“Do you want to drive?”
“My license expired 14 years ago,” I say.
Surely he should have thought about that before asking me this stupid question.
This is a different car from the one we used that other day. I haven’t checked how many cars are in the garage but there are two that are always parked outside.
I’ve always known about his love for cars, even when he couldn’t afford much he always talked about this and that car that he thought was great, I would listen but I wasn’t that much interested.
“What car is this?”
“It’s an Aston Martin,” he says with self-satisfaction written all over his face.
It’s very nice.
I’ll probably have to drive myself in future, so I have to get the license thing sorted soon.
Oh, which reminds me.
“I’ll also buy a cellphone today,” I say.
What does he mean “why?”
“Because I don’t have one,” I say.
“Why do you need one, I’m here with you, who do you need to call?” he says.
I thought he’d have outgrown that attitude by this age.
He doesn’t respond.
I woke up feeling great this morning after the night we had. We didn’t get much sleep, we just couldn’t keep our hands off each other.
But by the time I finished getting dressed for this trip, I was feeling heavy and worried, and when I’m worried, I get irritable, he’s already noticed.
“Don’t worry yourself too much about it, it’s not going to be easy but it has to be done,” he says.
I don’t want to talk about it, not now, I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it, which is a few hours from now.
We have to be back home by noon so that I get a couple of hours to prepare something before they arrive later this afternoon, and to prepare myself for whatever they will come with.
I was told this morning that I have to fill up the giant closet and the multiple shoe-shelves, today.
I’m not sure if this kind of life is for me at all.
“Where are we going?”
“Melrose Arch, it’s the only place with shops that I go to,” he says.
I think I’ve heard about it before.
“Are you ready for this?” he asks as we get out of the car. I’m still not sure about the way I look, I’m wearing one of the only two dresses I own and flat shoes.
Nkosana insists that I look great but I know I can do better.
He pulls me by hand as we enter the elevator that takes us up to a chain of stores and restaurants lining the pavement.
I shouldn’t have done this, I’m not ready for all this.
He seems to sense that I’m nervous and holds my hand tighter as we stroll up the road.
He waves at a man standing outside one very manly shop as we pass.
Why is everybody looking at us?
“So what do you want to buy first? Clothes? Shoes? Underwear?” he asks.
I don’t know really, I haven’t done this in years.
“Let’s start here,” I say pulling him to a clothing shop.
Everybody stops and stares when we walk in. There’s a lady already offering to assist us before I can look on my left.
“Yes, we will buy whatever she wants to buy,” Nkosana says to her.
I’m not sure what to do next.
He lets go of my hand and goes to sit on a chair next to the shoe section.
“I’ll be fine, thank you,” I tell the lady and she moves away immediately.
I walk to Nkosana.
“How much are we going to spend here?” I ask.
“We can buy the whole shop if you want it,”
I laugh. He’s not laughing. He’s serious.
Within 15-minutes I already have four dresses hanging over my arm.
I pick out two tops and look at him before taking a pair of jeans, he used to be uncomfortable with me wearing pants, I never understood why but I learnt early that some battles are not worth pursuing.
“Let me put that aside for you while you continue looking,” the same lady again. I give everything to her and move on to the shoe section.
I’m starting to remember how great this felt! Shopping!
I pick out three pairs of high-heels at once and some sandals.
“Are they nice?” I say to Nkosana, trying on one pair.
I catch him staring and smiling.
“You make them look nice,” he says.
He always has something ready to say.
I’m done after taking three handbags. He swipes and we leave.
We’re walking outside again and…..
“Nkosana, why are people looking at us?”
He raises his eyebrows.
“They’re looking at you Zazah, people stare at you, they always have,” he says.
I don’t think it’s just about that though.
I pull him to a lingerie shop, this I’m going to have fun with.
“People are taking pictures of us,” I say.
I’ve been seeing people taking pictures with their phones.
He pulls me inside the shop swiftly.
“Sorry about that,” he says.
I don’t understand, I know he is famous for some reason but why would people do this?
