Wandile peels the curtain in her bedroom. Only the faint last light of the day is in the sky. She wriggles into her mini skirt and puts on her crop top. She applies make-up and readies herself for a night of partying on Florida Road in Durban.
Wandile’s mom, MaMhlongo, lies in a heap on the bed in her bedroom. She coughs relentlessly. The Extensively Drug-resistant Tuberculosis (XDR TB) has ravaged her body so much she needs help to eat, drink water, bathe and even go to the toilet.
“Water! Water! I need water, Wandile!” MaMhlongo begs between bouts of coughing.
Rage fills Wandile’s eyes as soon as she hears her mother calling out to her. This is one thing she doesn’t need because she is already running late.
“Water! Wandile! I’m thirsty, Wandile,” MaMhlongo’s voice tapers off at the end.
“Wandile! Wandile! All the time! The only thing that rings in your mind is ‘Wandile!’ Wandile clicks her tongue and the sound echoes throughout the house.
“I’m really sick, Wandile. I’d get up and fetch water myself if I had the strength but I can’t.”
Wandile this, Wandile that! I’m tired of this! Thinks Wandile.
“I’m your mother. I gave you life! What kind of a child are you? How can you not feel for me when I’m in such pain?” MaMhlongo quickly runs out of breath.
“I didn’t ask to be born! Why did you make me?”
“I said bring me water, Wandile! Why must you always answer with spiteful words before you do what I have asked of you?”
With a scowl Wandile returns with a jug of water that spills all the way from the kitchen to her mom’s bedroom. She wobbles as she walks because the heels of her stilettos are too thin. “Here’s your water!” She pours from the jug into a cup and hands it to her mom.
MaMhlongo takes a sip and regains composure. She looks at Wandile, “Where are you going dressed like this so late in the day?”
“I’m going to visit my friend who is celebrating her birthday today.”
“But you can’t leave me in this sickly state, Wandile. What if I need water? What if I need help going to the toilet? What if I need-”
“It’s all about you, you, you! What about me? You want me to stay here and look after you while my childhood passes me by? Are you even listening to the words coming out of your mouth?”
Wandile leaves MaMhlongo flabbergasted, out of words. She is attacked by another bout of coughing. Wandile rolls her eyes and calls her friend Nonhle. She is even more frustrated now because Nonhle’s phone is off.
“Aghhh! Not Nonhle! It’s just stress on top of stress today!” she says.
Drizzle falls by the glare of the streetlight as Wandile closes the kitchen door and heads to Nonhle’s house. Umlazi H Section never sleeps. Some people are returning from work, some are going to buy food at the many tuck shops on street corners. She can smell the many fast foods in the air – amagwinya and chicken dust.
“Nice ass, girl!” shouts a man walking past her.
“Piss off!” Wandile hisses back at him.
Wandile walks on. She thinks of her father who doted on her. He was her protector who would bolt out of the house running when he’d hear Wandile crying if she fell while playing with her friends. There’s a warm feeling in her heart as she remembers how he’d carry her back to the house when she grazed a knee after a fall.
‘I’ll always be here for you my beautiful flower,’ he father used to say.
Her heart beats cold as she thinks about how her life has changed. His death dealt a blow that left an emptiness in her soul. She lets those thoughts pass and leaves the past to the past. She lives firmly in her reality. And her reality is that if she fails to bring a ‘new’ girl for her pimps, Max and Mzi, she will get a beating to end all beatings. Her reality is she needs to bring in the money to survive.
“I hate my damn life,” she wipes away the drizzle on her face and tears falling from her eyes.
Tell us: Why do you think Wandile treats her mother like she does?