By Lerato Mensah-Aborampah, Lesotho
Last week Wednesday was Tšepiso’s birthday. She turned sixteen. And because she is dramatic about just about anything, she had been going and on about how much 16 was one of the special ages in teenagehood and how she had to celebrate this apparent hallmark of her growth in a ’spectacular’ way. Yes, she actually said that: Spectacular. My sister. And this is just 16. God knows what she will want for her 18th birthday, her 20th and heavens help us, her 21st. So my mom, my grandmother and I have planned a birthday party for her, which is not anything spectacular but it should be fun. It is today. Tšepiso’s friends will be here, which means there should be a lot of shrieking and dancing. My boys are also coming and we will be handling the boroso and chicken at the braai stand. Of course, Tšepiso no longer eats meats. I think she is actually serious about it so I’m glad I did not make a bet with her on this one.
I am so lazy to get out of my bed. 08:30 AM Saturday sun rays are streaming in through my faded navy blue curtain. I turn my head to the wall and pull the blankets over my head. I should be up already, helping out with setting up the little promo tent from my mom’s office, the chairs, the tables, the speakers. But nobody deserves to wake up at such times on a Saturday morning. Besides the party only starts at 14:00. But really, I am just lazy. It is only a matter of time before my mother budges into my room and forces me out of these warm blankets.
I reach for my phone from underneath my pillow and turn on the mobile data. A number of messages flood in from group chats in which I barely say anything. There is one text from TK saying he found a big bottle of BBQ sauce in his house and he will sneak it out, for the braai. I laugh quietly. I notice a message from an unfamiliar number. As soon as I read it, I find myself up, quickly repositioning my pillow to the headboard and leaning up against it, my eyes reading this text over and over again.
Hey Rapelang. It’s Palesa Is the invite still at the table? Because I’d like to come. You said it’s at 2 right?
you probably so shocked right now, LOL.
I slip out of my blankets and sit at the edge of my bed. I AM shocked. I am shocked that Palesa Tefo reconsidered her decline to come to Tšepiso’s braai. I told her about it last week Tuesday, even though I knew she would probably decline. I had tried convincing her that it was literally going to be no more than twenty people at the braai. She looked at me, amused, and then burst into laughter and said jokingly, “Dude, sometimes it feels like a crowd even with the two people I live with!”
I wanted her to spend a Saturday out of her home, in which she said she sometimes felt like she was suffocating.
“Then, what is better than a Saturday in the open air?” I had replied wittily, “come on now, think about it; the smell of nama e besitsoeng in the air! And TK is the master of braai, in case you don’t know!”
“Ahh, is he now?”
“Palesa, just a Saturday out, you know? It will be fun mfethu!”
“I’ll pass on this one hey,” she had replied firmly.
So, yes, I am shocked. Utterly. I put my phone down onto the bed and stand up to pull apart my curtains and open the windows. It is funny how some minutes ago I was sulking in my blankets, too lazy to get out, only to have one simple text take me out of bed without even the slightest resistance. Simple text. I don’t know about that. I might be blowing this out of proportion but never has a simple text, by virtue of having only been written and sent, seem so monumental. I mean, she deleted all her accounts because it was in these cyberspaces that she had been hurt. Considerably hurt. More than I will ever understand. And here she is today, two years later, still dealing with the toxic remnants of her past. She rid herself of these media for so long and then now she sends a text. This would not be a big deal if I didn’t know her story so I dare not consider this a simple text. A tiny step in her process of letting go, of healing, maybe? One other stitch, perhaps. Because no matter how long it takes, and no matter how little, every gradual stitch will ultimately seal up a tear.
My thoughts are bouncing around, in all their vividness in my mind. I grab my towel and walk out of my room to the bathroom, just in time to find Tšepiso walking towards the bathroom too from her room.
“Butle! I’m going in first dude!” Tšepiso shouts, rushing towards the bathroom door and holding the lock as if marking her territory. “And I’m the birthday girl, remember? So seeta ho lla sa ka!”
“Child please,” I mock, “your birthday was last Wednesday, get over yourself!”
My mother shouts from the kitchen. “Palesa! Let that lazy brother of yours shower first so he can come and help us with preparing!”
“Ache! Mme!” Tšepiso complains stamping her foot on the floor. I make a face at her.
“We are preparing for you, you know!” my mother shouts again.
“If you’ll excuse me, amigo,” I push her aside pompously and enter the bathroom, closing the door to her face.
“Argghhh!” I hear my sister shout in frustration at the closed door.
“This is for your spectacular day, lovely sister!” I shout, under the noise of the shower water.
? ? ?
I have slipped into a black pair of jeans and my blue unnecessarily oversized T-shirt. My sister hates it and always teases me when I am wearing it, which is why I am wearing it. You know, just doing my part in adding to my sister’s spectacular day.
