I've been home for 3 days and I still haven't figured how I'm going to break the news to Zandile the eldest sister. A part of me feels like Mazwakhe must know before anyone else. Yes he's a brother and shouldn't be included in my love affairs but the fact that I've chosen a Mthembu will make it even more disrespectful if he is the last one to find out.
There haven't been any commotion he's just home and fighting the family battles. I'm trying to exclude myself from the drama. They say Mamncane is leaving with her children she's going back to her home. So much for the love she shared with my father! She can't even mourn him properly.
“Hlahla” -Mazwakhe pushes the door and enters. Him calling my name is equivalent to a knock. He's carrying a pair of shoes and I know what he's about to ask. My brother's hands only work when he's holding guns and fixing pipes; he is a plumber. But they don't work when he's supposed to tie his shoes that's my duty.
“Please tie these for me.” He hands them to me. I know that he wears these shoes very seldom. He is a boots-person. At least they don't need to be tied every now and then.
“Where are you going?” I ask as I channel one lace through the holes. I'm starting to think this is a skill like God gifted me with a talent and I deserve to be paid for it.
“None of your business” – Him.
I stop and look at him. This is a favour the least he could do is tell me where he's going.
“I will be back before you sleep” he says.
I guess that's supposed to make me feel better.
“Do you have a girlfriend?” I'm curious to know. He has never introduced anyone home. I know a few girls from the past and that's because I'd hear rumours and secretly follow him to his corners. I was that nosy growing up.
“Hlahla if I have something that I need you to know I will tell you” he says.
“But I saw condoms in your drawers” I say and he narrows his eyes. “Does she come here?” I ask.
“Hlahla what do you know about condoms?” He looks gobsmacked and worked up. I actually can't believe him. I've been around for two decades.
“Don't insult my intelligence I went to school.” “That's only?” His eyes are still narrowed.
Well I've had sex twice but I can't tell him that.
“What is this?” he asks.
I follow his eyes he's staring at the wrist string that Ngcwethi gave me. The shoe slips and falls on the floor. I didn't think he'd notice it. How do I explain this? I'm yet to tell him about Ngcwethi.
“Talk what's this thing?” He is a bit firm now.
Deep breathe Zanamuhla and think fast! “Ummm…a thing for protection.” Fuck! I'm stuttering.
“From where?” His voice sends shivers down my spine. He's known me his whole life lying is not one of my strong points.
“From Ngcwethi” I say.
Maybe it's time I tell him the truth the sooner the better. I know he'll be mad but I believe Ngcwethi has good intentions about me and will do the right thing.
“I have to tell you something please sit” -Me.
He remains on his feet glaring at me.
“Sit” I say more firmer.
He sits after taking a deep breath. It's like he's expecting whatever I'm about to tell him.
“I'm listening” he says.
I prepare myself mentally. This is it.
“Ngcwethi loves me and I also love him.”
He has no expression. He just looks at me blankly and then lets out a brief chuckle.
“That's what he told you?” He is not angry. I expected him to blow up.
“Yes and I know that he's genuine” I say.
“Is he the friend you were talking about?”
“Don't be mad.” His look doesn't give me any promise but permits me to go on. “Yes I've been living with him.” He exhales and buries his head on his hands for a moment. He is still digesting it surprisingly very calm. I'm still nervous though this is a lot for him to just accept.
He lifts his head up and looks at me. He is sad or disappointed. I don't know but there's some pity in his eyes.
“He played you Hlahla” he says and for a second I doubt my hearing skills. Ngcwethi played me? That's not true he doesn't know him the way I do.
“It was all for me to let go of the road issue. They tied me into
an agreement in exchange of you.”
I don't think we are on the same page. And what is this agreement he keeps talking about? This has nothing to do with that.
“You are home because I signed a contract binding me into their terms and conditions. I will go to jail if I ever raise the issue again or harm one of them. They used you to get me. Ngcwethi has never loved you it was all mind games.” There must be some misunderstanding. What Ngcwethi and I shared was real. Am I naive? It seemed genuine and felt real. “But I was with him willingly and he never kept me from coming home. In fact I'm the one who chose to come home because Busikhaya asked me to do things the right way.”
“Mind games Hlahla! Take that thing off Ngcwethi and his brothers used you. You'll restart your modules next semester and we will go start life somewhere else.” He takes his shoes and leaves.