I did say I wasn’t into this kind of life.
We come out with two full bags of just underwear. I didn’t even ask him how much he paid.
We go to several more stores before he complains about being hungry. I thought he was the one who wanted this.
“One more stop and we get out of here,” he says.
I wonder where that is. I’m tired now.
We enter a rather classy place, oh, it’s a jewelery store.
A man in a suit meets us at the door.
“Mr Zulu,” he says with a smile and a handshake.
He turns to look at me with his hand still stretched out. I look at Nkosana, not sure if I should return the handshake or not. I realise I haven’t forgotten him at all.
I smile instead, but the guy doesn’t move or move his eyes, he’s staring at me. I keep smiling, he keeps staring, his hand still stretched out.
I look at Nkosana, his face has changed, the smile is gone, he’s holding my hand very tight and is looking at this guy.
The guy notices and smiles at him, but the smile is not returned. We’re still standing at the entrance.
Another man appears just as that tension is starting to get too uncomfortable for me.
Only Nkosana can do this, only him can change the whole atmosphere in a place just by being there.
“Mr Zulu,” the second man says, he’s the manager.
He directs us to a couch and asks if we’d like something to drink.
“We have a new collection of watches, it came in this morning,” the manager says, sounding too polite.
He also keeps glancing at me and looking away.
“No, I don’t want a watch today, I want a ring for my wife,” he says.
He just called me his “wife”.
The manager looks surprised but turns to look at me.
“Is there anything in particular that you’d like Mrs Zulu?” he asks.
I don’t know. I didn’t even know I was getting a ring.
I squeeze Nkosana’s hand.
“But I love my ring,” I say.
He looks at me, no smile and no affection on his face.
“I know, you can have two and love them both,” he says dismissively.
It’s no use arguing, I know this ‘him’, and this guy here is looking at me like he’s begging me to like one.
I shrug and walk on to the glass shelves lining the whole store.
That one looks like Gugu’s.
I go through dozens of them from gold to white gold to everything, I still can’t decide. Nkosana is not even helping me he’s just sitting there.
I haven’t seen that first guy who was staring at me, he seems to have disappeared.
I think I’ve found it. There.
I turn to look at Nkosana, he stands up and walks to me.
“I like this one,” I say.
The manager is next to us by the time I finish speaking.
“She wants this one, pack it up,”-Nkosana.
Why does this manager look nervous? He’s been like this since we came in here.
He goes to the back and comes back with two other men. They unlock the glass-top, take it out and hand it to me.
I try it on, it fits perfectly.
“I like it,” I say looking at my finger.
Nkosana pulls out his wallet . I give the ring back and one of the men disappears with it to the back.
He pulls me by hand to the counter.
“That will be 460 Sir,” the man says.
Oh! That’s cheap.
The card is swiped, the ring is brought to us, there’s some talk about paperwork, and we leave.
“That was not what I expected, that store looked expensive,” I say as we sit down at one of the restaurants.
“Me too, I expected to be no less than R600 000,” he says.
“But….” I’m shocked
“Nkosana, when he said 460, did he mean….?”
“R460 000,” he says opening the menu, he’s not even looking at me.
“Nkosana!!!” I say, shocked!
He raises one eyebrow.
“What? You said you liked it,” he says and goes back to looking through his menu.
I have had only two hours to get ready, both physically and emotionally. I’ve looked forward to this day for half my life and now that it is finally here, I wish I didn’t have to go through it.
“I should have cooked something, what are they going eat?”
“This is where they live Zandile, they’ll make their own food,” he says.
Nkosana is too calm about this. Maybe I should drink something to calm my nerves, but no.
I’ve taken a long bath and changed to new clothes. I feel better now that I look better, I think.
“Zandile, I need you to be patient with them, but don’t allow them to disrespect you, you are their mother,”
The honest truth is that I don’t know them that much, and on top of that I feel guilty about not being in their lives so it’s hard for me to do what he says.
We hear a car pulling up outside and my stomach turns.
“Relax,” Nkosana says.
