“Whoo, if Joy could see me now,” Nokuthula sniggered. “That society can keep all those useless men their children claim to love who do nothing but pick up pension money. My daughter has a real man.” Shuffling through her bedside cabinet. As Nokuthula looked for her pills Mandla followed from behind. “Where are these pills now?” She continued, mumbling to herself, her attention focused on helping her acquired son with his problem. Mandla’s heart pumped loudly as blue surgical gloves finished marinating his fingers. He was set. He was ready. All that needed to happen now was for him to control his breathing as he tip-toed behind her. His feet landing exactly where hers had stepped before him. Nokuthula tossed a few items on her beside the cabinet before being surprised by Mandla standing behind her. With one deep breath to calm his nerves, his body lurched forward and he exhaled it onto Nokuthula as his arms constricted across her neck. His biceps laying waste to her ability to scream for help while the rest of his arm became tighter and tighter around her fragile neck. She tapped widely against his arm but there was no referee to relieve her, her aged hands moving with vigour until she became limp in his possession. She fell with a thud on the floor and Mandla watched his soul stare at him in disappointment in the beside the mirror. What happened next could only be described as surgical as he ensured he left nothing of his behind. Not even bothering to close the front door when he left for the probability of a crime to increase and divert any attention away from him should there be anybody who saw him. Which was highly unlikely, given how empty the street was.
“What do you mean you are cutting my shifts again? This is the third week in a row. What the fuck?”
“I’m sorry Vusi, it’s just that the company is struggling financially and I have to make some cutbacks to everybody’s shifts in order to keep them. The last thing I want to do is get rid of anybody, people have family’s and mouths to feed.”
“But why does it feel like you’re only picking on me. Emmanuel hasn’t complained about any cutbacks?”
“You do know that discussing contracts is against company policy and cause for disciplinary measures,” Ayanda noted.
“Ah don’t pull that stunt with me. I’ve been the most hard-working person here!”
“Vusi, please calm down,”
“Calm down my ass. What have I done to you, how have I wronged you? I’ve done everything you’ve asked of me... so why are you doing this to me?”
“Vusi...” Ayanda raised a hand, allowing himself to speak. “Please understand. Please try to see this from where I’m coming from. It’s either this or I start letting people go for them to continue on with the way they’ve been living.” Ayanda said, running a hand over his head.
Mr Dlamini held his thoughts and allowed his employer to explain himself further.
“The thing is, and I know this is unfair but the reason no one knows what’s going on is because I’ve started the cutbacks with you. I know, it should’ve been universal but I figured if it’s performance-based it’ll be more beneficial for the company should the worst-case scenario happen and I need to let people go.” Ayanda sighed. “Look, what I’m about to tell you now can’t leave this office and if I find out it has I’ll know it was none other than you.”
Vusi nodded eagerly.
“Look, should things get worse from this point onward it would be unfair for someone like Emmanuel to stay because he doesn’t work nearly as hard as the rest of the team as say... you do. So I know this sounds fair but the math is a loss of one shift a week on average.”
“Fine” Vusi clicked his tongue and left.
On the taxi home, he fixated on his boss’s words. Emmanuel, financial losses... on average one shift a week. That last bit didn’t add up when he made the math, on multiple calculations. Even when he asked what looked like a child of high school-going age to work out the average of the numbers that made up his salary.
It was late evening when he made it home, the door was left ajar and the sight of it slowed down his pace as he neared the entrance, picking up a glass bottle along the way. The house was dark except for the tv that lit it up with its occasional blue light. “Ma,” he shouted, only to be answered by adverts about funeral policies on the tv.
Vusi moved from room to room until the master bedroom greeted him with a sight he’d never be able to forget even if the devil paid him to. His mother splayed on the floor like a doormat. “Ma” he whispered, too scared to touch her. Her room was dark and so was what he saw. She was cold to the touch but warmer than how he felt. Vusi tried to wake her but this wasn’t like the last time when she ended up in the hospital. Her head rolled around without control, He didn’t know what to do, he pulled his phone out his pocket but ended up twirling it in his hands, confusion overpowering logic. All he could do was sit there beside his mother... God knows he’d never get another chance to.
The clinking of cutlery was louder than it usually was because there was no conversation to mask the sound of it scraping on plates. It was too early for supper but then again, both squatters were at home.
“Can you please pass the salt?” Sbu asked.
Thando did so in silence before pulling it away as he reached out to grab it. “You know what I can’t seem to understand?”
“What?” Sbu huffed.
“How do you claim to go to work but I never know where work is? Your company in Joburg doesn’t have a branch in KZN and you have these irregular hours you seem to be working that don’t make sense.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“There’s a stockpile of unpaid bills and application letters. It’s 2020. Which company still sends rejection letters?”
“What the fuck, are you spying on me!”
“Are you cheating on me... again?” Thando asked calmly.
“Then what is it? Sbu, tell me.”
Before Sbu could answer Thando’s phone rang, it was her brother. He could wait, she needed to know why Sbu was doing this to her. As Sbu and herself exchanged words, her phone continued to ring non-stop until Sbu picked it up in frustration.
“It’s him,” He snarled, shoving the phone at her in frustration.
Thando stared at the phone in confusion. Her partner was right, Mandla was calling... had been calling. Why? She looked up at Sbu who glared at her in irritation before she stared back at her phone.
There was only one way to find out.
Tyres screeched and the SUV came to a stop. The black X6 was no different from the Batmobile under the cover of darkness. When Mandla stepped out of his car he found Vusi seated on the stoep outside the front door, the house resembling a yawning demon ready to swallow him in its darkness behind him. As soon as he saw him, Mandla thought about turning back but Vusi had looked up just in time to see him before he acted on the decision he had made to change his mind.
“What’s wrong? I came as fast as I could.” he lied.
“Thanks for coming,” Vusi mumbled.
“Let’s go inside. It’s dark out here and getting cold.”
“I’d like to stay outside if you don’t mind,” Vusi said with a soft voice.
“What’s wrong? talk to me.” Mandla knew exactly what was wrong but chose not to say anything nor push Vusi into going inside even though he was feeling cold. And so they sat outside in silence, no one saying anything to anyone until Vusi decided to go inside. When they did go inside, Mandla turned on the lights and the kettle, before following Vusi to the master bedroom where he found Nokuthula in the exact same position he’d left her in. “Shit, I mean. I’m so sorry.”
Vusi felt himself smile for the first time since he got home, finding Mandla’s reaction amusing.
“Where’s Thando, Ambulance, Police? Why is she still like this?”
“I don’t know... I just haven’t accepted it yet. I guess.” Vusi sighed. “I tried calling Thando but she won’t answer.
“Let me try, hopefully, she answers my call. What should I tell her?” he asked Vusi but looked at his handiwork.
“I don’t know” Vusi shrugged. “The truth?”
The two kept quiet as the phone rang when Thando picked up Mandla wasn’t sure how to phrase his words and ended up with. “There’s something you need to see, I can’t tell you over the phone. Vusi’s been trying to call you to tell you the same thing but you haven’t been responding. Stop whatever you’re doing and come home now.”