Intwasa Short Story Competition 2019 – The “Situation” by Takatso Sibanda (3rd Prize)
A light drizzle started as I stepped out. Just as I reached the gate, the skies opened and released a heavy downpour. I moved briskly, trying to avoid the mud. Sis’ Pinkie would be furious if I messed up the shoes. They were comfy black all-stars which she had given to me a while back. But she still referred to them as hers and I found the awkwardness of repeatedly borrowing them from her tiresome. She had been in a bad mood all week and I hadn’t wanted to wake her to get the pair that was fully mine under the bed. Things just had not been the same between us for a while. They had only gotten worse since Sima.
I first saw Sima at ZESA. He had “that thing”. I followed him with my eyes as he walked past, sighing in the haze of his cologne. His blue jeans and crisp white shirt were perfect on his lanky, toned frame. He was way out of my league and I was content with the possibility of merely feasting my eyes on him again,
A few days later I bumped into him at Choppies, then again in Luveve when I reluctantly accompanied Sis’ Pinkie to a stokvela at Kidza’s. His voice sounded better than I had imagined. After going out with him a few times, I began to genuinely like Sima and enjoy his company. He had invited me to come over to watch movies and hang out at his place on a Sunday evening. Though it was getting very late, I didn’t care what Sis’ Pinkie would do or say. I just wanted to enjoy myself and live in the moment. It was my first time visiting, let alone sleeping over at a man’s place and I was filled with nervous excitement. I felt half-relieved and a tad disappointed that in the end we had just talked, made out and cuddled all night.
The shutdown started the next day.
Like everyone else in the city centre that morning, I had not anticipated that anything would happen. The “situation” continued to escalate in Zimbabwe yet we all did little but grumble and complain then sock it up and continue struggling. I wasn’t really sure what “the situation” was exactly and didn’t understand what it had to do with someone like me. As far as I was concerned, it only affected big men in suits and big cars.
I had felt the change in the air as we walked back to Sima’s flat around ten, after buying takeaways at Haefelis. The atmosphere had turned heavy and tense. Everywhere we turned; everyone was running. There were huge riot police trucks everywhere. The sordid tales of what they did to people caught in demonstrations were etched on my mind as I ran, blinded by tears and struggling to breathe in the thick teargas haze. I held on tightly to Sima’s hand, petrified that they would catch us. My chest was on fire and snort streamed down my nose, some of it dripping into my mouth as I gasped for breath.
We turned into an alley behind OK, and just as we got there; a noisy mob poured in from the opposite street whistling, throwing stones and jeering at the police truck which was pursuing them.
As I stood on shaky legs; hands on my knees, trying to catch my breath, the riot police jumped off their truck, armed with baton sticks and headed our way. I had never been more afraid in my life. In a matter of seconds, I stumbled, lost my balance, fell and was pulled up as we sped back towards the pavement. Baton sticks rained on the guys behind us while Sima and I sped into a cab which had suddenly screeched to a stop in the middle of the road and beckoned us in.
My body betrayed me that night. I had not meant to go all the way with Sima. Not that soon. But my body had capitulated to the adrenaline and emotions from that morning. Gently, Sima had eased the tension out of my shoulders and ran his fingers down my back, planting soft little kisses on my neck. I had lost my mind when he kissed me down there.
After I heard him snoring I snuck out of bed and headed to the bathroom. What if? I thought as I stared at myself in the mirror. I took a deep breath and washed my face, telling myself to relax.
Our clothes were puddled on the floor next to the bed and his wallet was in the back pocket of his jeans. He looked very young in his ID picture- Simam’kele Wallace Dhlodhlo, born 26 September, 1985. Thirty-four? I had assumed he was in his early twenties. He looked like he was just a few years older than me.
I had never seen so much cash. He had four hundred US dollars, three hundred and twenty-six bond and six hundred and fifty rand. I quickly counted out sixty bond in crisp, new five dollar notes and a solid one hundred rand note. I hadn’t brought a bag so I looked around, trying to figure out where to hide it. I was startled when he sat up and mumbled something. Holding my breath, I froze, imagining how he would react catching me naked, crouching on the floor with his money. As I quickly rolled up the notes and slid them into the small tear in the padding of my bra, he grunted and went back to sleep.
I eventually returned home on Thursday when the shutdown finally ended. Sis’ Pinkie had ignored all my messages and calls throughout what she termed “my honeymoon” at Sima’s. She gave me the mother of all beatings and refused to listen when I tried to apologize and explain that there had been no transport at all in the entire city and it would have been too dangerous to walk home amid the violence, protests and looting.
For the first time, I felt frustrated about “the situation”. It affected me after all. I just wanted to enjoy myself but because of it, I had ended up losing my virginity, stealing money and suffering an unjust beating.
