Published by Darryl Brent, 2017.
This is a work of fiction. Similarities to real people, places, or events are entirely coincidental.
First edition. April 15, 2017.
Copyright © 2017 Darryl Brent.
Written by Darryl Brent.
About the Author
Thanks to God, through whom all things are possible
And to Rosemary, my support and guiding light.
Mr. Mkhize droned on at the front of the room. He was talking about our futures again.
I picked at the frayed cuff of my white shirt, the heat was stifling in the classroom. It was definitely time for school to end. No-one could think in this dry heat. Exams were over yesterday. Exams! I’d written my final ones. Never again would I sit hunched over a desk, sweating over whether I know the answers. My school days would officially be over in thirty minutes.
Mr. Mkhize stepped back and perched on the edge of his desk, lecturing on and on. Why can’t he give it a rest already? Does it really matter what we do next? I know what I want to do next, persuade Cynthia to come out with me this weekend and avoid my mom making me help around the house. For some reason it really bugs her when I relax. You’d never believe I work all day at school the way she goes on. She’s another one who keeps going on about the future. I’ve tried explaining to her the first thing I need, after twelve years at school, is a holiday. She sighed hard enough to flutter the leaves on her single pot plant, when she heard that. Said she wished she ever got a holiday. It’s not my fault she spends all her spare time cleaning the house and helping the Women’s Institute. I’m sure she could take a break if she really wanted to.
Mr. Mkhize’s voice broke into my thoughts, “Please bear in mind as you go out into the world that you are some of the lucky few, whose parents made sacrifices so you could finish your full twelve years of schooling. Many of your classmates had to leave and start earning two years ago.”
Hmmph, bit of a mixed blessing I think. I suppose it’s true that I haven’t had to get a job yet, but the last years of school had been the toughest yet. Learning Shakespeare and the details of how cells work had hardly been a walk in the park. All the teachers worrying about our final exams all the time.
“Those of you who have younger siblings have a responsibility to provide the same opportunities for them. When you start earning your first paychecks don’t rush out to spend them, contribute to the family who has sacrificed so much to get you here today.”
Younger siblings? Well that lets me off. Luckily I’m an only child. I tuned out of Mr. Mkhize’s speech and started sketching in my notebook. Under my pencil, birds and trees appeared round the edge of the page.
I was just adding the flick of a fish’s tail, viewed through the ripples of the pond when… Driiinnnggg. The school bell rang for the last time for me. It felt like chains falling off my back. I couldn’t wait to get out of there. Siya and I were out of our seats and through the door before Sir finished saying goodbye.
We hung around outside the gate waiting for Cynthia and Nomsa to come out.
“Ladies,” I said, raising an eyebrow with my most charming grin. “May we escort you home?”
Cynthia snorted and tossed her head, flicking her braids. “We have places to be,” she said imperiously. Nomsa didn’t look as sure, she threw a half smile at Siya. He has it easy, Nomsa’s so gentle natured. I don’t know why I have to pick the most difficult girl in the class myself, but Cynthia’s beautiful and easy to rile-up so I keep trying my luck with her. Of course actually being accepted into university has made her worse. It’s practically given her proof she’s better than the rest of us. Her mom’s the nursing sister at the local clinic so they’re wealthier than most of us. She’s going to stay with her aunt who’s also a nurse, when she goes to uni. Most families here are lucky if anyone in the family has a job at all. My mom’s a cleaner at the local B&B. It pays peanuts but she keeps at it year after year. You won’t catch me in a boring job like that though. I’m going to do something impressive and drive a big car one day.
We fell into step with the girls since we were all going the same way anyway. The tar road was edged with the tiny homesteads that make up our country town. Each consisted of a large yard with a house front and centre. The houses were a couple of rooms but they came in vastly different shapes. Some were round, thatched huts, some rectangles with flat corrugated iron roofs and others were brick houses with tiled roofs. Each had a matching outhouse at the farthest corner of the plot. Freezing in winter and smelly in summer, you had to be careful to check for snakes before using them. The curse of living so way out in the mountains. I realised there was one thing I was going to miss about school. The indoor toilets.
“So what’s next for you, Nomsa?” Siya asked.
She blushed a little in surprise. “I’m not sure yet. When the results come out, if I’ve passed, my parents are going to help me look for something.”
That’s an idea. I’ll tell my mom I’m waiting for my results before I start looking for work. I’ll tell her I’ll get a better position once I have my certificate. She can’t argue with that. She’s the one who kept saying how important it was I worked for my certificate.
“What about you Siya?” Nomsa asked.
“I’m thinking of becoming an entrepreneur,” Siya said, puffing his chest out.
I looked up in surprise at this declaration.
“I didn’t even know you knew the word ‘entrepreneur’,” Cynthia said.
I didn’t either but now that she’d said it I felt obliged to defend Siya. “Hey at least he has big ideas. Not just copying his parents.”
“At least I know what I want to do with my life!,” she snapped back. “I bet you still have no idea what to do Langa. I’m going to be a nursing sister and actually help others. That’s a lot more than either of you can say.” She glared at Siya and I, eyes flashing.
I laughed at her to annoy her even more, but Siya looked uncomfortable. “I do know,” he muttered. “You’ll see.”
“We’re too young to be worried about the future,” I countered. “You are going to be an old woman before you know it Cynthia. You better go out with me quickly this weekend before you’re too far gone.” I grinned wickedly at her.
“Aargh! You’re incorrigible Langa.” She turned on her heel and stalked off, with Nomsa trotting to keep up with her.
“Why’d you have to do that?” Siya asked. “I was going to try asking Nomsa out.”
“You can do that anytime buddy but that Cynthia needs taking down a peg or two.”