I’m more worried about him.
“Control yourself please, I can handle this, don’t get angry and do something crazy,” I say.
Any person who heard this conversation would be shocked to find that we are two parents talking about their children, we sound like two scared kids right now.
The door opens, we hear footsteps coming towards the lounge.
God be with me please!
“Good Afternoon,”-it’s Sbani, he’s standing with his hands in his pockets, looking at me.
Behind him appears Lwandle. They are so tall!
I haven’t returned the greeting, I’m just staring at both of them like I’ve just seen a ghost.
“Hi,” Lwandle says, he sounds exactly like his father, but something about him reminds me of Mqhele.
Nkosana looks at me and puts his hand over mine.
“Hello,” I say, my voice is trembling, it must be the nerves.
“Sit down boys,” Nkosana.
They follow each other to the couch across us, there’s tension in this room, suddenly I’m feeling hot.
I look at both of them. It’s Sbani on the left and Lwandle on the right, they’re sitting next to each other.
“Good afternoon,” the older one says again.
He is Nkosana, the hostility, the calmness and the command, he is Nkosana in every way.
They won’t take their eyes off me and I can’t take mine off them.
“Boys, this is your mother,” Nkosana, he says it with almost a sigh.
They already know that.
I’m not sure if I should be speaking or not. They are really grown men now.
I should be crying, but I can’t.
They’re both quiet.
“As I have explained to you before, we didn’t tell you because we wanted to protect you…..”- Nkosana
“From what? from growing up without a mother?”-Lwandle says, calmly. I did say there was a Mqhele in him.
“Lwandle, let me finish,”-Nkosana.
He looks at me and then him.
“I know you are angry and I understand why. Everything we did and every lie we told was to protect you. Your mother was never supposed to come back home, she was going to spend her whole life in prison…….”
“And we would never have known the truth? You think we weren’t going to go and find out ourselves?”- Lwandle.
“Lwandle please, don’t interrupt me when I’m talking,” Nkosana.
He’s starting to lose it. I told him to try and control himself no matter how bad they are.
“We had to keep you away from her family as well, that’s why we hid things from you. We didn’t tell you because it was better for you to not know than to know what happened..”
“That was not your decision to make baba,”-Sbani, he’s still calm.
I press Nkosana’s hand down when I feel it shaking.
It’s time I said something.
“I didn’t mean to abandon you, it was beyond my control and I would have done anything to protect you,”I wish I had better words to explain this to them.
They both just sit there and stare at me.
“I thought about you every day, how it must feel like to grow up without a mother….”
“We have a mother,” Lwandle.
“Yes, and I’m grateful to her for everything, but I need you two to understand that it was better for you to grow up thinking I had left you than knowing where I was and why I was there. I didn’t want you having to carry that burden over your shoulders. I didn’t want you walking prison corridors every Sunday to see your mother through a burglar bar and knowing that she will never take you to school or see you get married or hold your children…….”- I stop, I’m struggling.
“We just thought it would be better that way. I told your father to move on with his life, just so you’d be in a normal family and maybe even forget about me. I may have not been there but I’ve always loved you….”
Sbani raises his hand.
“No no no, if you loved us you would have kept us in your life,”-Sbani.
I pull my hand away from Nkosana’s. I need to fight this battle myself.
“I did what I thought was best….”
“Best? you thought this was best?……-Sbani. He stands up.
Nkosana: “Sit down and don’t raise your voice!”
He doesn’t sit.
Nkosana: “Sbani! I said sit!”
“Do you have any idea what our lives were like before mami came??? Did you ask him?? Did you ask him who he left us with when he disappeared every Sunday to visit you??”
He’s shouting. Nkosana tries to stand up but I pull him back down.
“Do you have any idea how old Lwandle was when he started school??? How he hated going to school because kids his age could already write and he couldn’t?? If you were loving us and mothering us from jail why didn’t you tell him to be a better father?? It was not your choice to make! Having us believe our own mother didn’t want us? That’s what you thought was best for us Zandile!!!!”
