“Okay chill Zanamuhla this man doesn't owe you anything. So what if he hasn't called you for the past 5 days? It's his airtime and you're here living off his resources.” -My subconscious keeps reminding me.
Damn I check my phone again well it's actually his phone. There are no missed calls my heart sinks. I've been checking every minute hoping it'll ring. It's been 5 days I get no update about the funeral as agreed and I get no -hello Zanamuhla are you still okay. I'm just all alone deserted in an unknown neighborhood.
I try to go through my notes but words just blank out. I haven't fallen in love with TV yet so there is no escape for me I keep tossing and feeling sorry for myself.
The screen flashes under the tutorial book. My eyes have deceived me so many times they could be playing another trick.
Oh yes it’s really ringing.
My heart does a little dance but my mind quickly pulls it into order. So he is finally calling and Zanamuhla should jump up.
I let it ring for a minute before I pick up.
“Zano it's me please open” he says.
I drop the call and go to the door and open.
It's a bit cold today but this double-breasted coat he is wearing is an exaggeration. He comes in brushing his hands together and blowing out like he is stepping out of Barrow.
“It's really cold outside” he breaks the helpful news to me. I'm so shocked I didn't know that I haven't been outside in a week remember.
I close the door and lock it as he hurries to the stove. He turns it on and warms his hands on the heat. I never pictured him being scared of anything especially not cold weather.
He finally stops and switches the stove off. I'm leaning on the wall by the passage looking at him. Yes I'm angry.
“Are you okay?” he asks.
“Yes why wouldn’t I be?” This is the time Mazwakhe would call the attitude out of me. I can be a bit rough around the edges. “Did I catch you at the wrong time?” he asks.
I really don't know what to say. He doesn't think there's anything wrong by leaving a person in a strange house for 5 days without calling her.
“When is my father’s funeral?” I change the subject. If he doesn't think anything is wrong then it's all good. I'm grateful for what he has done and I guess he owes me nothing. “Tomorrow. That’s why I'm here you have to go home tonight” he says. “Let me pack then” I say.
My eyes narrow. Why does it sound like he is disapproving.
“I'm going home aren't I?” I ask.
“But you're coming back.” He has this FINAL look on his face. I never said I'm not coming back nevertheless I need to pack a few things.
I get to the bedroom and pack a few clothes and my toiletries. I find him in the living room watching a sport channel.
“I'm ready” I say.
He seems shocked by the hurry.
“We can stay for a while” he suggests.
“Okay I'll be in the bedroom tell me when it's time to go.” I leave my bag on the couch and go to the bedroom. Just like he felt my eyes piercing him the other day I feel his behind me and I can't disappear fast enough.
I sit on bed and take a huge breath. Why do I have so many expectations? He must've been caught with more important stuff. Maybe he has a girlfriend I'm sure a guy like him already captured someone's heart.
“That pillow didn't do anything” – The scratchy voice comes from the door causing my heart to beat fast for a few seconds. He stands a few inches away from me. His eyes are on me like he can read every thought running through my head. The pillow! Fuck I've been squeezing the poor pillow like it owes me a R5 with Mandela’s head.
“You have a problem with me” he says and takes out his hand for me to hold. “Stand up face me and tell me what the problem is.”
I hold onto his hand I have no other choice. He helps me up and creates space between us. His gaze is fishing the truth out of me.
“Why didn't you check on me? Five days Ngcwethi. No call no nothing. I'm locked here with no idea of what's going on in the world in my world” I say.
“I would've told you if anything was happening. Don't you trust me now?”
He really doesn't get it. I wanted a call to hear something familiar and just someone caring about how I am. “Why are you crying?” He steps closer and immediately removes my hands off my face. “Why are you crying Zanamuhla?” He asks again.
Crying on his chest wasn't my intention. I didn't even want to ask him about this. I just want to go home and see my brother even if it's for a few hours. I miss having someone who cares about me.
We end up on bed with him leaning on the headboard and me lying on his lap soaked in tears. I think I've been strong for quite some time and now all the pain and sadness just overwhelmed me.