“She is a bit high and mighty, but knowing her, she probably will succeed. She was always studying this year.”
“So? We’ll be the ones having all the fun.” Seeing a tin can lying by the roadside, I scooped it up with my foot and started dribbling it as we walked. “Are you up for soccer tomorrow? My cousin’s putting a game together.”
“Of course,” Siya grinned.
“It’ll be the perfect start to the holidays.”
“Wake up, Langa,” my mom called. “We’re going to be late.”
It was Sunday and I couldn’t believe she expected me to get up that early. Siya and I were out late last night at a barbeque, celebrating the end of school. I rolled over and snuggled deeper into my pillows.
She came into my room to see what was taking so long. “You’re not even up yet? Hurry up. You’re going to make us late for church.”
“Well then go without me,” I mumbled into my pillow.
“What would God think of an attitude like that? You are a healthy young man and it’s a beautiful day. Get up.”
I rolled over with much groaning and dragged myself upright.
“That’s better,” she said disappearing back to the kitchen.
I pulled on my church clothes and went through for breakfast. Porridge as usual.
“Why does it always have to be porridge?” I asked. “Why don’t we ever have waffles or pancakes, like on TV?”
“Well maybe when you start bringing in a wage we can afford the odd treat but right now my wages only go so far and that’s porridge. Hurry up. You took so long getting up that we’re late.”
The crowd was already moving into the church when we walked up the road. We filed in at the back and took a seat. My mom strained to see the front, she hates sitting this far back.
The rustle of papers and coughs died down as the pastor made his way to the pulpit. After greetings he launched into a sermon on opportunities. His sermon was aimed at the children who’d just finished school. I rolled my eyes. Talk about getting lectured from all sides. I zoned out and scanned the crowd. The front section contained most of the Women’s Institute. The church’s fan club. You could spot them by the bright little hats perched on their wigs and weaves. My mom would love to be up there with them. My friends are dotted around the room with their families. Siya was sniggering silently with his brother. Cynthia and her mother were in a middle pew. I swear they were sitting straighter than anyone else. I can’t believe they can even sit like they’re better than the rest of us. Nomsa’s in a flowery dress with her large family. I can see her sneaking a peak at Siya. I don’t know why he doesn’t just ask her out. He can’t be seriously worried she’s going to turn him down.
I’m interrupted by the congregation shuffling and standing up for a hymn. At least that meant we were almost done there. I would catch Siya afterwards. Maybe we could go fishing in the afternoon.
Outside the pastor was circulating, greeting everyone before they made their way home to Sunday lunches. I wanted to duck off but my mom won’t let me miss this ritual.
“Ah, Margaret and Langa. How are you this fine morning?” the pastor came up beaming. “Must be exciting to be finished school?”
“Applying for jobs now? I might be able to assist.”
“Well, I thought I’d wait till the results come out. I can get a better job with my certificate.”
“Excuse me sir, I see my friend waving. Have a good week. See you next Sunday.” I turned and walked quickly over towards Siya’s family before the pastor could start filling in applications for me. He’s a terrible one for not minding his own business.
After lunch Siya and I lazed on the riverbank in the heat. I chewed on a grass straw and turned the page in my sketchbook. Siya adjusted his fishing rod and leant back in the grass to doze. A kingfisher watched our efforts at fishing from an overhanging branch. His bright black eyes darted back to a movement in the water. If there were any fish today, my money wasn’t on us to be the first to catch them. I sketched the bright-eyed bird with his alert expression on my pad. Siya hummed the morning hymn under his breath. The afternoon passed peacefully.
“I’m getting hungry,” I said eventually, putting the finishing touches to another picture.
“About time we were heading home, I think,” said Siya.
“Well come on then.” I got to my feet.
The sun was setting as we wandered down the dirt roads back to town.
“The pastor was talking about finding work,” I told Siya.
“Yeah, my father’s been talking to me too. Want’s me to apply at the Millside factory.”
“Are you going to?”
“I wasn’t kidding earlier, I want to be an entrepreneur.”
“Haven’t figured out that part yet. Here’s the B&B. Is your mom working today?”
“No, the owner handles Sundays. It’s the one day she has off.”
We stopped and leant on the wooden fence round the perimeter. The white-washed house glowed in the red of the setting sun.
“Maybe I’ll have a place like this. Build up my own hotel chain.”
“What, pandering to tourists? I can’t see you doing that.”
Siya took two steps into the driveway and put his hand on a smart Mercedes parked against the fence. “I’m going to have one of these one day.”
I glanced sideways at him, “I don’t see how. You’d need money to buy a big house to get started and pay staff to serve and maintain the place. You need money to make money!”
“Aargh!” Siya clenched his hands in frustration. “Why does everyone say things like that?”
“Yeah, Yeah, I know! I can’t start anything without money! It’s just so unfair.”
“Easy buddy,” I put a hand on his shoulder.
“What are you going to do anyway?!” he said, turning on me. “Just slump around, letting your mother support you forever? I want to do something!” Siya aimed a kick at the tyre of the merc. “Aargh!”
“Wow! You’re crazy! Any idea how much one of these costs?”
Siya glared up at me from under his eyebrows. “Enough to start a small business you think?” He kicked the tyre harder.
I started laughing. “Probably.” I gave the tyre an experimental kick. It felt good, scary, but good. I kicked harder. “Entitled prats!”
Siya pulled out a fishing hook and scraped it down the side of the car with a screech.
“Woah!” I looked around nervously.
“Come on,” he said.
I stifled a nervous giggle that was threatening and grabbed a hook and joined him.
I cringed at the squeal of metal on metal.
“Hey! What do you boys think you’re doing?” A gruff voice made us both jump. Siya looked at me, terror transforming his face as he froze.
