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Chapter 24

THALENTE

The only difference between working in the AfriTrans canteen and Sis Thandi's shelter is that here I slave under air-conditioners and speak English half of the day. Oh and the working hours here I work from 7am to 4pm. It's better than the taxi rank shelter where I had to wake up by the crack of dawn and return home after the sun has set down. My colleague here is an Indian middle-aged woman Aarti. In her mind she thinks that I see her as a white boss- my superior. The woman tries so hard to accommodate my broken English and make me look stupid to the customers by translating everything they say to me. Can't she overdose biryani and die? Being here has made me realize just how much fun it was being at the taxi rank. I even miss the taxi horns and loud taxi drivers.

It's lunch time and the food is on the house. That's another privilege of working here you don't have to worry about cooking. Breakfast and lunch are provided. At the end of the day we collect leftovers and go home with them. So there's no need for me to cook when I get to my shack.
I squeeze myself in the backroom on a plastic chair and help myself with roasted chicken stripes and rolls. I'm going straight to size 40. I binge everyday; milkshakes fries and cakes. Maybe they have to give me everything on credit because I really can't limit myself when it comes to free food.
“Talent!” That's Aarti she pronounces my name with her fake British accent.
I check the time on my phone; I still have ten minutes. Why is she calling me now? I should start having my lunch break outside the canteen because when I'm eating inside here it never genuinely a break.
“Someone is here to see you” she yells. 
Hopefully it's not another unsatisfied customer. I've been messing things up ever since I got here. Serving taxi drivers and rich white oldies is not the same. Here orders come with lame instructions and demands. I chew the last piece and down it with a cold glass of Sprite.
I'm ready to defend myself with my Level 5 English whoever I did their order wrong will suffer my misused pronouns and adjectives I'll clap back and stand my grounds.
I adjust my cap and lift my head up only to be welcomed by Ndlalifa in his grey pant and hoodie jacket. What is he doing here? I know that he has connections in this place but I didn't expect him to just show up during my lunch break and demand to see me. He's not even standing outside the window like everybody else. Aarti opened the burglar gate for him and located him on the leather chair. There's a glass of cold drink in front of him. 
“I texted you earlier” he greets. How humble!
“I’m well too how are you Hlomuka?” I say.
He smiles and scratches the back of his head. Unlike Hlelo Aarti is minding her own business by the ovens probably checking on her banana cake.
“You know how I'm doing Thalente” he says.
I've been using the famous line for over a week now; “I need time to think.” There's nothing to think about really. I think about this man. I see him in my dreams and worry if he doesn't reach out. I don't know when these feelings sprung out into something so irresistible and strong.
“Why are you here? I'm at work or is it because you got me this job?” I rent out as usual. It annoys him when I do this; turning his status against him. Unfortunately in my head I make sense everytime I speak.
“I came to ask you to come to the party with me later” he says calmly but sternly. He's pissed already how much more when I open my mouth in that party?
“I don't drink” I say.
“Nobody asked if you drink or not. I asked you to come with me to the party you can easily say yes or no.”
“Whose party is it?” I ask.
“Some twins from Bantwana Holdings. They're Ndondo's friends.”
Am I supposed to guess who this Ndondo is and what is Bantwana Holdings? 
“Are you even invited?” I ask. He doesn't even know these twins names just that they're Ndondo's friends.
He's smiling again.
“I don't need an invite. 6pm okay?” He drinks the remains in his glass and stands up to go. He came all the way to invite me to the party he isn't invited in?
He scans his eyes around. I don't know where Aarti has disappeared to. He stands next to me and stares into my eyes. I don't know if I'm still breathing or not. I'm silently praying for a customer to appear and save me.
“I have to pack the fridge.” Fuck why am I whispering? The fridge is packed what am I even saying?
His chest bumps on mine. I take steps back until I'm pressed against the counter. His hand goes around my neck our forehead link and his eyes dig through my soul.
“I miss you Thalente.” In the blink of an eye my lips are captured by his. He's sucking my lower lip and sweeping his tongue inside me. His kiss is too good not to respond to.
He breaks the kiss and leaves me panting. Aarti is by the ovens and doing her thing. I've never met anyone who minds her own business like her. But I'm scared because I’m in the workplace and being kissed against the counter isn't exactly respecting your job. I also didn’t expect our first kiss to happen like this.
“Tonight I want my answer Thalente Mbatha” he says and walks away. He has a brief chat with Aarti before he walks out.
I'm quaking in my boots. Tonight? That means I have to be his girlfriend after the party because obviously my answer is “yes.” I have been rehearsing it for a week.
“If you break my heart I'll leave you. I won't tolerate lies rather hurt me with the truth than to comfort me with lies. Ndlalifa I swear if you ever cheat on me bla bla bla.” I'll probably sound stupid. Tonight is too soon. How am I going to say it?
“How long have you been dating?” The voice snaps me out of my thoughts and I look up to find Aarti staring at me with a weak smile on her face. Did I say she minds her own business? Don't ever pay attention to the rubbish I spit sometimes I rush into conclusions.
“Dating?” I frown.
“You and Ndhlalifa. How long you and him jolile?” In her head she's lowering down to my level whereas she's pressing the last buttons. If she keeps doing this I'm going to flip. Yes I cannot argue with Mbuyiseni Ndlozi in English but I know the basics. I know how to structure a sentence and I can hear English damn too well.
“Is that going to help us get more customers?” I ask.
“Huh? No I'm just asking.” She chuckles and stirs the pot boiling on the stove.
“Mind your stew” I don't say that loud I murmur under my breath and return to the icing I was mixing before my lunch break.
.
.
I don't have those long mirrors that give your full body reflection. But I don't need anyone to tell me that I look stunning. This was the last skater dress in stock at Mr Price. It's an off-shoulder to complete the perfect look I put on my fake silver necklace. My coarse afro was combed and tied up. I have one of those big artificial afro-buns I pinned it on and put on hoop earrings.
I'm still deciding between my All-Star takkies and Mary Jane shoes when the door shifts open. He's early we agreed on 6pm and it's only 6:15pm. He should educate himself about women's time.
He didn't even knock. Where are his manners? This is my shack- my house.
“What if I was naked?” I ask.
“I would've thanked my ancestors.” He scans me from head to toe and smiles. I mentally give myself a high five; I'm beautiful.
“You look amazing. I'm not going to let you leave my side I want no sleazeball touching you.”
Okay chill Thalente. There's no need to blush like a high school teenager.
I pick my purse and house keys from the bed. When I turn around he's standing just one inch away from my face. My shack is too small maybe he'd take five strides to reach to the end-side.
His right hand goes around my neck while his left arm wraps around my waist.
“Ndlalifa you cannot keep doing this. I haven't agreed to be your girlfriend.” Somehow my voice disappoints me and refuses to come out wholly and firm.
“I know that you'll agree.”
Whooah! Fishi uphume nini ethinini?!
“I can say no” I equip my voice with every substance that can make it believable. But he's smiling and staring down at my lips.
“We'll date even if you say no” he says.
Is he mentally okay? Where has that ever happened? We can't date if I say…gosh his lips taste so good. Mint waffled in nicotine. I have my hands over his cheeks and I'm taking in every bit of his taste.
“Let's go before Hlomuka gets over excited” he says after breaking the kiss. My heart is racing at the realization of his words. My eyes sweep over his front and I get a glimpse of a baby arm poking out. We need to leave immediately.
“Let's go” I say breathily and march towards the door.
He lets out a chuckle and follows me out.
.
.
I really thought I nailed the looks. I thought I'd be outstanding and everyone would rush to me and ask where I bought my dress. I mean it was the last one in stock and its style is different. But what I walk into is not what I had in mind. I thought of a birthday party in an open room or backyard with balloons all over and a Shoprite chocolate cake surrounded by coldrinks fruits and sweets. That's how they do birthday parties where I come from

