Authors: Lauri Kubbuitsile
“Did you girls have a nice time last night?” MmaJakes asked from the stove where she was stirring soft porridge.
When Mpho got home from Gold Reef City, she found Annabella on her way out to the Chameleon Club. “Come with me,” her cousin begged.
But Mpho was in no mood to party. She'd wasted a whole day with Thabang that she should have used to work on her designs. She had a lovely time, mostly, but she felt bad about what had happened. She didn't want to be the problem between them, though at the same time she wasn't willing to compromise, not now when she was so near to achieving her goal.
She needed to get her priorities back in order and be serious about the graduate show. Thabang could wait. And meanwhile he also needed to make a few adjustments. If they were ever going to be together, Thabang needed to change his outmoded way of thinking. He needed to come out of the caveman age and into modern society. Mpho knew she could never be with a man who acted like her brother. She was not climbing out of one frying pan just to fall into the next one. No, that was not going to happen.
“Come on, Mpho. I can see you need a bit of fun. God knows, I do too. Mrs Smith was all over me today. âAnnabella, do this' and âAnnabella, do that'. Come on, let's go and party.”
Mpho reluctantly agreed. But as they entered the club, Annabella's ex-boyfriend, Johnny's father, was just leaving with another woman. Annabella was furious, even though they'd broken up long ago. She subsequently drank too much and got a bit crazy and they came home far too late.
“Sure we had fun, Mama,” Mpho answered her mother while pouring hot water over the tea bag in her mug. She sat down at the table next to Johnny who was pushing the last few spoons of porridge around in his bowl. MmaJakes had a strict “Don't leave the table until your bowl is empty” policy. Mpho knew the stress it caused for a small stomach when her mom heaped bowls with porridge as if the person was going to be without food for days. She made sure the old lady was facing the other way, then leaned down and quickly scooped the last bit of porridge from Johnny's dish into her mouth. The boy smiled up at his aunt.
He picked the bowl up and walked to MmaJakes. “Finished!” he proclaimed.
MmaJakes gave her daughter a knowing look and said, “Okay, you can go and play.”
Johnny nearly walked into his half-awake and hung-over mother as she made her way to the kitchen in search of coffee. “Morning, my boy,” she croaked.
“Hi, Mommy!” he yelled into her face when she bent down to kiss him. Then he was gone.
“Eish, my head. Anybody have some Grand-Pa?” Annabella asked.
“In the cupboard there near the sink,” MmaJakes directed with a stern face. She didn't like drinking. “Look at your cousin there; Mpho doesn't have a headache. Why? Because she's a good churchgoing girl who doesn't drink. You should really take a page from Mpho, my girl.”
Annabella dumped the white powder on her tongue and gulped down a glass of water. Making herself a strong cup of coffee, she ignored MmaJakes and sat down next to her cousin at the table. Mpho smiled at her. MmaJakes wouldn't have been too happy seeing me drink wine with Thabang at the Greek restaurant the other day, she thought. Just then her cellphone rang. She looked at the screen and saw Thabang's name on it. Mpho smiled and got up to go and talk in private. She passed Jakes on her way out of the kitchen.
“Who's she so secretive about?” her brother asked, giving their mother a peck on the cheek before making himself some tea.
“I'm just the mother, so I'll be the last to know,” MmaJakes answered.
Jakes gave Annabella a probing look and she quickly became interested in her coffee.
A few minutes later Mpho came back and sat down at the table. She couldn't hide the smile on her face.
“So what's that all about?” Jakes asked.
“What?” Mpho hoped pretending ignorance would put him off.
“You know what. The secret call.”
“I don't get how you think you have the right to know everything about my life, Jakes. I'm an adult, you know. And besides, you're not my father.” Mpho got up to get some bread and peanut butter. She hoped Jakes would be put off by her taking a hard line.
“Why are you being so defensive? There must be something going on.” Her brother was not going to give up that easily.
MmaJakes sat down at the table with two bowls of porridge. She set one in front of Annabella. “Eat that; it will be good for you.” Annabella's only response was a soft moan. She knew the rules about food. She'd just been sentenced for her crime.
