By Ayanda Xaba, South Africa:
I quickly bath and just as I finish, Bheki comes in with a dress and a pair of shoes. He apologizes, puts the clothes on the bed and leaves quickly. I’m sure he is apologizing because he walked in on me undressed, which makes me wonder about some things. I’m starting to think this is a dream, why would he be so nice? I take the dress and fit it. It's a perfect fit and perfect colour too; floral print with shades of pink and purple and white. The shoes are white sandals just a size bigger, but they fit.
I haven’t looked this good since I came back from university. I decide to nicely comb my hair to match the outfit.
“Wish I had a lipstick, a pink one, damn I’d look good,” I find myself thinking out loud. I guess the excitement really got to me. I feel like a little child who just got candy.
“Okay next time I’ll know,” Bheki’s speaks from behind me. I turn and find him looking at me with no expression. I’m disappointed; I expected him to at least smile at the new me but then again he knew me before I became a ghost and he watched me turn into a ghost because of him. My smile disappears.
“It's my birthday, come eat with us,” he says, still expressionless.
I don’t want to eat with his family; I don’t want to celebrate his birthday. I feel so used, I don’t even know the date, and my mood suddenly turns sour.
“Come,” he insists.
Having been immobile for a while, he roughly grabs my hand. He smells nice, and looks rather clean today but it doesn’t excuse his rudeness and coldness. I follow him out of the hut; it is the first time I’m getting out and a chance to see the type of homestead I’m in. I could visualise an escape plan, maybe this birthday will be my way out after all.
As I look around I notice the gate is not too far from my hut, the main house is just a few feet away from the gate on the other end of the yard. No wonder I hear the villagers clearly from inside my hut, they walk just next to it. The yard is clean, there is a cattle kraal at the far back of the main house which I have seen from my home. Home is a bit far from the Ndebeles, my in laws, but I can walk till I get there.
Before I can imagine the journey; we enter the house and find a lot of people who start ululating as soon as I walk in. I’m shocked! This looks like a big dinner, even distant relatives are here, what an important birthday it must be. I notice Zama smiling at the back of the room. Her hair is tied in a neat ponytail with a pink ribbon, wearing a yellow dress that is just making her look even more beautiful. I notice Bheki’s mother standing at the kitchen entrance looking as cold as her son, as usual. She is the only face without a smile, even Bheki is smiling because of all the ululation happening. I give a shy smile and quickly sit next to Zama.
“Beautiful,” she whispers and I smile.
I still don’t know how to act around so many people. They are busy telling Bheki how lucky he is to have such a beautiful wife.
I turn to Zama; “Bheki’s birthday?”
She nods and adds “…and your engagement celebration, everyone is here,” she smiles and pats my shoulder.
I feel my stomach turn, the fake smile disappears and I remember I wanted to plan my escape. There is no way I’m marrying this guy, no way!
The food was nice even though I couldn’t eat much. My stomach has been empty for too long, it couldn't handle a lot of food. I rinse my hands then dry them lightly with the dishcloth in front of me. Zama and I have been washing dishes with their oldest sister staring at us like a hawk. I think she was supposed to help us with the dishes but what can I say? Zama is 18 years old and doing matric in the high school in town. She told me a lot of things about herself and her family while we were washing dishes. Bheki is the only boy with two sisters younger than him, Zama and Ntombenhle, then the eldest sister, Malibongwe, who is with us here. Ntombenhle is at university in the city studying safety and security. Malibongwe is married and is a housewife at a nearby village with three sons; first boy is my age, second one Zama’s age then the last born is 15; they are all in high school. Mr Ndebele, their father, passed away when Zama was five so she doesn’t know much about his death. This could all be interesting but I didn't care about their family history.
“I’ll just quickly go to the ladies,” I say to Zama and make my way to the door. She nods and continues packing dishes.
“Where do you think you’re going?” Malibongwe shouts as I open the door.
I pause then turn to face her. I reply softly; “to the toilet, if that’s okay with you”.
“You don’t just walk in and out as you please, you can’t leave this house alone,” I don’t think Malibongwe can ever not shout, she always speaks so loudly.
“Sister please,” Zama says shaking her head, “can’t she have a bit of privacy? Come on”.
Malibongwe calms down and let me walk out. There is nobody outside; this is it! I can finally go home. I check again, there is no one, I run towards the gate with all the energy I have.
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