For all Seasons
It’s just a week into autumn when everything changes.
I begin wearing my winter beanie two months early. My mother starts preparing meals a week in advance and informs me that she’s no longer going to take sugar in her tea. It’s the fifth time in the last three years she’s trying to ditch sugar. She never got why I take only one teaspoon in my tea but is always trying to quit cold turkey. I don’t say anything to detract her. She needs a lot of support my mother. She always has. So I grill the chicken and steam the veggies and go fruit shopping for her. She speaks ill of the people who haven’t returned her Tupperware as she packs her meals that first Sunday evening and I eat a fried breakfast spread for supper. She drinks sugar-less tea for four straight days before she falters.
I’m in the dirty girls’ toilets on library level when I meet a girl called Lindelwa. I’m looking at my ass, pleats gaping, in the mirror cursing the genius who decided to put double pleats on our uniform skirts when I see her. She appears pretty much out of nowhere, I see her in the large, dirty mirror in front of me. She wears uniform with school badges like she bought it all, excluding the shoes, through the school’s catalogue. She wears worn ankle boots that aren’t even brown. My thin ankles have been lugging around the thick-soled, brown school-issue shoes for nearly three years. I think my ankles envy her ankles. She moves closer to the sink and washes her hands.
“Do you have lotion on you?” Her grimy reflection asks me. “My hands get sandpaper dry.” She adds.
“Sure.” I say rummaging in my heavy sling bag for my pencil case, which holds two pens (one black, one red), mascara, a small tub of vaseline and…There’s supposed to be a tube of lotion in there too. “I only have vaseline in here.”
“Perfect.” She says taking a five-cent-sized dollop. She dabs a bit on her lips, rubs her hands together until they’re gleaming. She then rubs each hand on its corresponding knee and finishes off by running her hands over her bald head.
“You should try altering your pleats by bringing them down” she offers with a twirl to show me hers.
“Thank you for the vaseline, Tbose.” She says zipping my pencil case.
It’s not until she’s out the door that I figure out what she’s talking about. The name Tbose is etched in tacky graffiti bubble letters on my case. I stole the case during exams in grade seven and haven’t parted ways with it since. I traded my sickening Bratz case, which wasn’t really sickening until it was stolen from me, for a plain canvas case with the class bully’s name on it. It was my graduation gift to myself, proof that I could make a difference in the world or unleash small doses of bad ass on shitty humans.
Later, I tear my eyes away from the beautiful, browning jacaranda flowers littering the parking lot where I eat my lunch to smile sugary at prefects who come up to me and try to take my beanie away. The boy convinces the girl to leave me alone by commenting that the uniform beanie is ugly anyway. He looks away from me quickly even though I can still remember that when my uncle lived with us last June, I sold the boy a lot of joints. It wasn’t always the predictable sad or rebellious kids coming through the walk-in gate and down the path to the backrooms. It was the boys who sang at choir every Sunday even though they’d outgrown Sunday school. It was also the girls who played, like, every sport and took people’s clothes just because they didn’t have a tacky badge with the school’s motto on them. Seeing all the different people who came to our yard between 8AM and 6PM to buy joints, while my mother was at work, made me appreciate the complexity of life and character. Liking to get high shouldn’t always have to have a heaviness to it or mean that you’ve let your life get away from you. Sometimes you like it nje.
In isiZulu: home language class Lindelwa passes a note to me. In it she offers to fix my pleats for me. It’s been three days since our run-in and I can’t help wondering if my skirt looks too hideous and nobody thought to tell me until this girl. This baddie, who seems to be feeling my vibes, but also wants to upgrade them so my vibes can be a google chrome version of themselves. So I let her. She comes over and practically pulls my skirt apart. She undoes the side seam the tailor down by the main road did to keep the skirt from constantly falling down to the top of my ass crack region when I first bought it in grade eight. She explains about needing the room since bringing both the front and back pleats down will take away wiggle space. I stand in the black tight I wear under my skirt to protect my thighs from thigh rash, baby blue long-sleeved button down and heavy school shoes in front of her trying to not let my knees touch. Like I’m in grade five again and we’re playing a skipping game and someone starts talking about my knock-knees.
After she makes me a new skirt, we sit with our backs to one of the walls in my bedroom as a soothing breeze swoops in through the open window. She tells me about dead people as we share a Craven putting the ash in an enamel mug I keep under my bed. It’s hard to keep track — even though the stories are interesting — because she knows so many dead people. She loves a lot of dead people. I tell her I think my father is also dead. But nobody really knows because the whole system of migrant labour and being Jacob Two Lives, Two Homes, Two Cities is pretty fucked up. She says I’m funny and I consider showing her the flip file of stories I made through grades eight and nine with the help of my old home language teacher. The best teacher.
He made me sweat over ideas. I’d go in starry-eyed about a short piece for an assignment and he’d give me a C at best. Then he’d make me struggle with every word and the pace and the whole point that I’d come out hating every single thing, especially the complexity of words. But then I’d end up loving the story again for finally doing what I couldn’t have dreamt wanting it to do in the first place. Those pages taught me how to feel stuff and let it be. Now we have an awful teacher who just drones through our required literature as if counting every single meagre cent it’s putting in her account. She has no finesse.
