Authors: Lauri Kubbuitsile
Mpho peeked her head out just as the loud rip echoed through the hall. It was followed by a shocked exclamation from the crowd and Mpho knew something terrible had happened. Annabella nearly ran the last metre of the runway. She dashed through the curtain and then Marika went on stage.
Everything happened so quickly that it took Mpho a second to get her bearings. Something had gone terribly wrong. She rushed to Annabella to assess the damage. It was bad. The jacket had torn down the back but not on the seam. Mpho felt sick to her stomach. It could never be fixed perfectly. She'd only be able to patch it up enough to get through the next evening's show.
Annabella had quickly taken off the clothes and sat slumped in a chair, crying. “I'm so sorry, Mpho. I knew I couldn't do this. I knew I'd mess it up. I mess up everything . . . Look what I've done!”
Mpho put the jacket down and went to her cousin. “It wasn't your fault. It was mine, and mine only. I messed up the alterations. It's nothing; I'll fix it tonight and everything will be fine tomorrow. You did great.”
Annabella looked up. “Did I? Did I really, Mpho?”
“Of course! Besides, that showed you how well you cope under pressure. The jacket ripped and you just continued. You didn't fall apart. Now you're ready for anything they can throw at you tomorrow.”
Annabella thought about it a little more and then smiled. “Yes, Mpho, you're right. Now there's nothing to be nervous about for tomorrow.”
Koketso and Marika crowded around them. Mpho turned to them. “Now, ladies, get out of my clothes and go home. I want you all to get a good night's sleep. I want you looking nothing less than absolutely fabulous at tomorrow evening's show!”
* * *
After her models had gone Mpho sat down at the sewing machine, trying to sort out the jacket. It would be difficult to make it look right but she was prepared to stay up all night if she had to. Luckily the pattern on the jacket could hide the seam she'd have to make. There was a dark brown line running through the pattern. Mpho used the same colour thread to fix the tear. She wanted the seam along the tear to look like the brown line in the pattern of the cloth. She was pretty sure that from a distance no one would notice the difference.
She didn't hear the door open over the noise of the sewing machine but suddenly she smelled the familiar scent and looked up to see Thabang standing there. “What are you doing here?” she asked, not at all kindly.
“Mr Habib told me I might find you here. He said you had the day off because of your dress rehearsal for the graduate show.”
Mpho started the machine again. “I'm really very busy right now. Besides, I don't think we have anything to talk about.”
Thabang covered her hand with his. She let up on the pedal of the sewing machine and it ground to a halt. Just his hand touching her was enough to get her all mixed up again. What was it with the way this man touched her? She didn't need this now. She pulled her hand away.
“I think I understand everything now after what happened at No 78,” Thabang started.
“Yeah . . . Me too.” Mpho got angry again when she thought about his reaction.
“You don't understand, and neither does Jakes. I never stole that song.”
“So are you saying it was Jakes's imagination that he wrote it? That he's lost track of reality?” The audacity of this man! Was he calling her brother a liar now?
“No, that's not what I mean. I bought that song from someone. The person told me it was his. I never knew he was lying.”
Mpho was so confused that she didn't know what to believe. “Maybe, but again it's just your word against Jakes. I'm sorry, I believe my brother.”
“But what if I brought the man to you, if he told you what happened . . . Would it be enough to convince you, enough for us to get back together? I'm going crazy not being able to be with you, Mpho.”
Thabang came around to the other side of the sewing machine and pulled her to her feet. “I need you to believe me. I'm not that kind of a man. I'm not who you've been thinking I am.”
Mpho pushed away from him. “No!” she shouted more to herself than anyone. “No, I can't do this again! Maybe . . . I don't know . . . I don't know anything right now. Besides, even if what you say is true, we still have other problems. You being here and causing all of this stress when you know the graduate show is tomorrow is another problem. I can't be with someone who has so little respect for my work. You want a wife; you want a woman whose entire life revolves around you. I'm not that woman. Even if it is true that you didn't steal
from Jakes, that's not the end of our problems.”
Mpho sat back down at the sewing machine. “I have a long night ahead of me. Please leave now.”
