“But you must.”
“But I can’t!”
“Except, you must!”
I looked up at Benjy.
“I don’t understand!” I exclaimed. I threw the pencil down and pushed to my feet.
“I don’t get it – any of it! I’ll probably only get marks for writing down the correct equation.”
“And that’s a start, Dilia,” he said. “So you know what to do. You just need to understand how.”
“There is no understanding this. It’s not like Biology or English where you can come at one thing from maybe three possible angles provided you’re able to rationalize it. Math is math and it stays the way it stays! And I fail the way I fail…”
He rose to his feet and moved to stand next to me. “You should have a little faith in yourself, D. you made it to matric! You have been considered by two universities –”
“For shit that I don’t even want to do!”
I covered my mouth with my hand, startled by my own outburst.
I shook my head and he pulled me into a hug. “You’ll be fine. Just six more months of this – not even six, it’s like three. You made it all this way. Don’t crash now.”
I looked at him for a long time after he spoke and he simply looked back at me.
I don’t pretend to possess some mystical gift of knowing when somebody is being honest with me, but I figured that Benjy had been true from the start. He had no reason to lie to me. And in the end, I found myself smiling.
Not because I had somehow found my hope again, but because Benjy was an awesome person and I was fortunate to know him.
I carried his words with me through the weeks as I worked through some past question papers for all of the subjects that I had taken. I knew that I would kill it in English and Biology and that Computer Sciences and Afrikaans were iffy at best. My real troubles were with Mathematics, Physics and Chemistry. Those three subjects were important for me to get into Health Sciences so I had to at least get upwards of sixty per cent.
These were the calculations that I made when I studied. I did not neglect any of it, but I gave more time to those subjects.
A week before classes were due to cut out for the Grade 12 students, Imo and I met up in the local park and engaged in the joys of being completely devoid of productivity.
The sun was glorious and I closed my eyes feeling the heat on my skin.
Imo lay beside me, her head resting on her arms, both of us being silent as we thought about the things that did or didn’t matter.
“Wherever we go,” she said. “We should keep in touch.”
“And we totally will.”
“And if you get a man, you should tell me.”
“Of course I will,” I laughed. “You should too.”
“From here? It’s not gona happen.”
I opened my eyes, looking at her. “So they really won’t let you go?”
“Yeah…” said Imo, sounding unmoved. “And if he’s sexy, keep it strong!”
I chuckled. “Strong for what? Nothing’s gona happen.”
“That’s what they all say,” she said. “Until he asks to put just the tip in –”
“Now how the hell would you even know that?”
“Half the girls on my block got pregnant that way. They were sure that nothing was going to happen and before you know it, babies everywhere.”
I laughed at this.
“You know what I don’t get – all the hype and fuss about boobs,” I said. “They’re squishy and sometimes asymmetrical and they sag, but guys go crazy for them.”
“Because they’re soft,” said Imo. “Just like your ass. Soft and squishy and bouncy and they like to put their faces in them. It’s like us with abs and strong arms.”
Well, maybe she had a point.
“I don’t get what the fuss is with our lady parts,” said Imo. “I mean – why would anyone wana go down there? And then you’re supposed to let him kiss you after that? And then I would never, ever go down there with him. He pees with that thing!”
“And we bleed with our things –”
“For all those babies we didn’t have! EW!”
We both burst out laughing.
“Would you ever let him use his fingers?” she asked.
I knew that I would because I used my fingers and no doubt he used his hands when he needed to pleasure himself, but I wasn’t about to tell her that.
“I dunno,” I said. “I guess that’s a thing that I won’t know until I’m there…”
She was quiet for a long moment.
I hoped I hadn’t given myself away.
“But what if we never get the chance?” she asked quietly. “What if we’re single forever and we never get to feel what it’s like to make love with someone?”
I opened my eyes, looking up at the clear blue sky and wondering if God even had time to listen to us. There were big, bad things happening in the world.
I knew this because every morning, like clockwork, my father would turn on the radio and put on the local news station and every single time, it was always bad news. Even the good news did not bode well for somebody somewhere.
What would it matter to Him if two random girls from the middle of nowhere on the border of Limpopo found love and got to experience what it was like to have sex?
When people were dying and others were killing each other and nature was revolting and the planet was running out of resources, what were the musings of two lonely girls?
“I don’t know…” I said.
And how did you go to your Heavenly Father and ask Him to grant you the opportunity to have sex?
We both burst out laughing when I said this out loud.
If God was too busy to grant us these wishes, then He sure as hell was laughing at us for asking these things.
When I got home that day, I was surprised to see my dad there.
“No business today?” I asked.
“Half day,” he said. “Apparently, we have a specific number of hours to work a week and I have exceeded mine.”
