Thando's Strength

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5

Even your hometown seemed different when you had no money. In Sibusiso’s eye’s it was no longer boring. It was busy; it was vibrant, everybody was hustling and making money, making ends meet but him. Because he couldn’t keep it together, he wasn’t good enough, nor man enough to provide for himself or his family, so he was back where he started. Living under his mother’s roof instead of the other way round and it ate away at his soul. She didn’t mind; she was happy to have him around, closer to home and able to see him but he missed the busy life of Jo’burg. Durban was a bit too slow for him, but there was nothing he could do. Having built up such a reputation in his neighbourhood all he could do was keep up appearances, imagine if the nobodies in who did nothing but smoke cigarettes at the street corners saw him jump off a taxi, he’d be the laughingstock of the city and his family would never hear the end of it. Even once he’d left. When he arrived home, there was no one there. Things were quiet and the total opposite to what he was expecting or the warm welcome he usually got when he came back from the north. He hadn’t even broken the news to them and already they treated him like the unemployed trash he was. Talk about God sending signs. But when his family arrived and learnt of the truth, they did what all black families in the township raised in the church do. Pray. As if that would change his current disposition.

***

The first thing Thando did when Mandla opened the door was spill into his arms and cry. Her mother was sick, possibly dying and the costs to take care of her were unaffordable, but she couldn’t just let her die. Yes, she was annoying, but every parent is like that, they think they know best even when the times have changed; she understood that, she could sense that she had started already by being out of touch with her nephew and their trends but prevented herself from voicing out her opinion. All she could do was cry in his arms. He held her tightly and allowed her to weep; he didn’t ruin the moment with any unnecessary questions but allowed her to be, to air her feelings on his t-shirt. When her emotions had been tamed and her man had given her a glass of water to drink down, she explained to him what was wrong. Mandla looked as distraught as she was at the news. Yes, Thando’s mother was a bit rough around the edges, but she didn’t deserve a whole heart attack.

“But at least she’s got medical aid,” Mandla reassured her.

“It’s of no use, the Medical Aid doesn’t accept the one she’s using so we have to pay for her stay in cash.”

“What!”

Thando shrugged, sniffing.

“So what happens now?”

“I really don’t know. I know Vusi’s only started working, but he’s thinking of asking his boss for an advance in his salary so we can at least have enough to make a plan.”

“And then what happens to Vusi next month?” Mandla asked.

“We’ll cross that bridge when we get there, I guess.” Thando shrugged.

“Don’t say that, I’m sure there’s another way.”

“What other way is there! Tell me!! Thando screamed. My mother is in hospital and I don’t know how to help her.”

That night and the weeks that followed were… sombre to say the least. Thando was in pain, she was hurting, her appetite had practically vanished and Nokuthula had suffered a stroke-like her doctor had feared. If she wasn’t at work, she spent her free time at the hospital, alternating visiting hours with her brother. They missed her, deeply and knew if she wasn’t hooked up to a respirator, breathing like an airplane demonstration of what happens in the event of a crash, she’d be concerned with what people are saying about her and her health back home. The thought made her smile and as much as Mandla had been nothing but a pillar of strength, willing to help with anything she needed like an obedient dog, it was time for her to go home. As much as Vusi held down the fort, it needed a female touch. And she was right, during the weekend she cleaned like a woman possessed, changed sheets, washing them, blankets, rugs, dishes and even curtains all in an effort to take her mind off her mother. Things had changed so much so, Vusi took off his shoes at the front door and walked barefoot into the house, careful not to make the floor dirty. He was in shock at how clean it was thinking they might have bewitched him or his family home only to find his sister passed out on the couch, probably out of sheer exhaustion. Grabbing a blanket, he put it over her and let her sleep, made them supper, left a note and went to the hospital. Along the way, he was startled to come across Sibusiso. Someone who shouldn’t even be here, but who was he to judge? A few quick moments of small talk and his whereabouts slipped out. It didn’t matter, dude would be gone or was going so the news they’d worked so hard to keep safe would remain that way.

***

Mandla paid his girlfriend a visit after work. They needed to talk about something he couldn’t casually say on the phone. He needed to look her in the eyes and say it to her face so that she could see he meant it. It was hard for him and he had doubts, but he drove all the way here for it and there was no way of backing out now. When he arrived, she was waiting for him outside. As he switched off his car he hesitated to get out, psyching himself up for what he came here to do. If she said yes, then he would have to scrape the shit off the fan he threw it at and take it from there if she said no, it would give him time for a way forward, but either way, there was no peaceful outcome. It was awkward being in her family home for the first time, but it was something he could get used to. Visiting the in-laws, he smiled to himself. “Babe, I’ve been thinking about what you told me the last time you were at my place and what’s been going on and how things seem to only go from bad to worse. Seeing you like this breaks my heart, it really does”

“I’m sorry I can’t help it. It’s just that this is all too much for us, we’ve never been in such a position.”

“I can imagine. So I’ve decided to help the only way I can at the moment.”

“How?” Thando asked, confused.

“Let me pay for your mom’s hospital bills.”

“What! No, I can’t let you do that. Babe, you’ve done so much for me already, I can’t let you do that at all. I really appreciate the thought but… no.”

“Baby please.”

“Mandla no.”

“Okay, fine. I won’t force you, but give the idea some thought and let me know if you change your mind.”

Thando nodded.