Thabang said nothing more. She watched him walk out the door and told herself it meant nothing. She told herself he meant nothing to her, even though her whole body knew it was a lie.
There are certain days in a person's life, days that are turning points. Mpho lay in bed listening to the traffic noises outside her window, the noise of people rushing to work, taxis hooting for customers, people talking in the rich fabric of languages South Africa held â Xhosa, Zulu, Sepedi, Afrikaans.
The day was starting. A day full of secrets yet to be revealed. When it came to a close, Mpho knew this stage of her life would be over; one way or another, the graduate show would be the decider. Her future hinged on what happened there but no matter what â the next time she woke up in her bed hearing these familiar morning sounds she would have moved on to a new part of her life.
She couldn't deny that she was scared. She was frightened of what would happen, how her designs would be received. But she was also buzzing with excitement. She could feel her pulse race and she realised all of her work, all of her dreams were coming to fruition. After tonight she would be defined by a different tag. She would no longer be a student, a worker at Monate Takeaways, a young Joburg woman trying to make her way. From tonight, everybody would know her as Mpho Kgosiemang, the fashion designer.
All her dreams were coming true, except the one she'd been holding on to so tightly for so very long. The dream where Thabang and she looked each other in the eyes and knew their love was forever. The dream where they walked together into the world, hand in hand, a team conquering all problems, creating a life of purpose and love. Mpho knew tonight was the night dreams might be coming true for her but she also accepted her Thabang dream was not going to be one of them.
“Time to get this day started,” she said out loud to herself.
* * *
She collected Annabella from the dry-cleaners on her way to the hall. Marika would arrive with Ishmael and Koketso said they'd find her there as she intended to spend the day studying for her final exams â in horticulture, of all things. Mpho had difficulty seeing Koketso poking around maize fields, but who was she to judge?
“So how are you feeling?” Mpho asked her cousin who almost looked her normal self.
Annabella smiled. “You know what? You were right. As soon as the worst happened, all of my nervousness disappeared. I'm fine.”
“Great. You know, I'm feeling surprisingly calm too. I hope it holds out.”
* * *
They arrived at the hall and stepped into chaos. Half-dressed models were everywhere. Designers who had been running on buckets of caffeine and little sleep for the past two months jittered about, nipping here and tucking there. Ms Bennet pranced through the dressing room every few minutes announcing the time. “Ten minutes, people,” she'd sung on her last little trip through.
Mpho was ready. The jacket of the two-piece was nearly perfect. She'd let out the shoulders, so now it fitted Annabella exactly. Luckily the complicated pattern on the African print hid the mending job at the back; even up close it was difficult to see. The funky and fun two-piece seemed to be made for her cousin, and finally Annabella's nerves had receded and her real personality was in control. She would do fine.
Marika put her arm around Mpho. “This is it, buddy. Everyone is going to see how talented you are.”
“You think so? You think they'll like them?” Mpho asked, suddenly uncertain.
“Are you kidding me? Absolutely.”
Mpho could hear the auditorium filling up with people. The graduate design show was quite popular with fellow students but also with the fashion community in Johannesburg. It was the place to see what the future of South African fashion looked like. The media always covered it well too.
“Two minutes to show time,” Ms Bennet announced.
Piet stood at the edge of the curtain. “Mpho,” he whispered, motioning for her to come and look. She went over to him and slipped her face around the heavy curtain. “Second row, twelve o'clock.”
Mpho looked out. She saw a serious-faced black woman in the seat Piet indicated. She wore glasses with massive frames and held a notepad and pen. Mpho assumed she was a journalist. “Yeah? So?” Mpho looked at Piet, confused.
“Stoned Cherrie. She's your girl.” Piet knew how much Mpho adored that fashion house.
“No!” Mpho took another look.
“Yes,” Piet said. “Now, you go and impress the shit out of her!”
Mpho took a third look. The woman didn't appear like someone who would be easily impressed but you never knew.
* * *
As the show continued, Mpho increasingly thought that going last was not the best idea. All she wanted now was for her turn to come. She looked around the edge of the curtain. The Stoned Cherrie woman was writing in her notepad. She looked up at the white silk evening gown on stage and then looked away as if it held no interest for her.