Still lost in my thoughts, I finally turned onto the main road. A sleek black car whizzed past and the tinted window at the front slid down as it reversed and stopped in front of me.
“Hey, Jump in; I’ll give you a ride.”
“Hi, thank you,” I said, shaking the water off my little umbrella and stepping inside.
“No problem. Town?”
“Good, I’m going to town. I’m Shuna.” I couldn’t help but stare at her grayish-green eyes.
“I’m Siphephile, but everyone calls me Pepsi.”
“Great, you live around here Pepsi?” Her accent sounded foreign.
“No. it’s actually my first time here. I’m looking for a job; I was dropping off my CV at a few offices.”
“Yes? How did it go?”
“Not very well,” I sighed. “The first office I went to said they currently have no unfilled positions and the second said the boss was away and they’d call when she got back. I asked to use the toilet before leaving the last office and on my way out I saw the receptionist cutting up my CV and tossing it in the bin.”
“Que puta de mierda! So mean!”
We continued chatting as she drove. Her phone rang while she was looking for parking space close to the Tower Block. She spoke rapidly for a while in what sounded like the Spanish I’d heard on Sis’ Pinkie’s sub-titled soapies. “My meeting has been cancelled, join me for brunch?” she said.
I was dazed when I dropped off at Sekuru’s msika three hours later. As I climbed up the stairs, I found myself checking my pocket for the umpteenth time. The 20 US Dollars that Shuna had given me was still there. I slowed down as I approached our door, wondering how Sis’ Pinkie would react. She was quite unpredictable, especially during her sullen moods.
Two half-eaten boxes of Chicken Inn and three Black Label quarts on the table explained her sudden jovial mood. Someone had paid her a visit. She smiled when I broke the news. “This is good news mnawami! Uhamba nini and how much are they paying?”
“They will cover my expenses and give me a US$250 allowance.”
“Mmmhhh Pepsi, 250? U.S. Dollar? What will you be doing kahle-kahle, abadlali ngawe? ”
“So what should I do Sis’ Pinkie? Leave it because it’s too good to be true?” I snapped.
“Hayi, the problem is you are not listening to me. Ever since you opened your legs for that boy you think you are Miss Universe and you know everything. All I’m saying is be careful.”
“I hear you and I get it Sis’ Pinkie, but I have to take this job. I’ll call you when I get there.”
I picked up my backpack and walked out.
Shuna was nowhere to be seen when I arrived. I checked the time on my phone- 3:38. I had left Magwegwe well ahead of time but was now 8 minutes late thanks to the mtshova that had kept reversing and zigzagging off the main road in search of more passengers. If she hated waiting like me she could have left already. But she would have called first, right?
Her phone rang until it disconnected. I tried again and the number was now unavailable. My heart sank. This could not be happening. I couldn’t go back to Sis’ Pinkie.
It had been a year since I started staying with her. A year since Gogo had passed away, changing everything, drastically. Sis Pinkie’s place was neat. It was an all in one bedroom, kitchen, dining and living room. The full length mirror on the door was her most prized possession. Daily, she stood in front of it caking her face with make-up and carefully drawing on cringe-worthy eyebrows.
She was a hairdresser. Her “salon” was three plastic chairs, a bucket and a mirror under the big mango tree behind the Mazayi flats. Rumour had it that she once beat the crap out of Mai Kimberley from number 26 and shaved off her hair after she claimed to have no money once her hair had been done. No one messed with her after that. She worked with a barber and also sold braids and hair relaxer. However, her cash cow was skin lightening cream. Despite the police declaring war on it; it sold like hot cakes and she was expanding to pills and syrup.
Whenever Sis’ Pinkie’s “visitors” stayed over; I slept on the floor in the corridor, opposite the toilet. Sometimes they would go out and return dead drunk in the wee hours. More often than not, a fight would ensue and I would have to get up and bang on Mdawini’s door to ask for help. Other times, a week would go by with no traffic then the next week, two or even three “visitors” would sleep over on consecutive nights.
On those nights, I’d put on my earphones and lie awake fantasizing about finishing my A’ Levels, going to university, becoming a doctor and travelling the world. But Sis’ Pinkie could not afford to help me. She had her hands full with her 3 kids. They were with her mother in Tsholotsho.
Sis’ Pinkie had organized a few piece jobs for me soon after I moved in. I washed and ironed mountains of laundry; did dishes, and scrubbed filthy toilets around the flats. She graciously collected the money on my behalf to ensure that I was not abused or cheated. But when I asked for it she had become very upset and called me lazy and ungrateful.