“Run!” I yelled. We took to our heels and sped down the road. The dust flew as we rounded the corner. We pounded onto the asphalt where the proper road began and dived into a group of boys walking home.
“Do you think he got a good look at us?” Siya asked.
“I doubt he could pick us out of a group.”
Siya let his held breath escape, “Whew.”
The door banged behind me as I entered our small combined kitchen-living room that, along with the two bedrooms, made up our home. The toilet was in an outhouse at the bottom of the garden.
“Have you fed the chickens yet?” my mother called from her bedroom.
“No ‘Hello Langa, nice to see you’?”
She came into the room, carrying a bundle of dirty washing. “Don’t think I don’t know you ran away this morning so you didn’t have to talk to Pastor Mbau about a job. I know what you’re up to and we’re going to talk about a job tonight.”
“Aw, Mom.” I stepped out the back door into the dim yard. The grass brushed my legs as I collected the bucket of scraps for the chickens and took them to the sheet metal hutch against the house. I filled the feeding trough and called the chickens to their supper. Waiting while they ate, I gazed out, beyond the little houses, set in a large yards, to the mountains beyond. They towered over us, dark silhouettes against the last of the sunset, bringing the tourists and their money to our tiny town.
It was dark by the time I’d ushered the last chicken into the hutch and locked the door. I peered into the gloom, watching the ground carefully for snakes. The smell of stew drifted out the back door and my stomach gave a little gurgle with the thought of supper. Oh well, how long could she go on about work for?
I was mopping up the last pool of stew with a bit of bread when she broached the contentious subject. “Langa, I think you should ask Ms. Owen if she’ll give you a job at the Rise and Shine B&B.”
“What?! Work at the same place you do?”
“Well yes. It’s good reliable work. Ms. Owen is a good manager.”
“But I don’t want to spend my days cleaning up behind tourists!” I argued.
“Well you haven’t shown any interest in doing any other work. You have to do something. What if something happened to me, how would you eat?”
“But,” her words sank in. “Is there anything wrong? You’re not unwell are you?”
“No, I’m fine. Just worried about your future.”
“I’m going to be fine. I’m going to do something big. You’ll see. Maybe Siya and I will go into business together. He’s full of ideas.”
“And where is he going to get money to start up these big ideas of his? His parents have seven children to support. They can hardly afford to invest in a business for Siya. He’s going to need a job too.”
“It’s not fair that we need money to make money,” I say clenching my fists. “Why are some people born with enough to do anything they like?”
“Whoever said life was fair? Look, I’ve met many people in my life and they always had good and bad things in their lives. Each person has their own challenges.”
“I’m not ready to settle for the B&B. Let me think about it. I’m sure I can come up with something better. Our results haven’t even come out yet.”
“Fine, we’ll wait till your results come out. But then you have to make a choice.”
The next day I slept in till ten in the morning, enjoying not having to rush around. One of the best things about holidays is not having to hurry to this or that. The chickens had been particularly generous yesterday so I had an egg for breakfast then wandered round the yard enjoying the warmth and freedom of summer. This was the life. I made myself a sandwich for lunch and then called round Siya’s place. His sister told me he’d gone down to the school field to play soccer with some of the guys so I went down to join them. Strangely enough I found myself looking at the school with a sort of fondness that I hadn’t felt when I attended it everyday. I followed the shouting round the building to the field. There was a hotly contested soccer game going on. They were playing skins versus shirts and the guys were struggling for control of the ball in the corner, left field. A cloud of dust had been kicked up by the scuffling of the player’s feet. I’d settle on the side to watch until the next break, then I’d join whichever team was short. Siya was one of the shirts and stopped to argue with a skin while the game continued on towards one of the goals. I looked for a patch of shade to wait in. The old tree between the school and the field would do. I went and leant up against the rough trunk. The shade was very pleasant and I sank down into a sitting position and pulled out my sketchpad. I drew a few quick line sketches of players around a ball. Not worrying about details, just trying to capture the movement and action of the game.
A sudden cheer went up from the far goal. Skins had scored. I got up and trotted over to join in.
“Good to see you Langa,” one of the skins called. “The shirts team needs another player. They keep whining they’re losing cause they’re a man down but we know better.” He gave me a wink. I laughed and ran on field to take up position.
I was soon in the thick of the match, trying to dodge a skins defender who was sticking to me like glue. As we raced down the field Siya passed me the ball. My defender was on it immediately and I had to chase him to recover it. I sent it back to Siya who passed straight to Mpho by the goal. He scored! The sun was starting to set. We’d have time to play for one last goal before we lost the light.
After the game a group of us walked towards home together. Everyone was full of plans for the weeks ahead. The guys who still had a year or two left of school were carefree about their holiday plans. No talk of looking for proper jobs, just weeks of hanging out and maybe helping out an Uncle. Well I was going to make the most of this time while I had it. I joined in with ideas for picnics and hikes and barbeques. It was going to be a great summer holiday.
The next week passed in a series of fishing expeditions and a trip to the nearest city with Siya’s father. We went round the big department stores and ate lunch at a restaurant. The rush of people everywhere took your breath away. What were they all in such a hurry for? Sitting down at a proper restaurant was great. It called itself a steakhouse and the checked tablecloths matched the curtains. We could only afford sandwiches but they came in fancy baskets surrounded by chips. Who serves sandwiches in baskets? My mother would enjoy hearing all about it when I got home. She had given me enough money to get a new shirt. Something smart for interviews. All morning the clothes departments had proved to be way out of my price range and there were so many options for everything. Dozens of brands and different finishes. Sharply pointed collars, black trim, square buttons, easy-care. My head was spinning. By lunchtime I’d pretty much given up.