I reach for phone and type out a reply to Palesa Tefo;
Sorry 4 the late reply. Come through! Yeah, its 14:00.
It is 12:00. My mother and grandmother are still in the kitchen, making their chakalakas and papa and baking. My grandmother bakes really good. I am pretty much done with all that I had to do. I have set up the small tent outside and put three camp chairs and two plastic chairs underneath it. I took out the tables and put table cloths over them the way mother said I should, though I do not get why all this fuss. I set up the braai stand and bring out the bag of charcoal. I bring out the speakers and place them on a small table on the veranda. Once set up, I blast some deep house. Nothing like it. Now this is spectacular.
“Haebo!” my mother and grandmother shout from the kitchen, “Turn down that volume!”
I pretend I did not hear them. As soon as TK and Katleho arrive, we start laughing at the big bottle of BBQ sauce that TK took from his home. The boys and I start braaing. Tšepiso’s friends arrive and chat away on the camp chairs. Two of my mother’s friends arrive straight into the kitchen. An hour later, Mme Moroesi and Mme Theko, our neighbours arrive. Mme Moroesi has brought two of her teenage boys. I borrow them a football so they can play around. There is still no sign of Palesa Tefo. I am a bit disappointed by this. I check my WhatsApp and there is nothing. By 14:00, our yard is filled with house music, ladies shouting in the kitchen, girls laughing away under the tent and me and my boys talking endlessly by the braai. It is a cool vibe. I lower the music until it is faint in the background as my mother calls everyone to gather around the rectangular table with snacks and drinks.
Then almost on some cue, Tšepiso comes out of the house, wearing a white floral knee-length dress, with brown ankle-length boots. My mother breaks out in ululation and the ladies join her. I can’t get over how funny this whole thing is. My sister’s friends scream wildly and one of them, Mosa, runs over to Tšepiso and puts a silver crown on her head. Tšepiso twirls around like she is a model and does a silly curtesy and walks to stand by my mother. She is so extra.
TK whistles. “Damn, mfethu, your sister though! Look at that beauty!” I shove him violently and some eyes look to us. We laugh and my mother glares at us. I look at the gate often but still, no sign of Palesa Tefo.
“Ey bro, is your girl still coming?” Katleho whispers, grinning. He has been saying this almost all the time these last weeks. I am about to say something back when my mother raises her voice and starts talking.
“So we all know that my daughter is a handful!” Everybody laughs, “I mean look at all these! And she is sixteen! Ha rea le bona! ” My mother points around and we laugh again.
“But what can you do as a mother? What can you do except make your daughter feel a queen? Because she is! See, your friends are smart-they even put a crown on your head. You see Tšepy my girl, we all know you are a queen, the question is, do you?”
My sister cannot stop smiling. I smile when she looks in my direction. Then we hear a creaking sound and all of us turn to look. And there is Palesa Tefo fiddling with the gate. She is wearing a blue jean, a purple T-shirt and white sneakers. It is my first time seeing her when she is not in the grey tunic dresses and navy blue jerseys that girls at my school wear. She is still trying to get the gate to open and the gate seems to be rebelling, in its annoying creaky sounds. I feel the urge to burst into laughter.
I run to the gate and help open it. She looks at me, also looking like she wants to laugh. But I know she hates that she has called so much attention on herself.
“Now isn’t that some grand entrance,” I whisper, laughing quietly and leading her to where I was standing.
“Oh, shut up!” she replies, under her breath, “I’m so embarrassed right now dude and you out here laughing at me,”
My sister raises her eyebrow at me and I know she has got a lot to say. I smile and ignore her.
“Welcome, my daughter!” my mother says, also looking amused. Palesa nods her head smiling. And nudges me with her elbow when I laugh at her under my breath.
“Rapelang,” my mother says, “say something to your sister!”
“Yes, older brother, say something to me!” Tšepiso adds, clearly enjoying this. Katleho and TK laugh louder than everybody else.
I glare at her. This is all so funny. What is this? A wedding reception? Tšepiso My mother looks at me like I am crazy.
“My dear sister,” I start, in a dramatically solemn voice, “I don’t know how much you want me to say because I got stories and I’m not afraid to share them.” Everybody laughs but my sister threatens me with her eyes.
“Chill, not today, not on your spectacular day. I won’t say this again so listen carefully, you are awesome. Happy birthday!”
People clap. One of her friends sings a song which I can’t recognise and then all the girls including my sister start singing at the top of their voices. My mother declares that it is time for the best part of the party: FOOD. I turn the music up and play house music. The mothers get their food and sit on the benches away from us.
“I thought you weren’t coming anymore,” I say to Palesa laughing. We are standing by the braai stand.