Mpho sat down and busied herself with spreading her bread and ignoring her brother.
“So?” MmaJakes asked. Ignoring her mother would not be so easy.
Mpho let a few heavy minutes pass without looking up. She could feel six anticipating eyes on her. “I was talking to Thabang Modise,” she whispered to her peanut butter sandwich, hoping it might be the only one who heard.
The silence that followed gave Mpho the impression that all would be fine. But that was a mistake, a big one.
“Why would Thabang Modise be calling you?” Jakes asked.
“Because we went out on a date. Actually, a couple now.” Mpho looked up and tried to put on an indignant face that under her brother's ferocious stare melted into something close to a plea to be left alone. MmaJakes clicked her tongue and slapped her hands together as if all was lost.
Mpho couldn't understand her family's reaction. She looked at Annabella, hoping for some help, but her I-told-you-so eyes offered no comfort.
“You went on a date with Thabang Modise yesterday? I thought you were at school?” Jakes asked, sounding like the prosecutor in a murder case. His voice rose with suppressed emotion.
Mpho got to her feet. She needed some space between herself and them. Distance would help her get her footing, or so she thought. “Listen, he told me the whole story about the band's break-up. I don't think it's such a big deal. Actually, I think you should get over it, Jakes. Move on with your life the way Thabang has.”
Her brother's face hardened. Mpho could see he was furious. MmaJakes looked away. She couldn't bear to see her children argue. “Please,” she said weakly. “Please don't fight over this. Young people make mistakes, Jakes. Thabang made a mistake. We need to forgive him now, ngwanak'a. He was just a child.”
In many ways, Thabang was as much MmaJakes's son as Jakes was. Aunty Koki was her friend from before the time either of them had children. They'd raised their children together. They spent most their days together selling cellphone units and sweets at Park Station. They were well aware of the conflict between their sons but did not allow it to interfere with their love for each other.
Jakes ignored his mother. “No big deal? No big deal?” he hissed at Mpho. “Do you even know what you're talking about?” He ran his hands over his head in frustration. “That man is a thief, nothing more than a common criminal. He's driving a stolen car and he owns a stolen company. He paid for his house with stolen money.” Jakes's voice was getting louder and louder. He was now on his feet, his body tense with emotion, his hands balled at his sides.
Mpho didn't understand how the band's break-up over a disagreement about a recording contract could be described as stealing. She didn't understand why her brother was getting so angry after all of this time. She'd never seen him this upset before. “What are you talking about, Jakes? You're not making any sense.”
“I'm talking about
! The song that launched the success of Mmino Productions. That's my song, not his!” He pounded his hand against his chest with such force that the sound echoed around the small kitchen. “I wrote that song! Not him! He stole it and gave it to Lerumo, and now he prances around like he's some big shot! He's a thief and I don't ever want to hear that you've gone near him again! You hear me? Never!”
Her brother stood glaring at her for a moment, his breathing coming rough and his eyes bulging, and then he turned and stormed out of the house, slamming the door behind him.
MmaJakes began to cry. Annabella patted her on the back. “It'll be fine, Mama. Please don't cry.”
Mpho stood frozen with shock, wondering how she could have been so wrong about someone. Jakes was right; Thabang was nothing more than a common thief. How could she have let Thabang dupe her into believing that he was one of the good guys? How could she have fallen in love with a man who'd stolen from her own family? She felt like a traitor, and more than that, she felt like a fool.
* * *
Marika sat across from Mpho at the cafÃ© across the street from the college. It had been two days since Jakes told Mpho the truth about Thabang. She immediately stopped answering his calls. She didn't want to see Thabang, never again if possible. She was furious that he'd lied to her. She'd given him the opportunity to tell the truth, but he chose to lie.
If he couldn't be trusted with that, how could Mpho trust that he would change? That he would respect her dreams, her career and her choices? She couldn't. She couldn't trust Thabang at all.
“I don't believe it â and anyway, you've only heard Jakes's side of the story. I'm sure Thabang has an explanation. You need to give him a chance,” Marika said. She took a sip of her cappuccino and then a big bite of the blueberry muffin she'd ordered. A berry fell on her grey cardigan.