Nkosana stands up! Lwandle stands up too. It’s the two of them against him.
“I said sit down and don’t raise your voice! This is your mother!”-Nkosana.
Sbani: “I would never raise my voice at my mother, she raised me, she loves me, she didn’t lie to me all my life”.
I don’t know what to do. I have three mean shouting at the top of their voices and I don’t know how to stop them.
They all sit down after what felt like a blazing fire!
“Just so you know Zandile…..”- that’s Lwandle, he’s sitting with his elbows on his thighs and keeps rubbing his palms together like his father always does.
“This……”he says pointing around the house with his hand.
“This is what is important to this family, all this and all the cars parked outside and that big stone you have on your finger, that is what he put first. I didn’t know there was something called Christmas until I was six-years-old. I used to be left at an old woman’s house with my little brother every day. She beat us, no, she beat me, I let her beat me so she could not get to Mvelo. I’m not going to lie and say he didn’t try, he did…but you two had no right to force us to believe that we were unwanted by our own mother. I blamed him, every day I blamed him for driving you away like he did with all the women that have been coming and going in his life,”
Nkosana takes a deep breath and rubs the palms of his hands together.
I never thought the consequences would be that. I was sure we were doing the right thing.
“Can we all just calm down… this is as difficult for us as it is for you,”he says with his face in his hands.
We all sit quietly for some time.
“I don’t want you blaming you father for this, he was put in a difficult position but he stuck it out, he may have made some mistakes along the way but he was always with you, always,” I say.
I don’t understand my emotions. I don’t know if I’m sad or angry or hurt by all this.
“If she hadn’t come out of jail were you ever going to tell us?” Sbani says looking at his father, a bit calmer now.
We look at each other, probably not.
We say nothing.
Sbani takes a deep breath.
“So what now? What are your plans? I’m a grown man with my own child, do you think I still need you in my life?”
“Sbani!!!” Nkosana shouts.
He needs to calm down, he said he would.
Sbani: “What baba? Am I supposed to act like this can still be fixed, like I’m not angry with the both of you?”
Nkosana stands up and walks out.
I’m left alone with the both of them. I keep my eyes down, I can’t deal with the judging and the hate I see in their eyes anymore.
“I guess we’re done here,” Lwandle says standing up.
“No, please stay,” I say before I can stop myself.
“Why Zandile? Why should I stay here?”Lwandle.
I don’t have an answer.
I drop my eyes again.
“Sit down,” a voice says from the lounge entrance.
“Lwandle, I said sit down,” he says with a firmer tone.
He stands still. This child!
Qhawe moves towards him and they stand facing each other, none of them wants to back down.
He sits after what seems like a century.
I don’t even know when Qhawe got here and who called him.
“The problem with you boys is that you think life owes you something. So what if your mother wasn’t in your lives? So what if she made bad decisions? Didn’t you grow up getting everything you wanted and needed? Did we not all raise you and care for you?” he says.
They are looking at him and listening but their faces say they don’t care about his ranting.
“What I won’t tolerate is you disrespecting your mother like she hasn’t had so much to deal with already,” he says pointing a finger at both of them.
“The least you could do is listen and give her a chance……”
Lwandle: “A chance to do what baba?”
Nqoba: “A chance to explain why she did what she did,”
Sbani: “We already know. So what now?”
Qhawe: ” Now you’re going to allow her back into into your lives”
Lwandle: “She was never in mine”
Qhawe: “Where do you think you came from if she was never in your life?”
I know Qhawe is trying to help here but I don’t think it’s working. And where on earth is Nkosana?
He walks in. He’s angry, his eyes are red.
Sbani: “Why were you in jail?”
I thought Nkosana told them all about that. I look at him, he is staring ahead.
“No, he told us, but I want to hear how you murdered your own mother. He never told us why you did it,” Sbani.
I don’t think I can do this.
I stand up and walk out.
I hold on to the rails as I climb the stairs, if I let go now I will fall. I run to the bedroom, the door is wide open, I close it and throw myself on the bed.
