Authors: Lauri Kubbuitsile
She looked at him coyly and said, “Maybe, maybe not.” They both laughed, knowing the truth of the matter.
At the Greek restaurant he told her all about the recording industry. “You know, I never could have started Mmino Productions without Mr Habib.”
“Are you trying to tell me you earned enough money at the takeaway to start your own company?” Mpho found it very difficult to believe, as she knew the kind of pay Mr Habib popped out each month end.
Thabang smiled his beautiful smile with dimples at the corners of his mouth, a smile she'd spent many hours of her teenage years thinking about. “No, Mr Habib gave me a loan when I came back from Cape Town. He had so much faith in me; I just couldn't let him down. He gave me the money and said I should pay it back whenever I could. It was amazing to have someone who believed in me like that. I was able to pay him off with interest after only eight months. It's something I'm very pleased about. I'm proud that Mr Habib trusted me and I'm proud that I could prove to be worthy of that trust.”
Mpho wondered what Thabang and Mr Habib had been talking about at Monate that day. Looking back on it, she wondered how someone who paid back a loan early and gave the person extra money even though he didn't ask for it could have stolen a song from his best friend. It didn't make sense to her.
Thabang told her all about his company. She could see his passion, the same passion she had for design and fashion. He talked about the trips he'd made to New York, London and Los Angeles, and about his new house in Houghton.
Mpho asked him why his mother still lived at No 78 when he had a big house in the suburbs.
“Ask her. I've begged her to move out of that place. That's why you've never seen me there. I told her if she wants to see me she must come to my house. I'm trying to get her to move in with me, but she won't. She says she'll move in when I have a wife and kids she can take care of. I think it has more to do with your mother than anything else. They've been friends for so long, my mom can't bear to leave her there alone.”
“It's not like MmaJakes is alone. Jakes and I are there, and Annabella and her son.”
“But you know, our mothers went through some rough times together, especially after your father died. Living in Hillbrow is no joke. Hard times bring people together.”
It was true. Aunty Koki and MmaJakes were good friends. Just like their mothers, Mpho and Thabang also had a lot in common. A shared past, a love for their family, a commitment to being successful. They could have been so wonderful together, Mpho thought as she pinned her patterns to the fabric.
She took out her cellphone and read his message again. She wanted so much to call and give him a chance to prove Jakes wrong, but she knew she couldn't. Her loyalty had to be with her family; with her brother, not Thabang. She put the cellphone in her bag and went back to her designs.
Mpho, MmaJakes, Johnny and Aunty Koki headed for Park Station in the faint grey of a new day. Mpho was working the early shift. She wanted to spend the entire afternoon on her designs.
The evening gown was proving to be a challenge. The leather she'd found for the bodice was not working. She should have been long done with the dress, which was only her first one. She had two more to do and was down to less than three weeks before the show. Mpho needed to put in some seriously long hours if she was going to finish on time. On top of that, she had promised Marika she would meet her to go shopping just after they knocked off. She wanted to renege, but her friend begged her to come with her. She needed a new outfit for a function at Ishmael's job.
They arrived at the place where MmaJakes and Aunty Koki set up their tables. Mpho put her bag down and unfolded the chairs she'd been carrying. “Is this okay, Mama?” she asked her mother.
“It's fine, my baby.”
Aunty Koki whispered to her friend though Mpho could hear her, “She's grown into such a respectful young woman.” MmaJakes smiled proudly.
“I need to go, Mama,” Mpho said.
“Go lokile, ngwanak'a. I'll see you later, my baby.” Just then Mpho caught a glimpse of a familiar silver Lexus coming down the road. Her heart quivered in her chest. She knew who it was and all she wanted now was to be away. The car pulled up at the kerb and Thabang jumped out. Mpho turned and headed quickly toward Monate, hoping he hadn't seen her.
“Mpho! Hey, wait! Mpho!” Thabang shouted. He rushed up to her and grabbed her by the shoulder since she was trying her best to ignore him. “Hey, where're you off to so fast? Didn't you hear me call you?”
Mpho couldn't stop her feelings, but she could control the words that came out of her mouth. “I'm late for work. I really need to go. Mr Habib doesn't like it when we come late.”
Thabang smiled. “I know all about that.” Then his smile disappeared as he said, “What's wrong? I've been trying to call you. I sent a few SMSs, but you never replied. What's up?”
“I don't know . . . I need to go . . .”
“No, I want to know. What's going on? I thought we had a great time the afternoon at the restaurant and the other day. I felt something and I thought you did too. I can't stop thinking about you. You can't just ignore that. At least I know
“I just think it's not going to work and we might as well end it now before . . . Well, before . . . we go too far.” Mpho didn't want to say before she fell in love with him because she was pretty sure she already had.
