She always loved to spoil herself on Friday afternoons with her favourite treats at Tansy’s Café after a hard week in the concrete jungle. The ambiance of the hustle and bustle of the urban crowd filling up cafés to engage in conversation over a cup of coffee and a light meal was almost as soothing to her as watching the sun set behind the Johannesburg skyline.
Even though it’s a warm spring afternoon, a perfect day to enjoy the caresses of the sun’s ray and purple decoration of the Jacaranda flowers as they fall to the ground, Nontobeko prefers her usual tablet; the one at the back of the café next to the window where she could see the activity on the curb and facing forward to see entrants to the café.
A feisty woman in her 40’s with a petite physique and a petite afro to fit, and impeccably dressed in light blue jeans and a crisp white shirt, Nontobeko preferred to eat alone at a table far from people’s attention. She never seemed to take a break from work while holding her cappuccino in one hand and typing away with one hand on her tablet, trying to hide her irritation and sense of haste behind a seemingly emotionless expression. She wasn’t one for friendly chat sessions as she placed her work higher than building relationships of any kind.
Her work repelled her from people.
Being the first black female director of an aeronautical firm was not easy for Nontobeko to achieve. Working in an all-male office and being expected to play secretary to her male counterparts was a constant battle in the beginning stages of her career. Sure she is a smart woman, but her male colleagues saw her strength and leadership skills as an insult to their patriarchal ethos.
She would have appreciated her strength and intelligence far more if perfection wasn’t what was expected of her by her family. Her mother was a slave-driver, constantly reminding her when she scored a ‘B’ in her schoolwork that she was a dark-skinned, skinny girl who had nothing to fall back on but her brains to be successful, unlike her popular and lighter-skinned sister who was her mother’s darling.
Nontobeko soon learned that excelling in everything, including washing the wineglasses until they sparkled, would attract her mother’s affection. She thought that if she was a well behaved girl that maybe her father would leave the family that he left them for. She felt abandoned by his departure; that maybe if she had tried harder to be the perfect daughter that he would have stayed with her and her sister and mother.
Even in her adult life she felt like she couldn’t keep a man because her husband left her for another woman after 4 years of marriage. Luckily (as she thought), they didn’t have any children. She had decided that she wanted nothing to do with motherhood, that it brought nothing but pain.
And so she drowned herself in work.
Every minute of her life was spent on work, and it gave her great joy to be an innovator in her field, to be the one to come up with great solutions to problems and to be seen as a woman on top of her game. Even her mother applauded her for that, allowing her to experience an affection she longed for.
Her work had become her savior, her break away from memories in her head that she so badly wanted to flee from but couldn’t. Lately, her work had to take a back seat as she has been struggling to get out of bed each morning for the last two months. She has been having so many nightmares that she is afraid to go to bed, afraid to face a part of her life that she so deeply regrets.
But in the middle of night after waking up screaming and sweating, she reasons with herself that she was only 17 years old. She was too afraid to tell her mother, and so she had to hide everything.
Mama Ali, who had opened her own nursing enterprise after her nursing license was revoked, told her that a loving couple would take care of her baby and she had nothing to worry about. Besides, the baby’s father left her as soon as he found out that she was pregnant. He couldn’t even stand to look at her. He had become cold; so different from the man who showered her with the love and affection she so badly wanted.
So, with tears of failure, fear and hurt pouring down her cheeks, she handed over her baby to Mama Ali.
Today, she seemed to not enjoy her cappuccino and scones. She looks heartbroken, defeated and wanting to cry out but no one’s there to listen. Even though I’m her preferred waitress here at Tansy’s and she always manages to engage in small talk with me, lighting up the room with the most beautiful smile that she never shows off enough, today she isn’t much of a conversationalist.
I always serve her with a smile, making sure that I’m happy to see her and never sticking around too long to make her feel uncomfortable.
But today, I think I’ll take a seat at her table and let her know that she need not be so sad because I’m the daughter she gave up so many years ago.