In Bhut’ Manga’s house I have my own shower. It is in my bedroom. Everyday I stand under the water and I am so grateful. We didn’t have running water in our shack in Alex Park, Johannesburg; and the communal bathrooms down the street were always broken. We also didn’t enjoy running water back in the village in KZN, just containers and buckets to wash dirty dishes in the kitchen, and bath from in the make shift bathing area. It is a dream come true to feel the hot water flow through my short course African hair and over my slim chocolate coloured body. It is like the soft caresses of a mother on her baby’s face.
I must hurry though. I must not waste the water.
After my bath I can hear Bhut’Manga shouting at Nandi. She was outside again in the sand near the water. She likes to go there and play early in the morning and he shouts at her everyday. I don’t know why he doesn’t just lock her up in her room and allow her to come out only when he is ready to see her. After all, she has everything she needs in there, a toilet, a bathroom and all her toys. She doesn’t need to come out for anything. But I think he likes to fight with her, because he doesn’t discipline her. He only hits her once in a long time. Hmm, I was hit everyday when I was her age, sometimes twice a day, especially when that man would be around. I could never defile him, not even to look at him wrongly. Just the thought makes me cringe in resentment, but I must move on. I have work to do
There is something wrong with my boss today. He is is acting very weirdly, smiling alone and walking around the house like he is lost. He is not organized at all and I can’t tell whether he is coming or going. Come to think of it, it actually started yesterday. Mmm, I am not sure what is happening with him, but I certainly will not ask. It is not my place to.
At least I am going to the market and I will not be in his way, as he seems to be spending the day at home today. Every Monday I go and buy fresh fruit and vegetables and I actually like it there. I see a lot of people and they are busy and happy. It’s ten o’clock now, and so I will leave. It’s not far away. The walk is not bad and I will be there within 30 minutes.
I like today’s weather; its not too hot, and the sound of the water on the other side of the houses is very nice. It comforts me and I enjoy it. I always drift away at the sound of nature around me. It’s the closest thing I have to my memories of the times I spent in the fields as we ploughed with Makhulu, or even when we went to round up the animals with the big boys. The vast plains were always my hope for a better future. For some reason, I believed that I would see the greater world out there, even though it was clearly a fantasy for a little girl who wasn’t even educated. What amazes me the most, is that my Monday walks tend to offer me the best thoughts from my short life. Perhaps it is the walking, or maybe it is knowing and anticipating the guaranteed possibility of seeing and interacting with some happy people who take every opportunity to laugh and enjoy life. Will I ever find that? Joy, I mean. It now seems like a fairytale, reserved for everybody else but me.
As I walk on, my oversized pink blouse, and long brown skirt quiver in the tropical breeze of Britannia Bay, and my grass, wide brim hat, shades my eyes from not only the sun, but from making eye contact with those that pass me by. I like my privacy, and so I use my clothes to ensure that I am ‘unseen’, especially when I am outdoors.
The small car from next door is coming my way. Our neighbors are new. They came two days ago. That house has been empty ever since I moved here. It was just closed, no one coming or going; just the gardening service that kept the yard clean. Then last week, all of a sudden, there was a lot of activity. There were five women and two men removing and cleaning everything that was in the house. But tjo! They have very nice things neh!
I didn’t talk to them ofcourse. Aaah! How can you just ask people that you don’t know, what they are doing? Anyway, I didn’t need to, because I could see everything from our kitchen. The house is a bit higher than Bhut’Manga’s and so I didn’t struggle to see all the activities inside. There was a lot of pushing, carrying, dusting and sometimes small repairs that needed to be made.
I also saw the children when they came on Saturday evening. They are so clean. They were outside and the small one was swimming in the swimming pool. The big girl is one of those ones who like fancy clothes. She’s was wearing high heals and pretty clothes that are not for home. Mmm! I haven’t seen their parents yet though, but I caught a glimpse of an elderly woman, whom I assume is the housekeeper. Now that they a have moved in, curtains have been put back, and you can’t see inside clearly anymore.
The woman in the small silver car approaching me is wearing a housekeepers uniform. Eh! some people. I have seen that she lives in the small cottage at the side of the big house. She waved at me yesterday morning, when she walked out of the kitchen. I just smiled at her. She looks very nice. Infact, she reminds me of my mother.