“No, that's not good enough. Why? Why end something that started so well? I don't get it. I told you I'm fine with waiting; I don't care that you're a virgin, I really don't. It was just a bit of a shock. Actually, I'm kind of impressed. I've never met someone so focused. I thought a beautiful woman like you would have had men chasing after you night and day. I was surprised, that's all. But I'm over it now. It's no big deal. I'm actually happy you have your goals and you stick to them. We're the same that way.”
He smiled and Mpho could feel her defences lowering. God, he was handsome! It was as if light radiated from his face when he smiled. She'd never known anyone else with a smile like Thabang Modise's. Compounding that, he was close enough for her to smell his aftershave. What was in that stuff? Some kind of mesmerising chemical that pushed women to say and do things they had no intention to?
Mpho turned her head away from him and took two gasps of fresh air, trying to rid the synapses in her brain of the aftershave and get her mind back on track. “I'm just too busy with school for all of this. I have the show in less than three weeks. I can't do this now . . . okay? Can't you understand that? Can't you respect that?”
Thabang seemed to relax. “Yes, I can respect that. I know it's very important to you and I certainly don't want to mess that up. Actually, that's part of why I'm so glad to see you. I need the services of a fashion designer. One of our artists, the jazz singer Chloe Adams, has been invited to a gig in Norway. She needs a dress and I immediately thought of you.”
“Well, I'm not actually a fashion designer yet.”
“Yeah, but you've got style.” Thabang made an exaggerated display of looking at her clothes. She was wearing a long black woollen dress with a leather sash at her waist and matching leather boots. “You look beautiful. This is what I want Chloe to look like.”
Mpho couldn't help but be excited at the chance of making a dress for an international jazz singer. “Yeah . . . okay. So how do we do this?”
“Could you come by my office today? Maybe around lunchtime? I'll get Chloe there so that you two can talk.”
Mpho remembered she'd promised Marika to help her go clothes shopping at lunch. “How about a bit later, about two?”
“That sounds fine.” Thabang handed her an expensive-looking engraved business card. “The physical address is on the back. We're in Auckland Park.”
“Okay, see you then.”
Only when Mpho was down the road and she could hear Thabang speaking with his mother did she finally exhale. She could do this, she told herself. She could be professional. She could go to his office and see his artist and design a dress. This was part of what she would do as a fashion designer. It didn't mean they were together, it didn't mean she would still hold on to her dreams of being with Thabang. That's not what it meant, it was only business. Business. But still she wondered why she was so excited and why she couldn't stop feeling his hand on her shoulder where he had touched her while they were talking.
* * *
Marika came out of the dressing room and for a moment Mpho didn't recognise her. “You've got to be kidding me,” she said. “You look like a supermodel.”
Her friend was wearing narrow-legged Levis tucked into high-heeled leather boots and a low-cut light-blue T-shirt with a camel-coloured short leather jacket. Her blonde hair was let loose from the usual band that held it back from her face and it draped over her shoulders.
Marika said shyly, “I look pretty good, heh?”
“You look incredible. Ishmael is going to go wild when he sees you. God, I can't believe how great you look! You have got to get rid of all of those Rustenburg farm clothes! This is definitely the look for you. Every hot guy in Joburg is going to be running after you.”
“Except the ones running after you,” Marika joked. She was looking at herself in the full-length mirror and smiling at her reflection. Mpho could see her gain confidence as she moved back and forth. That's what Mpho found so magical about clothes. They helped people to see who they could be. The right clothes gave a person confidence, and with confidence every problem became a challenge that only needed a little effort to overcome.
Marika sat down on the leather-covered bench next to Mpho. “I told Ishmael I wanted to wait to get married.”
“So what did he say?”
“He said fine, as long as he can meet my family. He just doesn't get it. He doesn't realise that as soon as he meets them, they'll take me away. I know that.” The Marika of a few moments ago was slipping away.
Mpho grabbed her friend by the hand and pulled her back to the mirror. “Look at that young woman.” Marika hesitantly raised her eyes. “That woman is not a child. She can make her own decisions. If you love an Indian man, then your parents must just accept that. I mean, this is the new South Africa; I don't even think it's legal to have those kinds of thoughts anymore. They could go to jail.”
Marika laughed. “Maybe . . .”
“I'm sure of it. You love Ishmael and he adores you, and one day you'll get married. Your family will just have to get used to it, no matter what their issues are.”
“Okay . . . yes . . . You're right. With this new me, I think I can do it. I think I can tell them the truth. I might even tell them I don't want to be an accountant.”
“Now you're on the right track,” Mpho encouraged her friend. Her cellphone rang and she looked down. It was an SMS from Thabang: Are you coming?
She checked the time and it was a quarter to two. “Oh damn, I'm late!”
“Late for what?”
“I thought you said it was over.”