“One day when we’re big successful businessmen,” said Siya. “We’ll walk into places like that and the assistants will drop everything and run over, to see to our every whim.” He put his nose in the air and looked down at me pretending to speak to an imaginary shop assistant. “We’ll take one of all your best products my good man. None of the cheap stuff.”
I roared with laughter. “I could see you doing that.” I said. “I’m not sure I’d want all those assistants around though. Maybe I’d rather have a tailor. I can just visit him in a nice quiet shop and tell him what I want and he can deliver it.”
“Yeah, yeah. I guess that works too.”
In the afternoon I found a long-sleeved blue formal shirt on sale in one of the store basements. The shirt was in my size and at my price. My job was done.
The next week we decided we were going to see just how far into the mountains we could walk. Starting from my place each day we took a couple of sandwiches for a picnic lunch and started walking towards the peaks. Each day we got a little further and the pages of my sketchbook filled with trees, birds, flowers and mountain scenery. On Friday we were well up one of the smaller peaks by lunchtime and we ate next to a small waterfall. The water burbled and splashed beside us as we rested and dipped our feet in the water. I managed to make another colour sketch of a kingfisher before heading back. It was dark by the time we got back to town and we made our way home using the lights from people’s homes along the way.
The next weekend was the church picnic. Everyone turned up in their smartest clothes, carrying huge baskets and coolers of food. It was a half an hour walk to the big field where the picnic was held. Adults who would normally have complained like stuck pigs about walking that far, were all smiles and graciousness. In the field the blankets were laid out and the children let loose. The girls looked like bunches of summer flowers drifting about the field together in their church dresses. My mother found a good spot under a tree for our blanket and was rested her bulk in the shade, watching the crowd with a smile. Nomsa and Cynthia wandered over.
“Have you seen Siya?” Nomsa wanted to know.
I gave her a knowing grin. “Your lover boy is with his family over there.”
Nomsa blushed furiously. “He’s not my lover boy,” she squeaked.
“You’re so crude,” Cynthia said, curling her lip at me.
“Crude? Seriously?” I said, grinning, eyebrows raised.
“Yes, crude,” she said, getting cross. “Come on Nomsa. Let’s find some better company.”
My mother had been watching this from her spot in the shade.
“Ay Langa. You give those girls a hard time,” she said.
“Someone has to keep them on their toes,” I said, coming over to help her unpack the food.
Even though Siya’s youngest cousin was stung by a bee and Mrs. Mabanga fainted in the heat, all in all, the church picnic was a huge success as always. The adults would be sharing stories about it for months to come. Siya and I walked back together, each carrying a heavy cooler box.
“So what shall we do next week?” I asked Siya.
“I was thinking we should work on our backstroke,” he said with a smile. “Marcus was at the dam yesterday and he says the temperature’s perfect for swimming.”
“Sounds good,” I said grinning.
Monday! I won’t admit it to my mom, but I haven’t been able to sleep all night, worrying about the results coming out today. I’m playing it cool and telling her it will be fine but I’m worried. Somehow the exam questions seemed harder than what our teachers normally gave us. Tests are always hard but in the finals I didn’t even recognise half the questions. Is it better to stay in bed as long as possible or get up early and get first look at the results before someone else tells my mother? Better to know the worst first, I decided, and slid out of bed. I pulled on my jeans and t-shirt and crept through the living room. I eased the front door open and shut behind me. I only put my shoes on outside so their squeak wouldn’t give me away. When I stood up to go I saw Cynthia making her way down the street towards the school. Why did she have to be so eager? I couldn’t pass her without looking nervous. I sighed in frustration, and giving in, jogged over to join her.
“You’re up early,” I said. “I thought you’d just presume you got top marks in everything. No need to go check.”
“Stop smirking. It doesn’t suit you,” she said, not even glancing at me. “Of course I want to see the results. In case you haven’t noticed, I’ve been slaving all year for this. While the rest of you were spending your weekends playing soccer in the park and hiking to the river I was studying. I invested more in these results than anyone.”
“Sheesh. No need to get your feathers up. I just thought you’d presume you’d passed.”
“It’s not enough for me to pass. My place in university is granted on condition these final results are good.”
“Well…” I started.
“Oh come on,” she said suddenly breaking into a run. “I need to know already.” And she sprinted down the road, leaving me behind.
For a second I stood, mouth open, watching her go, before I took to my heels racing after her.
We came to a dusty halt outside the school fence. The results were hanging against the other side of the fence and we quickly scanned the lists for our names.
“It must suck if there’s a bit of wire blocking your scores,” I commented.
“Oh, shut up Langa,” Cynthia said, scanning frantically. She let out a sudden squeal and started jumping around. “I did it!” she shouted. “I’m going to be a nurse!”
I laughed to see the usually staid girl bouncing around. “Congratulations. See I told you you had nothing to worry about.”
“So how did you do?” she said settling into a broad grin. Obviously still delighted with her own success.
“I haven’t checked yet. I was distracted by your crazy jumping.”
“Shut up and check already,” she said, still grinning. Evidently nothing was going to bring her down now.
I had just found my results when I heard more of our class arriving.
“Well?” Cynthia demanded behind me.
“I passed,” I said.
“That’s good. Did you do well in anything?”
“Yes. It says: Most popular boy in the class. Cynthia should go out with him immediately before he becomes so rich and famous she can’t get through the queues of other girls.”
“Don’t be ridiculous.”
Other people started scanning the fence, frantically trying to see around each other for their results.
“Hi Nomsa, what did you get?”
“I passed,” the smaller girl said with a shy smile. “And I did okay in English and Typing.”
“That’s fantastic!” Cynthia said hugging her friend. “I told you you worried too much. I’m sure with that you’ll get something better than cleaning. And I got nothing less than a B. I’m off to Uni.” The two friends started jumping and squealing again.