Way too often, past mid-night, Lindelwa and I exchange messages on a platform that no one would admit to using in this day and age. Like when Myspace tried to relive its glory days but made things awkward for everyone because, like, leave the past, Sis. Go quietly. She gives me a decent tip to help my mum with her no sugar thing and I tell her I think she’d lucked out with her late grandmother. The woman sounds like she was great. We eat lunch from the school’s feeding scheme in my parking lot and alternate between looking away and glaring when boring boys try to look our way, except when it’s Thulasizwe. He’s in matric and is almost as tall as I am and he’s the farthest thing from boring. I’ve always wondered how he makes his shoes that shiny or his smile that sinister — the kind that mashes all my insides. He has had a perfectly combed german cut since the schools reopened at the beginning of the year.
“Have you seen him up close?” I ask Lindelwa, passing her ration of our fruit bounty to her one break time. “He’s beautiful. He has a full silver tooth, got it about a year ago.”
“Ohmygahd,” she gasps, looking unsure of her stance on the news but expertly straddling being aghast and being in awe.
“Yup. I used to find them — especially gold teeth — very iffy. Don’t get me wrong, I loved them when my uncle was the only person I knew with one when I was young. But then they became this trend.”
“I think it suits him. Like, the vibe I read from him all the way here, aligns with a silver tooth.”
“Meee tooo! I ran into him at the mini mall during the December holidays and he smiled at me.” We dissolve into mock-swooning, then laughter.
“I think you and Thulasizwe would be cute together.” She says as we walk to our classes at the sound of the bell.
The unflinching Gauteng winter has pretty much swallowed the region whole. We’re frozen in its belly and almost every evening Lindelwa and I sit in the kitchen with my great grandmother’s coal stove going. We do home work and retell gossip we’ve individually been told by the women who feed us at school. Like which teachers were caught kissing and which kid is lush only because their dad’s been eating the School Governing Body money.
Lindelwa tells me that she felt like a twin for a long time. She felt like her mother gave a part of her away. Or worse, that part died and nobody bothered to tell her. I’m frightened that she’ll tell me that she thinks I’m that part. People who are emotionally over-eager make me uneasy. She’s the first person I’ve liked in years and, at that moment, I’m afraid she’ll ruin it by expecting things from me; expecting that I be less moody and that I be sure. But she doesn’t say that and relief washes over my cold heart. This new friendship is too precious and still too new to fade away. Not so soon.
I hear Thulasizwe talking about winter being for thick-to-fat girls as I walk on the matriculants’ side of the library level. He’s wearing a calf-length grey coat that’s the same shade as their senior class jackets. All I can see of his perfect german cut when I dare steal a glimpse of him is his perfectly trimmed hairline — the rest is under a beanie with our school’s motto.
“Ugh! And to think I was rooting for him with you. What an idiot.” Lindelwa says with a finality in her voice when I tell her what I overheard on our after school walk.
When she says that I almost believe Thulasizwe and I stood a chance, that we could have been something had he not been us’hlama. Each day we meet outside the school gates and take the long way around as we walk to my house. Sometimes, we talk about the day we’ve just survived, other times we say nothing. She calls me “chomi” and “friend” a lot. I like it.
“Why did he have to be such an ass? Why are crushes such wastes? Although… I only regret crushing on his stupid face just a little,” I say.
“It’s his loss. Your good loving is for all seasons. I can’t wait to be your best friend during the summer.”
“What does that even mean?” I laugh at this kind girl who’s filled my life with joy and, like, jelly beans.
In spring, exactly on the first of September, we brave the cloudy weather armed with waterproof gear — me with my uncle’s old heavy duty, yellow rain coat and Lindelwa with two dustbin bags and a small umbrella — in our backpacks. We take the train and two taxis each way. We end up in a dusty, quiet town outside of Pretoria or in Pretoria, I can’t be sure. We’re working on a video report for history class together even though she’s in grade 10E and I’m in grade 10J. We’re using both her cell phone camera and the camcoder my mother bought second-hand as my graduation gift at the end of Primary. I’d made videos speaking directly to the camera until the memory card got full and I realised I’d need a computer to edit or store the videos. Then I was 14 and thought all the things I said when I was 13 were for kids. I was 14 and worldly so I deleted all my videos and kept the camera in drawer under my panties and bras and socks. Lindelwa knows how to use Windows Movie Maker — she used to take pictures of kids’ birthdays at the local creche in her old town with her camera phone. She’d make an opening title and slide show of the party with music and burn in to a disc. Most parents paid for her service but there was always a sour one who’d bring a camera man to take one picture of their kid with the cake. I think it sounds like it was a good job as she often got party favours filled with sweets and sherbet and cash payment.
