What Could Have Been
The morning light streams into my bedroom and I immediately curse agreeing to have lunch with Melusi, at his place! I am excited to see aunty, it has been some time but, I am not too eager on seeing Zenzile. I drag myself out of bed to the bathroom, wash my face and go wake Amahle up for our Saturday pancake tradition.
She is already awake and has made her bed, she is sitting and staring out her window when I walk in.
“Hey, nana how did you sleep?”
“Okay,” she says.
“Are you ready for Saturday pancakes?!”
She leaps off her bed and adorns a breath-taking smile, it warms my heart, there aren’t too many things that I can do to make her happy, yet. I thought the transition would be seamless, she was the one who begged to come to Joburg with me, I just thought she would fall right into the new normal.
“So we have banana, chocolate and plain, which flavour would you like today?”
“You can pick any, I am okay with whatever you want,” I say.
She looks up at me and her big beautiful eyes remind me of her gorgeous boisterous mother, “banana,” she says. I pat her on the back and we head to the kitchen. She takes out all the ingredients she can reach, the milk, sugar and eggs and I take the flour and baking powder from the top shelf in the pantry. We mix the ingredients in silence, this is not our talking time, not yet anyway, this is time I use to remind her that she exists and I am here for her. We started the pancake making about two weeks after we came back from KZN, the first weekend I made them she could not stop smiling and I latched onto pancakes as the bonding ritual.
“Mama,” she says as she mixes the dry ingredients and her eyes firmly on the bowl. “Do you think she will ever want to see me?” She keeps stirring as if looking at me will give her an answer she is not ready to deal with.
“Oh, nana…I don’t know.”
“Okay.” She reaches for the cup of milk without moving her eyes from the bowl, she keeps her movements small, like she doesn’t want to move the air around her or wants the words that just left her mouth to vanish like they were never uttered. I, on the other hand, feel helpless, maybe I should have given her hope? But I want us to be honest with one another. “You will always have me,” I say.
“We are going to visit a friend of mine this afternoon, well my ex-husband,” I say as we peck at our pancakes. Amahle just nods and continues to move her pancake around her plate. “Nana, you know that I love you, right?” She nods. “And my only goal in this life we now have together is to make sure you are happy and have all you need to live the life you dream of,” I say and take a sip of my orange juice. Amahle’s eyes are still fixed on her plate and it makes me think of how she buried her head in her bowl of porridge in KZN and she then slinked off quietly when she was done eating. I don’t want that for her here. “…I don’t know if your mother will ever want to see you, I hope she will though because you are such an amazing child and she is the one who is missing out on the best thing life has to offer, not you.” She finally looks up at me and beams. I let out a sigh, I know that this is just the beginning of the questions I have no answers to. I must call Ncane I say to myself.
Melusi is standing by the gate and waves as he sees my car approach, he looks so different. Owethu is right next to him, their hands laced together. A broad smile takes up Melusi’s face as I park the car. They moved to a smaller place, during the divorce we thought it better to sell the house and split the money equally. He wanted us to split the furniture too but I couldn’t bear looking at anything that would take me back to that house, too much pain.
“Long time beautiful,” says Melusi as I step out of the car. “Look at you, you haven’t aged a minute!” He laughs.
“oh you are just being sweet,” I say and hug him. I crouch to meet Owethu’s eyes. “Hello, young man.”
“And who is this pretty one?” says Melusi, looking at Amahle.
We walk up the tiny driveway, it is lined with small block greenery, I don’t know whether them flowers or tiny trees. The backyard is small and clean, the grass is trimmed and the lone rose bush is the centrepiece, a beautiful burst of blush pink. Melusi leads us to the patio where he has a light brown wooden table big enough for six with a crisp white overlay running across. There are four plate settings, water glasses and two wine glasses and cutlery placed on beige napkins and the flower arrangement puts me in a trance,it’s so beautiful. I am about to take my seat when a shrill from behind assaults my ears!
“ANATHI!!! Oh God is good!”
I turn around and there she is, not a single thing has changed, the way she wears her doek tied slightly to the side, her eyes with a glint of joy sparkling as if life has never been hard for her, and the swish-swish of her hips dancing when filled with happiness.
“Hello aunty, unjani?”
“Oh sisi, me miss you every day!” she says and claps once. “You say you visit but you don’t visit.” She squints at me.