Eventually my emotions go back into place. I get off his lap and go to the bathroom to breathe. What just happened was awkward. I don't think I'm going to be able to face him. I step out of the bathroom silently praying that I'll find him gone. Boom! He is standing right behind the bathroom door.
“Are you okay?” he asks in a voice full of concern.
I nod my head.
His two fingers lift my chin up forcing me to meet his bloodshot eyes.
“Are you okay?” He is staring at me waiting for the most honest answer.
“I will be fine.” That's the best I could give him. I'm not okay and he doesn't need me to lie. I can only assure him that in time I'll be fine.
He wraps his arms around me. My head lies on his chest and feels his heart beating against his chest. It's a hug that makes everything feels okay. His head is over my shoulder and I can feel him breathing.
He holds me until all my sorrows fade away. When I untangle myself he looks in my eyes to confirm if there are no more tears left and then he lets go.
The journey back home is filled heavy silence I even wish for Mndeni's Rihanna. Anything to make this journey a bit light. And today he is really driving slowly it takes us almost 3 hours to get to Mpofana.
“Drop me here I will be fine” I breathe my first words when I realize that he is not stopping the car even though we have drove past the forest. My home is not very far from here. I don't know where my brothers might be this is their area. It's only 11pm a normal time for them to be on the streets. He starts by turning the car and then stops. Worry is painted all over his eyes when he looks at me.
“Things are not going to be smooth for quite some time I think it'll be better if you bury him and return to Mission after a day.” “You're going to attack?” I ask.
He is uncomfortable. I shouldn't ask these questions.
“Okay you'll call me and tell me where you're going to pick me up” I say.
He opens his door and climbs out of the car. He always opens the car door for me maybe he thinks I might break it. This time he takes a few minutes before he appears on my side to open. “I'll make a call answer and stay on the line until you reach home.” He puts my bag over my shoulder like I'm some rich kid going to school. His request doesn't make sense but he calls and I answer the call and keep the phone inside my jacket. When a white tent welcomes me the reality starts to sink in. People are dying from both sides and more are still going to die. Tomorrow it might be Mazwakhe or Ngcwethi. Then what will become of my life?
There is a sad melody coming from the tent I tiptoe around it and sneak inside the rondavel. I have no idea how I'm going to make my first appearance nor how I will explain my whereabouts.
The light turns on.
I look at the door alarmed.
“Where are you coming from?” My brother walks in and closes the door behind him. By the tone of his voice and the look on his face he is not pleased.
Couldn't I be given a moment to figure that out?
“I asked a question Hlahla” he says.
“I was somewhere safe.” I've never been creative in my life this is the best answer I can come up with.
“Places have names you ran away from Malume and I want to know where you went and why” he says.
I need to think carefully before I open my mouth again. In anything I say I cannot bring Ngcwethi up. He'll become his new target and I want nothing bad to happen to him.
“There was a white car that was following me. It followed me until I got to Malume’s house and that scared me. So I called my study mate and asked to crash in with her for a while.” He curses and sits on bed with his fist folded. I think I'm smart that was the most solid lie I've ever told in my entire life.
“Are you sure that you're safe at your friend's?” he asks. “Yes I'm very safe.” I nod my head while silently praying that he doesn't think about coming to check the place or asks to phone the so-called friend to thank her.
“They have killed father” he tells me.
I can tell that in his head they've wronged him big time. He killed theirs” he tells me.
I can tell that in his head they've wronged him big time. He killed theirs it's not rocket science.
“So what now?” I ask.
He exhales loudly.
“Now I'm not just at war with the Mthembus I have to watch out for the Ngwanes as well.”
I don't understand why he has to watch our family.
“Don't eat anything they give you. Everything that belonged to father now belongs to me and that makes us enemies. Be careful around Mamkhulu and other wives.”
Gosh he is right. We are in deep shit. The inheritance issue is only solved by a will but we are a family living the 1960 life in 2020.
