R2.00 – Pearl Matsebula

Kodisa watched a thrilled trio of colleagues enter the bank. “Ingenile,- It has clocked,” they crammed themselves inside the revolving glass door. Today’s the big day of each month. Trolleys are burdened with shopping bags. There’s long queues everywhere. Everyone looks relieved from something. “Nathi siyazi siholile – We’ve also been paid,” the unemployed also say. Debit cards are swiped everywhere, ATM’s are coughing money. Speed Points are sucking bank balances in restaurants, retail stores, cinemas etc. And We’ll See is the ticket used to spend, spend and spend some more. “Usebenzile umuntu kwamele azipoile – We worked hard one must spoil themselves,” her mom normally says and later visits the bank for charging her extra on her debit orders.

She stands next to the bank and counts her change. R20.00, that should be enough. It’s been too long since she ate out. She justifies her craving. All she wants, all she really, really wants on this particular day is fish and chips. Not clothes, shoes, bags, jewellery… And for some reason she feels entitled to have it. It doesn’t matter on the other days but today, dark or blue she must get what she wants at whatever cost. Ja she’s also unemployed but she’ll get what she wants. She marches to the fish and chips shop. It’s packed as always but it’s no problem, at all. She will wait for her fish and chips.

She counts the money again, checks the prices, yep she’s good to go. Six more people and she’ll be tapping her feet with her slip in hand waiting for the last three digits on it to be called out. “Combo number 2 please!” she places the coins on the money tray and the cashier counts it.                                                        “R2…”

“R2?”

“It’s two rand short,” she yawns.

“But on the menu it’s writ…,” she moves closer to the glass between them.

She searches her bag hoping her fingers will miraculously feel a little cold sensation from a coin and not only get her the fish and chips but also save her from the scorching eyes behind her. She empties the bag and a toilet paper roll falls out, rolls on the floor, while trying to catch it, the sudden sound of her textbooks hitting the floor turns everyone’s attention to her. Her face red, she saves her stare for the cashier who’s now on her phone waiting for the R2. There was no use searching as she remembered she had emptied her bag for the change that’s now short. But she was not going to leave it at that. She had every right to cause a scene if need be, like the lady in the retail store who demanded to see the manager when the price for the item she wanted suddenly changed when she got to the till. “No one will pay here until I see the manager,” the lady said. Poor little manager gave a professional apology and the lady only paid a quarter of the fixed price. After all, isn’t the customer always right? She was ready to go at her but the sighs and eyes digging holes on her back defeated her. She shoved the tissue and the textbooks in her bag, scooped the coins with her sweaty fingers and turned to walk out. But nah! She was a customer and the customer is always right.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       “Where  Where does it say your prices have increased?” she waved her index finger ignoring the mama that was placing her order. The cashier waved her index finger like she had and it landed on a price increase notice plugged at a head-turn distance. Another on the glass between them, two on either side of the walls… They all seemed to have magically appeared. Her next words were stuck behind her throat. “You should learn to read,” the cashier mumbled as she walked away. “Sorry, what did you just say?” she imagined herself spitting those words on her face but humiliation drove her out as quickly as possible.

She bumped on all sorts of money as she left the shopping complex. New money, old money, wanna-be money, no money. Then was hit by a sudden fresh breath, taking her to the white beaches of Mozambique and back in less than five seconds- the lady’s perfume she just passed. Her trolley packed with magazine things. Everything about her was new, fresh. She looked careful about everything, her strides were light, hands on the trolley loose, the way she pursed her lips, even her breath felt light. She looked and smelt like new money. And Mr Old Money at the furniture shop who paid close to R66 000 for the ugliest coffee table she had ever seen. But loved the leather sling bag he’d been carrying for over a decade but still looked good. Kodisa would call her money, hopping money. Known to mysteriously vanish, especially when you’re still learning the skills said to make you more money and to stop it from hopping. Maybe her money was related to her mothers’. It always hops out of her hand and magically hops back again but soon she changes her cellphone number.  All the way to the taxi rank she kept scouting for R2 on the ground, while her future selves passed her, driving up to the fish and chips restaurants that demanded five R50’s and more. She even went back to turn a bottle top of a beer that looked shiny under a street lamp.