She stops her car right next to me and opens her window, talking through it.
‘Unjani sisi.’ She looks happy to see me, even though she doesn’t know me.
‘Ng’yaphila ma,’ I reply.
‘Are you the one I saw yesterday?’ She is talking in a wierd mixture of Zulu and Xhosa, but I can tell she is from neither of the two tribes.
‘Yebo ma. I live there.’ I respond
‘Oh, okay, I am your neighbour, uMaDube, wena ung’ba?’
‘Okay, it’s nice to meet you kePrim.’ She says this with a smile and I relax.
Without her standing, I can tell that she is a plump woman who cannot be taller than I am. She is very light in complexion and her baby pink uniform makes her appear very jovial and loving. One could literally just sink into her chubby arms and receive the love that she seems to freely give.
‘Uyakuphi ke ntombazana?
She asks as though she has some kind of authority over me. Anyway, my mother taught me to be polite, and so I answer.
‘Ngiya eVukuzenzele Market Ma.’
Tjo, she seems very disappointed and I wonder what the problem is. MaDube begins to tell me that she could have gone with me as she is coming from there. She tells me of how badly she got lost and ended up on the road leading to to the other side of the town, because she is new here, but she eventually found it. As she concludes her tale she sighs deeply and drops her arms onto her lap, her face openly telling the story of her relief. She is a very nice, vibrant woman and very motherly too.
When I tell her I need to rush though, her face falls further and she looks sad. Perhaps she just wanted someone to talk to in this new place. I know I did when I first arrived, it took me a while to make a friend – but I have one now.
‘Hay’ Kulungile ke ntombazana. Ndizozak’bona ngelizayo.’
MaDube then places her vehicle in gear and drives off slowly. I am not sure if I want her to come tomorrow. What if Bhut’Manga is at home? I don’t want him to think that I am becoming careless inviting my friends and acting as though the house is mine. I have never done so, and I don’t want to start now. I should’ve told her no, but I didn’t. I don’t know why.
The rest of my walk is very simple. I see the very few housekeepers on the street, standing and talking for their ten o’clock tea break. Most homes in this area are only used in the holiday seasons and so there is no need for permanent staff members, just security guards and an effective neighbourhood watch company.
The housekeepers like to stand and talk like this when their bosses are away. I still don’t know them well, however I do greet them. They are much older than I am, and I also feel that they gossip too much. One minute in their company and you will know about every boss in the neighborhood, right down to the size of their panties. I don’t know why they feel it’s their right to discuss other people’s matters.
They also steal. I have seen them showing each other some money and jewelry that they would have taken. They say that the bosses won’t need them, they have too much. They say they work hard but are paid too little, and they are only claiming what they deserve. I refuse to steal. I am not a thief. Well, not anymore.
I greet them politely. My mother taught me to always respect other human beings because I never know which one will help me out tomorrow. She told me that I don’t have to like someone to be nice them. Being nice is a choice.
They greet me back and quickly ask about the new neighbors. They look very disappointed when I say I haven’t met them because it seems I was their hope for today’s juicy story. As I continue to walk on, I hear them discuss how they think they saw the new housekeeper driving. They laugh it off as a fairytale because things like that can’t possibly happen in Africa.
Behind the church where they always hold a soup kitchen for the destitute, there is a make shift market space. They call it, Vukuzenzele Fruit and Vegetable Market. Unfortunately it suffers from many Town Council raids as it informal and therefore unlawful. Besides all that though, it is the one I like to buy from because there are many kind people there.
Most of the Xhosa women who sell from it, come from St Helena Bay, which is the larger area that Britannia Bay is found in, and they also come from the surrounding East and Western Cape area. There are very few black foreigners in this place and they are noticeable. This is how I know that MaDube will stand out. They will know, like I do, that she is not from around here, let alone South Africa.
As I approach the market, Lizzie is already waiting for me. She helps her parents sell vegetables here. They send her early in the morning on the train and she returns in the afternoons.
She is a very pretty girl, 19 years old, and is just a little bit taller than me. She is dark, like the Nubian queens of Ghana, and has the body shape of a Coca Cola bottle. Lizzie is always happy. It’s like the sun rises just for her. I wish I could be like her. I wish I could laugh like she does. She enjoys her life, especially when she is here. She says it’s because she gets to do whatever she likes. But I think she just likes to see Fezile, the boy who hangs around the market. I don’t really know what he does here, but I see her stealing glances at him when he talks to the woman who sells from a stall away from her. I haven’t asked her about him. I respect her privacy. She will tell me if she likes.