“I know, life has been so crazy since I left here, I even have a child now,” I laugh and point to Amahle.
“Oh beautiful, beautiful,” says aunty and she goes and hugs Amahle.
“She’s not lying hey, she asks me about you almost every day,” says Melusi as he takes his seat. “She has been stressing about what to cook ever since I told her you were coming.” He laughs.
“She cooks now?” I ask and Melusi and I both laugh.
“Yes, bhuti he take me to cook class.”
“It was necessary, with just me and Owethu in the house I needed to have someone take over the cooking.”
“Oh, you and…”
“No.” Melusi shakes his head.
“Oh, I thought you guys are—”
“Can we not talk about this right now,” he says and motions his head to Owethu.
“Oh, yes, of course, …sorry.”
“I bring you a drink,” says aunty, dissolving the awkwardness. She scampers off to the kitchen.
The afternoon air is warm and birds are chirping in the distance and children playing in the yard next door, Owethu and Amahle keep looking in the direction of all the laughter. They both look like they would rather be doing kid-things than being stuck at a table for lunch. Melusi catches their longing, he tells them to go play in the yard and that we will call them when food is ready. They don’t wait for him to finish and dash off to the yard. Aunty returns with the drinks, wine for me and whiskey for Melusi and she hands the kids juice boxes.
“So how did that happen?” asks Melusi and jerks his head in the direction of the kids.
I take a sip of wine, it is so refreshingly cold, aunty must have been chilling it since she heard I would be visiting. I sigh and take another sip.
“Should I not be asking?”
“No, it’s not that, it is more me not being sure I can actually do this, you know…be a mom.”
“I can’t think of anyone better. Look at me, I am being a dad, who knew?”
“But, you guys share the kid, right?”
“If you can call it that,” he says and gulps his whiskey. His face pinches and he lets out a deep sigh. “She only collects him when she misses him, it is all so strange, you know…how she insisted back then to not leave his sight and now…she just doesn’t seem to care all that much.” He shrugs and pours himself another whiskey. The face that was just filled with joy and welcoming has found a way to gather clouds, his face looks grey with sadness. “Anyway, you will be just fine as a mother, don’t stress about it.”
“Thanks.” I smile.
I look over at Amahle and Owethu throwing their arms up in laughter and I envy their ability to find common ground in the simple pleasures, kids know how to do this life things a lot better than we do.
“Where do we lose it?” I say while still looking at the kids.
“The freedom…I mean look at them, they just met and they look like they have been playing with one another for ages…it’s so simple for them.” I turn back to Melusi and I find him staring at me and circling the rim of his glass with his index finger. “What?”
He smiles and shakes his head slightly, “nothing…I’ve just missed you and can’t believe you actually came.”
I smile and for a fleeting moment it all comes rushing back, the guy I met all those moons ago at pre-drinks, who declared he would marry me and followed through. How did it go so wrong? I try now to pinpoint the moment our marriage began to chip away, the babies come to mind but it now feels like it could have been something else.
“What do you think we got wrong?” I ask.
“Well, I think having a child outside your marriage is bound to leave you divorced,” he says and gulps his drink and his face scrunches. “I know I broke us…and it will forever remain my biggest regret.”
“But you wanted a child…and well…I couldn’t give you one.”
“I was supposed to want you…the kids were always meant to be a bonus.” He smiles but it doesn’t light up his face, it is the smile of defeat. “Don’t get me wrong I love Owe—
“I sometimes wish he was ours.”
On the drive back home thoughts about how life would have been pounce around in my mind, would we have taken Amahle in if we had a child of our own? Would we have been great parents? Would we have had more than one? Would I have even had an affair—
“When are you going back to Owethu?” Amahle asks, “uyahlekisa and so cute.”
“You had fun with him?”
“I don’t know…when his dad invites us again?” I shrug.
As we turn in onto our street, the sun creating a halo from behind us, I can see clearly as we approach the security gate, the woman in a black dress sitting on the floor and leaning against the guardhouse wall. She looks like she has been sitting on the curb all day. I park the car in the outside visitors parking and tell Amahle to wait for me.
“Hau Ma why didn’t you call?”
She sends a wry smile way, “I knew you would come home, how are you?” asks MaBhengu.
“I am good. You?”
“I wouldn’t be so sure if I were you.” She smiles.
I sigh and my shoulders slump and the knots begin to creep in. I know why she is here and I am not ready…