“Vusi I’m so sorry about what happened to your mother but I’m afraid not even our solution to cut costs seems to be working and so we’re going to have to let you go,” Ayanda crossed his fingers under his chin.
Vusi sat on the opposite side of the small beige table in the cramped office, the words entering his fully functional physical state but his emotional and mental wellbeing a cause for concern in negotiating a response to Ayanda’s statement.
“Mr Dlamini?” Ayanda probed.
Vusi stared at him, his eyes small making his boss clear his throat and shuffle uncomfortably. “How many people are you letting go?”
“I’m not at liberty to say.”
“Have you fired Emmanuel?”
“Again, I’m not at liberty to say. That is between the employee and his employer.”
“I see, is there anything else?” Vusi asked.
“As you can see,” Ayanda said, pointing at the piece of paper in front of him. “Friday is your last day, and so, you will be paid for the time worked until then.”
“Can I go now?”
“Uh sure. Do you understand everything we’ve just discussed or would you like us to discuss it further?”
“Which one is it?” To which there was no response while he watched him leave his office seemingly unphased by what he had just told him. He felt rather proud with himself that things went better than he’d anticipated.
Although the wounds left by her mother’s passing were still fresh it had been a month since she’d heard the news from Mandla of all people and she’d focused work to close the gaping wound it had left. The thought of Mandla brought back memories of the good times they had together swiftly followed by the turbulence they experienced. Unlike most couples, they had managed to get over the 4-year barrier that prevents them from a happy ever after. The only reason things went south for them was because Sbu came back into their lives and dug up some feelings she had deeply buried and never wanted to unearth. But she was happy, he made her happy. He made her feel loved in a way Mandla never could and vice versa. If she could she’d take the both of them, mix them in a blender and the perfect man would come out. Even though Mandla was younger, he was more caring, stable, and put her needs first but he was inexperienced and reluctant to change. Sbu was spontaneous, passionate and looks aside, he was genuinely a funny and great person to be around. She had to choose between two books she’d read more than once. One where she knew what was going to happen even before it happened and the other suddenly having it with missing pages. And she’d chosen the missing pages because it meant for a thrilling read to fill in the blanks. Just then her thoughts were intruded by with an email. An email from the bank interrupted her ping pong match between her love interests with a reminder on the foreclosure of her business. She’d gone through it all, refinanced her debt, reduced her interest rate and somehow managed to extend her mortgage term not once but twice. But the bank had clearly had enough. At the end of their email, 30 days was written in bold amongst a traffic jam of technical terms. In 30 days, she’d have nothing. No business, and would have to do the one thing she’d promised herself she’d never do as long as she was able to use her mind and body, God willingly, and that was to rely on a man for anything. There was nothing she could do and she’d have to face the reality of what was happening, Maybe Sbu could give her some sound advice when she got home. Then it hit her. The mere mention of the word traumatised her as though she were being mugged. Home was now a backroom in somebody’s backyard with a man who was reluctant to find a job. She pushed the door and it creaked open and she found him scratching his balls looking for something to watch on the television. She set her bag down on the table, flopped on the couch out of exhaustion and it made a silent fart around her. Removed her shoes using her feet and surveyed her surroundings.
“So what’s for supper?”
The man had been here all day, doing nothing but scratching his balls and still had the audacity to ask her what was for supper, when all he did was get up to go take a shit.
“I don’t know, isn’t there some leftover rice, I’ll make a curry to eat with that.”
“Meh, I don’t feel like curry,” Sbu said, his attention still fixated on the tv.
“Then what do you feel like?” Not that she was going to make it, but she wanted to know out of sheer curiosity.
“I don’t know… takeaways. Tired of eating with a spoon, let’s switch things up a little.”
“Lets. Sbu, before we go there’s something important I have to tell you.”
“Can’t it wait till we get back?”
“No, it can’t”
“Why the hell not?” He asked, putting on his shoes.
“Sbu, we’re going nowhere.”
“Ah, but you know uber eats has rubbish options and they park down the street. Always.”
Thando rolled her eyes and looked at the top of the tiled roof. How was she going to talk to this child-like an adult? “Sbu, I need to tell you something and I need you to listen to me,” Her voice was enough to grab his attention and now that she had it she wasn’t sure what to do with it. So they had a little talk about finances before she came clean about theirs.
