I’m going to say to his brother tomorrow, but I know I can’t wait. A hundred questions run through my head.
I stand up and shake the dead leaves off my clothes. I’m now ready to face my parents. I have to go home – so I can come back tomorrow. I start to walk towards my house, confident that tomorrow is going to be better than today.
“Yhuuu! Siziwe, my friend!” I hear someone call. It is Veli’s coarse voice.
“Veeeeeli!” I call excitedly as I run in her direction, opening my arms wide for a hug.
“Wow! We thought we’d never see you again.”
“Me too. Where is Thabie?” I ask, hoping to be reunited with my other friend.
“Thabie left two weeks back; she went to Cape Town.”
“Yes. Bulumko found work there, and she went to spend some time with him during the December holiday.”
“Oh, wow, that’s nice. And what about you?”
“Well … my story would need a nice cup of tea and our favourite chips. Do you still like them?”
“Of course, girl! I have to run home, but come over when you’re free. Bring chips, OK?”
“Will do. See you!”
When I arrive at home I stand for a few seconds at my gate. The king’s car is parked outside and I can hear voices coming from the kitchen. I finally step towards the hut, trying to compose myself before entering. I have to come up with a story for where I went before I enter.
As I walk through the door my mother rushes towards me. The king is right by the door and Bantu stands by the dinner table in the middle of the room holding his phone. My dad sits on the wooden stool opposite the king.
“Oh, Siziwe! How could you do this to us? We were worried sick about you!” my mother says as she takes my hand and walks towards the king. “A married woman does not just disappear, no matter how angry she is with her husband. She walks upright. We did not raise you like this, my child,” she says as she strokes my cheek.
“Oh, Nokwakha, she is back and that’s all that matters. Let her be,” my dad says hoarsely, seemingly out of breath, but smiling to see me.
My mother goes on chastising me for running away, but my eyes can’t look away from my father. He looks so different. His eyes have dark circles underneath them and his face seems mottled. He coughs and it sounds as if his chest is completely hollow, like the inside of a guitar. I feel guilty. I have never considered what my leaving was like for my parents. He looks like someone that has lost everything that was important to him; a man who is trying to come to terms with his decisions.
“Come here,” he says, breathing heavily.
I am suddenly trying to stop myself from crying. I want to be strong for him. I walk towards him and hug him tightly.
“Don’t cry. I’m fine,” he whispers in my ear. I wish I could believe him, but I know he is lying. I just nod, and tear or two drops as we look into each other’s eyes. The room is dead quiet. I sit beside him as he takes hold of my hand, like he has always done. I look at him and smile.
“Oh, you two! We have guests!” my mother scolds.
“He needs to see a doctor. Has he been to see one?”
“We’ve been going to the clinic.”
“Clinic? Which clinic?”
“The one in Maqhashu, child. Do you know any other?”
I look at the king as my mother goes to make tea. He needs to pay for better care. I decide he is going to take care of my parents too. I am the whole package, and my parents are included.
Tell us: Is Siziwe fair to expect the king to take care of her parents too? Do you think she’s going to stop being tempted to contact Lizo now?