Most things were still the same. Hot chocolate was still sweet, the kitchen floor was still cold to the touch of the soles of her feet, and when the wind blew, it tickled Nomsa’s cheeks. Some things were different, though. Mummy laughed a lot more, and her cuddles were tighter. And the world was… brighter. Nomsa’s favorite white sweater with little red strawberries dotting the sleeves was as warm as it had always been, but the fuzzy red dots didn’t look like fuzzy red dots anymore. Being able to see the world like this – so bright, so blue and so sharp made her feel happy – and terrified.
Today was Saturday. It was the day Mummy didn’t have to go to work, which also meant Nomsa got to sit on the swings. Sometimes Daddy came along, but she didn’t like it. He didn’t make the swing go as high as Mummy did. When Mummy pushed her, it felt like she was flying; and today she wanted to touch the clouds. They looked like pillows. Didn’t Mummy think they looked like pillows as well? Nomsa pointed to the sky and asked her what she thought. She was on the phone, but this was important. She raised her voice and spoke with urgency.
“Pii pii, Mummy!”
“Hang on a sec, Andiswa. I think Nomsa has to use the toilet.”
Lerato cradled her cell phone in the crook of her neck and bent beside her toddler daughter. “Do you have to go potty, sweetie?”
“No, Mummy! Pii pii!”
Why didn’t Mummy understand what she was saying? This was so frustrating. Nomsa felt herself getting more and more upset and began to cry. Wait. What if crying messed up her new eyes? What if the water washed away all the wonderful things she was seeing now? The thought of not being able to see this way again upset her even more, and Nomsa began to wail with vigor.
Lerato sighed and spoke into the phone.
“I have to go, sis. I don’t know what’s got her upset. I’ll call you later.”
Mummy lifted her up and tried to soothe her, singing the same song Grannie sometimes hummed:
Thula thul, thula baba, thula sana,
Tul’ubab ‘uzobuya ekuseni
Thula thul, thula baba, thula sana,
Tul’ubab ‘uzobuya ekuseni
Keep quiet my child
Keep quiet my baby
Be quiet, daddy will be home by dawn
There’s a star that will lead him home
The star will brighten his way home…
Why didn’t Mummy understand that she just wanted her to look at the clouds? She didn’t want to take a nap! Nomsa pushed her palm into Lerato’s chin to force her head backwards, towards the autumn sky above.
“Ouch! Nom-nom! We don’t hit Mummy, okay?”
Oh no. Now Mummy was cross. This was not what Nomsa wanted. She buried her head into Lerato’s chest and heaved pitiful sobs.
“Pii pii, Mummy. Pii pii…”
Lerato groaned and snatched the yellow and white paisley baby bag that carried Nomsa’s snacks, a change of clothes and juice and slung it over her shoulder. That’s when she finally looked up to the sky.
“Let’s get you to the loo and then home, sweetie,” Mummy said kindly. “Those clouds look like rain.”
Nomsa stopped crying immediately. She finally understood! All she wanted Mummy to do was say what she thought the clouds looked like.
“Yay, Mummy. Yay!”
The game room at Nasir’s house was dark, cramped and smelled like old tobacco. Khalid’s cousin – who had once spent a full three months in America and from thence described himself as a “Lebanese-American – spent the last three years attempting to perfect the look of a classic American game room, and in the absence of a basement, imitated the feel of an underground sanctuary by hanging soot-black blankets on the windows. This of course meant the room was unbearably hot, which in turn meant that Nasir had to counteract the feeling of being trapped within the four walls of hell by turning up his air-conditioning to its fullest capacity. Khalid never dared to ask him about his electricity bills. This would only earn him a ghetto rebuke about never asking a grown man about his “paper”. He greeted his younger cousin with outstretched arms and saluting him warmly in Arabic.
“What’s up, cuz!” Nasir hollered, gathering Khalid in a bear hug. “Like my new art?”
Nasir waved at a framed poster of a scowling Al Picino pointing his rifle at the lens of a camera.
“Damn right it is,” Nasir snorted. “We only do the classics around here.”
Khalid looked around the room and smiled to himself.
“So I see.” He caught the eye of Jenan Sidiqqi, Nasir’s godmother, who had silently been regarding the two young men from a settee in the corner. The sixty-two year woman had been insanely beautiful in her youth, and was still considered handsome today. She had lived through a horrible marriage, however, and until her husband’s untimely death ten years before, had spent many a night consoling herself by seducing and deflowering the sons of her best friends. Khalid nodded to acknowledge the presence of the woman who had so sweetly and strangely taken his virginity at fifteen.
“Come on. Help me get the table set up before the fellas get here,” Nasir commanded.
The “basement” was the one room the house girls were not permitted to enter. Nasir kept an impressive stash drug paraphernalia, hallucinogens and menthol cigarettes for the more health conscious in his bunker, and could not abide the idea of clumsy hands breaking his bongs or bumming cigs for their boyfriends. It was not the cleanest space, but certainly sanitary enough for a few hours of fraternal frolicking.
Khalid looked up from a bowl of chips he’d set out to see who had come into the room. Nasir was bellowing his gangsta-esque greeting at Faisal and Edmund, known to all as “the Twins”. Despite Faisal was as black as Edmund was white, the two were never seen apart and had been inseparable since primary school. They did everything together, and lived in such perfect tandem that it defied logic – and made more than a few people uncomfortable with the intensity of their closeness. Khalid nodded at the pair.