Vusi jumped off the taxi and began his walk home. It felt so different now that he was back to being nothing more than a hoodrat. This would be one of the last few times he’d be coming home from work, tired like everybody else. He even began regretting why he complained about being so tired as if it were his fault. It had been a while since he brought anything to drink and if you didn’t know him personally, you wouldn’t have pegged him as a drinker, in social situations or otherwise. At the nearby bottle store on his way home, he brought two beers, gin, brandy and a box of cigarettes and fried chicken and chips at another store a little further down. It was only a matter of time until he came across Thabo and his old friends sitting at the exact street corner he’d left them in.
“Awu Vusi,” one of them called out to him. “How’s a cigarette there?”
Vusi threw them a box of cigarettes and waited as the box made its way around the group. The rest of their time was spent with a bit of small talk before he headed home. He arrived and sat down, cracked open his cold beers and chicken and enjoyed them in peace. That was it, this was it. This was the end of the road and for some reason, he held Thando responsible for his demise. But he had good reason to. She’s the one who’d gotten him this job in the first place and so it made sense that because she ruined things with Mandla, even though she denied he was the one who’d helped him out, it made sense for him to take away the nice things that he’d done for her. He knows he would have. But Mandla wouldn’t do that to him, not after everything, not after how close they’d become. But then again if he was capable of taking everything away from Thando for whatever reason that made them break up, what was to stop him from ruining the things between them, given how they met. He was just overthinking things… he had nothing to do with what Thando and he had, a matter of fact, it wasn’t even going to interfere with what they had going. But just as Vusi finished his monologue he remembered how chummy his boss and friend were. How Thando kept reassuring him not to worry and that she had it under control and the worst-case scenario he could always come work for her in her bakery. As picky as he was then, it was time to seriously consider the idea now… if Thando was still open to it.
That weekend Thando pulled through depressed, morose and a whole bunch of other similar feelings. She found the place empty but you could tell a man was living alone, dishes in the sink with food stains engraved on plates that hadn’t been washed in how long? Oil stains on the stove, bottles all over the place and the place were dark and filthy… all he seemed to do was sweep and leave it in the dustpan in the corner, only for it to be scattered across the house again when someone entered through the kitchen door. When Vusi came back he found Thando asleep in front of the tv in the lounge. He shut the front door loudly behind him startling her awake.
“And then, what you do that for?” she asked, irritated.
“What am I not supposed to close the door?”
“Can we please not do this now?” she sighed.
“No, let’s,” Vusi said, sitting on the sofa opposite her and changing the channel.
“In fact, why are you even here, aren’t you meant to be at work at this time?” Thando asked, giving the clock above the tv a quick glance.
Vusi smirked to himself, ignoring her question. “Why are you here, aren’t you supposed to be with Prince Charming?”
“What, so I can’t come home now?”
The two siblings left their bickering at that before watching some tv and enjoying some quality time together like siblings should, before reminiscing on how and their mother would do if she were still around.
The following day, the real reason why Thando was on this side of town soon revealed itself. The first was to see a Mashonisa (loan shark) called “Ag Shem,” after her attempts to renegotiate with the bank were unsuccessful. The reason they called him “Ag Shem” was because empathy was his greatest weapon when it came to his business. She wouldn’t give him her ID or other precious documentation, she’d heard enough stories about what people like him do. And one thing she promised herself going was if his interest was higher than the banks, then he’d lose out on a customer who was willing to do almost anything. The second reason was to see Sibusiso’s mother, she had a few questions and if she played her cards right she would come away with a few answers. She used her dead mother card to open the flood gates and get her talking although some of the things Sis’Joy shared hit close to home. Sure, she and her mother went to church together, we’re in the same society and competed in just about everything but they’d always been frenemies, at best. The things she was sharing with Thando were clearly things a grieving friend had held on for too long and Thando found herself being the shoulder she could cry on. It had been a while since her mother was described as vulnerable and always willing to listen by any member of the public when all she remembered of late was the opposite. But that moment allowed her to ask about Sbu. It also allowed her to find out that Sbu was unemployed, he had been for the past several months.
His mother had stopped giving him money ages ago because she was tired of supporting a grown-ass man and she didn’t know how he was sustaining himself. All she knew was that he at least had the heart to send money for groceries or pay the occasional bill, be it water or electricity and she prayed wherever he got the money it wasn’t from drugs. She probed about her knowledge of his relationship status only for her to shrug and remark about how being single at his age was a problem. If he didn’t act soon all the good girls would be gone, before it clicked in her mind that they used to date once upon a time and took this as a hint that she wanted to be with her son. Thando had what she had come for and would leave Sis’Joy to her assumptions. She’d learnt enough from her mother to know that even if she tried changing their assumptions, they’d hear what they’d want to hear. All she knew was that she had heard everything.