On the day of the opening World Cup match, the day Bafana Bafana would play against Mexico, Chocolate painted her face with the colours of our country’s flag.
“Where are you going, Chocolate?”
“To make new friends, Mama,” she answered.
“Be careful, baby.”
“I will, Mama. I am always careful. I’m not like you.”
“Don’t let anybody without a condom say hello to you.”
“Heard you, Mama. I’m not like you. Or I would have been ten times pregnant.”
“Don’t insult your mama.”
“Oh, Mama, you’re too serious, I was joking.”
“Where is Jabu?”
“Sneaked out like a rat,” I said.
“He’s been saying he wants to see Lionel Messi ever since we came here,” Chocolate said.
“Who is Messi?” Mama asked, squeezing her face. “Is he Jabu’s father or what?”
“He is a very rich player, Mama,” Chocolate said, smoothening her tight trousers and pulling off her Shoprite hand gloves.
“Leave him alone, Mama,” I said. “He might make big friends. You know he is a magnet.”
“Stop hoping on these things,” she said. “Disappointment is everywhere in South Africa like the air we breathe. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!”
“Ah, Mama, I need to leave this place before you kill me with disappointment,” Chocolate said, grabbing her bag.
But now someone was standing in the doorway, dark like the inside of a gold mine. He was very big, and he wore a gold watch, a blue jacket and brown chinos trousers. He cleared his throat. Chocolate froze. I scrambled up and grabbed Mama’s arms, screaming. But Mama was not scared. Chocolate wanted to fly out of the room, but there was no space to run out from because Mr S’bu was standing in the doorway.
“Ninjani?” Mr S’bu said.
“A ghost!” I screamed.
“Eish! Who are you calling a ghost?” Mr S’bu said, exposing his red and spotty tongue, his white eyes turning this way and that.
“You are dead,” Chocolate said.
“Your mama said that?”
“What is the difference?” Mama said slowly. “Dead or alive, what can you do, Sibusiso? You are not here for food, because this is a camp. You better leave.”
Mr S’bu, turning to us, began to act as if Mama were not serious, as if Mama were only a comedian gifted in irony, and then he smiled as if everything in the world was good.
“Sweet girls, don’t mind your mama,” he said. “I told you I would make it big. I am here to fulfil my promise.”
“With what?” Chocolate said. “Another talk?”
“I have money now,” he said, bringing out of his pocket a wad of Rand notes. He shook it before our eyes.
“Who did you rob, Sibusiso?” Mama said, her face black with spite.
He ignored her. “Where is Jabu?”
“Gone to see Lionel Messi,” I said.
“He is playing outside.”
“I am taking you out of this camp,” Mr S’bu said. He had the air of a big guy. But I liked it. Chocolate began to warm up to him and to believe him this time. She put her hand on his chest as if all at once he had changed into a sweet boyfriend he never was before now. I joined her to hold Mr S’bu’s arms and torso.
Mama was adamant. “He is a thief.”
But Mr S’bu took it all easy, smiling like Mama were her waiting convert. He went to her, knelt down on one knee as if he was going to propose and said, “Ruth, I have a job now. I sell diamonds.”
“Liar. You stole diamonds from a tourist.”
Mama and Mr S’bu went round and round in this game of accusation and denial, and I got tired of it and prayed to God to bring back Mama’s faith.
“You are not going to stay here,” Mr S’bu said. “I have a house for you already. I have a car to drive you all round to see the World Cup.”
“I am not going anywhere with you, Sibusiso.”
“Why, Mama?” Chocolate yelled.
“I am staying here.”
“I am taking you out of this bad camp,” Mr S’bu said.
“Mama, as for me, I am going,” Chocolate said. “Lindiwe, make up your mind,” she said to me. “Thabooo!” she shouted, searching for Thabo outside
My mind was made up on going. I reached for Mama’s arm, begging. She pulled her arm away.
We left her in Blikkiesdorp Camp. She didn’t turn to look at us waving a goodbye at her. Mr S’bu was a big man. He could bribe his way in and out of the camp. It was strange to see some cops respect him because he had money.
We drove in Mr S’bu’s car to see the Calabash, to see Jabulani and Messi. Chocolate was so happy he leaned over to Mr S’bu and kissed him on the cheek. Though I was happy to leave the camp in Blikkiesdorp, I could not stop thinking about Mama.
Nnamdi Oguike was raised in parsonages, where storytelling, music and poetry were integral to life. His writing has appeared in The Dalhousie Review and on the literary blog Brittle Paper. His story ‘Preparations for Easter in Ajegunle’ won the first runner-up prize in the Africa Book Club short story competition. He plays the violin and collects world music.