‘Prim, how are you my friend?… You look sad, did something happen?’
‘No Lizzie! What makes you say that? All is well my friend. How are you? How was church yesterday?’
Lizzie is right. Something has been bothering me, but it is not the time to discuss it now. Afterall, I must hurry and buy the things I need and rush back to the house. Our day for such deep discussions will arrive.
As we make small talk about the weekend and the things we did, I walk around and buy the fruits and vegetables I want. I always get my tomatoes and carrots from Lizzie. It would be an injustice not to, plus, hers are always fresh and she gives me extra.
She talks about her family and her friends back home in the village and she describes how a new school is being built and that she may finally be able to complete her Matric because it will be free education. She is excited at the prospect of finally matriculating. She smiles broadly and I am genuinely happy for my friend.
‘So, wena mngane? You haven’t really said anything. What happened hawu?’
I really don’t want to talk about it, but this is Lizzie and she knows when something is wrong.
‘Oooo, send’yabona manje. It was month-end last week, meaning you saw uDaniel kwiweekend. Sorry mngane, uray’t ndine worry ngawe?’
She is so tender as she says that, and my tears almost escape. But they are well trained. They know not to do that. It’s futile to shed tears over things I cannot change. I respond.
‘Ndiright’ chomi, kobuya kulunge’. As long as I can stay here safely, I don’t mind.’
Lizzie puts her arm around me and squeezes my shoulder.
‘Ndikhona apha duze kwakho ndikujongile friend ne?’
I nod, because I grateful that we no longer have to discuss it, and I am glad when she changes the subject immediately, telling me about the thief that was caught by the police stealing a pint of beer by the bottle store. It was the highlight of the morning and as she describes it elaborately, a few more of the vendors join in to tell me different angles of the story. I like the people here, they are a family and everyone takes care of everyone.
When I am done with my shopping, I pack the vegetables and fruit into the ‘Shangani bag’ that I brought with me. I cast my eyes around the market and look for bhut’Nyaniso’s vehicle. It is an old Isuzu pick up truck the he parks it at the corner across the church, for those that need help carrying their wares. His business was big around the recently passed Christmas and New Year holiday, when the euphoria of shopping overtakes even the most sensible of minds. I can see him talking to a few men by the wall of the church and so I walk towards the car, knowing he will see me.
Lizzie watches me as I cross the street for she cannot come with me. She must remain close enough to always keep an eye on her wares, lest a quick hand knick them and she ends up in deficit. Bhud’Nyaniso knows me and where I am going, and so he quickly says his goodbyes and runs to open the passenger door for me.
‘Aw’Prim. Kwakuhl’ ukukubona ntokazi.’ He says this in his deep, booming voice.
‘Yebo Bhut’Nyaniso. Usemandleni?’
As he responds he walks around to his side of the car and doesn’t waste time jumping in, starting it and driving off. At least I will be home in 10 minutes and I am so glad that it won’t be long.
Bhuti Nyaniso is not very old. He is probably 28 or maybe younger. It is always hard to tell with people who work hard and spend a lot of time in the sun. Their skin can betray them and make them appear older. He is shabby though, and his clothes never appear washed. I think he sleeps and rises in the same attire everyday and only washes it when it is absolutely necessary. He could be handsome if it wasn’t for the reckless way in which he handles himself. But what do I care, it is his life.
He also likes to tell stories, and today he is one of those talking about the man who was arrested for a pint. He knows his name and says the idiot was probably trying to nurse a hangover at seven o’clock in the morning. He thinks that people like him should be allowed to rot in jail to cure their alcoholic habits. He believes excess drinking is for fools and wonders why anybody ever overdoes anything in this life. The only problem is, he doesn’t realize that he has overdone the wearing of that t-shirt, if there is such a word.
When he parks at the gate, I give him his R30 and he smiles, grateful. I simply imagine it is because he is in dire need new clothing, but I dare not say it out loud. I just alight, take my things and continue the day as I should. I am quietly looking forward to a few more peaceful weeks before I have to face Daniel again.
To be continued next week
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