Lindelwa constantly tells me about her old home and old town, I wish I lived there too and that we were best friends there. She makes everything about the village sound spooky and fantastic. She tells me about how close her house is to the supermarket/tavern where at least one person would get killed each year. Everyone thought they were sort of ritual sacrifices and she believed it. She drops her voice to a whisper whenever she speaks of the supernatural. That’s the exact voice I want to channel when I write my YA thriller one day.
We’re in the front yard sitting on faded coca cola crates from my old life when I was a kid and my mum sold cold drinks. We watch kids chase each other with buckets of water in the street. My neighbour to the right of our house is playing house music from, like, 2004 with a speaker on his front lawn. Spring has warmed up and I’m wearing a short halter-neck summer dress to Lindelwa’s capris and stomach out. She brought mayo in cups and I’m telling her about my dream while enjoying my crème soda-flavoured frozen yoghurt to the sounds of repeated “your love is like a rainbow you turning grey into the bright light your kiss comes like a summer rain.” Nothing says warm weather in a South African township quite like flavoured ice blocks, sugary frozen yoghurt and speakers on grass. Same as nothing says December like ice-cold drinks, cousins, days that never end and not enuf loaves of bread do. These small instances of predictability have always made me feel part of something and less alone.
“It was the strangest, but also really amazing, dream I’ve had in a while.” I remark of the dream I had in the early hours of the morning.
In my dream Lindelwa and I on the same road we took to go to the town in Pretoria for our assignment a fortnight ago. We sit at the back of the bus rarely talking. The scenery changes, though it’s still mostly dirt roads, it turns green with trees all around. The sky is so blue. The village looks sleepy and quiet. The loud 2pac song blaring from an open car boot down the road and the company notwithstanding, I almost start thinking of all the things I know about ghost towns. The deserted spaces and mysterious murders that always follow poor, gullible people who dare visit such towns. We walk uphill for a while but I’m soon following her down a new path. I don’t have much time to mentally complain about the treacherous paths and wobbly concrete slab steps before we reach our destination. A few steps ahead of me she fusses with a rusty chain that’s holding two five-foot high iron bars, with weeds coiled around them, together. There are newspapers taped on the house windows and, as verification of odd dream universes, she doesn’t have her house keys on her. I stand close to the grave fenced with building blocks as she pulls weeds out and talks to her favourite uncle whose body lies under the soil. “That’s my new friend. She’s crazy enuf to follow me here. I think you’d like her. She’s funny and writes sick.” She lights the batch of impepho she brought with her and talks more about living eGoli.
“Your sub-consciousness is so good, seriously.” She says when I finish telling her my dream.
We make plans to go into the city so she can buy herself a new bunch of impempho and so we can go to Carlton Centre to see a movie. Lindelwa wants to see the building just as much as the movie. Walking through the Johannesburg CBD is my favourite secret pastime, second only to having strangers light my cigarette. My mother wouldn’t approve of me gallivanting in the city. She’s constantly complaining about how much harder it is to navigate these days: All these pretty buildings and white weekenders and it’s become an even more bleak place deep inside. Very far from the “it” Jozi of marketing strategies and “inner city regeneration” brochures. Even farther from the Jozi of my mother, father and unplanned me dancing in the barely there living room of a 14th floor one-bedroom flat.
The backs of my thighs are sticking to the sofa. It’s officially summer and most of the real estate of my legs is in a holiday fling with the sun. Lindelwa’s mother has the sofas covered in some sort of protective plastic. The single sofa I’m sitting on has cigarette burns under the plastic cover. Better late than never, I guess.
“Are you Fikile?” Lindelwa’s mother asks me before gliding out of the house in her crisp, blue and white church attire. She’s a bit older than my own mother and far more beautiful than I could have imagined. She smiles a tight smile and looks me right in the eyes. I reply that I am indeed “the Fikile” and had been meaning to come meet her but with the exams and her work hours time never aligned. I want to apologise because she seems to be gazing at my soul. She seems to know that for months I’ve taken Lindelwa’s side and believed that she probably evil for dragging my best friend here. But she wouldn’t be my best friend otherwise.
MaGumede tells Lindelwa to take out the meat for dinner and is gone.
“You make everything ok. When I was in grade five, I thought by the time I met my person I’d have too much history. I thought I couldn’t catch them up on everything or that I’d forget important moments they’d missed so they couldn’t really ever know me. I was…” I look at her and find she is looking back at me “I was afraid that when I met my person I’d be jealous of their past. Of all the living they’d done without me. The parts of the history of you I know make me love the person you are more than 11-year-old me could have imagined possible. Your past colours this small world slash interval slash divine intervention formally known as our current lives as 16-year-old aunties. Maybe this period is making us even better for our future people” I say to Lindelwa as we ride the BRT out of the city.
I’m not even afraid of sounding over-eager.
“I hope we’re each other’s future people.” She says smiling.
This is an old story I wrote in 2013/2014 The narrator didn’t have a name for the longest time. I think I did Fikile before submitting it to rookie a while back (because I remember typing an explainer of the “kismet” of being named what they are named). Lol