Thando's Strength

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3

Thando returned home the following week with groceries. As if they’d make up for her ignoring what happened or doing anything about it. She had apologised, but it was a hollow apology and she’d avoided coming home for this particular reason. What mattered was that her mother was okay and Vusi did the right thing. She walked in the house and wished the house had more people in it, or some kids could designate the task of taking all these plastic bags from the car to the front door. Her man disappeared in the network of township streets and left to stand in the door of her own home like a guest. So much for home, sweet home.

“At least that pre-scholar knows how to do something. But the groceries he brought are small if it means this meant to be an apology. How long is this going to last, a week at most, maybe two?” Nokuthula watched as her daughter carried one bag after another into the house. “Vusi, don’t just lie there, help your sister.”

Vusi continued to flip through channels on the tv, lying on the couch as if his mother hadn’t said a word to him. He tossed an eye to what his sister was doing and the noise she was making before increasing the volume and continuing with what he was doing.

“Ah, it’s not even Woolworths, the disrespect,” Nokuthula rebuked with a clap of her hands.

“Ma, you’ve never brought anything to eat from Woolworths, why are you complaining?” Thando asked.

“Exactly, but I’m sure this little phase of yours buys there all the time, and he hasn’t even had the decency to buy us even a loaf of bread from there.”

Well, her mother was right about one thing, the couscous he cooked came from a green and black plastic bag. She shrugged, in agreement.

“You see, rubbish.” Nokuthula finished.

“Mara Ma, what is your problem with him, heh?” Thando sighed in exhaustion.

“How many times do I need to tell you, that boy is too young for you, You can’t start a family with him. You can’t start anything with him. He needs people his age, and you’re too old to be a prostitute or what do you young kids call it, a digging gold or gold what-what. You’re just embarrassing me in public. I’d rather sit here with Vusi, as unmotivated as he is, at least I can explain what’s wrong here.”

“Ah, where do I come in here?” Vusi asked, lifting himself off the couch.

These were the only seven words needed to set the family off as it began bickering, returning to old arguments that were supposedly resolved and airing out problems they’d kept to themselves until a respectful knock on the front door repeated itself several times to make itself known. Behind it was Sbusiso, in his Sunday best, navy blue suit, white shirt, long black shoes and matching belt. His presence alone was enough to stop the Dlamini family from squabbling like seagulls, but staring at him as if he were a ghost was a tad bit excessive.

“Sbu?” Thando was the first to snap out of his trance.

“Sorry,” His rich voice filled the room, overpowering the tv in the background. “Am I interrupting?”

“What are you doing here?” Thando continued to ask.

“Hayi wena, that’s no way to talk to a visitor. Sbusiso, what a lovely surprise, can we get you anything, tea, coffee, water?” Nokuthula asked after reprimanding her daughter.

“No thanks Ma, I’m fine thank you.” preening his clothes and formally entered the already cramped house.

“Heyi, get off the couch,” Nokuthula hissed and Vusi obliged as he made space for Sbusiso to sit beside him on the sofa, much to Nokuthula’s annoyance because he was still on it and not completely off. “So what do we owe such a blessed surprise?” She smiled.

“Oh no, nothing special, my mother told me you were in hospital, I just stopped by to check if you were okay,”

“How wonderful of you, you didn’t have to? You see Thando, this is what a man who cares looks like?” Facing her daughter, who leaned against the entrance to the kitchen, rolling her eyes at her mother’s remark. “As you can see, I’m alive and well. Strong as an ox.” Nokuthula giggled. “Are you sure you want nothing to drink?”