Mpho was frantically gathering up her handbag and backpack. “It
over. I'm just meeting him in his office; it's business. I need to run. Buy everything you're wearing! You look fantastic. I'll call you later!”
Mpho ran out of the shop and into the mall. She weaved and dodged through the meandering hordes and managed to get a taxi as soon as she stepped out of the front doors. She checked her phone for the time. She'd be about fifteen minutes late if the taxi driver knew how to drive.
“Listen, I have an extra twenty rand if you can get me there as fast as possible.”
“No problem,” the taxi man said.
He must have really wanted that extra money because for most of the trip Mpho kept her eyes closed. Red traffic lights and hesitant pedestrians were no obstacles for this driver. He knew shortcuts she didn't even know existed. She nearly fell out of the taxi in relief just to be alive once they arrived. After paying him and making her way up to the top floor in the lift, she realised she would end up being only ten minutes late. Still very unprofessional. She felt terrible about that.
The doors opened to walls of windows, stainless-steel fixtures and red-and-blue geometric print carpeting. It was an office that screamed success: new, young, funky success. A young Xhosa woman with a helpful face sat at the reception desk. “Are you Ms Kgosiemang?”
Mpho hesitated. She wasn't usually referred to as Ms Kgosiemang. “Yes . . . yes, I am.”
“Mr Modise is waiting for you. You can go through. His office is the last door on the left.”
Mpho headed down the passage. She could hear music coming from some of the doors. She wondered if the recording studios were here as well. She knocked on the heavy oak door at the end. “Tsena!” she heard from behind it.
She opened and found Thabang and a woman sitting on sofas in the corner of the spacious office.
“Oh, Mpho, you're here,” Thabang said, coming towards her. He took her hand and led her to the woman. “Chloe, this is the talented young fashion designer I told you about, Mpho Kgosiemang.”
“Lovely to meet you,” Chloe Adams said in a deep, rich tenor.
Mpho could see that the singer cared little for clothes. She wore a plain black skirt and a black T-shirt with a red jacket over it. Her hair was plaited into thin corn rows Mpho suspected were more for convenience than looks. She was large, but not fat. Somewhere under the bulky clothes a curvaceous figure was hidden. Mpho already had some ideas of where to go for a dress to pull that sensual woman out of her shell of clothes.
“I have to attend to a few things with my secretary. I'll leave you two alone to talk,” Thabang said and left the office.
The women sat back on the sofas. It was a corner of the office with two walls of windows looking out over Joburg.
“Gosh, this is beautiful. I doubt I'd get any work done in an office like this,” Mpho said.
“I thought the same thing the first time I came here. So, Thabang says that you two are dating,” Chloe said.
Mpho was taken aback. Are two dates considered dating nowadays? She was annoyed that Thabang could be so free with information about her. “Well, I don't know if I'd say that,” she said.
“Why? He's beautiful, both inside and out. You caught one of the good ones.”
“People only let us see the side they want us to know. Most people are very complex, and Thabang is no exception.” Mpho didn't like the way the conversation was going, she could feel herself getting angry at this man's assumptions about them, so she quickly changed the subject. “Well, then, what are you thinking of for the dress?”
“As you've probably noticed, I don't have much of a clue when it comes to fashion. Mostly I just try to look tidy. I was hoping you'd be able to help. I want to look chic and maybe a bit sexy . . . If that's possible.”
Mpho laughed. “That definitely is possible. Okay, yeah, I think I have some ideas.” She took out a few drawings that she'd brought with and explained how they could be adapted to get the effect that might work for Chloe: smooth, sexy, jazzy. She also had some fabric samples in her bag. They soon agreed on what to do for the dress and Mpho took out her tape measure and wrote down Chloe's measurements. “By when do you need the dress?”
“Not until the month after next, actually. I thought Thabang was in a bit of a hurry when he called me this morning, but this is my first international gig so I thought he knew better.”
Two months, Mpho thought. Now she knew what this was all about. It was not about a dress or a fashion-challenged jazz singer â this was about Thabang getting her to his office.
He walked back through the door just as Mpho's annoyance came to a boil. Chloe stood up. “Okay then, thanks, Thabang. Ke a sepela. I need to get across town; I'm meeting up with the band for a rehearsal. Mpho, fantastic to meet you. Can't wait to see the dress.”
She left and Mpho finished packing up her bags, determined not to give Thabang a chance to move the meeting from business to personal.
“Sounds like the meeting was productive.” He reached for the tape measure on the table, trying to help Mpho pack her things.
“I'll get that myself,” Mpho said curtly.
Thabang raised his hands jokingly. “Okay, sorry. What happened here?”
Mpho put her bags on the sofa and then looked up. “What happened is that I was brought here under false pretences.”
“False pretences? I don't understand.”
“The event isn't for two months, so why did you need me here today?”