Tambo Malawi had never learnt what to do with crying women. His wife, whom he had loved very much, cried a lot. And here was Thandi taking after her mother. He inched past the doorway towards where she lay, crumpled on her bed, and laid a hand on her back.
“Sorry,” he said.
His daughter shook and made violent sounds. She lay curled up, her forehead touching her knees. The sight reminded Tambo that his daughter was a dancer and not a doctor. She was flexible. Her limbs were strong. She could stand on the very tips of her powerful toes. But there would be no white doctor’s coat for his daughter. And instead of envious nods from his friends who asked about his offspring, there would be furrowed brows and requests for an explanation.
“A dancer?” they would say.
Maybe if he was at a bar, the fellow he was sharing a beer with would misunderstand and think his daughter was into shaking her bits for men’s entertainment. He, Tambo, would hasten to clarify that she had studied dance, they give degrees for this thing. Oh, and she was the lead member of a company.
“A company?” the person would ask. “Like Old Mutual, that kind of company?”
“No,” Tambo would explain, “a dance company. That’s what they call it.” And with the clear knowledge that nothing he said could quite elucidate things sufficiently for his pals he would take a gulp of beer.
In Tambo Malawi’s day it was easy: Doctor, Nurse, Lawyer, Teacher. No explanations required.
“Sorry, Thandi,” Tambo repeated and wished his wife were still alive. Tambo left his hand on Thandi’s back, making firm circles, hoping that would do the trick. “Sorry, my girl.”
After some splutters the crying ceased and Tambo was foolish enough to think it was all over.
“The cow!” Thandi uttered from the depths of the coil she’d turned herself into. “The ugly pig!’
“He … He …” She was having trouble getting the words out.
Tambo continued caressing her back. He checked his watch, the game would start soon. His heart pinched; he’d put some beers in the fridge, bought some packets of Cheese Curls and had looked forward to everything being perfect. He took a deep breath.
“What happened?” Days like this he wished that his wife, Esther, was still alive. Some things are surely beyond fathers. “Tell me.”
“He told me I was boring.”
Tambo nearly laughed. “And then? Is that all, Thandi? Come on, man.”
The girl, so what if she was 37 (your children remain your children), uncoiled herself and looked at her father. Her face was streaked with mascara, her lips quivered.
“He told me I was boring, which is why he went and had fun – he had fun with someone else.”
Tambo remained silent.
“One year, three months and five days, Baba. And for what? To be told I’m boring? What does he think a relationship is? A theme park?”
“Sorry, my girl.”
Tambo felt a pinch of guilt as he skilfully checked the time again. If she hurried and stopped crying he’d make kick-off.
Thandi was sitting up now, her legs folded beneath her, taking in deep breaths. Her face was still crumpled with the disappointment of this modern-day love Tambo had little grasp of, but the crying had stopped, this was good. In a move to hasten things he gathered his thoughts.
“He’s an idiot, Thandi. Forget him, okay. Forget these fools.”
Who were these men his daughter was meeting and falling for? The last guy had been stealing from her. And when she had caught him in the act he’d told her she should share, that she mustn’t be greedy because that was one of the seven deadly sins.
She shrugged off his hand, dangled her legs off the side of her bed. She looked so small in those moments; she’d always had her mother’s petite body, but just in those moments Tambo felt he was consoling a 12-year-old.
“How am I to forget them, Baba?”
He had no answer.
“I want to move on with my life.”
Tambo’s heart sank, as her voice wavered and he realised they were headed towards more tears.
“I want my own family. My own home.”
Thandi had been living with him ever since Esther passed away. She’d moved out of her flat in Sea Point to be with her mother in her last days. When the lease on her flat expired Thandi hadn’t renewed it. After the death, the vigil and the funeral, after everything, Thandi didn’t leave home again. Initially Tambo had liked this. He admitted, with some shame, to being afraid of an empty house, of silence. And maybe, he sometimes wondered, Thandi was afraid too. Of what he didn’t know.
With a heavy sigh Thandi pushed herself off the bed. “I have to get ready for rehearsals,” she said. “Tomorrow is opening night. I don’t have time to sit and cry for fools.”
Thandi went off to rehearsal and Tambo watched the game but his mood was ruined. The beer seemed tasteless, the Cheese Curls strangely soft and without the crackle he enjoyed. What was wrong with the young people today? The men, or at least the men Thandi seemed to run into. Where did she meet them anyway? Some club on Long Street, that place of darkness and shame.
Tambo shuddered. What happened to taking your lady out to the bioscope, buying her a Coke on the promenade, asking to hold her hand? Where did all the good people go? An advert came on and Tambo moved into the kitchen to get another beer, still hoping to salvage his buzz.
Perhaps the jingle from the advert or something more divine with no clear explanation put a thought in Tambo’s head. A thought that was so crazy it stuck and it wouldn’t go away. It was so outrageous he was immediately convinced it would be the answer to all of Thandi’s problems.
Tambo Malawi did salvage his buzz after all. He watched the game. He smiled at the television screen.
Tell us what you think: What do you think Tambo Malawi’s crazy idea is?