“Hey Sis!” Thuto’s voice startled me as I looked up from my mailbox to find her standing in the lobby of my condo.
She stood a mere distance away from me but I could smell her stench as if we were engaged in a full embrace. I slowly closed my mailbox and turned towards her. “Thuto where have you been?” I asked noticing her frail body and gaunt face more so than usual. It was apparent that my sister had finally hit rock bottom which brought her directly to my doorstep.
“I’ve been around you know; taking care of business you know” she said in a nervous chatter avoiding direct eye contact.
“You can’t just disappear like that” I said. “It’s been two months and I didn’t know if you were dead or alive.”
“I know Ntwana and I’m sorry” Thuto said as she twitched and sniffled. “I’m also sorry about that situation back at the hospital sticking you with the bill and all. I’ll pay you back. I promise. Right when I get me another job. I got this job lined up and I’ll know something in a few days or weeks. I think.”
As Thuto spoke I observed her almost involuntarily shifting her weight erratically back and forth and side to side. She seemed unaware that she was doing it. This was Thuto’s way of pacifying herself.
“Don’t worry about the money Thuto. It’s no big deal really” I said knowing it was a big fucking deal but getting thousands back from Thuto wasn’t going to happen anytime soon or should I say not in this lifetime.
“Thanks Ntwana I I owe you one. Listen you mind if I come up to uh talk I really need to talk Sis” Thuto said.
It was an awkward moment. I didn’t feel comfortable inviting Thuto into my home because I didn’t want anyone to see me with her in my apartment.
I threw my keys back in my purse along with my few envelopes of mail.
“Let’s take a walk” I said heading toward her.
Thuto and I walked the streets until we found an empty park bench. I could tell that my sister was a little different from normal. Her eyes showed helplessness desperation and self-pity.
Thuto and I sat in silence for a few minutes. I really didn’t have anything to say; I’d run out of things to say to someone who merely existed taking what she could get and moving on. I felt for a minute that Thuto was out of words herself but then she surprised me.
“I want to go to rehab Ntwana” Thuto said as she looked at me then quickly back down to the ground.
Thuto rubbed her hands together as if she were massaging lotion into her palms. Her leg was bouncing up and down. I could tell that she had nowhere else to go.
“Are you sure about this?”
Thuto looked up at me. “I am.”
“Where? Back to the same place?”
“No there’s this other one in Joburg CBD. They have a good rehab centre supposed to get you clean.”
Thuto looked up at me with a glimmer of hope in her eyes. “Sis I want to get clean for real this time.”
Thuto has wanted to get clean for years now but this time felt different. Still I had to make sure of it.
“After many attempts how is this one different?” I asked hoping to hear a new answer.
Thuto dropped her head in her hands and began rubbing her fingers through her afro hair almost like she was giving himself a head massage.
She finally looked back up at me with tears in her eyes.
“I can’t live like this anymore. It’s not supposed to be like this Sis” Thuto said as she wiped the tears from her eyes. The dirt from her fingers left grey and black streaks across her face.
“I’m sick and I need help and
“Thuto don’t say that. Don’t ever say that. Nothing in life should make you want to end yours” I said almost begging my sister to get that tragic thought out of her head.
“I’m sorry Sis but I can’t help how I feel. I just can’t.”
I reached out and pulled Thuto to me ignoring the smell and the way that she looked and just embraced my sister.
For the first time I saw the years of pain escaping my sister’s limp fragile body. I held back my tears trying to think of how I could help Thuto escape from the demons that had taken over her body taken over her mind. At times I wondered how it felt to have a substance control your every desire your every whim and your every waking moment. In a sense I was living the same life minus the needle sticking out of my arm and the glass pipe in my mouth. My addiction came in the form of a woman Dudu. She was draining the life out of me making it hard for me to get through the day to think clearly and sometimes even to eat. In a sense I needed some kind of rehab just as much as my sister did but I was in denial not truly believing that something was in control of my life. I didn’t want to face the reality that Dudu had a hold on me.
“How much does it cost the rehab centre?” I asked.
Thuto looked down then back up and wiped the snot that was running from her nose. “Few thousands.” I took a deep breath. I didn’t have enough cash let alone the three thousand I paid for her hospital visit.
“That’s a lot of money” I said.
“I know Sis. I know.”
I felt sick because I knew I was her only hope and I knew I couldn’t afford it. “I don’t have thousands hanging there Thuto. I wish I did but I don’t.”
Thuto dropped her head back into her hands “Maybe you could ask Nolo for it. Her husband is rich. They have it and you can tell her it’s for you an emergency or something. I really need to do this and I don’t see any other way Sis.”
I looked in Thuto’s eyes and for the first time she did not break our stare before saying “I don’t know if I can make it through another day.” “Thuto please stop saying that” I pleaded.
“Sorry Sis I just feel so lost” Thuto said.
I thought about my parents and how they had vowed never to spend another dime on Thuto after she singlehandedly drained them of nearly fifty thousand rands and then stomped on their hearts as well as their pride. I knew that my parents were out of the question but Nolo – I might be able to sway her. Maybe.
I took a deep breath and had to think hard about the ramifications and possible consequences of my next words. “Let me see what I can do with Nolo.”
A few more tears fell from my sister’s eyes tears of hope hope that her days of living that wretched life would soon be behind her.
“It’s okay Thuto. It’s all right."