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fruits and sweets. That's how they do birthday parties where I come from and we always gush over how beautiful the set-up is. But this is a party of Tyra Banks. They look similar in bodycon dresses that look like they cost my annual earnings combined with my mother's pension money.

We are in a shaded patio area with seating. I saw Moses Mabhida opposite us and I'm silently wondering if there's any soccer match happening inside.
Compared to all the girls here I look nothing more than an ordinary woman going out for ice-cream. They have glasses in their hands those ones with umbrellas and slices of vegetables dipped inside them.
Ndabuko is here next to him is a gorgeous woman in high heels. Everything about her screams M-O-N-E-Y. She has one of those bags that look like they were made of crocodile skin. You can't find this type at Mr Price and you certainly can't order it from Dolly Wezikhwama.
She doesn't have too much make-up on but she still looks like those perfect actresses on TV.
I swear her weave is straighter than my future.
“Bafo” Ndabuko says and steps out of her arm that was coiled around his.
He walks to us and bumps shoulders with Ndlalifa. I get a warm smile and I can't help but smile back. The disrespectful one is no where in sight I pray that he didn't come. However I didn't imagine him as someone who'd miss a party.
The lady turns her head to us and I notice that she's actually pregnant.
“Ndlalifa” she says in acknowledgment. There's isn't even a glimpse of a smile on her face.
“Ndondo how are you?”
Oh it's the one whose twin friends are having a party.
“Good. Who is that?” She's staring at me. I don't know if she's tired or bored. 
“Thalente Mbatha. She's my woman” Ndlalifa says.
I clear my throat and give him a look. We haven't concluded on that yet why is he rushing into titles.
“Come let's go and sit over there” she tells me and strides to the end of the row before I can even say my first word to her.
“I'll grab a drink with Ndabuko” Ndlalifa says and lets go of my hand.
I guess I have no choice but to follow Miss Hoity-Toity.
There's an empty seat next to her I make myself comfortable on it. We are a bit far from the crowd and its noise. I guess that's what made tense; the crowd and noise. She lifts her right leg over her left knee and relaxes.
People in green uniforms are up and down with trays of drinks and snacks. She snaps her fingers once and the guy walks to us.
She grabs a glass of a weird-looking juice with a slice of lemon inside it. The guy looks at me in waiting. I also grab a glass with a normal-looking juice. It looks like an orange juice hopefully it tastes as one too.
“You look good” she says randomly and sips on her juice.
I don't know how genuine she is I just flash a smile and take a sip from my glass. It's a juice with unnecessary ingredients but it still tastes good.
“We should set a day and go burn their taxis. That's the only way to stop this taxi war.”
Okay that's a very weird thing to say to a stranger.
“Your father-in-law needs to retire. This thing is affecting the whole community. Can you believe that half of my staff don’t have transport? It needs to end” she continues.
“Yeah” that's all I manage to say. I have a car fetching me to work and bringing me back after. I don't know who is paying for it I guess all AfriTrans employees have ones.
“Where do you live? You're never around I didn't even think Ndlalifa had someone in his life.”
“I stay in Cannelands. I have a busy job so I hardly get time to go out and see people.” I also don't have money to spend in order to meet people like her.
“You must tell him to buy a house near Ndabuko and Maqhinga so that we can see each other more often. They're like brothers sometimes they join forces against you. We also need to equip ourselves for such moments” she says.
I can't help but laugh at her rolled fist. It's not like we can join forces and physically handle them.