“What if I'm hungry? What am I going to eat?” I ask. When it comes to him I always bring problems instead of solutions. I expect him to know everything. Aren't what big brothers are for? To solve everything.
He gives me a key of the small cupboard in his rondavel. He stored some food inside it and I’ll go there if I'm hungry. Trust me I will go there after he leaves. I'm not hungry just curious of what he bought.
“Take this.” He hands me a few R200 notes. “Contribute to the grocery and thank your friend for me” he says.
Oh my word! I'm going straight to hell. My brother works hard for his money and now I feel like I'm scamming him. There is no friend's place what am I going to do with his money. “And this for your things.” He hands me the monthly R300. It started as R50 when I was 14. He couldn't tell me to buy pads because he is Mazwakhe Ngwane so he called it money for ‘my things.’ It has increased over the years now it's R300 and I assume it includes body lotions and all. Even though people always say he doesn't have a heart to me he is the best in the world.
He doesn't stay for long he has to go to the cemetery. They have to start digging the grave and he has to be there to tell people how to do it. Now he has a lot of duties as the decisionmaker of the family.
I might sleep here on his big bed. It's so damn comfortable.
When he said food I thought of bread and the dry stuff only. But there are goodies; snacks and boxes of biscuits. I shove a piece of chocolate slab in my mouth and snoop around. There have been females in here? I know very well that my brother doesn't wear g-strings and bras.
Oh Gracious Lord condoms!
I close the unholy drawer and open the next one.
I like his perfumes. They're not like Ngcwethi's but they smell good as well. I spray from my neck down to my waist. I don't know what I like more between the smell and the chhhhh sound.
“Hlahla seriously?” His voice comes from the door.
I jump up the perfume bottle hits the floor and breaks. I always have bad lucks I don't know what I'm not doing right by my ancestors.
“Clean that mess and stay away from my things.” He takes something from his wardrobe and leaves.
There are police everywhere. I don't know who called them they make this funeral looks like a crime zone. Mazwakhe is breathing fire police have never been useful in this side of Mpofana. They always come when there is a dead person or if they’re searching for unlicensed firearms. Call them when your house has been broken into and you will wait until the summer rain comes and wash down the fingerprints.
“Why are they here?” Khethile whispers to me. Just in case you're wondering who she is I have five half-sisters she is one of them. We are not close here you only mingle with children from your mother's house. Other than that it's endless competition of who is better than who.
“I have no idea” I say shrugging my shoulders.
They start another song and then the priest reads the Bible. They finally wrap the service. Mamncane is the one crying more than other wives. Now she'll sleep alone like other wives. I bet it's the thought of abstaining breaking her heart more than anything.
“Here is some water Nana it'll be hot in the cemetery” Mamkhulu says passing a bottle of water to me.
This is so nice of her. Even her own kids don't have water in their hands. Funeral covers cannot cater for black funerals. There are only 25 chairs and almost 100 people. Water isn't enough for everyone I just pray that food will be enough. People talk here they gossip about you even when you are dead laughing about the shortage of food at your funeral.
I thank her with a fake smile and keep the bottle under my arm.
Mazwakhe warned me about them and seemingly he was right.
They're suddenly too nice.
Four guys wearing mustard suits that are undoubtedly expensive join us in the cemetery. They have sunglasses on and white face-cloths they keep wiping their expensive suits with.
“Leli qhawe ebesihamba nalo
Liwele la liwele la
Liwele la liwele la.” -He takes his sunglasses off and continues the song while clapping hands.
Mndeni Mthembu! You got to be kidding me.
This is another level of disrespect. Yes Mazwakhe disturbed their father's funeral as well but this!
Mazwakhe is going to blow up. I find him with my eyes he is trembling with anger. I push through people and stand behind him. His hand caresses his waist he wants his gun. I know that he wouldn't care about the presence of the police and they are here to keep an eye on incidents like this.
I put my hand on his arm he turns his head and finds me begging him with my eyes. He takes a deep breath and pulls his shirt over the gun.