“I made your day didn’t I?” she rolls her eyes, also laughing.
“Man, you should have seen your face. Priceless!”
TK and Katleho come over to us with paper plates filled with meat.
“Hey Palesa!” they say in unison.
Palesa smiles and says hi to them. Then we all start laughing again as we listen to TK’s hilarious and exaggerated version of how Palesa looked at the gate. We eat the meat and Palesa joins us. I can tell she is more comfortable with my friends now.
My sister comes over and looks at Palesa.
“You came to MY party right? You didn’t come to hang out with these crazy boys akere!”
We laugh. My sister steps closer to me and inspects my shirt with her hands. “Seriously Bro! Just burn it!”
This child is so savage.
“Now somebody around here makes sense!” Palesa laughs and allows herself to be pulled away by Tšepiso towards the other girls. Very soon, they are dancing and laughing. It is funny seeing Palesa dance and she can dance.
TK, Katleho and I sit on the veranda and indulge in our endless stupid conversations. Twenty minutes or so later, Palesa comes over to the veranda. TK and Katleho suddenly decide they are going to get some drinks. Palesa sits on the table and faces my direction, swinging her legs back and forth.
“Your sister is crazy!” she laughs, eating peanuts from a paper cup.
“Yo! You have no idea,” I reply, “I’m happy you came, what changed your mind?”
Palesa scoops a mouthful of peanuts and starts talking.
“Finish chewing dude,” I break into laughter. I enjoy how free we have become with each other in these last weeks. She makes a show of chewing and quickly swallowing.
“What changed my mind? Nothing deep really except that it’s about a time, I guess, it really is. I haven’t danced this much in so long, man!” she smiles.
An almost unfamiliar, reverberating kind of smile.
“Yeah? I like that,” I reply, dipping my hand into her paper cup.
“Nah, dude, get your own cup!” she laughs but allows me to take a handful.
“The text was so shocking by the way,” I say.
“I know right? But it’s not going to be a thing though. I don’t think I’m ready to be present in that world again, you know. And it is not so much about how afraid I have been but it is more about the clarity, outside always keeping up with my social image. It is quieter without all these accounts anyway and I like it that way. It is a process akere? You like saying that to me,”
When I think about it, we have gotten to know each other thus far and it was never through a device. It was my failed attempts at being subtle at staring at her. Our first conversation in the school bus. It was our short conversations at the Literature class door on Wednesdays. The tense talk on the bench that Monday. The Chemistry sessions we had. That long walk back home, a walk that let me into the story of her thorns. The face-cringes, heart-lurches, laughing, spitting out rosehips, crying. Now, these right here, all these imperfect moments, the unedited and typo-filled conversations I have heard with her, now those are purely invaluable.
I smile. “Yeah, the stitching process is a process,”
“Wow Rapelang, that sounds very lame, my goodness!” she laughs.
I wave my hand at her and just smile. I look at Palesa Tefo and I realise how beautiful this girl is.
“Don’t be giving me looks like that now,” she says, waving a finger at me. And as she lifts her hands, I notice two tally marks on her left palm.
“Why do you always make those marks? Those tally marks, I’ve always wondered,” I ask her, holding her palm into my hand. She looks at me and gently releases her hand from mine.
“You’ve noticed these?” she says quietly, “you are observant atseba,”
“Well, you are not particularly inconspicuous,” I reply.
“What a flirt!” Palesa laughs, shaking her head. Damn. Is that what I’m doing?
She looks into her palm and says, “You will probably think it’s weird but I make a tally mark in my palm for every time I feel like I’m being stitched up, for every moment I feel like I’m healing. It is about moments, you see. Even the little ones- especially the little ones-like when I laugh, when I have a good conversation, a beautiful thought, when I read really good book, when I make a friend- like you Rapelang. I think there has been a tally mark for every time I am with you,” she smiles warmly at me and then turns away to look at bo-Tšepiso- this animated bunch chatting away under the tent. Then she turns back to look at me. “So, it’s about moments.” She says again.
I nod slowly. Palesa Tefo intrigues me.
[. . . Our parents say that after we finish high school, and head for tertiary, only then are we are so close to the real world. I have always had a bit of a problem with that idea. Maybe because I have always thought it carried a sort of ignorance to the real world we are already facing right now. Because amidst the crushes, wildness, experimenting and the fun and most times, the naïve decisions we make, we have stories. I swear. And they are real. And sometimes, they hurt to the core. I could fill pages on the story of Palesa Tefo- a new friend and a girl I really like, whose eyes and silence had, for a long time, veiled a history that almost ended her life. That is one story. It is real. There is more. We are more.
But we are just teenagers right? We are only in high school. What do we know about the real world anyway?]