Thando watched as her mother went about with Sbusiso like a love-struck teenager opposed to a diabetic pensioner. Guess he put a new spin on the term sugar daddy. She watched and listened to their conversation as they caught up with what the other was up to, again like old friends and not an old woman and her neighbour’s son. What completely took Thando by surprise was being thrown under the bus by her mother, forced to go out with Sbusiso, then and there. She didn’t even give her time to prepare an excuse. This old near-death experience hag knew very well she was in a relationship and quite happy in it and yet, here she was, closing the door after Sbusiso, sealing herself in the metal box in a slow clap of disappointment and regret, all that was missing now, was a headshake of disapproval. The drive to the mall was uncomfortable, but Thando was a big girl. She remained civil and was mature enough to keep the past in the past despite Sbusiso finding creative ways to raise it up now and again. She entertained her mother’s request and had lunch with the man and realised why she was so taken by him. He was so charming, and it wasn’t just his voice, dress sense and the powerful features on his face. She wondered where it all went wrong, laughing and sipping on a glass of red wine. Then it happened, a harsh reminder of why she was with a younger man and not… him. Their waiter smiled flirtatiously at him while ordering desserts, and he entertained it. Of course, he was oblivious to it, well at the time, but now he seemed to relish in the attention, putting an end to an otherwise splendid afternoon. Her saving grace was bumping into Ayanda, and milking the chance encounter for all it was worth, even using it to talk about her budding bakery business and things she could’ve asked her boyfriend. But Ayanda, being the attention-loving whore he is, was more than happy to lend a hand.

***

For some or other reason, Mandla’s most hated day of the week was Wednesday. It was random and made no sense. He threw himself on his couch and wondered what would be the quickest meal to cook, while he contemplated whether going to work was worth it if he would come back this tired every Wednesday. Thando was starting to irritate him with the whole job request. A week had barely gone by and she was already on his ass like a candidate following on her application. He’d done his bit and spoken to Ayanda but he hadn’t returned with a response, what more did she want, for a job to just fall from the sky? But the wedding was a secondary priority issue in his relationship. Too lazy to cook, Mandla asked Ayanda to come over with some takeaway and help him go over a few things over the big surprise he was planning for his girlfriend. A knock on the door signalled that he was here and for once on time, which was great because Mandla was starving.

“So did you get it?”

“Hello to you to Mandla,”

“Yes, whatever, Ayanda. Did you get it?” Mandla repeated, stripping him of the chicken he entered with and searching for his favourite piece.”

“Did you wash your hands?”

Mandla gave his visitor an uncomfortable look before continuing to devour his chicken. The two friends sat in the lounge, as though there was any other place to sit, Mandla’s home was cosy, to say the least, and the large leather upholstery made space even tighter under a light fixture that constantly flickered above them, indicating that it needed to be changed. The actual reason Ayanda was here was to help Mandla discuss his plans for the surprise he was planning for his girlfriend and to verify if he was sure. The man wanted to propose for crying out loud. He couldn’t stop him, nor was he going to, he just wanted to make sure his best friend was sure about the decision he was about to take. It was easy going in but never easy coming out. What Ayanda didn’t agree with was his reasons for doing it, sure he was in love with Thando, but his primary motivation was to be liked by the Dlamini family. How could a grown-ass man not accept the fact that if your girlfriend’s family and hopefully, soon to be in-laws didn’t like you, they just didn’t like you? You accepted it and moved on, not pine over it and try change which way the earth rotated.

“Hey, are you even listening to me?” Mandla asked.

“Hmm, yes, drop down on one knee, beach or restaurant?”

“What?”

“What?”

“I said, have you done that other thing I asked you?” Mandla asked, gnawing on a chicken bone.

“What thing?”

“The job thing,”

“Oh yeah that, sorted.” Ayanda shrugged.

Either Thando was changing Mandla or the need to be with Thando was, but either outlook didn’t look like it was going to end well. The conflict Ayanda had was whether he should intervene and tell him now or allow his friend to make his own mistakes and learn from them. His help could only go so far right?

***

Sbusiso’s constant visits to the house came to an end, and he returned to the City of Gold, leaving Thando behind to deal with the ramifications of their time together through her mother’s eyes. She was happy where she was, Mandla made her happy, no one took notice of him when they went out and being with him didn’t make her jealous of other women. Unlike her mother who only wanted her to be with Sbusiso again so that she could have something to gloat about to everybody in the neighbourhood and the place where they compared each other the most, her society. It was just shallow and unnecessary and she didn’t want to take part in it in any shape or form. Besides, Mandla was her pillar of strength. He did so much for her, sometimes without even asking him and expected nothing in return while Mr cool kids acts of kindness always had to be seen. Just thinking about how good she had it made her fall in love with him all over again.

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