Mpho kept quiet. Maybe the berry would stain and give the hideous thing her friend was wearing some much-needed colour. Mpho made a mental note to take Marika to the shops after their next pay cheque. She might even go over to the flat where her friend now basically lived with Ishmael and steal some of the ugliest pieces in her closet and burn them. Sitting across from that cardigan physically hurt her eyes.
“What could he say that would make anything better? He's a thief. I'm done with him, full stop.” Mpho poured the last bit of Five Roses into her cup. She needed more caffeine to work on her designs for the next five hours. She had finally decided what her three outfits would be. She was going to use the fabric she got from Annabella to make her show-stopper, a floor-length gown with a Chinese collar, leather-laced bodice and flowing full skirt. It was going to be fabulous, she just knew it.
Mpho was also doing a trouser outfit with an African print jacket with tails and the trousers with the beaded waistband she had found. The last piece was a short strapless cocktail dress made from blue shweshwe fabric with a triple-tiered ruffle at the bottom and a flowing silk ribbon along the top of the bodice. She knew her designs were strong, so now it was a matter of doing the work and getting the pieces together. She had just over three weeks, which seemed far too short. The pressure was mounting and this whole Thabang thing was distracting her from the all-important graduate show and that was making her furious.
Marika looked at her friend. “I don't think you're being honest. Your head might be done with him but your heart isn't. What about following your heart? What happened to that?”
“Well, my heart had better sort itself out. My brain knows the truth: Thabang Modise is a thief. And besides, even if I was to ignore that very big elephant in the room, what about Jakes? I've never seen him so angry. He might kill me if I continued dating Thabang. I want a long and fruitful life, thank you very much. And even without the whole Jakes thing, Thabang doesn't respect my career, despite what he says. I can already see he is far too big on the whole caveman role. And he's not too keen on the fact that I've chosen to stay a virgin. No, it's better for me to be done with this guy. Who said there's only one person for each of us? I never believed that anyway. There are plenty of men out there . . . Plenty.”
“It sounds like you've worked hard on your list of reasons why Thabang Modise is the wrong man for you,” Marika said. “I still think you should give him a chance to give you his side of the story.”
“I don't need that. It is over between him and me.”
As if on cue, Mpho's cellphone bleeped. Both she and Marika looked at the screen. It was a message from Thabang. Mpho scrolled down to the message and turned to let Marika see it:
What happened? Need to see you. When can we meet?
“How about never,” Mpho said to the phone and then threw it in her handbag.
Marika frowned. “I think you're being too harsh. Please just give him a chance.”
Mpho looked at the time. “I need to get back to sewing. See you tomorrow at work.”
* * *
Mpho decided to start with the evening gown. She wanted it perfect, no last-minute dashing to get it ready in time. She loved the silky feel of the cloth and held it against her face. Even though she didn't want her mind to go there, it reminded her of the silky feel of Thabang's lips at the Greek restaurant. She closed her eyes and thought of that perfect day.
She hadn't had any serious boyfriends before, just dates here and there. Mpho was always busy with school and the men she met nowadays didn't ignite anything in her. Going out with one of them was just a way to entertain herself, nothing more. But Thabang was different. Maybe she'd always loved him and that kiss just reminded her of how strong her feelings were, emotions that had aged and matured and strengthened without her realising it. Her experience at Gold Reef City just confirmed it. Marika was right; her heart couldn't let him go. It was holding onto him with a vicelike grip.
She kept replaying her time with him over and over in her mind. Their first date was like something from a fairy tale. In his car on the way to the restaurant he played all the old songs they used to love, all the early kwaito the band used to do covers of: TKZ, Arthur, Boom Shaka. It brought back Mpho's memories of being with the band. How she used to idolise them, especially Thabang! She followed him around like a loyal puppy, waiting for any bit of attention he might give her. Thabang joked about how she used to be their general “errand boy”. “Bongani always teased me, saying you had a crush on me. Did you?” he asked with that naughty glint in his eye.