After that; I wised up. I looked for my own piece jobs and kept my mouth shut when I perfected my braiding. I pretended I was only doing piece jobs and hid the extra money I made. With Sima’s frequent gifts of cash as well as the bonus I helped myself to from his pockets, I nearly had enough to pay for lessons and register for November exams at Faith College. My aptitude for spinning half-truths was improving daily. I lied often and effortlessly to further my wellbeing. I had lied to Shuna.
A car horn brought me back to reality. It was Shuna’s car. I sighed with relief and hurried to get in. It was 4:07. I froze by the door.
“Pepsi? It’s ok, hop in. I’m Shuna’s friend, Jojo. She’s running late and asked me to pick you up.” A big coloured guy was staring at me. The tattoo on his neck peeked just above his collar.
“Oh, where is she?” I frowned.
“She’s in a meeting.”
“What about the pictures for my portfolio? I took them today and she’d said we’d print them when she picked me up.”
“Don’t worry, she took care of it.”
As his eyes lingered on me while I settled in, I shuddered, overcome by an ominous feeling of looming doom. We silently drove towards the Trade Fair, past Bradfield and onwards. His cologne filled the whole car. It smelled like Sima’s. His number had been unavailable all day and I’d ended up sending him a message sharing my big break.
“Pepsi! We are here, wake up”. I had not realized how tired I was. Jojo was calling out my name and shaking my shoulder.
“I’m heading back into town; should be back in a bit. Make yourself comfortable, there’s food in the fridge; take a nap or whatever. Tell Shuna to call me when she gets here.” And with that he was gone.
It was a beautiful house. The fridge was full of cheese, ham, juice and fancy things. I peeked in the bedrooms. Each had a huge bed, luxurious bathroom with countless jars of bath salts, creams and huge fluffy towels. As I sniffed the creams, I wondered how it would feel to wake up here daily, taking a hot bath, having a huge breakfast and being driven to town.
I found a girl sitting on the bed in the last room. She was about my height and build.
“Who are you!? Ufunani la?”
“Sorry, I didn’t know there was anyone here. I’m Pepsi. Jojo brought me here, I’m waiting for Shuna.”
“Umazela nga uShuna?” She glared, stepping closer.
“She gave me a job today.”
“A job?” She laughed incredulously.
“Yes. I’m going to call her again and find out where she is.”
I hurried to get my phone. I checked all over the room and even went back to the living room but my backpack was nowhere to be found. Maybe Jojo had left it outside? I tried the door he had used but it wouldn’t budge. I tried the other two; the kitchen and the verandah door. A heavy sense of dread gripped me as I realized that they were all locked.
Heart hammering, I rushed to her room.
“Where’s my backpack? And why are the doors locked!”
“Shut up and sit down.”
I could not believe what I was hearing.
”What!? That can’t be true! Shuna is on her way. She said I’m a natural model. She organized a cruise ship job for me in Cape Town while I build up my portfolio.”
She shook her head pitifully.
“Shuna is not coming. There is no modeling or cruise ship here princess. Kuyanyiwa la.”
This had to be a nightmare.
It was after dark when I woke up, head pounding and eyes puffy from crying. My backpack was on the floor. Someone had rifled through it. My silver heart shaped locket from Tino was gone, so was the small pink knapsack with all my money, medication and hospital book.
A tall, bald man with an ugly scar over his mouth barged in and leered at me, licking his lips. “Your pictures don’t do you justice Mancane. So much gold between those legs! No one would believe uyatshisatshisa wena. It’s a pity the boss is strict about using only clean girls. You were going to be a moneymaker…”
Later that night, I felt numb as he stopped the car in the middle of nowhere and dragged me out. An argument started when the men who had sat on either side of me suggested that I be sold to someone called Masalu. They argued that they all stood to make a bit more money. It quickly escalated into insults and blows when the other two insisted on harvesting the two litres of blood that Mabhotshisa had ordered and getting rid of me. They feared Mabhotshisa and his sorcery and would not dare to cross him.
While they fought, I ran as fast as I could into the darkness.
I woke up in the hospital; in immense pain. I could not remember what had happened. Sis’ Pinkie and Sima broke down when the doctor said I was lucky to be alive. He said I had lost a lot of blood. I had been beaten, raped and stabbed.
I fell into a deep depression.
Months later, I felt a little better. I realized that being HIV positive had somehow “saved” me from Shuna and her friends. I vividly remember the day Gogo told me. I’d come home from school complaining about being too underweight to be a blood donor. I was in form one and really wanted the juice and biscuits that were given after donating. I was surprised when Gogo started crying.
She had to be wrong. I couldn’t have been born HIV positive. How would I explain it when I grew older? Who would believe me? Only people who slept around were supposed to get it.
Since honesty could not pay for anything, the situation demanded that I allow Sima to continue believing I’d been infected through the ordeal. He tended to whisper, promising to protect and take care of me when he thought I was asleep. He was my bridge to a better life.