He is not angry but disappointed. Now I understand why there's been peace why he is home and there haven't been any gun-fights. I feel so stupid.
I let my brother down. I should've known the day they kidnapped me that they don't care about anyone beside themselves. And I hated Ngcwethi those were my initial feelings. I should've listened to them instead of letting my guards down and falling in love with an enemy. They killed my father but I still found a way to believe that one of them had good intentions about me.
I'm going to trend in these streets everyone I bump into stands and watches. I'm running all the way to the Mthembu offices with tears running down my face.
The pain I'm feeling cannot be compared to anything. I was ready to give myself to this man. I was willing to go against my family for him.
I loved him and I thought he loved me as much.
The day is ending workers are arriving in trucks from the farm. Others have already clocked out and they're rushing home with their backpacks. Women have their faces covered in calamine black sunscreen and they're looking forward seeing their children.
I don't know where I'm going to start looking for Ngcwethi. I've never been here I don't even know which one is his office.
“Lady” – The voice behind me.
I turn around and see Mnotho coming to me from behind. Did he really refer to me as lady? He knows my name we went to school together. But that's not what I'm here for the Mthembu spoilt-brat.
“Looking for my brother?” he asks.
He looks well informed. They all played me. My hands are shaking tears are burning my eyes but I'm trying not to cry in front of this crowd.
I feel his presence and Mnotho’s eyes confirm it.
He clears his throat and I turn to him.
I can't hold my tears. How dare he plays me like that? My brother signed stupid agreements because of me.
“Why?” I ask.
“Zanamuhla what's wrong?”
Oh he is still making me a fool.
“You didn't have to hurt me there must've been another way. I didn't do anything to you why did you break my heart like this?”
People are looking at us. I don't care they can gossip all they want I doubt anything can come close to the pain I'm feeling right now.
“I don't understand. What did I do?”
Really? I take off stupid string and throw it to him along with his cellphone.
“You might want to hear this for your ego I did love you and I'm heartbroken. You should be proud of yourself. You got what you wanted my brother will never bother any of you again.” He is still holding the phone I threw on his chest. I don't know what’s going on in his mind. I'd say Mnotho looks scared but I don't know much about any of them.
“I'm so dumb!” My eyes are blinded by tears I reach up and wipe them with my hands. “And you're so clever I didn't see this one coming. Your resources are helpful and the law will always favour you. A whole contract to let go of what you think is right! You guys are good.”
I make my way through groups of bystanders and walk towards the gate.
“Zanamuhla please wait.” He is running behind me and the groups step nearer to witness everything. He catches me by arm. Being plainly nosy like these people must be a certain disorder.
“I don't know what you're talking about. Explain to me what is all this about? Ngenzeni?”
He really wants us to go there? To feed these people what their ears are sharpened to hear?
Alright then so be it.
“You lied to me you said you love me and promised me heavens. You kept me in your house in some place I don't know and said you are protecting me. You made me fall in love with you only to make my brother sign some stupid agreement that could put him in jail.” I'm yelling for everyone to hear and yes they love it. There isn't much distance between them and us. Busikhaya and Mndeni climb out of the car and walk towards the crowd.
“Our side of the village will never have a good road enough water and good services. You know why? Because we don't deserve all that we are not citizens enough to qualify for those services. My mother died because she wasn't a citizen enough to be taken by an ambulance to the hospital. We walk miles to the clinic because our road is not good enough for mobile clinics.”
No I'm not crying again! I wipe my nose and look straight into Busikhaya's eyes.
“You have won congratulations.” I turn to Ngcwethi. His eyes are bloodshot Mndeni is now standing next to him. “You are a beautiful liar but thank you for teaching me an important lesson. I have learnt and next time I'll be wiser.”
I got everything off my chest but I'm still heavy-hearted. I guess it'll get better with time.
“I love you Zanamuhla Ngwane.” His words follow me and I try to block them out of my heart. It's going to be hard for these lies not to affect me. I don't know what he is trying to achieve because he already got what he wanted.
I look back at him. His hand is holding the phone on his chest he hasn't shifted an inch from where he was standing.
In time I will forget the eyes that had carried a message I thought was incredibly deep. The scratchy voice that had annoyed me yet I could hear the sound of it in my deepest sleep.
Even the habitual frowns I will miss them but eventually I'll get over them.
