For the Love of the Game (Finale)
By Ayanda Xaba, South Africa
Thabo is helping Zitha get ready to leave hospital after demanding to be discharged early. She insisted on booking herself into a rehabilitation center as soon as possible. This came as a relief to her friends who were still choosing their conversations about drugs carefully as if walking on egg shells. As she did the last time she was hospitalised for a drug overdose, Zitha was the one who broke the ice and admitted that she is an addict and needs help. Thabo admires her boldness, but is also scared that leaving the hospital so soon might be detrimental to her recovery. Everybody knows Zitha does whatever Zitha wants whenever Zitha wants to. So all they could do is offer her the support and love she needs. Another pressing issue that has is being carefully avoided;
“Zee, we need to inform your family” Thabo says softly as he helps Zitha put her shoes on. He had to go to the nearest store he could find and get sneakers for Zitha who was taken to hospital wearing heels. He could’ve bought a pair of slippers but his athletic mind only saw sneakers when he entered the shop, for which he got a good scolding from Zitha.
Zitha looks at him carefully before responding; “I’m scared.”
“I haven’t spoken to them in years”
“Why?” This time Thabo is looking at her concerned face.
“I ran away from home”
“I heard a loud bang neh, and it felt like a huge rock had hit my head…”
Sibongile interrupts; “The huge rock was your head hitting the window”
“You guys are playing a sick joke on me right? It’s not funny because I can’t feel my legs. Without my legs I’m useless, I can’t work, I can’t… I can’t lose my legs.” Njabulo is hysterical.
“Is he losing his mind?” Puleng asks the nurse that is busy with Njabulo’s file.
“Maybe it’s the shock ma’am” the nurse replies politely. She is using all her self control to hold back the laughter that is knocking her chest.
“I think he’s going crazy” Puleng says, now to Sibongile whose eyes are shimmering from the laughter she’s holding back. Puleng seems calm – composed – as if she is genuinely concerned about her husband’s mental well-being.
“You’re mocking me” Njabulo says warningly.
“I’m worried about you Zulu. You’ve seen all tests and X-rays but you’re insisting that you’re injured. They’ve discharged you even, they wouldn’t have done that with there was something wrong with your legs. You’ll be running after the ball as soon as next week” Puleng says.
Sibongile adds; “If there really was something wrong with your legs you wouldn’t have been able to go to the bathroom.”
The three women giggle, irritating Njabulo in the process. “You know what, I’m going home” he says getting off the bed.
“You can take her as second wife if you want” Puleng says randomly, shocking everyone in the room. “At least Sibo is interested in your work, she actually loves soccer. It’s a win right?” She adds.
Njabulo ignores her as he practices taking steps like a baby learning to walk. He knows Puleng has a sick sense of humour, and as a way to hide his guilt he won’t give in to her silly jokes. Sibongile looks at both of them and decides she needs to leave.
“I’ll go check on Zitha” she announces before dashing out of the room. She doesn’t want to be anybody’s second wife, even if that person is Njabulo Zulu. She’s not sure if she even wants to get married in the first place. Why was she with Njabulo? She also doesn’t know. All she knows is that it’s been too rough a day to think and she hasn’t slept a wink she the previous day. They camped at the hospital until both their loved ones were discharged, she is grateful it happened so soon.
“You’re ready so soon?” She asks as soon as she enters the room.
“Girl dating a soccer star has it’s pecks. This is me, in a private room, in a private hospital, with flowers and no sharing. Hello?” Zitha says using her hands for emphasis.
Sibongile laughs, she can never get used to her friend’s random statements. Thabo simply shakes his head with a goofy smile plastered across his face.
“So next stop, rehab.” Zitha says cheerfully. “I wonder how creepy that place is, I hear people commit suicide or go crazy there.”
“There is no such. You’re doing a good thing, don’t back out now” Sibongile reassures her.
“I’ll give you my car as a gift when you come back.” Thabo says finishing his shocking statement with a wink.
