I get up before the sun rises. I fold the blanket Gogo lent me and place it neatly on a chair. I don’t want to wake Stella or her grandmother so I sneak out quietly without washing my face and hands. The door locks itself when I close it as softly as I can. The early morning air is still chilly and I wrap my arms around myself to try to keep warm. I should have worn my new jacket last night.
I run the rest of the way to my tree and the exercise warms me. The tree’s bark is damp and it feels cold to climb. I put on my jacket as soon as I get to my cat-bag. The new leaves must have protected the bag from the dew because if I hug it to my chest it keeps me warmer. I take the plastic with my school stuff from its branch. Maybe I’ll be able to find a school in Soweto. Maybe I will need the books.
I am about to go to the taxi rank near 20th Street when I remember that today is Sunday. Not many early morning taxis will be available. Moreover, it is the day Stella’s gogo cooks chicken for the neighbourhood. Having contributed to the chicken, it would be a pity to miss the meal. Perhaps I should go back. I can catch a taxi this evening when more people will be going home from visiting family.
With this decision made, I take my cat bag and my school things and the plastic bag of yesterday’s purchases and climb down the tree with all my worldly possessions. I still have forty rand and a couple of coins, the paper money safely in my shoe. I bought laces and shoe polish yesterday and the smart shoes are looking much better although climbing a damp tree has left its mark. I will clean them when I change into my work clothes in the yard. I wonder if my smart clothes will have time to dry if I wash them in the communal sink next to the toilet.
When I get to Stella’s house, I hear Gogo singing “Siyahamba.” A stab of memory pierces my mind. Mama used to sing that song. Tears come to my eyes as I listen to the long-forgotten words again. Poor Mama. It’s such a long time since I thought about her. She wasn’t strong enough for the world. She was like a beautiful butterfly and Baba took care of her while he lived. I wipe my eyes impatiently. Maybe I am like Mama. Maybe I am not meant to be a fighter.
I knock on the door. Stella opens it. She is wrapped in a blanket. It is brown and orange with pictures of lions and trees. The lions seem to be laughing at me. I shake myself. My mind is not right this morning.
“May I keep my bags here until this afternoon?” I ask. “I’m catching a taxi later.”
Stella nods, looking at me with wide eyes. “Do you want tea?” Her face seems softer this morning as if some of the muscles have relaxed. I wonder if she still distrusts me. I step inside and close the door.
I hold out my cat bag. “Look what I got at the jumble sale yesterday.” I stroke it as if it was a real cat.
A small smile lights Stella’s face. “It looks real.” She puts out a hand to touch the bag. “Don’t let Gogo see it. She’s afraid of cats.” She turns away to deal with the boiling kettle.
I put the cat bag in the corner under the table and place the two shopping bags on top.
Gogo doesn’t look surprised to see me. “I will need wood for the fire,” she says to me. “After breakfast go towards the river and bring me wood.” She sits in the chair nearest the table and takes a mug of hot tea from Stella. “Eish! Every week there are more people coming for chicken dinner. Stella, we’re going to use five cups of maize meal today. The pot will be full.”
Stella nods. She passes me a cracked mug of tea. I add two spoons of sugar and stir them in.
I spend the morning gathering wood for Stella’s Gogo. For the first time in a very long time I have connected with other people. It all started with Gogo Kaye, I realise.
For five years the only people I interacted with were Duke and Shorty. We didn’t hold conversations. They left notes in a little hollow in one of the lower branches of my tree giving me an address and a time. I would arrive at the place at the time they said. I’d get in, open up, take my one thing and disappear. Later I’d find a note giving a time and I’d meet one of them at the spaza shop and he’d give me a fifty rand note. It was business. It was a job.
Now I’m realising what it is like to be part of a family. If things had been different, I think Stella’s gogo might have let me stay with them. As long as I helped, of course. If I’d come here first, instead of going to the church, things might have been so different. Gog...