He says something and I'm too far to hear what it is. Mndeni pulls him away from the crowd and they disappear between the maze of cars.
I run back home.
“What did you do?” Silence.
“Mnotho?” He turns his eyes to Mnotho and Mnotho looks at Busikhaya. He didn't think that their actions will come back to bite his brother. He was just excited about bringing Mazwakhe to his knees and never considered the damage it would cause on his brother's new relationship.
“It's what she said but we didn't mean to cause problems for your fling. Our focus was on Mazwakhe and toning him down. It's unfortunate that you got caught on the firing line” Busikhaya.
He is very chilled. He was not hoping for Ngcwethi and
Zanamuhla to last anyway. It's one stone-two birds situation.
“You made Mazwakhe sign a contract?” Ngcwethi asks. “Agreement. He agreed to let go of the war he started and we promised that we wouldn't hurt his sister.”
“You were never going to hurt her anyway” -Ngcwethi. He is still trying to understand how he got here. Zanamuhla was happy in the morning when they spoke over the phone they were planning their future and very much in love. And out of the blue her feelings have changed.
“Yeah but he didn't know that” Busikhaya says.
“So you used me?”
“No you're a part of this family it was for your benefit as well.” “Zanamuhla is my happiness. Why would you destroy that knowing how much I love her?”
Busikhaya sighs. Why can’t his brother think like a normal human being? They don't have a father because of the Ngwanes. It's too soon for Ngcwethi to forget that.
“You will find someone else.” He looks at the other two. “We have to wrap things up and go before MaMbonambi look for us.” He packs his laptop inside the bag.
“Just like you've found ‘someone else’ after Nombuso?” Ngcwethi asks.
Busikhaya puts the bag on the desk and goes to him. Ngcwethi shouldn't have mentioned his late fiance nobody does it unless it’s important. You just don't argue and drag her name into it.
“Repeat that.” He holds Ngcwethi’s collar and lifts him up. Mnotho stands by the door with his eyes bulging out. If these two fight it's going to be nasty. It will be a bloody scene. “Come on guys” -Mndeni gets between the two of them. “Don't mention the mother of my children ugcine ngalesiya skhekhe sakho boy!”
Ngcwethi doesn't say anything. He doesn't have the energy and if he does put his hands on Busikhaya he'd hurt him and won't be able to control himself.
Busikhaya lets go of him and picks his bag and leaves.
“Are you okay?” Mndeni asks.
“Okay???” Ngcwethi narrows his eyes.
He feels betrayed by all of them.
“I had no part in this” Mndeni says.
Ngcwethi looks at Mnotho. He has guilt written all over him. “When are you leaving? Are you not supposed to be in Sheffield?” he asks.
“I pulled out I’m not going anymore.” “What???” -Mndeni.
He is shocked just as Ngcwethi. Everyone had high hopes about Mnotho. He has done so well academically and was given an opportunity of a lifetime when their father decided to apply for him at University of Sheffield.
“I'm not going” Mnotho’s mind has been made up. He's not leaving the country he is okay where he is.
“You know ever since you started smoking cigarettes you think you are a man. Listen to me very carefully you are going to book a flight again and you'll go study” -Ngcwethi. “Sorry bro but I'm not going there.” He opens the door and leaves his two brothers stunned.
Funny how I've grown so dependant on someone I just met 5 weeks ago. I don't remember much about my joy and dreams before that 5 weeks. I remember my life with my parents accepting the elders and completing college. After that it's gray I don't know what had made me happy before her.
At first I didn't notice her I'm always occupied with something. It was only until she talked to me directly with just the two of us in the house that something about her struck me differently. Her voice was very modulated as if to compensate my not- so pleasant one. Her thin eyelashes would incline everytime she was about to press her buttons of stubborness. Then I started thinking about her. I became obsessed with protecting her and contributing to the future I believed I had destroyed for her. One night I was shown her in my dreams the real her and my destiny was confirmed. I was given everything I needed to know about her and the future was left for me to figure out.
“So what are you going to do?”
I don't know how many times Mndeni is going to ask me this. He's keeping me company more like babysitting me because in his mind I'm going to overdose impepho or something. “I don't know.” I'm trying to be strong to pretend as if nothing happened for the sake of keeping my head clear.
“Can't the elders show you something?”
