Lockdown Story E9: Great Expectations


Sengi covered the giant pimple on the bridge of her nose with make-up. She combed her hair and tied it up into a pony tail. Her favourite lipstick was red number forty-three and it was close to getting finished, she lamented that she would not be able to restock it as it was considered a non-essential good by government. She applied it generously with the optimism that by the time the twenty-one days were over the make-up shops would be allowed to re-open. She sucked her cheeks in and applied bronzer to her cheek bones then pulled out a blue and white mask and carefully put it over mouth and nose.

The township in Mlandi had reported its first incident of Corona and Sengi’s team was going to investigate: ask the communities some questions, gather more information about the patient, and compose a heart-wrenching story that would result in an increase of viewership for the small independent station.  Yellow packets danced outside, sewage ran out from a big pipe that sprouted grey water like a fancy fountain and the smell was despicable.

The car jolted over a rock causing Sengi to almost poke her eye out with her make-up brushes. She shouted at her colleague Elisha to be careful and at being reprimanded Elisha reminded her that he was driving on a gravel road and that her make-up was just fine. Sengi pouted with satisfaction and closed the compact mirror. She looked out the window and wondered why every poor community, no matter where in the country or in the world it was, a stray dog always appeared happily sniffing everything and following the children. Stray dogs loved children. She loved children too but believed that bringing them up in poverty was akin to abuse not that she had any personal experience; she had been raised on the suburbs by the seashore. Clive had told her what it was like to grow up in the township not that Clive grew up in abject poverty but he knew of the experience, he had friends who sometimes only ate every second day. Clive’s family was essentially struggling middle-class which was a hair away from poverty. If his mother had not been too proud by rejecting Clive’s father’s money, he would not had been scarred by his upbringing. Elisha shook her from her internal ruminating.

“We have arrived” he gleefully shouted and switched off the car.
“Not bad” Sengi remarked while looking at the tiny peach house.
“They live behind the house” Elisha corrected her and pointed to a misshapen sorrowful shack.
Elisha jumped out of the car, grabbed the camera out of the boot and lunged it onto his shoulders. Sengi slowly followed behind him as he walked towards the shack.
“Do you think they are home?” she asked anxiously.
Elisha laughed because the family of the patient had confirmed their availability two hours before their arrival.
“Yes. You spoke to them remember. I also think it’s best you lose the mask” he advised.
“I have to be safe” she retorted.
“It will come across as insensitive. Why do you only have to be safe around them?” he interposed.

Sengi reluctantly followed his advice because Elisha was older than him and was culturally sensitive to their people. Sengi was raised by a white family from the Eastern Cape, adopted when she was two by a rich English-French couple, she was the youngest of five children and the only adopted one. She was used to being fawned over, the center of attention at family events, at her all white school and with friends. Her tongue could not click the words from Nguni language or form any other indigenous words that were not English or French. Her name was the only Nguni part of her, Sengethile, the name her Swati mother had given her. The name was shortened by her parents for ease of their tongues and her friends nicknamed her Sengz. Clive was the only one who called her by her full name. She did not like the name because of its absurd meaning “I have done it” as if her conception was an admission of guilt.

The shack had two beds, one for the parents and the other shared by their four kids. She measured with her eyes and realised that her bedroom at her parent’s house was bigger than the entire shack, her eyes welled up. Two little children looked up at her with curiosity, their little bellies bounced with each innocent giggle. Thandaza, their mother, had contracted the virus from her employer who had not let her know of her positive status and now the children were left alone with a distant father who seemed annoyed by the whole situation. The interview with the older children was valuable, they were articulate teenagers who had hopes of attending the University of Cape Town and they understood the gravity of their mother’s condition well, the narrative could not be written for them because they took charge of the interview. The father could not hide his frustration and anguish, he expressed how difficult the past two days had been without the mother of the house and the importance of her role was realised in her absence. He was angry and implored the employer to pay the family for damages because they depended heavily on Thandaza’s salary and it would serve as reparation because she intentionally hid her positive status from Thandaza; for him this was a costly and deadly deceitful act. The intention, he magnified, was that the employer did not only care about Thandaza’s health but their true intention was to ensure that his family and community contracted the virus too. The little ones giggled when asked about their mother but after much gentle probing, they told Sengi that their mother was at work and that they missed her. Sengi managed to finish the interviews without her tears falling, they welled up at the lids like tea filled to the brim, not a single drop daring to dive out.

“We got a lot of valuable footage. I think we can make this a running story” he said to Sengi after they had left the shack.
“I hope she recovers” Sengi gasped.
“I hope so too. Look on the bright side, at the end of this you’re going to get a promotion. You’re going to have your own permanent slot” Elisha exclaimed.
“Thank you for telling me to lose the mask” she said gratefully.
“No problem. Let’s go before it gets dark, the roads here are horrible”
“Can you drop me off at Clive’s place? Elizabeth can edit without me anyway”
“Sure. So, no social distancing for you” Elisha admonished.
“You think I’m being reckless” Sengi argued.
“Yes” Elisha confirmed sternly.
“I just don’t want to be alone” she confessed.
“You have me” he joked.
“Elisha you know what I mean”
“Why don’t you guys get married. See like me I’m going home to my wife and kids”
“I’m still too young and he’s funny about marriage and-”
“The only funny thing is why he would leave you open to other options. I would have long paid my dues and secure my future with you” Elisha interjected.
“It’s complicated” she explained dejectedly.
“Your generation likes complicating things that are uncomplicated”
“We are just conscientious”
“We just like to take our time”
“Oh Sengi, time is something that’s not promised now, actually it never is. Overthinking a decision does not ensure good results or the longevity of those results” Elisha exhorted.

Elisha drove out of the township slowly and carefully over each stone and pothole. Sengi wiped the make-up off while the car jotted up and down. She looked into the rear-view mirror and saw the sewage running behind them, the yellow plastics blowing in the wind catching onto fallen fences and the happy stray dog playing with the children in the street. She had to meet Clive to tell him that she was expecting.

Image Source:  rawpixel.com

Lockdown Story series is the original creative work of Nobantu Shabangu

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