SHORT STORY- BETWEEN THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA
BETWEEN THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA
Nomsa’s stomach flipped violently as she pressed the warm loaves against her bosom and shuffled to the exit. Balancing the bread on one arm, her fingers slowly worked on her sarong, glistening with blotches of filth in the relentless rays of the sun.
‘You one of the lucky ones, eh?’ Banda yelled from the bottom of the steps leading up to the supermarket entrance, where the crowd was busy shoving against him.
Her cracked lips parted into something of a smile. Poor Banda. It was evident that his green garb from Safeguard and the sjambok swiping wildly at the air were failing to intimidate the hubbub into order.
Never fight a hungry crowd. Especially when bread is in shortage.
Lustful stares chased her two loaves as she wobbled down the steps and trudged across the parking lot of Richmond Spar. She clutched them possessively, feeling triumphant.
Her euphoria was short-lived , interrupted by her grumbling tummy.
Hmm, didn’t it smell so good, fresh out of the oven and simply begging to be eaten… It would taste so yummy, especially with a slice of margarine melting in its hot freshness…
The baby on her back began to cry.
Folding herself beneath the shade of the Jacaranda, whose branches were beginning to sprout into purple confetti, she loosened her wrapper and placed the child on her lap. She raised his arm into the air, shook her head. Four months old and he was too small, too small or too sick, she wasn’t sure. The words of the Immunisation Nurse when she handed her the New Start Centre pamphlets rang in her ears.
‘No,’ she murmured to no-one in particular.
She could not go for testing. How could she live with it, if she ever found out? That Nurse simply did not understand, she didn’t know what it was like. Nomsa saw it with her own eyes every single day, had to live with it, and she had vowed never to turn out like Nokuthula. Not bed ridden like her sister.
But the rumours were spreading like an epidemic in Entumbane Township… About Abednigo and that brothel queen MaGumbo. They were spreading faster than the virus itself. She simply hoped they weren’t true. But look at his child, ribs advertising their poverty for all to see, always sick…
They came running, all five of them, grinning under all that dirt and grime. The stench of urine hit her before they reached her, made her wrinkle her nose. But what could one do, really? Three weeks without water and having to scrounge door to door like vagabonds. And people were stingy these days, even those with boreholes in their yards, hard hearted like the devil.
‘Why are you only carrying a loaf each?’ she asked, her heart sinking.
‘It’s all they gave us.’
‘We asked for two but they told us to get lost.’
‘That man with the black stick hit me.’
Less loaves to sell meant another couple of weeks of watery, sugarless porridge.
‘And we’re fast running out of mealie-meal,’ she murmured.
Her eyes fell onto little Nhamo, who was trying desperately to hide behind the others. Nomsa lashed out and grabbed her.
‘Yes? And what about you?’
The little brown eyes, abnormally large in the gaunt, sunken face, dropped to the ground.
‘I’m talking to you!’ she screeched, shaking the tiny body.
‘I didn’t get.’
The slap sent little Nhamo reeling backwards, kicking up a furious wave of dust as she skidded across the ground. She didn’t try to get up, just lay there, bloated belly rising like a dome amongst the sticks protruding from it, teary eyes fixed on auntie, sad, uncomprehending.
‘You nincompoop! “I didn’t get I didn’t get”, where do you think your food is going to come from?’
They had been on the waiting list for the ARVS for months now, her and her mother. Always come back tomorrow, come back tomorrow.
‘And now how am I expected to get them from the black market with this little idiot?’ Stupid!’
She had warned Nokuthula, hadn’t she? Now that the sweet bloom of love had gone sour, her sister was now her burden, nothing more than a grotesque bag of bones, rotting away in their two roomed shell. Eish. If only they could raise enough money to put her on a bus to the rurals. As it was Nomsa was barely making enough to suffice a simple meal, what with Abednigo drowning himself in that brothel. What would Mama say now, seeing the putrid remains of her little favourite? Everyone knew that Nokuthula had always been the apple of Mama’s eye. Nokuthula the smart one. Nokuthula can’t go to the well because she needs to read. She’s the only one with a brain in her head, look at her school books, see? Nokuthula this Nokuthula that. Always Nokuthula. Well look at her now, with all her degrees, could they save her now?
‘Didn’t I warn her about that sick old man of hers from the Diaspora? All the while Mama was busy ululating over all that money, imali imali, what is money, where is it now, heh? Did I not warn her? Heh!’ She surrendered her hands to the air.
Her sister’s in laws had taken everything, the house, the furniture, everything, which was exactly what Nomsa had warned her sister would happen. And afterwards, they had thrown her out, accusing her of bewitching their son all the way to his grave, imagine. Nomsa scoffed.
The baby wailed again. Sighing dejectedly, she retrieved his bottle and watched as he suckled the watery porridge.
Gathering her belongings, she struggled to her feet. The hunger made her head reel. She squeezed the bread, steeled herself against the delicious hot smell, fought the crazy urge to tear the plastic open and gobble up the whole loaf.
Indolently, she led her little troop across the parking lot, headed for the dirt road that would lead them after a good thirty minutes or so into Entumbane.
It was Givemoreboys, her second last born.
She followed his gaze to a fat woman folded by the bus stop in a nonchalant poise, surrounded by her little crèche. She was adorned in the shiny apparel Nomsa always saw at the flea market, the one Abednigo used to promise to buy for her when he still lapped at her feet. The fat woman's children were also fat, munching away happily at ice cream cones. She cast one look at the ragged woman with the filthy children, wrinkled her nose and turned away.
‘I want ice-cream, Mama.’
Something tugged at Nomsa’s heart.
‘Camun twana, let’s go.’
‘Yes yes please ice-cream please please please!’
‘Hey, you want me to hit you! Now shut up and move!’
The sun baked the earth tirelessly.
A tear spilled from Nomsa’s eye.
Little Nhamo began to sniffle.