I sighed, staring at the paper in front of me until someone pushed me out the way trying to see their own results. ‘Something better than cleaning’ was not on my cards.
Siya turned up at my place at lunch time.
“Why weren’t you at the school this morning?” I asked.
“I’m going to be an entrepreneur, remember? I don’t need good results for that. It’s all down to ingenuity.”
“But you must at least be curious?”
“Nah, the really big names dropped out of college to build their empires.”
“But they must have qualified to get into those colleges first.” I said trying to follow his logic.
“And look they chose to leave. So we are a step ahead,” he said with a grin.
I laughed at that but had to ask, “ So did you pass or not?”
“Me too,” I scuffed the floor.
“My mom gave me until the results came out to decide what I wanted to do. She wanted me to ask Ms. Owen for a job at the Rise and Shine.”
“I have a similar deal with my dad. He’s given me two months to find something. I don’t know if I can do it.”
“So we should try and start one of your business ideas. If we can get it off the ground then they can’t make us work.”
“Siya and Langa Incorporated,” a grin spread over his face. “I like the sound of it. Okay, let’s work on ideas.” We settled at the table with pen and paper.
“Okay, so your original idea was to open a hotel of some sort but we’d need a location and money for that,” I said.
“I know! It’s so unfair, how some people are born with…”
“Don’t start that again. If we’re going to convince our parents we need to get on with the plan.”
“Okay smart guy, what can we do?”
“You’re the ideas man.”
I doodled on the page in front of me, letting my mind wander.
“What if I pick the tourists wallets and then you pretend to find them and return them? They’ll pay you a reward then,” Siya suggested.
“It’s pretty dishonest and we run a high risk of getting arrested for pickpocketing.”
“I think you overestimate the tourists we get around here but yeah, it could happen. I wouldn’t want to go to jail.”
“What about a shoe shine business?”
“Not enough people wear proper leather shoes, except to church on Sunday and they won’t pay much for a polish. We won’t make enough.”
“Yeah, we need to appeal to the rich tourists.”
“What if we gave tours? Show them the local highlights?”
“Wouldn’t we need a tour bus? I can’t see them walking from here.”
“We could make it bike tours.”
“But you’re the only one with a bike and they’d want us to provide them with bikes.”
“It all comes back to having capital. Any business we start needs very low startup costs.”
”That’s becoming your favourite topic, Siya. I’m going to bed. We can talk some more tomorrow.”
“Langa, we need to talk.”
Uh oh. I stopped with my spoon halfway to my mouth. I really didn’t need this. Especially first thing on a Sunday. I stared into my bowl and stirred my porridge round, smushing it with my spoon.
“Langa, I know you don’t want to hear this but time’s up. Take the job at the Rise and Shine B&B.”
“But that job sucks.”
“You’ll be doing similar work to me. It’s not that bad.”
“Ma, I don’t want to end up like you! Working in a dead end job my whole life!”
“Well! Langa that so-called dead end job is what has supported us all these years and put you through school. You could have had to leave at sixteen like your cousins but luckily I could afford for you to get your certificate. Now you have it, it’s time to start contributing.”
“I certainly hope I haven’t raised a son who expects a free ride through life. Don’t you want to work and see your efforts in the world?”
“I just wanted so much more.”
“Well if something better comes along maybe you can move but you need to start working on Monday. In the meantime get dressed. It’s time for church.”
Milling around after church, I noticed Mrs. Mabanga eyeing me. I can’t stand that woman. Head of my mother’s WI, she thinks she’s head of the world.
“So I hear you’re joining your mother at the Rise and Shine?” she said walking over, with a couple of other women trailing in her wake. “Won’t that be nice for you?”
Her smug expression said clearly that she loved seeing me taken down a peg. I really hated her.
“Well the tourist industry is booming,” a soft voice said behind me.
I turned to see Nomsa smiling gently up at Mrs. Mabanga.
Mrs. Mabanga gave a snort and muttered, “I’d hardly call that B&B, the tourist industry.” But the wind had obviously gone out of her sails and she wandered off looking for fresh prey.
“Where did that come from?” I asked Nomsa in admiration. “Since when are you willing to stand-up to that old bag?”
Nomsa was grinning hugely. “I have good news.”
“I’ve got a job!”
“And that’s supposed to be good news?”
“In this case it definitely is.”
“So what is this wonderful job?”
“My aunt has organised an internship as a secretary at the plant. I don’t get paid for the first six months but if I do well they’ll take me on permanently.”
“That’s great. Aside from the not being paid bit.”
“My parents say they don’t mind six months as long as I help in the house and don’t spend money. I’m going to have to make my own clothes for work. But just imagine if it works out. I’ll be like one of those glamorous women working in offices in the movies. And with a few years experience I’ll be able to work anywhere.”
“That’s great Nomsa,” I swallowed my own disappointment. “You’re really going places.”
Siya sauntered over to join us, “Hey Nomsa. You look very pretty this morning.”
“Thanks Siya,” she blushed.
“Have you heard her news yet?”
“No, tell me.”
As Nomsa bubbled over with her good news Siya’s face dropped. Probably imagining her going off to the big city in high heels with her fancy job, leaving him behind.
When Nomsa’s mother had swept her off to tell the pastor her news, Siya turned to me, “I’m going to lose her.”
“Nah,” I said. “A secretary will be perfect for an entrepreneur. She’ll be able to work in one of your businesses. She’ll give the place a touch of class.”
“You’ve always got an answer, hey?” he said, giving me a friendly punch. His face became serious again, “But what business?”
The next morning at breakfast the bright summer sunlight was already shining in the window but I ignored it and stared gloomily into my porridge.