Zitha jumps up and hugs him while Sibongile exclaims in disbelief. ‘Such an expensive car!’ She kept thinking. She would even be scared to drive such a car but she knows Zitha has been driving it for some time now, and she loves it.
A shout interrupts their joyful moment.
“Dimakatso is that you? O modimo waka!” It’s Puleng. She let’s out a loud cry with both her hands over her head.
Sibongile, Thabo and Njabulo stare at her in confusion. Puleng has never broken down like this in front of them, even Njabulo who has spent years with her in their matrimonial mansion. He quickly puts down the bag he was holding and hugs Puleng in an attempt to calm her down.
“Who is Dimakatso baby? Calm down” Njabulo says softly.
“I’m sorry” Zitha whispers.
Now the stares turn towards her. The confusion in the room reaches an ultimate high.
“You’re Dimakatso?” Thabo asks Zitha. She nods. “How? You’re Zitha. What’s going on?” He asks.
“She’s my older sister” Zitha says almost sounding as casual as she always is.
Njabulo’s eyes pop out. “How? What? I’ve known you for how long and you’re related to my wife?”
Sibongile sits comfortably on the chair and decide not to participate in the conversation. With her hand on the cheek she gets ready to take it all in. Njabulo helps the sobbing Puleng to sit on the bed next to Zitha. Zitha calmly tells her story.
She was fifteen when she was abducted from her family in rural Free State to be married off to an older man. The man paid the bride price and after a couple of months they had the formal wedding ceremony. Zitha claims to have been abused since the very first day of her marriage and, at twenty one, she managed to find an opportunity to run away. She didn’t go back home, she was scared to bring her family to disrepute. So together with her sister in-law they ran off to the big city. The sister in-law had a boyfriend that helped them settle down but Zitha left them after a couple of months to stand on her two feet. She found her own boyfriend with whom she moved in with and helped her get a new identity, Zitha Khumalo a pharmacist. She had never studied beyond high school but she worked hard to master her new identity. Her boyfriend was a connected man, he helped her get all the documentation in order before finding her a job as a cleaner in a pharmacy. She had to start small, learn all the robs before going mainstream. Her bosses realized she was misplaced, because of her qualification, and gave her a decent job. This took just over a year, and three years later she is still working there. She claims to have had a peaceful break up with the boyfriend that helped her and that is when she moved in with Sibongile…
Everyone in the room stays quiet for some time, allowing this story to enter their systems.
“I’m sorry Puleng, I’m really sorry” Zitha says hugging her sister.
Puleng starts her whispering, with all the sobs and Zitha’s sorrys, the rest of the people cannot hear what she is saying. She is reciting her prayer, Psalms 23, the only thing that makes sense to her at this point. Zitha knows this is how Puleng regains her calm so she holds her until she finishes the prayer.
“I can’t believe this” Njabulo starts; “All this time Thabo has been dating my sister in-law.”
“How did you get into drugs?” Puleng asks, calmer now.
“Just stupid reckless behaviour, I’m going to rehab though. I’m fixing my life sis”
Puleng embraces he little sister one more time as she says; “I’m so proud of you”
Six months after the accidents, Zitha came out of the rehab a new person. She was ready to claim her life back, this including going back to her real identity – Dimakatso Selepe. Thabo kept his promise and gifted her the car, and he upgraded to an even better car that Zitha insists on driving.
Puleng went to her family back in the Free State to inform them about Dimakatso and her husband’s plans of taking another wife. The latter announcement caused waves not only with her family but in the media as well. Njabulo Zulu: The First Soccer Polygamist. They had a feast day but they neither got the wedding invitation nor pictures of the ceremony. Sibongile finished her book on time and was launched in the Cranes Football Club centenary celebration titled; Love & Football: The Cranes Soaring a Hundred Times Higher. Despite being a new wife, she is building her career and is determined to not stop until she has reached the sky. This is exactly how Mr Poo founded The Cranes FC, after getting a new wife and was desperate to prove his love for her by making a success of himself. A hundred years later his legacy lives on.