Hawu we Lasta, Rasta” one of the queue marshals placed his hands over his head and told her he’d quit his taxi job and go look for a proper job just for her, that’s how much he loved her. She laughed. Dreams are good she thought as she passed. Maybe he could give her the extra R2 she needed. “Cala ngokung’gcwalisesla iR2 – First add on my taxi money,” she opened her hand to show him the coins. “Haa kanti uyileyo ntlobo – You’re that type?” the man laughed and dismissed her. “Kanti uyindoda enjani – What kind of a man are you?” she tried to hide her embarrassment. They continued with their game of dice and ignored her speech about the beauty of a man is in his giving. She was not that type she thought angrily. All this for fish and chips, she felt defeated. “Uzodliwa eGoli mawulele – You’ll be broke when you’re not careful.” The men went on about their game. She gave up on the whole idea and joined the queue. But when the varsity girl with Boomshaka braids saw the taxi was not a quantum she suddenly remembered she’d forgotten something and stepped out of the queue. Good for Kodisa, the girl saved her another wait for a taxi. The taxi left and everyone prepared their fare, she hoped the taxi driver would be sensible enough to realise his taxi was not in good condition and would discount the fare by R2. They paid. The driver switched on his radio and the dreadlocked lady she sat next to-blessed with much except a hairline started singing along to the song, clicking her fingers and missing notes. Others laughed and most had no energy to quieten her. Just as Kodisa was dozing off she was quickly awakened by the smell that arrested the whole taxi. It commanded acknowledgement. She bit her lips and swallowed at the vinegar smell on chips and Russian. Everyone was affected by the smell. This was serious bullying felt Kodisa as she swallowed. Even the taxi driver couldn’t help himself, “We sisi ngane yakithi asuvale lo ships slambe sonke – My dear sister close those chips we’re all hungry.” She continued her silent prayer for R2. She had to make a plan for the R2. She even thought of asking the dreadlocked lady next to her. She looked kind.

Asesi khokheni sonke iyashoda imali – Let’s all pay the money is short,” the taxi driver looked at everyone on the rear view mirror. That’s never a good situation, even the chips smell hid. The taxi fell silent. “Askies mshayeli iwallet yami angiyitholi – Sorry driver I can’t find my wallet,” the guy at the back searched his bag nervously. Everyone looked relieved when the culprit brought himself forward. “Manje uthi ngenzenjani ke – What must I do?” the driver stuttered. “Bengithi ngiyiphethe kodwa manje – I had it but now…” said the guy with a shaky voice.                                                                                                                                                                    Kodisa thought someone would offer to help him, especially the dreadlocked lady with the fat wallet or the ones with shopping bags. She was going to help him but R20 was all she had and she was going to buy a bunny chow with it. It was the closest thing close to fish and chips she could afford. Besides she’s been starving for too long. All she ever has is enough money for taxi fare and a packet of shwam-shwams. She couldn’t. Especially on this day where you satisfy whatever craving from clothes, food, cars, gambling etc. “Uthi mina ngenze njani ke ndoda – What must I do?” He pulled to the side of the road and switched off the engine. The young man’s face loosened her clinch on the coins. “Ngizom’bhadalela driver – I’ll pay for him,” she said sadly and remembered how somebody once came through for her when she lost her wallet. Her sadness was mostly out of giving up her only chance to getting the closest thing to fish and chips than the young man’s circumstance. There was no need to count the coins as she already had countless times. “Ngiyabaonga sisi ngiyabonga, thank you,” the guy wouldn’t stop saying. She nodded and gave a little smile and drooled at the subtle smell of the vinegar and oil on chips.  The last two months she couldn’t go out for fish and chips even this month. Her money really was hopping money, she swallowed bitterly as she got off the taxi and walked home.

Kunini sikumele – We’ve been waiting for you,” her little brother complained when she walked through the door and quickly reached out for their daily stylised greeting. But she had forgotten all about it when her eyes landed on a plate covered with chips and five fish. As they ate, her mother’s phone rang and she asked her to answer it. She lost her appetite when she realised they were eating someone else’s money. But for the first time it felt right to use the We’ll See card.

Photo: Hazel Fasaha Tobo

 

 

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