“The first thing about working is that you have to be on time each day,” my mom said bustling about the kitchen. She dumped the porridge pot into the soapy water in the sink and started scrubbing. “You want to make a good impression you know. Sarah cares a lot about timeliness and you want to impress her on your first day.”
I didn’t give a fig for Sarah’s impression of me but kept this opinion to myself.
“So what exactly am I supposed to be doing on this job?” I asked.
“Well, I’m not exactly sure. Usually the three of us muddle along on our own alright, but when I asked Sarah if she could find something for you, she seemed to think she could.”
“Wait. You’re telling me she’s made a pity job for me?”
“Don’t start complaining again. At least you have work. Siya’s parents don’t know what to do with him.”
“They don’t have to do anything with him!” I said, my voice rising. “He’s a grown man!”
“A grown man without an income,” my mom said softly, as she moved to start drying the dishes.
I calmed down a little. “Am I at least getting paid for this job?”
“Yes!” she said brightly. “That is the best part of this job.” She dropped a kiss on top of my head. “We’re leaving in ten minutes. Be ready.” And she swept off to sort the clothes washing before we left. I sighed and had another spoonful of porridge. I’d have to wash my own dish now too.
I scuffed along behind my mother on the way to the B&B. It was on the border between the outskirts of town and the surrounding fields. It was a clear day and the sun was already turning up the heat. It would at least be a relief to be indoors in the shade for the day.
We turned in at the gate of the big house. The large white block with the thatched roof seemed to be dozing still. There were a couple of cars parked in the driveway and the gardener was coming round the house pushing a wheelbarrow.
“Hi Samuel,” my mother called. “Langa’s joining us today.”
I didn’t understand how she could look so delighted about the end of my life.
“Hello Langa,” the old man called back. My mother was beaming but I just grunted and nodded. It was too easy to picture myself becoming the weather-beaten old man pushing his load.
Inside the house it was cooler and we could hear a clattering in the kitchen.
“Come on,” my mom said and we made our way though. A middle-aged woman with short grey hair was digging through a cupboard with a notepad and pencil in her other hand.
She turned when she heard us come in, “Oh hello Margaret, and Langa, you’ve grown up a bit since I last saw you.”
“Hello Sarah,” my mother replied. “I’m so happy that Langa’s starting here today.”
Sarah did not seem nearly as ecstatic as my mother to have me there, but she smiled fondly at my mother.
“I’m just doing an inventory of what supplies we need. Your arrival is well-timed Langa because in two days time I have to go away for a week, to attend a tourism conference. I’m hoping to drum up some business there. We should have you all trained up by then and I’m sure your mom will be glad of the extra hands around here while I’m away.” She made a note on her pad and closed the cupboard. “Margaret, I thought we might assign Langa to waiting on tables, dishwashing and cleaning the communal areas like the lounge, dining room and passageways. You can still look after the guests bedrooms and bathrooms and cook the breakfasts. Langa can also give Samuel a hand when he has big jobs like cleaning the gutters.” She turned to me with a calculating look in her eye, “Langa I trust you will help Margaret and Samuel as much as possible. Please assist them with any requests they have.”
Sarah moved onto the refrigerator and continued her inventory. “Margaret do you mind showing Langa the ropes? I’m going to run into town this morning to stock up our supplies.”
“Of course. He can give me a hand as we go.”
“Perfect. Okay, I’ll get out of your way so you can get on with breakfast. We must chat before you leave tonight because I’ll need you to live in for the week while I’m away.”
“See you later Margaret. Good luck Langa.”
My mother turned to me, “Come Langa, we’ll change into overalls in the outside rooms. You can borrow one of Samuel’s.”
“Well Langa, I need to get the breakfasts started. Please go ask Samuel for four tomatoes.”
When I didn’t move she looked up from the pan she was getting out. “He grows a lot of the vegetables we use in the garden. Please ask him for the tomatoes for breakfast.”
“Okay,” I wandered out through the old wooden stable door and walked round the garden on the still dewy grass, looking for Samuel.
I couldn’t see him so I started yelling his name, “Samuel! Samuel!”
A window opened and my mom leaned out, “Shush Langa. You’ll wake all the guests.”
“But I can’t find him.”
“Go check round the front. Quietly.”
“Okay, okay.” I wandered round the front. There was Samuel weeding a flowerbed. I walked over and whispered, “Samuel.”
He looked up.
I continued in the same whisper, “Please can we have four tomatoes for breakfast.”
He gave me a funny look. “Why are you whispering?” he asked in a more normal voice. “Do you have a sore throat?”
“No, I don’t want to wake the guests.”
“You don’t have to whisper, just don’t shout.”
“Look, can I get the tomatoes or not?” I said, returning to normal volume.
“Come on,” said Samuel, getting up and heading round to the vegetable patch.
Round the side of the house, hidden by a thick hedge, was a garden with rows and rows of vegetables. Tomato plants wrapped themselves round their stakes, alongside cucumber plants and bushels of strawberries. Samuel filled a small basket with fat red tomatoes straight off the vine and handed it to me.
“So you’re going to be working here from now on?”
“Just until I find something better,” I answered.
“Is that so?”
“I don’t want to be stuck here forever, cleaning up after rich people.”
Samuel raised an eyebrow at this. Oh great, not even he believed I’d ever get out.
“Think you’re too good for this place, huh?”
“I’ve got to get these to the kitchen,” I said and turning my back on the old man, stalked back to the house.
“That took a while,” my mother said when I arrived.
“Oh, already I’m doing the job wrong.”
She ignored this and snatched the basket from me. She started washing the tomatoes in the sink. “The first guests are already down for breakfast. Go ask them what they’d like to drink. We have tea, coffee, orange and guava juice.”
“Wait!” she called as I got to the dining room door.