“No Mndeni your brother did this they don't have to jump in with solutions. That's not what they stand for I'm a full human being with brains.”
He puts his hands up in surrender.
“Just don't overthink Zolwandle will come back give her time.” He finally leaves and I release a long breath. I don't have time to give her I need her now.
Coming here was a risk. It's late almost 8pm and I have no idea how I'm going to get her. I just parked on our usual spot waiting for anyone who will pass by.
A couple come from behind with their hands linked. I wait until they pass near the window and roll it down.
I exchange greetings with the guy and ask if I can get some help from his lady. He is hesitant I have to use my name to convince him. I hate doing that.
“Oh Mvelase I didn't see you.” He chuckles and reaches out for a handshake. His lady is watching silently. I greet her and get no response.
“Ngamla is greeting you.” He pokes her. She doesn't budge. There is a way she's looking at me like she'd strangle my soul out and send it to hell.
“I need a girl named Zanamuhla. Can you go ask her to come see me?” I ignore her look and ask humbly.
“I'm Zandile her sister.” She says and folds her arms. She is brewing war. It's about her father.
“Unesbindi yazi!” She is disgusted.
“It's important that I see her.” I have no choice but to beg. I just need her to know the truth. She needs to know that I had nothing to do with the contracts. I can't close my eyes and sleep if she stays awake with a bleeding heart because of me. “Let me talk to her.” He pulls her away from the car. They talk for a while with him holding both her hands. A moment later they come back.
“We will be here as well. I don't trust you after everything you've done to my family” she says.
That's fair enough. The guy stays behind with me and I'm subjected into small talks. He puts his job application right here vocally. I don't hire but after what he has done for me it's the least I could do for him.
Two figures are approaching the car. I feel a chill and despair overwhelms me. This won't go well.
Zandile and Nsimbi her boyfriend gives us a bit space but they're watching me. Zano stands next to the door and she feels nothing but hatred towards me.
“I know you hate me….”
“Damn right I do.” She doesn't even wait for me to finish.
“What do you want?” She sounds like a complete stranger.
Every word I had slips out of my mind. This is not the Zanamuhla I knew how to speak to. This one has built walls around her. She has protected herself against me and whatever I say to her won't move her one inch. There's only one way into her and it's through her brother. I have to do things right by him.
“I admit that I was wrong” I say. Proving my innocence in this will not change anything. I'm a Mthembu and that means I'm accountable for whatever my brothers do. If it wasn't supposed to happen I would've been given power to stop them. I guess this is one of the storms I have to go through.
“Why are you here Ngcwethi?” She's so cold and my mind just blanks out.
She exhales and takes one step away. I know that I don't want her to leave but I don't know how to say it.
“You have to go home tomorrow you need to go make millions.” She knows just what to say and where to strike. “Done?” -Zandile.
This lady hates me.
“Yes” Zanamuhla responds and turns to leave.
I hold her and her sister quickly jumps to her side. I don't want to cause a scene. I respect Zano even though she doesn't believe me but I hold her so dearly in my heart.
“I love you Zanamuhla” I say.
She gasps and tries to take my hand off her. I bring her close to my chest the spark is gone but she's still what I want. Before she pulls away and smacks my cheek I taste her lips. It doesn't last thirty seconds it was the quickest kiss and the most memorable I ever had.
“I asked you not to hit me” I say.
“Sure. And I asked you to break my heart and make a fool out of me? Go to hell. Set your foot here again and I'll personally blow your brains out.” “I love you” I say.
“And I just threatened you.”
Zandile grabs her hand and pulls her away.
“Leave!” She directs to me and I can't miss the hatred in her voice. This is not going to be an easy road. I don't just need Zanamuhla and Mazwakhe to forgive me I need the Ngwane ancestors to approve of me. That puts me under the mercy of the Ngwanes as a whole.
****THE MTHEMBU HOMESTEAD****
Halfway through breakfast Ngcwethi joins the table.
MaMbonambi dishes his plate and asks how he's been.
Ngcwethi just shrugs his shoulders and scans the room. Well the kids are out of sight he might as well make the announcement.
“So I was thinking.” His eyes roam all over the table. “We are going to make peace with the Ngwanes. Closing the farm will not only affect us but the community at large. It's the best thing that has ever happened in Mpofana.”
