Thando's Strength

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2

If Ayanda had one fatal flaw, it was that he didn’t understand the urgency of situations unless he was in them. When Mandla needed him, he was mostly unavailable, but when the shoe was on the other foot, Mandla had to drop everything he was doing short of burying his mother. When Mandla did finally get a hold of his friend, things had cooled down and he realised that he might have exaggerated the seriousness of his problem regarding Thando’s brother. Ayanda’s couch squeaked under Mandla’s weight, mistaking it for another night of heated passion with another complete stranger by its owner.

“So let me get this straight. You’re telling me that the problem is that her family doesn’t like you because you’re dating her?”

“No, you’re not listening, as usual. I’m saying to you… they hate me, not don’t like me... get that distinction clear. They hate me because I’m younger and I’m sure they want her to date an older man.”

“And you know this how?” Emerging from the bachelor flats kitchen with two mugs in tow.

“I just do,” Mandla said, folding his arms.

“So you guessing?”

“I met the brother.”

“Oh, and what was he like?”

“He looked like he was going to mug me.”

“Oh, one of those types,” Ayanda sighed. “Isn’t the brother supposed to hate you by default?”

“Why? Says who?”

“It’s like an alarm clock, you hate it when it works, you hate it when it doesn’t.” He shrugged.

“What?” Mandla asked, confused. “So where to now?”

“That’s a question I should be asking you because I don’t have the answer to it,” Setting his cup toward his lips. “What I can tell you is don’t forget to put yourself first. You know how you get when you fall in love.”

“This time will be different.” Mandla rolled his eyes.

***

Nokuthula had given Thando the best idea ever. It was brilliant, simple, yet needed careful preparation without raising suspicion. There was no way her family would hate Mandla if he got Vusi a job, no matter how they felt about him. All she had to do was make sure that he did it before stupid Sbu he’d be in her family’s good graces with nothing to worry about. Not only would this give him peace of mind, but he’d finally shut up about meeting her family. But first, she needed to cool off and clear her head. She called one of her friends and they went out for a drink. Her brother in need of some money interrupted her train of thought, although it irritated the hell out of her, she couldn’t refuse, between the pair of them, she was the only one who seemed to keep a steady job and most of that money went to helping around the house, even if its owner always threatened to kick them out every other day.

***

Vusi’s walk back from the taxi rank back home whenever he returned from fetching his mother’s blood pressure medication was always on auto-pilot, freeing his mind for more important things like how much longer he could wait. After all, as the saying goes, patience is not how long you wait but how you act while you wait and right now it was difficult not to fulfil the role of a thug when so many opportunities presented themselves to him. One thing he prided himself on because his entire family lacked it. He twirled his toothpick in his mouth, amused at the thought, walking sluggishly to the local deli for something he was told to bring back on his way home but had forgotten, so he bought himself a pack of cigarettes.

“Ey, Vusi’man.”

He swivelled around to find Thabo practically gliding toward him. The two shared one of the causes of lung cancer, walking Vusi home, talking about women, soccer and cars. A topic that soon turned sour when Thabo brought up the black BMW that his sister kept jumping out of like a teenage girl. She was too old to be acting that way, dude inside was just meant to get out great his mother, say hi to Vusi and him, give them money for alcohol and be off. That’s what old men who drive nice cars did. It was protocol. All This did is piss Vusi off, leaving Thabo confused, “But hey, if you live in a house filled with nothing but women you’re bound to pick up how to have a period or too,” Thabo reasoned.

“Ma, I’m back,” He said, slamming the pills on the kitchen counter and the door behind him. “Ma?” But only the gargling of the tv acknowledged his proclamation.

He clicked his tongue, irritated, his mother ignored him and yet she was in the house, if the shoe was on the other foot, she’d never shut up about it until God intervened. He switched the kettle on and set out all the ingredients he’d need to make his mother a cup of tea beforehand. “Ah shit,” he cursed, remembering why he went to the shops, they were out of sweetener. “Ah, she must do with sugar.”

“Ma,” staring at his mother as she drooled in front of the tv. Then she’d have the nerve to say he looked like a drunk when he slept. “Mama?” gently shaking her but to no response. He tried again, his shakes more vigorous until they became downright uncomfortable, but still no response from his mother, who lay there like a discarded blow-up doll. Confused and scared, he tried calling Thando, but her phone would ring until it went to voicemail every time he tried to contact her. It was just him and his mother, he didn’t want to go to jail for a crime he didn’t do, what crime? What if she offered herself because she couldn’t compete with all the neighbours she was comparing herself to because she and his sister were failures? No, but his mother was a fighter, meaning that he was a fighter. He called the ambulance, but he knew that she would die way before it got there. Vusi ran two houses’ down and asked one neighbour his mother was on speaking terms with help. They stuffed her in the car and took her to hospital.

***

It was late and Thando was tired and thankful that she didn’t have work the following morning. The best part of it all, Mandla was on speed dial to take care of her when she couldn’t walk straight. Thando could handle her liquor, but whatever she and the girls were drinking was wild. Seven missed calls from Vusi. She wasn’t in the mood nor wanted to know what he needed now. She’d given him money earlier so there was no reason for him to call her now, she’d call him when her battery had recharged and so had she, after a good nap. Mandla didn’t look impressed when she waddled towards him but he kept quiet, rather she came to him drunk then risked something happening to her while she was drunk. The next day, Thando woke up with a killer hangover and sins waiting for her on voicemail, she tried calling her brother but he wouldn’t respond, not a problem, she’d find out what was such an emergency when she went back home. Right now, she had more important matters on her plate, this would be the first time since Mandla and her had dated over 8 months that she’d open about family problems, but he had to know at some point.

“Babe” her voice soft

“Yeah”

“No, it’s fine, nevermind.” She said, having second thoughts.

“No, speak. You know I hate it when you do that.”

“Can you please help my brother and get him a job?” She said, staring at him with her large eyes.

“Ah, babe I-”

“I wouldn’t ask if I wasn’t desperate. Anything, it doesn’t have to be anything fancy, as long as it gets him out of the house. Please, babe, I’m really struggling to support him and mom on my own and it’s not like he hasn’t been looking. We’ve been looking for him to find something, but nothing seems to come his way. Don’t you have a friend who has a business that needs toilets cleaned?” She cried. “Anything babe,”

“Okay, babe. I’ll see what I can do,” Mandla said, pulling her into a warm embrace to stop her from crying.

“Thank you, babe. I appreciate it.” She sniffed but smiled to herself as she fell onto Mandla’s flabby chest. Her plan had worked well, the first part of it. Now he had to hurry and put it into motion before the Dlamini family urged the other option on the table to move faster.

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