“What?” I said scowling.
“Smile,” she said. “Always smile for the guests.” I let out a snort but stopped scowling as I made my way over to the only occupied table. The dining room was all white with golden pine furniture and light blue curtains, table cloths and napkins.
“What do you want to drink?” I asked the middle-aged couple. They looked a little surprised but asked for coffee. I returned to the kitchen to find my mother waiting for me, her expression flickering between concern and amusement.
“What?” I said, shrugging.
“Please Langa, when you go up to talk to the guests, start with ‘Good Morning’ before launching into questions. And it’s ‘What would you like to drink’, not ‘What do you want’”
“Is that all? Fine.”
“You can take those two plates out to table one. And then come back for their coffee cups. I’ll set them up now.”
After running between the kitchen and dining room dozens of times, the breakfasts were finally over and my mother showed me how to clear the dining room.
“In the kitchen, stack the glasses closest to the sink, then the tea and coffee things, then breakfast dishes, then pots and pans.”
“Why does it matter?”
“When you’re washing, you want to wash the glasses in clear water so they don’t get smeary with grease from the other dishes. Then work your way through to scrubbing the pots last because they’ll make the water filthy.”
“And don’t stack towers like that, that can topple over. Breaking dishes is expensive for a small business like this.”
“Owning a big house like this. I’m sure Sarah doesn’t even notice the cost of replacing dishes.”
“This might be a big house but it’s difficult to get enough tourists to cover expenses. Especially now we’re adding an extra wage for you. It’s hard for a place like this to compete with the glamorous hotels further out of town. Most visitors to the mountains stay there. It’s further out in nature and closer to the hiking trails and things. Sarah’s dropped the charges here a lot because it’s so close to town but it’s still a struggle to make ends meet.”
“Isn’t it convenient for them to be close to town? They can stop at the shops and the like.”
“At our shops? They’re hardly glamorous. Tourists are only interested in big shiny shopping centres or possibly traditional craft huts, not slightly grubby corner stores.”
“Well, we don’t want snobs like that here anyway.”
My mother laughed. “I’ll think you find, we do. Anyway, mostly they’re not snobs, but they have saved up for their holiday and they want it to be special. Come on, I’ll give you the tour and show you what to do.”
We headed upstairs carrying buckets filled with cleaning cloths and detergents, dusters and polishes. There were several doors off the first floor landing.
“There are four bedrooms and a bathroom on this floor and two of the rooms have their own en suite bathrooms. Upstairs there are two more bedrooms and a bathroom.”
Mom opened one of the doors and I reeled back.
“Wow! Why’s the room such a mess? Was it broken into or something?”
“You think this is unusual?” my mom laughed. “Lot’s of guests leave their rooms in a mess. It’s my job to make them look pristine again,” she said with a proud smile. I didn’t understand how she could be pleased to do this filthy work. She opened the door of the next room. This one was clearly empty at present. “See,” she said. I had to admit it did look good. The walls were painted light blue and the sheets and curtains were white trimmed with a flower pattern. The room looked cool and brought to mind the misty mountains outside. Mom went over and opened the curtains. “We must open and close the empty rooms’ curtains each day along with the others so the place looks welcoming to people passing.”
“Do we get a lot of customers from people passing?”
“Oh no, most people think this place is too grand for locals.” She started stripping the sheets in the first room. “You can give me a hand with the bedrooms and bathrooms today and then we’ll do the communal areas together so you can see what needs to be done.”
By my third day it already felt like I’d been working forever. I could see my whole life flashing before my eyes in a series of dirty dishes, laundry and changing light bulbs. Yesterday had been spent fetching and carrying as Sarah made sure we were well-stocked before she went away. She had left early this morning grumbling about getting as much as possible of the three hour drive out the way before the traffic got heavy. I don’t know how she can complain about driving away from this place.
Breakfast was underway and I was carrying the dishes through for table four’s breakfast when I noticed a new face among the guests. He was a slim, middle-aged man, balding on top, wearing glasses and a suit. Rather overdressed for breakfast. Must have checked in late last night. I delivered the plates and went over to ask the new guest what he’d like to drink. I took his coffee order and was heading back to the kitchen as the Sullivans came down to breakfast. Their kids were making a racket as usual. They jumped down the stairs one step at a time, shouting on each jump. I’d never have been allowed to make noise like them when I was small. When they reached the foot of the stairs, the five-year-old boy and three-year-old girl started fighting, arguing over who’d won one of their irrelevant and endless contests, probably who’d made the most noise coming downstairs. Their mother passed them and headed to their table, seemingly oblivious to their volume. The baby on her shoulder started complaining, adding to the general din. I escaped thankfully to the kitchen.
“The Sullivans are down,” I announced.
“Thanks, I can hear them,” my mom responded. “The meals for tables three and four are ready.”
“Great. Table one needs coffee. I’ll take these out and get the Sullivans’ drink order.”
“Don’t be long.”
I came out, a tray balanced in each hand. As I skirted between tables the tray on my left wobbled precariously but I got it balanced again and continued on. I arrived at table three and deposited my right hand tray and started distributing the plates one-handed. All delivered, I took a firmer hold of the remaining tray and realising the Sullivan’s table was next, went over and asked for their drinks order. Carefully remembering the coffee with cold milk, tea with the tea bag in and two sodas I about-turned and headed back past table two.