Busikhaya is staring at him with a raised eyebrow. Who died and made Ngcwethi a decision-maker?
“So we will meet with Ndabezitha and talk about building a bridge over Mvumase. We will give them the road.” Busikhaya’s chuckle breaks the moment of shock around the table.
“We will go through all that just for you to get under the skirt of the Ngwane girl?” he asks.
Ngcwethi shrugs his shoulders and sips his drink. “If that's how you want to look at it.”
“Ok. It's not happening Jama forget it.” -Busikhaya.
Ngcwethi looks up and frowns.
“Did I say I'm asking for permission?”
MaMbonambi realizes that the conversation is taking another direction and asks for both them to calm down.
“These people just killed your father Mabandla. Have you forgotten that?” -MaMbonambi.
If your mother calls you by the second name it's never good. It may be too soon for all this and that makes Ngcwethi feels a little guilty. Their mother hasn't healed from their father's death but sadly life can't be put on hold.
“It goes way back MaMbonambi. Ndaba didn't deserve to die but their pleas shouldn't have been ignored either. What they want is within their rights” he says.
“Nxaaa!” Busikhaya stops eating and throws his fork on the table.
Mndeni and Mnotho are silently eating their food. It's such a shame that the family is breaking apart so soon after their father's death. He was a good father and had taught them respect and how to treat each other.
“Have you ever heard of schadenfreude?” – Ngcwethi. Nobody says anything. Mnotho has his phone but he's too drained to google it.
“I think you're suffering from it.” He's looking at Busikhaya. Even though Busikhaya doesn't know what that is it angers him.
“Ungangidakelwa mina!” he says.
“Oh Jesus Christ! Kwenzenjani kuleli khaya? Myeni wami wahamba wangifulathela” MaMbonambi breaks down. Her sons have fought before but not in front of her. She has never witnessed so much disrespect on her table when her husband was still alive.
“Both of you get out!” Mnotho orders both his old brothers. This is not how he speaks to them. Here everyone knows his place well except Ngcwethi.
“Excuse you?” -Busikhaya.
“Get the fuck out Busikhaya.” He means business. Nobody messes with his mother. “You too Ngcwethi.”
They stand up and leave. Mnotho comforts MaMbonambi and asks her to calm down.
“Who needs a cinema!” Says Mndeni getting off the chair boiling with anger.
As soon as I woke up I took a broom and swept the yard. The sun came out and I started on the laundry. I've cleaned the houses cooked breakfast for Mazwakhe and scrubbed the pots. Now I'm down to the windows. Mazwakhe walks in and takes a bucket of water from my hands.
What is wrong with him? Can't he see that I'm trying to make this home spotless? We need to live in a clean place.
“Please come and have a seat” he says.
“I’m busy can't you see that?” I snap and he narrows his eyes. I exhale and drag myself to the bench.
“I hate to see you like this” he says.
I'm totally lost. See me in summer dress and flip-flops?
“See me like what?” I lift up my eyebrow.
“Hurting.” He puts his arm around my shoulders. He is reviving something I have buried in the depths of my heart. I don't want to think about it. It's not on my mind.
“I'm going to be fine. I just really thought he loved me and I feel stupid” I say.
“I hope you learnt your lesson. Don't trust a man so easily. You even lived with him Hlahla and lied to me. You acted so cheap” he says.
I didn't act cheap. I didn't give him the ‘vulvarine’ as he put it.
Memories just flock my mind as I remember that word. Oh and the axe-wound one. That one nearly made me slap the stupidity out of him.
I still feel guilty about hitting him yesterday after he kissed me.
I shouldn't have done it.
“His hugs made me feel safe. Everything thing about him gave me comfort his words his stare….and frowns. He made it look legit.” I'm trying to hold back tears but I'm failing dismally. “His kiss was just out of this world. I'd melt into him he had magic with his lips it was like our souls were tied together. Well if I knew it was all an……”
Hawu! Where's my therapist now? I didn't feel his arm leaving my shoulders. I look around and see him checking his clothes on the washing line. They're not dry I just washed them an hour ago.
Who leaves his sister while she's opening up? I thought we were having a therapy session. He said he hates seeing me like this and I was opening up so that I stop being ‘like this.’ “Mazwakhe I was still opening up” I yell.
“I'm not listening to that bullshit.”
Oh wow great! It's nice having a shoulder to cry on!