“If life were predictable it would cease to be life and be without flavour.” – Eleanor Roosevelt
Two months later...
Ever since the conversation I had with my mother life was pretty good. We made it a point to have a chat even if just for thirty minutes before bed time. Monday was her day off so she would go to town. I had no idea where she went to but she would come back at about 4pm every Monday often exhausted but I never questioned her. Koko was still the usual she drank each and every day and I still had to get up and go to the Mall to sell along with my siblings. Since it was winter and I had enough money to save up because I didn't need to pay for Joel's taxi rides I offered to pay Koko R100 per week to stay with Masalesa and Hunadi while I went to sell at the Mall. Of course she was delighted for the extra money – despite her cheating our mother out of our grant money. Joel was still himself he would pick me up in the morning and drop me off in the afternoon without fail. I actually enjoyed it and felt so safe around him. I was so excited because I was turning 17 on the 31st of July. My birthday was always an occasion when my father was alive but my mother always tried to ensure that our birthdays were special by simply buying a cake and a few snacks. She never wanted me to work on my birthday – no matter what. It was my day – no exceptions. She always woke me up along with my siblings singing happy birthday but that day I was oddly surprised when she didn't make it to my room. It was 6am and still there was no sign of my mother. I was about to leave my bedroom when I heard the door open. I was excited but my excited soon turned into disappointment when it was just my siblings.
Lesiba: (shouting) “Happy Birthday sesi (sister)!”
Bina: (faint smile) “Thank you but where is Mama?”
Matome: “O ka di kobong (She is in bed). She asked us to come and sing for you since she isn't feeling well.”
I became puzzled immediately but I tried not to show them. So they sang for me without fail and I thanked them. Afterwards I immediately went to my mother's bedroom. I knocked first and found her still in bed. That was very unusual; my mother was always an early bird and it was a Friday nonetheless so she had to go to work. Malome Joel knew that it was my birthday and that I wasn't working. I made sure to notify him before I got off the taxi.
Bina: (frowning) “Mama are you okay?”
Mama: “Bina my baby. I'm okay. I'm just tired. I think I am coming down with flu.”
Bina: “Ke go direle lengana (Should I make you some African wormwood)?”
Mama: “No I'll be fine. This is your birthday remember? No work – no exceptions.”
Bina: “I know but you are my mother. If you're not well then I'm not well.”
Mama: “Nonsense. Bring my back I have a gift for you.”
I was excited because all I ever got for my birthday was just cake and snacks. I carefully brought her the bag and she went through it. She took out a medium-sized red gift bag and handed it to me.
Mama: “Open it.”
I opened it and there was a book The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Thankfully I had never read it before. Me owning my own book meant the world to me.
Bina: (Excitedly) “Mama thank you so much!”
Mama: “There's more. Check the bag.”
I carefully inspected the paper bag and noticed a small brown envelope with my name on it.
Mama: “Open it.”
I slowly tore it open and I was overwhelmed with immense tears. It had a few notes in it and I slowly counted and it was a total of R1000.
Bina: (crying) “Mama I can't accept this.”
Mama: “You don't have to worry about a thing. I got a job as a helper in town. I now work for Mr. van Tonder and his wife and they pay me at least 3500 a month. That is more than enough.”
Bina: “But we need this money Mama. This is enough to cover our groceries for the month.”
Mama: (shaking head) “Bina you know my rules about birthdays. We hardly celebrate anything in this house so that is your money. It is not much but you can buy a cellphone. You are 17 now and almost a woman. Come on you deserve to be spoiled.”
Bina: (smiling) “Thank you Mama.”
I got up and gave her a long hug assuming we were done.
Mama: “Another thing I went to your school and met up with Ms. Mashaba and your Principal. I notified them of our situation and they were delighted to accept you back at school. Instead of you repeating Grade 9 you can go straight to Grade 11 provided you write an entire exam before you return. It wasn't easy but the Lord favours you ngwanaka.”
I was so delighted that I just cried. I had wanted to go back to school so badly.
Bina: “What about the business Mama? Will we manage?”
Mama: “I don't spend a single cent for transport all thanks to Joel. So the entire R3500 goes straight to my bank account. Come on you should be happy. You will now get to join your peers again at school and finally finish your matric.”
