Monday, March 9, 2020

short story: The Trip

"That was Bella on the phone. She's so excited about this London trip. We’ve booked.” Cilla, in black shorts and a pink t-shirt, was framed by the entrance to your bedroom. You, Zanele, were getting ready to go out, just sticking your eye pencil and lipstick into a small pouch on the dressing table.
“What? I thought you were only thinking about it. Wait for your dad to finish shaving.” Normally you said to yourself, "I got this". As a proud mother of a child with a spirit like Cilla, you knew when to give latitude and when to pull firmly on the reins. This time, you realise with a start, Cilla was galloping ahead.
Mandla emerged from the shower. The whiff from his after-shave tickled your nostrils and you sneezed. "Bella's booked to go to London - for a show," you said while Mandla was still saying "Bless you" and as you reached into the tissue box on the dresser.
“Whaat! When did this happen,” said Mandla. “Why do I know nothing about this?” He glared at Cilla, and then at you. Cilla moved from leaning against near the door to sit on the dressing table seat, a brown leather stool with covered buttons. The pink t-shirt seemed redder in the mirror.
“I mentioned it to mum,” Cilla said. Her eyes shifted to you, then dropped.
You raised a right hand: "Hold it right there, baby girl". Then, with a face starting to feel flushed, you turned to your man. “Mandla, she said it was just an idea. I meant to discuss it with you ... when I got more info.”
Mandla dragged a chair from against the wall. He put his right foot on it. “Things happen behind my back in this house. Maybe you wanted to keep me in the dark because you knew I'd be dead against it.” At first, you were mum, like your brain was buffering. Then you shook your head. "No, it's not like that Mandla."
Mandla turned to Cilla: “You're too young to be running around overseas.”
You knew you were in trouble. Mandla was a wonderful person, but very old school steeped in Zulu culture. Kids know their place and baba makes the big decisions for them. You could almost hear him thinking - in the kind of words he liked to use: "You, Zanele, are queen in our castle. This is your responsibility. You're supposed to keep this kid in line".
Looking at Cilla, you flicked your finger from right to left and gave a shake of the head in the same direction. Cilla left the room. Mandla sat on the bed with a gaze tilted to the carpet: “I’m disappointed in you, Zanele. Deeply.” He breathed in slowly and exhaled; you saw his chest rise and subside.
His fingers were pulled tightly into his palm. You went to sit next to him. You put your arms around him. His body remained stiff. You tried to make your voice soft and gentle: “I know you have to rush off to work, love. Let’s do supper tonight. I know you're furious and I'm sorry. I should have been more on the ball. Let’s talk about how to handle this.”
 “Zanele, come see this.” Mandla was shouting. You rushed into the lounge from the kitchen. On the television, you saw people running helter-skelter. The camera eye moved jerkily and, at points, the images were fuzzy at the edges. The script below said:  London: Beyoncé venue attacked!
“My god, Mandla!” You felt blood rush to your face. “Cilla, Cilla. No!” You wanted to scream her name. But only a whisper escaped, as if your voice itself had wobbly knees. Mandla looked at the screen, then at you. “Have you heard from her?” You mumbled: "I ... er ... No".
“Give me your phone,” he said sternly. You didn’t move - couldn't. You were looking at him; in the corner of your eye, you caught the news channel's whirling images, a stew of movement and colour. Mandla reached for your bag on the chair and retrieved your phone. His fingers jabbed at the screen – he knew your password. With laser eyes, he gazed at you as he waited for an answer. “No answer. Dammit!”
“What should we do, Mandla!” You lifted your t-shirt and dabbed your eyes with its edge. Your mind whirled, a bit like the TV images. Mandla said: "The show hadn't started yet … I just hope … just hope … she wasn't at the venue yet.”
Mandla turned to you. The message 'see what you have done'  was written in his eyes, eyes that glinted and, it seemed, resisted blinking for a jillion seconds.  “I knew this was a bad idea! But you wouldn't listen,” he said, speaking louder than usual. 

“Please Mandla”. You could think of nothing else to say. "Don't overreact."
“I hold you responsible.” Mandla carefully avoided the word ‘blame’ – in the past you have forced him to take back that word; to accept that raising a blaming finger wasn't bad for the marriage.
The cellphone vibrated & slowly spun on the table, like a dog chasing its tail. You grabbed it. The name “Cilla” stood out like a neon light. Your hand was shaking. “Hello, yes, yes.” Cilla’s voice was faint. “Mum, it’s me. I’m okay. Bella and I are okay.” You felt your eyes swimming in hot fluid. “Thank god. I am so glad, darling”. You passed the phone to Mandla. His left arm curled around your shoulders. You thought of many things. Images of Cilla. You imagined her in a London street, in her shorts. You remembered embracing her, as she left, her tears staining your blouse. You heard Mandla say … “I want you back here. I can’t believe I allowed you to go.” There was so much love in his voice.

Frank Meintjies

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