“They're about to cut the cake.” It's a tall woman with a round face and big beautiful eyes. I don't know if I've ever heard anyone speaks fast as her. She said all seven words in two seconds and then folded her arms and stared at us.
“Is your mom not complaining?” Ndondo asks her.
“She wants to pray bless them and leave” she says with an eye roll. Ndondo bursts into laughter and gathers herself up.
I guess we all have to be around the twins on their royal chairs when they cut the cake.

A hand grabs me and pulls me behind the crowd. I have forgotten about my date for the night. He wraps his arm around my waist. I let him be it's a party and I don't want to be dramatic.
A woman goes to the front singing; UJesu Lo Unobubele Nami.
This is a party for crying out loud! Guests have glasses of alcohol in their hands there's a drunk DJ who keeps playing Nicki Minaj- Stupid Hoe. I understand that's she is happy for her daughters’ birthday or whoever they're to her but singing about Jesus in this place is out of order.
But they sing along. I heard people love God when they're drunk. They're singing on top of their voices.
This one next to me is not singing.
“Sing” I push his arm.
“I don't know the song.”
Who doesn't know such a famous song? I’m not a churchgoer but I know this one word to word lyric to lyric. I just happen to sing under my breath because I don't want to mess the song up for others. I can sing one verse in three different voices.

Finally she cuts the song and stands with her hands balanced on the table in front of the party girls. Her head drops to her chest and one of them rushes to her and envelopes her in a hug.
She's crying. It starts softly and escalates into loud wails. Both of the twins are now standing with her and comforting her.
“These are tears of joy” she says as she picks the microphone. She's smiling through glitters of tears.
“I can't believe my babies are so grown….” This is going to be one of those long speeches black relatives give on your big day.
“Thalente” Ndlalifa says bringing my attention to him. I shift my eyes from the woman at the front to him.
“Please free me. I want to be happy like everyone else and enjoy the party. But I can't because I'm incomplete. Please give me the answer MaMbatha.”
Nobody is paying any attention to us. We are behind everyone. His arm is still wrapped around my waist there's no running away from him.
“I have waited long enough. Please look at me I love you Thalente.”
I lift my eyes up and meet his stare softly penetrating through me. Love is not in the air it's there in his eyes and inviting me in. I don't know what lies behind them but I'm ready to give myself to him. 
His eyes shift just as I'm about to voice out my feelings for the first time. My eyes follow his to the front. 
The woman is still on her long speech and Bible quotes. It must be something she said that grabbed his attention or rather a name she called.
“I hope Magcina is able to see you from heaven. I feel like God robbed her the chance to witness the fruits of her womb. Maybe one day she'll come to us in our dreams and tell us her story. And I hope that one day God will lead us into your father. But until then I shall remain a mother and father to both of you. I don't care whether you turn 27 or 50 any boy who wants to say something to you has to come to me first.”
They're rolling their eyes behind her. I'm tempted to laugh she needs to accept that they're grown sexual active women and rest before her blood pressure shoots up.
Ndlalifa's arm deserts my waist. He pushes through crowded bodies and makes his way to the front where the woman is. He grabs her arm and pulls her to the side. His forehead is furrowed into a huge frown.
I have no idea what's going on. I was about to agree to his proposal. I need to find Ndondo maybe she'll end up hiring me to carry her crocodile purse for the night.

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