Golden against the sky a flock of pigeons catches the first rays of the morning sun on this warm November day. Beneath them Tendai sees the familiar sky-line of Hillbrow Tower, The Ponti and Twickenham Hall, the block of flats where Ruvengo lives. Egoli, City of Gold. For the pigeons maybe, but not for her.
Soon the bus will reach the station and it will all begin again. Only when she has sold all her goods and can go back to Bulawayo will she once more live and breathe and stretch and have access to the bathroom when she needs it. If only they had their own room, it would make a big difference. Ruvengo didn’t even answer her the last time she had raised the subject. She shivers at the memory of the hostile looks from the locals. They resent the presence of their neighbours from the north who take much needed work and accommodation from them. She remembers how lost she had felt when she first went from Matibi to Bulawayo. The other children had laughed at her accent and she had longed for the rocky mountains and the open spaces around her childhood home. Slowly Bulawayo had become home. Maybe one day Egoli would feel like home too.
Tendai thinks of Nokuthula from the flat next door and smiles. They work together at Bruma Flea Market and their children play happily with each other for hours. Nokuthula once said: “You and Ruvengo are like two fish swimming in the opposite direction. At the same time you each long for the other to turn around and swim with you.” What did she mean? All Tendai knows is that she does not feel like a fish swimming anywhere, but like a chicken in a cage. That’s what she is. Just like those in the wire cages on the street corners in Hillbrow – all crowded together, laying their eggs through the wire netting to crash useless on the pavement below. They have long forgotten what it is like to roam free under the trees, maybe they never knew. Nokuthula has known another life, yet she seems happy and free. Tendai asks herself, “Why do I feel caged? Am I caged at all? Where do I really want to be?”
” Look Mommy, there’s Jo’burg!” Dudu’s excited voice takes her out of her thoughts into the hustle and bustle of arriving at the station.
Although it is early, it is already hot. Tendai lifts the sleeping Mthokozisi, holds Dudu’s hand and makes her way through the crowds of people all rushing to claim their baggage. Her legs are stiff from travelling all the way from Beit Bridge with Mthokozisi on her lap. As she steps off the bus she is amazed. Ruvengo is standing there. He has never been to meet her before. Maybe this time will be different? It is a relief that she has someone to help her to get the luggage and the children to the flat. He looks strange to her in his neatly pressed pin-striped suit and shiny black shoes, nothing like the boy from Bulawayo she married 10 years ago. They make an unlikely pair. She is much taller than he is. Her hair, pulled tightly up into a rubber band falls untidily over her head like a fountain. Her clothes are disheveled from the long journey. She wishes she had taken more trouble. Her mother’s words come to her, although she would like to push them far away:
“Tendai, go and live with Mbuso. That’s your place.
We will miss you, but we will cope and you will come back sometimes.”
Her mother is the only one who refuses to use the nickname given to Mbuso by the rival teams when he was the dreaded goalkeeper of the local soccer team. Ruvengo, ‘the hated one’. Is he Ruvengo, or Mbuso, ‘the able one’, to her? When she had called him Ruvengo, she had thought of him as the one who could keep harm away not ‘the hated one.’ Her first disappointment was when they could not find a home or work in Bulawayo.
They greet each other tentatively, like strangers keeping a good distance from each other. Tendai steps forward as if to hug him, but she holds back. She cannot believe what she is hearing. “You mean, Mbuso, we have a room to ourselves now!” Her shoulders relax; a burden is lifted off them. She had thought he had not even listened to her, let alone cared what she wanted. Ruvengo breathes a sigh of relief, it’s only a beginning, but it is a beginning.
A porter has loaded their luggage and the four of them make their way to the taxi rank. The queue is long. She hears many languages being spoken all around her. She sees the sign sprayed large on the station wall: “Foreigners. Go Home!” It no longer deters her.
She looks at Mbuso and Dudu and Mthokozisi. Where they are, is home for her.