I saw him waiting across the road.
“Hi, Emma,” he said. “Can I walk you home? I’ll get a combi by your house.”
“Sure, that would be nice.” Then I remembered Kenneth, my little brother. He’d be home and he’d tell my mother I was walking with a boy. “The better combi stop is at the four-way junction. I’ll wait with you there.”
“Okay. You know the area better than me.” He took my book bag and we headed down the street. “So what did you want to tell me?”
“I’ve checked with my mother and she said it’s fine, I can go to the Christmas dance with you.”
Dineo smiled. “Great.”
We walked a bit further and I saw Morwadi passing just in front of Best Shop. She was pushing a wheel barrow with a 10-litre water tank inside.
“What’s up with the wheelbarrow?” I asked her.
“Lame huh? I need to go and fetch water at Auntie Kagiso’s place. My mother got a big water bill and they shut our meter off. They don’t want to listen to anything. So now I’m the water supplier. I fetch at Auntie Kagiso’s and carry it back home twice a day. I’ll soon die.”
“It’s unlikely you’ll die,” Dineo said. He didn’t know anything about Morwadi’s dramatic ways.
Just then Mr Chen and Mr Moilwa, the owner of Dijo Takeaway next door, came out of Best Shop. They were talking and laughing. I knew they were friends – everybody did. They must have heard what Morwadi said because Mr Moilwa said, “You best take that water home. Your mother will be waiting on it.”
“Yes, sir.” Morwadi picked up the heavy wheelbarrow and headed down the road.
Mr Chen looked at me. “Emma, how old are you?”
Mr Chen shook his head. “Too young for boys.”
“He’s not my boyfriend,” I said without thinking. I hoped Dineo would not feel offended but when I looked at him he smiled. At least he seemed to understand. I lowered my voice. “Let’s go.”
At the combi stop he asked me, “Am I your boyfriend?”
I saw the combi coming. “I don’t know. Do you want to be?”
The combi stopped and the conductor shouted at Dineo, “Are you getting in or what? We don’t have all day!”
Dineo got in and rushed to a window seat. He poked his head out as the combi started moving and said, “Yes … yes, I want to be.”
I waved at him as the combi drove away. I walked home thinking about how I now had my very first boyfriend. I was happy. Very, very happy indeed. But then I opened the front door and everything changed.
The TV was off. Kenneth sat on the sofa, Mama on the chair in the corner. When I entered I was greeted with silence, only their eyes directed me to sit on the sofa with Kenneth (Was he crying?), which I did.
“Emma, I’ve had bad news … we’ve had bad news …”
“What’s happened? Tell me, I’m scared.”
“I’ve lost my job,” Mama said.
Without thinking, I said, “But we’ll still get my dress off lay-by, right?”
Both Mama and Kenneth looked at me with dagger eyes and I knew I should have thought before I spoke.
“I mean, sorry … What happened?”
“Excel Chemicals is downsizing.”
“But you’ve been in accounts for more than ten years. You’ll find another job,” I said, still worried about my dress.
Mama stood up. “I’m already looking. But, as for the dress, no, I can’t afford it now. You’ll have to make do with one of the ones you already have.”
She walked to the kitchen. Kenneth stood up but stopped in front of me. “You’re really very selfish, Emma. Mama is worried and all you care about is a stupid dress.”
He followed Mama into the kitchen. He was right, but I couldn’t stop being sad about my dress. That dress meant the Christmas dance and that dance meant Dineo was my boyfriend. Now it would all be wiped away as if it had never happened.
Do you think it is surprising that Emma is so worried about her dress?