Piet's designs were next and Mpho had to get ready but just before she went back behind the curtain something caught her eye. Near the back she spotted Thabang standing. It was a full house and he was nearly lost in the crowd. What did he want here? He was dressed in a white polo neck, black jeans and a knee-length leather coat. His dreadlocks were loose around his face. No matter what, Mpho could not deny that Thabang was a beautiful man.
Next to him was a tall, attractive woman. Thabang said something into her ear. She smiled up at him. He certainly didn't waste any time, Mpho thought. But what did he want to come here for? To show off his new girlfriend? Why couldn't he take her somewhere else? Damn him, she decided and rushed away from the stage just as Piet's music,
Achy Breaky Heart
, poured out of the speakers.
Ms Bennet's voice boomed, “Our next designer . . . Piet January!”
Mpho went back to get her models ready. Annabella took one look at her and knew something was wrong. “What happened?”
“Nothing,” Mpho lied.
Marika joined forces with Annabella. “What is it?”
“Okay . . . okay. Thabang is here . . . with another woman.” Mpho took a deep breath. She would not cry. Her models were about to go on stage and she would not break down.
“Good,” Annabella said, putting her arm around Mpho's shoulder. “Let that man see how talented you are. Who cares about Thabang Modise anyway?”
Marika put her arm around Mpho's other shoulder. “Yeah! Who cares about Thabang Modise anyway?”
Bolstered by her friends, Mpho shouted, “No one. No one cares about Thabang Modise! Now . . . let's go kick some butt!”
* * *
Piet went out on the stage with his models and took a bow as
Achy Breaky Heart
faded away and up came the strong bass kwaito beat of the Trompies hit song
. “Our next and last designer of tonight . . . Mpho Kgosiemang!”
Koketso walked out onto the runway in the shweshwe cocktail dress and the crowd applauded. Mpho smiled back at Annabella who gave her a thumbs-up. Then she looked in the direction of the Stoned Cherrie woman whose face remained serious. She watched Koketso but wrote nothing on her notepad. Mpho's mood dampened.
Koketso came back and Annabella was gone. She walked with confidence. The beaded belt glittered under the lights, the tails of the jacket flowed behind her. Mpho couldn't stop her eyes from drifting to Thabang at the back. He had his arm leaning on the wall behind his woman. He was bent down talking to her again. He wasn't even looking in the direction of the stage. Why did he bother to come, Mpho thought angrily. Just to make sure she could see he was over her? To gloat over the fact that he had many women to choose from? So what? Mpho couldn't care less.
Annabella came back. “I did it, I did it!” she whispered to Mpho who stood near the edge of the stage out of view of the audience.
As soon as Marika walked onto the stage, Mpho heard a murmur of excitement. The audience applauded. Mpho could see they liked the dress. The fabric of the skirt flowed behind Marika as she walked. The leather bodice with the black lace on the edge transformed the Rustenburg farm girl into a hot Joburg babe. It was the dress every woman in the audience wished she could wear and every man in the audience wished his woman would wear for him. Mpho looked for the Stoned Cherrie woman in the sea of excited bodies and found her sitting calmly writing in her notepad.
Marika came back and then Mpho and all three models went on stage. Mpho looked out and saw her mother and Jakes and Johnny clapping and smiling. She couldn't help but look in Thabang's direction. Even from such a distance, she could see he looked directly at her. He was clapping. For a moment she thought he looked proud of her but then Thabang and his woman turned and pushed through the crowd towards the exit.
* * *
“Fantastic job, people!” Ms Bennet said over the noise. “Get sorted out and we'll see you all at the after-show party.”
“Was it everything you dreamed it would be?” Marika asked excitedly.
Mpho felt like she was floating on a cloud. The show had gone better than she ever imagined it would. Even Ms Bennet congratulated her and the crowd was buzzing about her designs.
“It was great,” Mpho said to her friend. “I'm so happy.”
“Excuse me.” Mpho looked behind her to see who was speaking and saw the serious-faced Stoned Cherrie lady. “Excuse me, are you Mpho Kgosiemang?”
