Thando's Strength

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11

Thando pulled up to the street to her mother’s house to find it blocked with a police vehicle, an ambulance and nosy neighbours. Clearly, things were much more serious than how Mandla made them out to be. When she managed to navigate her way through the mess and join her family. She found Vusi crying and Mandla comforting him and she knew instantly that something bad had happened but she wasn’t prepared to hear what she was told. It left her in a state of pin and needles. She was in shock, lost for words and a whole host of other cliches to describe how she was feeling. But even though they were grieving it still didn’t sit well with her that Mandla was giving her brother all this… dare she say it, love, care and attention not that it was the time to make comparisons. But she was the only one who knew the truth about what type of man Mandla was. Nothing like his namesake. Just a spineless coward who took advantage of her because he had the financial means to do so but the truth would win in the end. Even amongst all this, there was a hint of jealousy. She had lost her mother and there wasn’t a single loved one to comfort her. She felt alone, abandoned, forgotten. She and her mother didn’t have the best relationship but her incessant whining, comparing her to her peers and poking her nose into other peoples business and using it to justify her actions was gone.

A few weeks later

Laying Nokuthula to rest took longer than most people her age simply due to politics. Family members, if you could call them that, came out of whatever hole Satan had them under to dictate what should happen and how things are done in the family according to tradition and culture. There was one thing Nokuthula was concerned with and if she were alive to dictate her how she wanted her own funeral to be, she’d want to make sure that she’d have one that wouldn’t have the church society speaking ill of her. A prime example of this was when she and her brother went to pick out a tombstone and their mother’s cousin told them he didn’t like it because it was too expensive. What took Mrs Dlamini’s children by surprise was not only the comments made by this walking stick of a man, but the fact that he had the audacity to tell them it was too expensive as though he’d contribute to its purchase. But it was their mother’s funeral, causing drama unnecessary problems was what mattered most, even if it meant being disrespected by everybody else, it didn’t matter as long as the image of their mother remained pure. The actual funeral went off without any problems. All three phases were efficient and lay waste to the stereotype of African time. The church service was brief and the choir reserved showing off its singing chops for the following week. The Dlamini family didn’t have any over the top family members who would drape themselves over the casket and wail uncontrollably when it was time to say goodbye to Nokuthula Maria Essentia Dlamini. Although the mood when they got to her grave was bleak, the sun was relentless in punishing all those who mourned in black. But everyone who was there, punishment by the sun or not wouldn’t be anywhere else as Vusi began the most important gesture of the whole day. With a shovel in hand, he scooped some loose earth and poured it over his mother’s casket beneath him, starting a process that would be followed by many others after him. Mandla watched his fiance the emotion on his fiance’s face as he inched forward along the line of others to grab the shovel and decided then, it would be best to allow her to be happy. She at least deserved that. Even if it wasn’t him, as much as it hurt.

***

Ayanda looked like he was going to a job interview and Mandla looked like a representative of South African couture that had announced to the world that SA fashion had arrived. Not that anyone was comparing. The two friends got out of the SUV and lingered outside the church with the smokers, heathens and agnostics while they waited for the service inside to finish. It ended and they followed cautiously behind the hearse to the burial site and parked close towards the exit. It meant a walk and a half toward where Nokuthula would be laid to rest but it meant fewer problems when it was time to leave, a concept Ayanda’s lazy ass couldn’t fully grasp as he argued following the hearse to the front would mean they’d have to work less, unaware of the lack of parking they’d have to navigate. As they stood in the sun listening to the priest do his thing Mandla was nudged in the ribs by Ayanda. “That’s him.”

“Who,”

“The nigga your wife is always with,” he said pointing at him subtly.

And low and behold there he was, in the flesh. Sbu. Under an umbrella with his arm wrapped around his fiance, whispering sweet nothings at her while her head rested on his chest. No matter how much he loved Thando this… this right here before him would never happen. And maybe, if she did feel like this about him at some point, this. This.. was still out of the question. He always thought Thando was incapable of it because she wasn’t the type to express her love with being all lovey-dovey but here she was. Yeah sure, you could argue she was grieving but the fact remained you don’t rest your head on people you don’t love chests. Which meant there was only one thing left to do.

***

The first and second part of the funeral part had passed with respect and dignity. And even though the funeral was made up of three parts and all three went well, Thando hated the last one the most, more so if she was a participant and not an attendant. After tears was nothing more than an excuse for the community to come out and cash in on somebody else’s pain to enjoy themselves. Technicoloured plates of food and liquor as the day neared an ending it became less about mourning and more about catching up and doing what Nokuthula did best… gossiping. Things turned a little awkward when Mandla pulled his fiance away from her friends and Sbu’s company but they were mature enough not to let their egos collide, well not here anyway.

“What is it?”

“Can we find a place a little more private?”

“Kind of hard don’t you think.” Thando smiled, the gin in her hand also helping her cheeks spread a little further.

“Can we go to the car?” he asked after giving it some thought.

“Lead the way.” She said, catching her gin that swung wildly after tripping on some loose stones.

With both of them inside Mandla’s car, it felt like they were on a different planet. In the silence and darkness, the only thing that filled the car was the smell of Thando’s alcoholic breath and the raspy breathing that made it happen.

“What is it, why have you dragged me all the way here to talk. You’re making me a bad host, soon people will be looking for me and I won’t be able to attend to them.”

Mandla knew how Thando was when she’d consumed alcohol. Luckily for him, he’d managed to get her before she refused to listen to reason and it was either her way off the highway, the dance floor and her friends cheering her on instead of telling her to stop because she had too much. The best thing to do was to rip whatever was weighing him down off like a plaster, failing which he wouldn’t want to revisit this conversation again. That and she deserved to know, she deserved that much.

“What is it?” Thando whined.

“I think we should see other people.”

“What?”

Mandla stared at her and watched her sober up as his words sunk in. A reaction he was unrehearsed for in the countless of probable reactions he anticipated and as a result unprepared for.

“Why?”

“I don’t know,” Mandla unintentionally blurting out the first thing that came to mind.

“What do you mean you don’t know?”

“No, that’s not what I meant. What I meant is we should see other people.”

“Why, don’t you love me anymore?”

That question contorted Mandla’s face, leaving him paralyzed. What did she mean, he didn’t love her. He was doing this because he loved her and her dragging this out was hurting him more than it was her. She had Sbu, he had her… and when she was with Sbu he had no one. It hurt knowing that she was happy somewhere else. Ayanda had shown him the pictures and the emotion of just how happy he made her didn’t carry through. They were just still taken at the right moment and elusive enough to convince him that he could force her to love him by force or by fire by pulling a few strings in her life. After all, he’d done so much for her, the least he deserved was her love. But seeing her with Sbu brought him back to reality.

“Mandla!”

“Yes,” he said through gritted teeth.

“Is this because of Sbu? I know what I said, but I was angry. People say things they don’t mean when they’re angry. You have to believe me.”

“They also speak the truth.” Mandla sighed.

“What, have you found someone else? Have you been cheating?”

“Yes,”

“Then why have you been playing with my heart for this long, why have you been wasting my time? What did you want from me and my family then?”

“It’s over okay. Can you stop wasting my time with questions that don’t matter anymore. Now please get out of my car.”

“Fuck you,” Thando shouted slamming the car door behind her.

Mandla watched Thando disappear into the confetti of people. He knew exactly where she was going and who would take her pain away. While his ex-fiance did her best to forget about him, Mandla stayed in his car and allowed himself to weep over losing the best girl he’s ever loved. He wept harder at the fact he had to carry the load for why she no longer had a mother and that he was responsible for everything before him.

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