I was overjoyed I mean words couldn't even express what I felt that day. It was the best birthday gift I had ever received. My mother was the best to be honest. A lot of people including Koko wouldn't be pleased about me going back to school because that would mean that she had to do all the chores by herself or wait for me to come back and serve her. Mama was too happy to be working for the van Tonders and just like that I was able to get my life back. I was so excited I couldn't even wait to see Selaelo later on. I got up early and made Mama some Lengana tea despite her refusal earlier that morning. She needed to get better. I made breakfast for us all and Koko went outside right after cleaning up and wasted no time before she sent me for her daily dose of alcohol.
Koko: “Bina weh! Go buy three beers for me.”
I went to her and I stared at her for a while. I mean I didn't expect a gift but a simple Happy Birthday from her would do just fine.
Koko: “Keng (what is it)? Tshalete e ya shorta (Is the money short)?”
Bina: “No it's my birthday.”
Koko: “Ao (Is it)? Happy Birthday.”
She didn't really mean it at all so I just kept quiet and went to the back and took the bottles. I walked out and took a walk to the bottle store. Upon arrival I found Malome Joel right there sitting with a few of his friends drinking.
Malome Joel: (smiling) “Ao (Oh) Bina Bina! E tla mo (Come here).”
I really didn't like being around a group of men. It made me so uncomfortable. After the woman handing me my change I came up with an excuse.
Bina: (nervously) “I have to go Koko o jagile (Granny is waiting).”
I hurried out but he rushed after me.
Malome Joel: “Bina
I looked a him frowning. He chuckled and took out a few notes from his pockets.
Malome Joel: “Here.”
Bina: “No Malome I can't take your money. What would people say? Besides it is not right and my mother didn't raise me that way. It would just be too inappropriate.”
Malome Joel: “Please take it. I want you to buy yourself a phone for your birthday. I mean your mother told me you'll be going back to school so I thought it would be the perfect gift for you.”
Bina: “I don't mean to be rude Malome Joel but I just can't accept your money. I have to go.”
I left him standing right there in wonder as I hurried on home. What would people think? Imagine if his wife or someone who knew his wife saw me accepting money from him in broad daylight. That wouldn't be right. I headed on back and gave Koko her R100 change. For the first time in my life she gave me a gift.
Koko: “Tseya (take). Consider this a gift for you only because you help me so much and only because you are so obedient.”
I smiled in awe I mean my grandmother would have rather died than to give any of us money.
Bina: “Kea leboga (thank you) Koko.”
I went back into the house and did my duties and then took a bath and got dressed. Mama had managed to get up that day and was not pleased to see me working.
Mama: “Ke rileng go wena (what did I tell you)? No work on your birthday.”
Bina: “Sorry Mama. I was just about to leave but I had to make sure you were alright first.”
Mama: “Bina I'm not a child. Go I'm fine.”
I smiled and kissed her cheek as I left. I said goodbye to my grandmother and went to Selaelo's house. I found her ready to go even.
Selaelo: (smiling) “Mogwera (friend)! Happy birthday baby girl! Ke kwele taba tse monate (I heard the good news) and my mother told me to congratulate you on her behalf as well!”
Bina: “Thank you chomi (friend).”
Selaelo: “This is a cause for a big celebration. Let's go.”
Bina: “Wait re ya kae (where are we going)?”
Selaelo: “It's a surprise. Come on.”
We walked hand in hand while excitedly conversing about how school was going to be for me from Monday onwards. I didn't even think my old uniform fitted me any more but that would have to be the next day's worry. We got into a taxi and stopped by the mall. Selaelo took me to the movies and we watched Acrimony. Taraji P. Henson was one of my favourite actresses of all time. I enjoyed that movie although I found it a bit hard for a woman to stay with a man for that long. But then what did I know? Afterwards we went to Ocean Basket.
Bina: “Selaelo Ocean Basket ka nnete (really)?”
Selaelo: “Chomi (friend) this is your day. We're going to eat anything and everything we want to. Have some oysters man. We can even have a cocktail or two.”
I had never even had alcohol in my entire life.
Bina: “Selaelo we're only 17 and besides I've never had a taste of alcohol in my entire life.”