I nodded my head. “Sounds fun.”
“It won’t last,” he said. “By the time you get there, things will be back to the way that they were before.”
I remembered how he had reacted when the envelopes had come.
I was being considered for Nursing at two universities. They were waiting on my final results and then they would deliberate amongst themselves before I was accepted by one of them.
Or none of them.
My father had not been impressed at all. It did not make even the smallest bit of sense to me that he would think that Nursing would change me when Medicine was the bigger challenge. Not only was there a lot to learn, it would take longer to complete and even after that, there were so many levels that stood between graduation and becoming an autonomous Health Care Professional. There were so many students that had finished and were still drowning in student debt – no doubt, it cost a ton.
So why was my father so disappointed?
He had married a Nurse, after all.
It would cost him much more to fund a degree in Medicine than it would in Nursing.
“It will change you,” was all he had said.
The words had set off a spiral in my mind, however, and I wondered if he was talking about my mother.
It wasn’t like in the movies where the mother would share the beautiful story with her daughters about how she’d met the father. My mother never spoke about that time and always told me that she would tell me when I was older.
I had been growing older daily since she’d first said it and I realized that she would never say a word about it. Maybe she had been changed and she was also seeing it.
Unlike my dad, she had been ecstatic when she had heard what might happen.
But I couldn’t join her in her joy because I just wanted to write and anything else was just a waste of my time. I had told my parents this over and over and they just wouldn’t see it. They hadn’t even bothered to read my work. Over the years, they had seen how I excelled in the English language and had attributed this to the fact that this was the only official language that I spoke, disregarding my love for the language itself – the reading, the writing and even the actual words. How did you convince someone of another way when they insisted on seeing only their own way of things?
It was by this logic that I decided to stop trying to change their minds and instead focus on my studies.
I was happy though, that my parents allowed me to use the guest room, finally, so that I could study well into the night without the added irritations of my sister. Apparently, she had forgotten what it had been like for her when she had been doing her final year in high school.
Even then, I was an afterthought.
The lights would be on at all hours; she would have her friends over to study and they would dominate the whole house; my parents would give her everything that she wanted while I came in at a close one-hundred-and-two on the list of priorities.
It felt good to be this important, even if it was for the wrong reasons.
Finals came at me eventually and to be honest, I don’t really remember how they went.
I don’t remember what I wrote or whether I was floundering as I sat for them.
You’d think that I would recall what happened with the subjects that I feared most, but I don’t remember what happened there, either. I don’t know what I wrote about in my English paper and I don’t know if I enjoyed it.
I just remember the large hall and the grass outside and the occasional whisper of voices that carried on the wind from the other students in the distance. I think my class was the first group to write in that school hall but I could have been wrong.
The days that followed the last paper were just as much of a blur.
Imo took off for Zimbabwe and I went to Uganda. Neither of us could communicate with each other the whole month that we were apart. My mother and sister were full of joy at being in the home country and I just couldn’t even be bothered.
I knew that I appeared snobbish and maybe some other choice words could be used, but I couldn’t find it in me to connect with my culture. I could not rise to the occasion and learn the language, no matter how exotic it was. I loved the colours and the food but beyond that, I was pretty much unmoved.
I remembered my aunt giving me a stern tongue lashing for not engaging and I had simply shrugged.
I had not grown up here and my parents hadn’t taught me anything about this life.
I was brought up in an English-speaking home in South Africa with no knowledge of the country that my parents had been born and raised in. My father had asked me once if I ever missed Uganda and I told him truthfully that I didn’t. He completely understood, stating that I couldn’t possibly miss the place when I had barely anything to do with it. He even told me that learning the language would do almost nothing for me in the great big world because the number of people that spoke the language was a drop in a very big ocean.
I also remember exactly where I was the moment that I received a text from my father informing me that I had made it through my final year of highschool. I had been seated on the armrest of one of the sofas in my uncle’s house. This was where Virginia and I slept because all the bedrooms were taken by the adults. I had been holding that little brick of a Nokia phone when the text came through and I’d thrown the thing across the room in my excitement and followed that up immediately by running about the little house, screaming like a moron. My mother and my aunt were startled but I told them the good news and we were all happy.
We were all alive with hope and possibilities!
All but for V.
It seemed that the advent of my joy had only triggered the resurrection of her coldness toward me. It hurt, just a little bit, but there was nothing to be done about it.
When we returned to South Africa, my results were waiting for me along with a great big hug from my dad. I was excited, even though I knew what it might mean for me.
It felt good to achieve things that were difficult. I produced an A for English and Biology and – not surprisingly – a D for Mathematics. I had still passed, which was the point, and with the results that I had, I could be taken for something, even if that something was Nursing.
It was a start.