“Hey, Kal,” was their synchronized reply. “Hey Auntie Jenan.”
“Hello, boys,” she purred, a small, secret smile playing about the corners of her lips.
Khalid resisted the urge to shudder and offered the brothers a beer each.
Soon the room was buzzing with the laughter and jostling of brothers, cousins and friends, nine in all. Every third Saturday of the month was the same. Clement, Khalid, Nasir, the Twins, Kobby, Mohammed and Abdul: the usual suspects congregated at Nasir’s for a game of cards, to smoke weed without the judgment or prying eyes of wives or mothers, and to talk as much trash as loudly as they wanted. And just as she had always done, Jenan Sidiqqi sat silently in the corner of the room, inhaling the strong, intoxicating musk of cologne and testosterone.
“Where’s Aamir?” someone asked.
“Chale, I don’t know. He missed last month too.”
“Someone for tell am if he no dey come, we go give ‘e seat to some other brah who go appreciate am!”
“Word. That dude be trippin’ yo.”
“Chale, dog am. If he no go come, he no go come. Tweaaa!”
There was a general grumbling in agreement as cards were dealt at Nasir’s custom crafted poker table. As Kobby prepared to deal cards over the green velvet surface, Aamir came lumbering through the door, sweating and apologizing. His face fell as he noticed Clement studying his cards.
“Oh. You guys started with me. What is that?”
“Yo. We gots bidniss to tend to,” Nasir scolded. “Cain’t be waiting on your ass all night, you know what I’m sayin’? Anyway, pull up your chair. We’ll let you in.”
Clement cursed and handed his cards back to Kobby. Obviously Aamir’s late arrival had screwed up what was turning out to be a pretty decent hand. Kobby re-dealt and laid out the rules.
“Ten card draw, deuces are wild. Minimum 50 cedi bid.”
“Somebody’s getting’ rich tonight!”
Aamir snickered and stroked his cards lovingly. “You guys shouldn’t even worry. I’m here to take all your money.”
The Twins chortled in unified mockery. Aamir had never won a single card game in three years. The room had gotten too quiet. Mohammed cocked his head to the side and began the ribbing.
“So how is you guys’ homosexual relationship going?” he said, speaking to Faisal and Edmund without looking at them. “Done anything ‘fun’ lately?”
“I don’t know,” replied Faisal serenely, “why don’t you ask your dad about the other night?”
Mohammed winced. The rest of the men broke into unbridled laughter.
“Business is good, if you care to know,” Edmund carried on casually. “We have a new client. And like Faisal already said, it’s your poppi. Give me a card. I raise the bet by ten.”
“That’s enough my dad,” Mohammed warned. “I’ll raise you ten.”
“Stop calling us gay.”
“You guys are worse than a couple of bitches,” Nasir roared. “Are we gonna play cards or is this conversation leading up to a homoerotic scene and I don’t know about it?”
Edmund mumbled an apology and then muttered a mocking sentence about Nasir’s father being “homoerotic”. Abdul kicked him under the table. Offending Nasir meant being sent home early, and Abdul had his eye on a particularly tasty looking purple pill in Nasir’s ‘candy bowl’.
“Speaking of bitches, I was wondering if you’d seen Ivy lately – Khalid.”
Kal looked at Aamir sharply, who refused to meet his cousin’s eyes, although there was a look of smug self-satisfaction scribbled all over his soft face.
“Not for a couple of weeks, no,” Khalid answered flatly. “Why do you ask?”
“Well, I’ve heard from around that you guys broke up.”
“Yup. That’s right,” Kal conceded. “And don’t call her a bitch.”
Aamir put his hands up in mock surrender as Clement choked on his beer in shock. “Oh how! Ivy is so fine! That waist and that ass… eish! I remember one time I saw her at the beach and I thought to myself, ‘If I get that thing, the way I go…’”
Clement let his voice trail off, realizing he may have already said too much. The look on Khalid’s face confirmed it. He folded his hand and continued to sip his beer.
“Anyway, I was wondering since you guys had broken up if you’d be upset if she started dating again,” Aamir asked slyly.
“Of course not,” Kal replied, his jaw tight. He already knew where this was going.
“Good! And you wouldn’t mind if I asked her out, right?”
“Of course not.” Khalid knew he could not protest the notion of Ivy dating another man, even if that other man was his cousin, who had so obviously violated an unspoken code among brothers. The object would make him appear churlish. “Ivy is a grown woman and she’s free to date whoever she wishes.”
Aamir smiled a disgusting, oily grin.
“I’m so glad to hear you say that,” he said, feigning relief. “I told her that’s what you’d say when I was fuckin’ her an hour ago. She sends her regards.”
This, Khalid was not expecting. He excused himself from the table and made his way out to the veranda. He needed air – fresh air.
“I’ll be right back.”
As he slid the glass door behind him he heard Mohammed berating Aamir in Arabic.
“Speak English, man! If you are going to insult him, we all want to hear,” Clement protested.
Khalid shook his head and chuckled to himself at the absurdity of it all. He knew Ivy was capable of a lot of crazy things, but this feeble attempt at injuring him was certainly beneath her dignity. Nasir – who was certainly nicer and better looking on all accounts – would have been a better pawn. The thought of those lovely brown legs spread akimbo and wrapped around Aamir’s blubbery back made his heart ache for her.