Selaelo: “They don't know how old we are. Besides if you don't like the taste you don't have to drink the entire thing. I steal my mom's wine sometimes ke te fe glass nyana )and have a glass or two).”
She ordered some cocktails for us.
Selaelo: “May we have two Mojito's please?”
I thought we were going to get caught out for being minors but the waiter just said okay and he brought the drinks a few minutes later.
Selaelo: “Cheers to success and to living long healthy lives.”
We raised our glasses and toasted. I took a sip of mine and it tasted sweet and a little bitter at the same time. It tasted a bit nice though. We ate and halfway down the glass I felt really nice. I guess that is what my grandmother felt each and every single day of her life.
Bina: “Friend can you believe Malome Joel offered me money just this morning? He told me it was to buy a phone for myself.”
Selaelo: “Hayi hayi (no no) friend. Don't ever take money from that guy. I heard that he got Meikie pregnant.”
I was so shocked that I choked on my drink. Meikie was one of our fellow classmates as well but she dropped out the previous year due to her pregnancy and moved away from our village.
Bina: “Are you sure about that?”
Selaelo: “Have I ever lied to you? I mean come on haven't you ever asked yourself why he never had children with his wife? Being on the road all the time and always drinking you honestly tell me that you never thought he would cheat on her? Bula mahlo (open your eyes) Bina. Just be careful.”
I felt a bit uneasy that Joel could actually sleep with someone my age. If he could get Meikie pregnant I was perhaps next on his list. It was time for the bill and I offered to pay but Selaelo blatantly refused.
Selaelo: “This is your day man.”
Bina: “But even when it is your day you pay for everything.”
Selaelo: “I do it out of love. Save that money. One day you can pay for me too. Ska wara ka yona (don't worry about it).”
I smiled even though it just didn't sit well with me. I hated feeling like a charity case but saving the money would have done me really well. I didn't even buy myself the phone as my mother had intended me to with that money. She was most probably not going to be pleased with my choice but I just felt the need to save it for a rainy day. We went window shopping and headed back home at about 5pm. By then I saw Malome Frans the last born and the richest one in the family. He was standing right outside our gate talking to one of the neighbours. He most probably was telling them about his next business venture and how he made his first million if he even had one. You know how such family members are. I greeted him and tried dodging him but it seemed as if he was waiting for me.
Malome Frans: “Bina ema pele e tla mo (wait a minute come here).”
I turned around and looked at him. He reached for something in his car and took out a plastic bag.
Malome Frans: “Mmago o mpoditse gore (your mom told me that) it's your birthday. You're turning 17 so I assumed you might want a new phone.”
I mean that very same man hardly even helped mama with anything – except when he really wanted to. Koko hated it when he bought me or my mother anything at all.
Malome Frans: “Tshwara (Take it).”
I opened the plastic bag and was in serious shock. He had bought me a brand new iPhone 6s I could never understand that about black people. He didn't mind buying alcohol and things for us but ask him for food he would blatantly tell you stories. I was very happy indeed.
Bina: (smiling) “Dankie (Thank you) Malome. I really appreciate it. This is my very first cellphone.”
Malome Frans: “You're welcome I have a new tender and we supplied them with cellphones ka re e re ke go ngwathele e one (so I thought I should take one for you).”
I should have known better. He also never did anything for anyone without bragging.
Bina: “Thank you.”
Malome Frans: “It has R500 worth of Airtime loaded on it. You can use it within a month.”
I got the message though.
Bina: “Kea leboga (Thank you so much).”
Malome Frans: “Ja ke rekile (I bought) you a cake and a few snacks le (and) school uniform. I heard your mother telling me that you're going back to school. Wise choice you should take a few tips from Vanessa.”
I was instantly annoyed Vanessa was his first born daughter who was a little older than me – 20 to be exact. I mean she failed her first two years of Varsity but we didn't talk about that. Afterwards she fell pregnant and dropped out and was now working for Parliament. Of course she managed to do that with her father's connections and suddenly I had to take notes from her.
Bina: (faint smile) “Okay Malome (uncle).”
Malome Frans: “Ke tla le bona (I'll see you). Tell Koko I left.”
He got into his Mercedes G63 and left. Well that's family for you.
Jeremiah 9:23 says; “Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom let not the mighty man boast in his might let not the rich man boast in his riches.”