This is not happening! Why did I come back here? Why? I should have killed myself the first night I slept in that prison cell! I should never have come back to this place! This family! This man! I should have married Gwaza!! I should have stayed at home and never come to Joburg to look for him! I should have listened to my mother!!!
“Zandile!” Nkosana says grabbing me from behind.
I stand still. It’s like I’ve just been woken from a dream! The bedroom is in tatters, the side lamps are broken on the floor, the clothes from the closets are all over the bedroom, the picture frames are broken and the curtains pulled down. What did I do?
“Just sit here, sit down…” Nkosana says pulling me to the bed.
“Is everything…?” Qhawe is standing at the door.
“Yes, everything is fine,” Nkosana says quickly pushing the door shut.
I’m sweating, my armpits are wet. I never sweat.
“What did I do?” I ask.
He puts his hands on my shoulders, there’s a bit of fear in his eyes.
“Nothing, we’ll have this sorted, just sit down for a few minutes,” he says.
I wish I could cry, I wish I could.
“You didn’t tell them why I did it?” I ask.
He looks down.
“I couldn’t, it became too much for me too,” he says.
How am I going to look them in the eye through all this?
He locks the bedroom door behind us when we we walk back.
“Are you sure you want to go back there? We could always do this another time…”
“Yes I’m sure, I want to tell them everything,” I say.
They’re still sitting where I left them. Judging by the look on their faces, not much has changed.
I sit down, Nkosana sits next to me and puts his hand over mine.
“I was 19 when I got pregnant with you Sbani. I had left home to look for your father after I found out he was here in Joburg. I gave it all up, my family, my home, my parents, school, I gave it all up and came here because I loved him,”
Nkosana squeezes my hand.
“I got pregnant a few months later. We were both young and struggling financially and we had no plan but when we found out I was pregnant we were both happy. Your father wanted to do the right thing so we agreed that I should go home and tell my parents. I knew it was going to be difficult but I was hoping that in the end they would understand. But when I got there……….” I can’t continue.
They both just sitting there staring at me. Qhawe is on the single couch next to them.
“We’re listening,” Lwandle says arrogantly.
“Shut up!” Qhawe shouts.
They sit quietly.
They must know this.
“I want you to know that I was going to be a good mother to you, I was going to try my best and even at the time when I was still here, I did put you two first, you may not remember but I was a great mother….”
Sbani: “That’s not important now, that’s not why we’re here. You were never a mother to us and…..”
Nkosana is on his feet before I can stop him. He’s pressing Sbani down with his knee! Qhawe is pulling him back! Lwandle is pushing Nkosana off his brother!
There’s noise and shouting all over. I want to stop them, all of them, but I can’t move!
“Stooooooop!” I scream!
Nkosana slowly gets off Sbani who is crouched on the couch with his arms over his face.
Lwandle moves away too. Qhawe is still standing next to Nkosana, I think he doesn’t want to leave his side until he’s sure it’s safe.
They all return to their seats eventually.
Lwandle is crying.
“We can do this another time,” -Nqoba.
“There won’t be another time. When I walk out that door today I’m never coming back,”-Sbani
This child is beyond stubborn.
“Atleast let me explain what happened….”
Sbani: “Explain what Zandile? You murdered your own mother,”
That stabs me right in the heart. I feel Nkosana’s hand pressing mine down, I have to control my breathing, I pull my hand off his and stand up!
“I did, I killed her! I stuck and iron hanger in her neck and watched blood gushing out of her. I stood over her, watching and counting each breath she took until the last one! She never took her eyes off me and I never took mine off hers until the last bit of her disappeared! It felt peaceful, I felt free, it was all over at last!!”
“Zandile!” Nkosana shouts and tries to pull me back to the couch.
“No!” I say pushing his hand off me.
I walk to stand infront of them, very close to them.
“See Sbani, a person had to die that night, it was either you or my mother, I had to make a choice of who lives between the two of you, I chose you,” I say.
I can’t be part of this anymore. I’m going to the bedroom.