Seeing that he is calm I return back to my spot. Mndeni has cut the song he is now reading through his Bible as the priest announces the verse he's about to read.
My eyes meet Ngcwethi. For a second his eyes run away from me but I stare until he has nowhere else to look. He doesn't look excited as others. But he is still here dressed for red carpet and it angers me.
If there were no police around this burial wouldn't have carried on. Now I'm grateful that they're here.
The coffin goes down umhlabathi emhlabathini. Mndeni takes a packet of peanuts from his pocket and tears it open. He pours some on Mnotho’s hand Busikhaya reaches out and takes some as well. When he gets to Ngcwethi he just stares at him and doesn't take them. Well they enjoy their peanuts while we say goodbye to our father.
Everyone is talking about the Mthembus disrespect in the river as we wash away isinyama.
The phone rings my heart skips a beat I step away from the crowd to answer.
“Zano” -His voice is kept very low.
I assume his brothers are nearby.
“Be over the bridge in an hour.”
An hour? Didn't he says I'll leave a day after the funeral.
“What's the rush?” I ask.
“I don't think it’ll be safe for too long.”
Oh great! I will bury my father like a stranger now.
“Yeah and that's because you provoked my brother” I snap. He doesn't say anything. I take a deep sigh and drop the call before my nosy relatives start asking questions.
First thing I do when we get home is to look for my brother. I need to tell him that I'm leaving but he is nowhere in sight.
“Mamkhulu have you seen Mazwakhe?” I ask.
“He put Zwelibanzi in charge and rushed somewhere.” Why is this not sitting well with me? Mazwakhe has no reason to rush anywhere soon after the funeral unless if he is planning something.
I get in his house and feast on the biscuits and leave him a handwritten note. I take my bag and leave without anyone noticing.
By 4:30pm I'm waiting by the bridge. There is no sign of Ngcwethi and it's starting to worry me. What if he doesn't come? Where will I go?
The sun sets still Ngcwethi isn't here. I think about going back home but it's not safe there and I told Mazwakhe I'm going to a
There is a car approaching slowly. My instincts tell me to remain behind the trees until I see it clearly.
Something just had to drop from the tree and make me scream. Well I'm scared of snakes and that what came to my mind. The car stops and the driver rushes to where I am. He is slim light in skin and dressed like those model C guys you see in the malls. Tight jean that stays below butt expensive ugly top and fade cut.
“Sisi are you okay? What are you doing here at this time?” he bombs me with questions. I'm still trying to figure out how someone like him is in this place.
“I'm waiting for someone” I say.
The fear that was in his eyes wears off. He looks at his wristwatch to confirm how late it is I guess.
“Are you not scared that the gun-fight might escalate to this side? This is not a safe area I have no idea how my aunt lives here.” He rolls his eyes. “There is a gun fight?” I ask.
“Yes by that river…what is it called?” While he's trying to recall the river I'm thinking about my brother and Ngcwethi. They are there God knows if they are still alive.
“Just go back home” he says.
“I have no where to go.” Words escape my mouth as tears run down my cheeks.
“You are a street…street-adult?” You know what fuck him! “Never mind” I say and start walking. I’m heading to my uncle's house I know he won't slam the door on my face.
“Let me give you a lift” he yells after me.
The car runs after me. He rolls down the window and begs me to get in the car.
“I don't take lifts from strangers” I say.
“I'm Julani Khumalo. Call me Jula or JJ not stranger.”
He definitely doesn't know what stranger means. Telling me his name doesn't make him less of a stranger. I don't know him and that's it.
“Do you know Mandisa Khumalo?” he asks.
I stop and look at him. I do know Mandisa the next gossip queen of Mpofana on the line.
“I'm her cousin I won't do anything to you” he says.
Well that's a relief. I put my guards down and get in the car. He rolls his eyes before driving. This is a bit strange for a guy. I direct him to my uncle's house indeed he drops me off and doesn't bother me with anything.
I'm not looking forward the interrogation from my
aunt. My mind is with Mazwakhe and Ngcwethi. I pray that nobody gets hurt.