Don't Look Back 2/2

By Drum Digital
27 December 2013

ESTHER drove off with tears blurring her vision. There was a lump in her throat. She was going to miss Busi's noise and chatter. Without her children she wasn't sure she amounted to much at all. Busi was her youngest; her last child. When the others went, she had felt a pang, but there had always been Busi. What was she going to do without her?

Tefo was an absent father. An absent husband too, though for all intents and purposes he still lived with them. The thing about Tefo was he loved the idea of having a wife and family as long as he wasn't there to support them emotionally. He wasn't prepared to give her the kind of support that all the glossy magazines assured her was her right.

Tefo was a civil engineer. His job took him all over Africa and even to other continents sometimes. But even when he was at home his mind was elsewhere.

About six months before she had begun to suspect he was having an affair. This was confirmed when she overheard him talking on his cellphone. Earlier he had had it on speaker phone and didn't realise he hadn't switched it off.

"So when are you going to tell her?" a sultry voice had asked him.

"Now's not a good time, Thandi. Busi is leaving for varsity in a few weeks' time. I'll tell her then."

Her heart filled with rage but she managed, on the outside at least, to stay calm. She wrestled with the idea of having it out with him ? but at the same time she

didn't want him to admit he had been unfaithful. She had a sneaking feeling that Tefo was stringing Thandi along. He had done that to other women in the past. No matter how much he strayed, Tefo always returned home to his family. How many times in the past had she heard him boast about his family to others? Home and fami- ly meant a great deal to Tefo as long as he didn't have to contribute anything. He was such a hypocrite really and for years she had allowed herself to be deceived. She told herself she had done it for the children. Busi had left now, she mused ? so what was stopping her striking out on her own?

She drove aimlessly about. She didn't know Port Elizabeth very well. Then she spotted a neon sign advertising a coffee shop called Friends. She pulled into the parking lot. There were a number of tables outside facing the ocean but she chose a dark corner far away from prying eyes. She ordered a strong black coffee and sat back to enjoy it.

"Esther! I don't believe it!"

She looked up at the sound of the voice and gasped.

"Jennifer Komo! How are you?"

They had been best friends at varsity but Jennifer had gone to Australia after finishing her degree and they had lost contact.

"It's so good to see you, Esther," said Jennifer. "I've often thought of you. You look exactly the same."

"Liar! But thanks for the compliment. Wow, it's been a long time . . . "

"Well, yes! More years than I'd like to think about right now," said Jennifer, with a rueful smile. Can I join you?"

"Yes, of course," said Esther and ordered another pot of coffee.

They caught up on all the years they hadn't seen each other and Esther told her about Busi and why she was here in Port Elizabeth.

"Have you had a good marriage?'? Jennifer asked her. "Are you happy?" Esther had forgotten how straight-forward she was.

"Yes. No," Esther took a sip of her coffee and then she told her about Tefo. "Fool," Jennifer commiserated. She ordered two chocolate éclairs with another pot of coffee.

"What are you doing in Port Elizabeth?" Esther asked her.

"I'm in the process of setting up a new business. Actually I'm looking for somebody to run it for me. Would you be interested, Esther?"

"What kind of business?" Esther asked.

"It's a boutique specialising in upmarket clothes," Jennifer said. "I have two others in Johannesburg and Cape Town."

"I don't know anything about clothes except how to wear them," Esther said.

"Well that's a good start," Jennifer smiled at her over the rim of her coffee cup. "There's a small flat at the back of the shop. It would be just perfect for you."

"If you think you can win, you can win ? faith is necessary for victory." Esther had often quoted those words to her children. How appropriate they sounded right now.

"William Hazlitt," said Jennifer with a grin. "We learnt those lines the first day at university."

It would be ideal. She could sell the house and start over. She knew now she could never go back. Going forward would be difficult, but going back would be a whole lot worse. She drained her coffee. And as she replaced the cup on the table she sensed a male presence beside her.

"You remember my brother, Kutlwano?"

She looked up into his eyes and she was 18 again. He looked older, but he smelt the same. You never truly forgot your first love. As he sat down she noticed her hands were shaking slightly. Her stomach was churning. She put it down to all the coffee she had drunk. What a day this was turning out to be!

Suddenly the shrill of her cellphone interrupted the laughter at their table.

"Excuse me," she said and went outside to take the call.

"How are you holding up, Esther?" Tefo said. "I should have been there for you. I'm sorry but I'm heading home now. I'll take you out for a special dinner tonight. What time will you be back?"

"I'm sorry but I won't be back tonight."

"Oh, is Busi alright? I take it she's not settling in too well then. But we'll do it tomorrow. I'm taking a few days leave."

"And you couldn't take one today and see your last child off to university," Esther said.

"I explained to you about the meeting in Johannesburg this morning. I couldn't get out of it."

"Well it doesn't matter now," Esther said.

"What do you mean?"

"I want to sell the house." "No, never. That's our home. It's the children's home."

"In case you haven't noticed the children have left," Esther said.

"I know what you must be going through, Esther. And I know I've been neglecting you but I promise I'll make it up to you."

"It's too late for that," she said. "I'm leaving you. And you have absolutely no idea what I'm going through."

"Leaving me? But you can't do that," he spluttered.

"Why not?" she asked. "Isn't that exactly what you were planning to do to me?"

"I think you should come home straight away and we'll sort this mess out. I'll never leave you, Esther. You and the children mean the world

to me."

She laughed and disconnected the call. Tefo was now past tense. Today was the first day of her new life.

Kutlwano came up beside her. "I hope you take up Jennifer's offer. She's a good woman to work for." He looked right into her eyes and she knew he was asking something else of her too.

"What are you doing this weekend?" she asked impulsively.

"Nothing that can't be changed," he grinned. "Are you asking me out?"

"Sort of, but I'll need help to move into my new place. I'll have to go back to Queenstown and tie up some loose ends there. Will you be here when I get back?"

She felt extraordinarily composed.

"You bet!" He laughed.

She felt young and carefree again. She could imagine Busi saying "Cool, mom."

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