***

One day after work, Thando decided to avoid the hospital entirely, for her sanity and her emotional state of being. She also needed to live as a person, it sounded wrong saying it but watching her mom breathe in and out of a tube wouldn’t wake her up, if anything it brought her more pain. Having finished a few personal errands, she was shocked to run into Sibusiso in town of all places, who he himself had finished running all over the city looking for a job. What was meant to be a polite greeting and an exchange of small talk before they went their separate ways ended up turning into a sit-down meal where Thando aired out her emotional grievances in a busy food court. Although she knew very well she shouldn’t do this, having someone more than willing to listen to her bullshit back home, she found Sibusiso’s inquisitive eyes and inviting physique the perfect excuse to open up. One thing she couldn’t fault her ex with despite his many problems was how much he showered her with attention when she needed it, and right now she needed attention. A distraught and teary-eyed Thando was never a good sight to see, even to a stranger’s eyes. more so if you knew her personally. Sibusiso comforted her, running his hard hands across his cheek, wiping away a stray tear. She looked up at him and smiled sheepishly and he flashed a smile back, making her feel at ease. She looked up at him and he at her, staring into his eyes, refusing to break eye contact until their moment was ruined by someone shouting her name. Ayanda. He was at the mall, doing a few wedding errands for Mandla due to a cancellation last minute. He talked to her about her mom, sending his condolences, even though she wasn’t dead. All this talk about nothing but her mother when people saw her was getting frustrating, but she understood that it came from a good place, if the roles were reversed she’d do the same thing. And then he was off, making no mention of what had just happened despite seeing it. Thando returned to her meal, but the mood had changed. Sbu offered to pay but Thando insisted she does it, out of sudden guilt over what had just happened. Sbusiso smiled to himself, giving a satisfying hug.

“That’s a lot of money there don’t you think?” he said jokingly.

“Yeah, well, somebody’s got to look after my man,” She teased.

“Hmm,” Peering into her purse as she paid for their meal.

***

As time went by, a new normal formed. Mandla spent most of his free time with Ayanda planning his surprise, Vusi would go to work and spend his free time with his mother and Thando would spend her time alternating between M&M’s. Ma, Mandla and ’Sibusiso. Because of work and the places Ayanda frequented, he found himself bumping into Thando and Sbu more than he should and chose to say nothing about it besides play with his phone and continue with his life whenever he was around them. Everybody seemed to be happy, even Thando’s questions about when Sbu was going back to Johannesburg were evaded with style and elegance.

“After you told me about what happened to your mother, you made me realise how important family was and I’ve asked to relocate down here so I can look after my mom and they agreed.”

“Oh wow, that’s great. I didn’t know your company had a branch here,” Thando said with a puzzled look on her face.

“Yeah well,” he shrugged.

She looked at him suspiciously, but ignored him and snuggled up to get closer to his sculpted frame to keep her warm under the sheets. He held her tight in his powerful hands and felt her thighs rub against him, awakening his manhood, signalling to both of them it was ready for another round. Devouring her with passionate kisses that left her lips and trickled their way down the length of her body… they had sex. Again.

“I really miss this, miss us,” Sibusiso spoke softly, tickling her ear with his raspy voice. As they lay there spent and out of breath.

“I’m sure you do,” rolling over to check her phone. “This has been fun, but I’ve got to go.” Jumping out of bed and into her clothes. She’d find any form of water to wash the stench of sex when she got home. Right now she was just happy to know that her mother was out of a coma.

***

It was good news, Thando and Vusi couldn’t be happier but their mother soon brought them back to reality, questions of what she was still doing here after she insisted she was fine, how long she’d been in a coma and most importantly who was paying for all of this came up? There was a lot of head-scratching involved and all eyes looked to Thando. Her family was looking upon her as the financial provider she’d always been for answers. Now was not the time to suddenly not have any, but unfortunately, she didn’t. She didn’t know what to tell her family and the longer they looked at her the more pressured she felt to give them an answer. “It’s already paid for.”

“By who?” Nokuthula asked, her mother impressed, which was the inappropriate response

“What, when was this?” Vusi asked.

“Stop asking questions, just know that I handled it okay.” She snapped at him. “Ma, don’t worry, as soon as the doctor discharges you we can go home, you don’t have to worry about hospital bills like I said, it’s already paid for, by who isn’t important. Unless you want to know, they take their money and you stay here?”

“No it’s fine, I was just asking. I hope haven’t fallen into prostitution to do this,”

“No Ma, I haven’t.” Thando sighed.

“Good. It would be a waste of almost 40 years, taking you to church for all these years only for you to learn nothing. Are you still with that toyboy of yours, what’s his face... Mondli?”

“Mandla. And he’s not a toyboy Ma, how many times are we going to go through this. What is it now?” she groaned.

“Ayi, nothing, just asking. How’s he doing, by the way?” Nokuthula pondered.

Vusi and Thando exchanged looks of confusion, but Thando answered her mother anyway, and all her other questions that followed. Afterwards, she went over to her boyfriends to share the good news. Other than her remark about her smelling offish, he was just as excited as she was at hearing the news. She could see it in his eyes that he was genuinely happy at the news and it made her teary-eyed, she couldn’t stop herself from crying. How could a person who cared about her like this exist? As soon as the waterworks began, he was by her side faster than a heart took to beat, coaxing her to stop. She was all over his teddy bear physique and it soaked up her pain like a sponge. “Babe?”

“What is it?”

She hesitated, ignoring Mandla’s calls, having doubts on whether she should continue as she played with the collar of her blouse as her nerves got the better of her. “Did you mean what you said about helping me with my mother’s hospital bills?”

“Yes, why?”

“Well, I’ve given the idea some thought and I’ve changed my mind.”

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