“Not this again,” complained Zinzi.
“Don’t tell me, tell Mama,” said Ntombi.“If she’s ever here to tell.” As they ate, on Bold, a soapie star reclined on a lounging chair beside a pool somewhere in America – somewhere hot and lush with lots of money. A butler handed her an ice cold cocktail… she didn’t have a care in the world. Her nanny was looking after her kids, and Ntombi knew that her fridge would be brimming with food. Just then there was a sizzling sound and a bang from the back of the TV. The smell of burned plastic filled the room.
“No!” screamed Zinzi. “Not the TV! My life has ended.” And she buried her face under a cushion.
“Don’t be such a drama queen!” yelled Ntombi. She went into the bedroom to get away from her sister, before she exploded like the TV. She lay on the bed she shared with Zinzi and started paging through a magazine. But she wasn’t reading the words. She kept thinking of Asanda and Lettie standing on the stage of the school hall, learning the words of that new song, and them all laughing and having fun as they got one step closer to the finals, while she was stuck in this dump with a younger sister who was driving her crazy and not helping one bit around the house.
She looked down at the glamorous pop stars in the mag. Who did she think she was, trying to compete with girls like this? Maybe she was dreaming after all. Maybe Zakes was right. Maybe she didn’t have what it took to be a Teen Voice star. “Why bother entering the competition,” he had said. “These days you have to have the whole package: the looks, the sex appeal and the voice. You’ll only be setting yourself up to be taken down.”
Her dad would never have said those hurtful words. He had told her that he was so proud of her when she had got into the choir at Harmony High. And when he had his employer’s car for a few days he had taken her to practices himself. Once when she wanted to go and get her ears pierced he had said, “Why spoil something so beautiful already?”
Now she didn’t even know where he was, or who he was with. Maybe he had a whole other family somewhere, another daughter, whom he loved now, more than her?
* * *
As she lay there she thought of the three promises she had made to herself on New Year’s eve three months ago. First: to enter the singing competition and go all the way to the final. Second: not to go out with a guy unless he was kind and respected her – not like the guy Busi had dated in the holiday, who had seemed the real deal – too good to be true – because he
was too good to be true. He was good looking and clever, but he had left her with a broken heart and a broken arm after he had pushed her and she had tripped and fallen hard. If Ntombi and Asanda hadn’t run when they heard her cries from behind the sports shed at school, things might have been a lot worse. But when they appeared Ebenezer had left her and run – a coward at heart.
The third promise was to find her dad and bring him home. There was no way that she was going to let Zakes move in with them and pretend to be their father.
Ntombi woke up from a nightmare in the middle of the night. In the dream she was wearing a long pink dress with lots of frills and her friend Asanda was putting a tiara with plastic flowers in her hair. They were in the changing rooms at the church hall where the auditions were going to be for the Teen Voice competition. First Ntombi thought she had won the competition and she was really excited. She was ready to walk out on the stage in front of hundreds of people and be given flowers and a recording contract. Pink wasn’t really her colour, but who cared, when she was about to become a pop star? But when she walked out into the hall there were no screaming teenage fans and no sign of a microphone. In fact the hall was full of men and women dressed in suits and formal dresses. And there at the back, next to the door was her mother. She was also dressed in a huge pink dress, with more frills and lace than Ntombi’s. For a second Ntombi thought that this might be her own wedding, and that at any minute the handsomest, coolest guy was going to appear, walk towards her and announce that he was her fiancé. But then Zakes walked in, and Ntombi realised that this was no fairytale wedding and she definitely wasn’t the princess. She was a bridesmaid at her mother’s wedding to Zakes. The dream had just turned into a terrible nightmare. mother of the bride dresses
Her mother was smiling and kissing Zakes. He was smiling that fake smile. Before she knew it her mother was calling her to the bridal procession. Her sister appeared in an identical pink dress. The whole thing made Ntombi feel sick.
“What’s wrong, Ntombi?” Suddenly her mother had the face of a witch. “Can’t you be happy for us?”
“Just wait.” Zakes gripped her arm and led her away so her mother couldn’t hear what he was about to say. His breath was warm and stank of beer as he lowered his voice.“There’s no escaping from me now,” he said. “You will do exactly as I say or there will be trouble. I am the boss in your house.” He let her go and she rubbed her arm; his fat fingers had left marks on her skin. She watched as her mother took Zakes’ arm and walked up the aisle and up the stairs to the stage where a priest was waiting to marry them.
Ntombi had to do something to stop them – nobody else was. She tried to run but her feet were glued to the ground. She opened her mouth to scream but no words came out. Zakes took the ring and was about to slip it on her mother’s finger.