Mpho took a deep breath. “Yes, I am.”
“Hi, I'm Debra Buthelezi from Stoned Cherrie.” Mpho couldn't believe this was happening. Was she going to be offered a job? “I wanted to give you my business card. Great show this year.”
Mpho took the card with a shaking hand.
Before Mpho could respond, Ms Buthelezi moved on to the next person. “Are you one of the designers? I just wanted to give you my business card,” Mpho heard her say behind her back. The woman was giving her card to all of the design students. Mpho looked down and couldn't hide her disappointment.
When she looked up she realised things were only going to get worse. Thabang was coming through the back door and behind him was his date. “Hi, Mpho!” he said after pushing through the crowd to get to her.
“Thabang,” she said, trying to be calm. The woman pushed through and stood next to Thabang but then another man came out of the crowd and stood next to the woman. He looked familiar, although Mpho couldn't quite place him. He wore baggy jeans and the battered jacket of a gangster type; she thought he might be a customer at Monate.
“Your outfits stole the show. You are really talented,” Thabang said, obviously impressed.
Mpho could see that he was being sincere. “Thanks, that means a lot.”
“Sorry . . . I'm being rude not making introductions. Mpho, this is one of our accountants at Mmino Productions, Xoliswa Dube.”
The attractive woman held out her hand. “Thabang is always talking about you. Your dresses were fabulous. I think you're heading for a bright career.”
Mpho shook her hand while trying to sort out all of the emotions she was feeling.
“And of course you know Bongani . . .” Thabang said, indicating the man standing next to the woman who Mpho was beginning to realise was not Thabang's date.
Yes, Mpho thought. That was who it was â Bongani! Bongani from the band! “Gosh, I hardly recognised you,” she said.
“Me neither. You certainly have changed,” Bongani said and shyly shook her hand.
“Great to see all of you and I'm glad you made it to the show but I need to get going to the after party. They'll be waiting for me.” It wasn't exactly true but Mpho wanted to get away before things got too complicated. She had enough emotions pulsing through her for one night and Thabang was standing in front of her looking so sexy . . . She needed to get away quickly.
“Wait . . .” Thabang blurted. “I brought these two here for a reason. Just take a minute . . . please . . . to listen.”
Mpho stopped but said nothing. Thabang looked at Bongani, who looked down and then to both sides, as if in search of a way to escape. “Bongani . . . Come on, man,” Thabang said.
“Okay . . . okay . . . Yeah, Thabang says that there's some mix-up about
. I . . . Okay, listen . . . I needed money, then I sold the song to Thabang. I told him it was mine.”
Mpho didn't want this now. She looked at Thabang. “Okay fine, so you found Bongani and you asked him to come and say that. It doesn't prove anything. I really don't have time for this now. I need to go . . .” Mpho tried to leave but Thabang held her by the shoulder.
“I thought you might say that. That's why I brought Xoliswa. She's been my accountant since we started Mmino.”
Xoliswa reached in her handbag and pulled out an empty chequebook. She paged through the carbon copies of the cheques until she found what she wanted to show Mpho. Mpho took the chequebook in her hand. It was a cheque dated two years before and it was made out to Bongani for an amount of thirty-five thousand rand. At the bottom was written “Full payment for rights to song
Mpho held the chequebook for some moments. She couldn't believe it! Jakes had been wrong after all. Thabang hadn't stolen anything; Bongani had. Mpho handed the chequebook back to Xoliswa.
“I'm sorry, Mpho,” Bongani said. “Please tell Jakes how sorry I am. I was stupid and I needed money because I was in a jam.” Mpho looked up at him and nodded.
Xoliswa put the chequebook in her bag. “I should go. Again, great show. And good luck.”
Suddenly Bongani and Xoliswa were gone and though the crowd was all around them, Mpho felt alone with Thabang.
“Mpho, I'm learning how to be a good partner. I know I've said things that made me seem old-fashioned but honestly, I can see the passion that you have for your designs. How could I deny South Africa someone as talented as you? This is where you belong, here in the fashion world. It's obvious to me now. I promise I will adapt to the twenty-first century if you agree to give me another chance.”