I was just passing table one when an unholy shriek rang out across the room. I swear the glass in the windows shook it was so piercing. My ears tried to curl up and hide. I jumped and swivelled into a chair back and my tray tipped. I let go of the tray with my right hand to try and catch the sliding dishes. The tray overbalanced further. The new guest, sitting in the chair I’d turned into, jerked upwards as I bumped him, jostling my elbow. My body was still turning and my foot caught on his chair and I lost my balance completely. My right arm pin-wheeled trying to catch my balance and knocked the guest’s glasses off his nose. I automatically leant towards him, while falling, to try to help. Gravity took over at this point and my whole tray tipped right onto his head and I landed on the floor with a bump. Ouch. I was going to have quite a bruise. Then I noticed scrambled eggs dropping onto my pants leg. I looked up to see the new guest covered in breakfasts. His mouth was still hanging open in shock. Uh oh. This wasn’t going to go down well.
The man turned to me. He did not look amused. “This is most unprofessional young man. I hope you are planning to pay for this suit to be cleaned.”
“But it wasn’t my fault,” I said, getting angry at his presumptuous manner.
“How can it possibly not be your fault? Were you not the one carrying the tray that was just dumped on my head?” He raised his eyebrows at me. “You’re lucky I haven’t even mentioned the physical damages to me. That was very painful you know.”
“Painful. I didn’t exactly come off unscathed you know,” I snapped. “And it was that stupid kid shrieking that did it. I was fine till then.”
“Excuses, excuses. You are supposed to be a professional. Child guests are certainly permitted at this Bed and Breakfast establishment.”
“What? Are you quoting the rule book now?”
“I have to know the categories of guests for any B&B I inspect.”
“What do you mean, inspect?”
“Didn’t you know? I’m the health inspector for this area.”
I was struck dumb. A health inspector! I hadn’t even known that this place was inspected. As my anger drained away, leaving horror in it’s place, I began hearing the other guests again. Table four was tittering and watching me. The Sullivan children were laughing and pointing, while their mother chatted away on her cell phone. The elderly couple at table three looked concerned.
The husband, Mr. Jones, stood up and walked over. “Oh dear, were those our breakfasts?” he asked. I was about to give him a mouthful when I noticed a twinkle in his eye.
“I’m afraid so,” I said getting up. “My mom will whip up a couple of new ones in no time though.”
“No rush. Her breakfasts are definitely worth waiting for and we have no pressing plans this morning.”
His wife had joined us by now. “How about you get a clean cloth from the kitchen so this gentleman can wipe himself off,” she said. “Here, why don’t you dust it onto the tray?” she said to the inspector. I scuttled into the kitchen and back, avoiding the quizzical look from my mother as I darted out. I produced the cloth and the inspector dusted himself off. “Show this gentleman to your bathroom now and when he’s done he can join us at our table. We’d enjoy the company,” Mrs. Jones said. I smiled at the couple. Talk about coming through in a crunch.
Once I’d delivered the inspector to the downstairs bathroom I returned to the kitchen to ask my mom to redo the Jones’ breakfasts. She insisted on hearing the whole story. When she heard I’d dumped a tray of food on an inspector she had to sit down for a minute. “Have you cleared up all the mess out there?”
“Well no, he’s going to sit with the Jones now.”
“Nevermind that, the mess’ll put all the guests off their food. There’s a dustpan and broom there and strip the linen from that table. Put it into the wash after you’ve removed any food. I’ll deliver the Sullivan’s breakfasts in the meantime.”
“Sheesh fine. Just be warned that little Sullivan girl has a siren wail on her.”
My mom finally cracked a smile, “I’ll be careful.” And then she was gone, tray in hand. You’d think, being heavier she’d have more trouble making her way between the tables but she glides around like she’s being doing it her whole life, which I suppose in a way she has.
I was well and truly in the dog box after the episode with the inspector. It was one thing to be scornful of working at the B&B but a lot less fun to actually do badly at it. I’d never been much of an academic but then neither were most of my friends. Cynthia was the exception, rather than the rule. Even Nomsa, I suspect, would not have come out as well, if she hadn’t spent the last year keeping Cynthia company while she studied. There were plenty of kids in our area who never got their school certificate and my having passed was considered an achievement here. The problem was I didn’t necessarily want the same future as most people here got. I’d pictured myself having some kind of impressive career. I’m not sure if it was Cynthia’s influence or Siya’s, with his big dreams, or just from watching TV, but somehow I’d pictured myself doing something important without ever having been that specific about what. Even now I thought of working at the B&B as a waiting room for whatever was to come but failing there was still pretty damaging to my ego.
I headed upstairs carrying the sheets for rooms one, two and three. The guests should be out for the day by now but there were usually a few hanging around and making it difficult to get on with the rooms. My mom wouldn’t let me whip out the vacuum cleaner for the halls until they’d all gone because of the noise so I was helping her with the empty rooms while we waited. I reached the top of the stairs and turned the corner, smack into something waist high and moving. It was one of the little Sullivans and I fell, taking them with me. I landed with a bump and was just considering the addition of a new bruise to my collection from this morning when the kid started howling. The noise was deafening. Big tears rolled down her cheeks. Sheesh.
“Oh come on. You’re not that badly hurt. You’re the one who tripped me up.”
No sign of the noise letting up. I reached around, grabbing the sheets, duvet covers and pillowcases that had landed on the floor, bundling them into my arms.
“Enough already,” I said standing up with my pile of linen.
At this point her parents stepped out of their room.
“Oh poor baby, what happened?” her mother said running over. A little rich I thought, since they’d hardly rushed out.
“The man pushed me over,” the girl sobbed. Oh great.
“I’m sorry ma’am but I came round the corner and she ran right into me.”
“You should watch where you’re going! This is supposed to be a family establishment. Obviously there will be children running around!”
I could feel my face heating up. Her attitude was really starting to make my blood boil.
“Well, if you were watching your children maybe I wouldn’t need to!” I snapped back.
“How dare you speak to us like that! We are paying to stay here! Not that I think we should be with the standard of service provided.”
“How can you say that? We’ve all been running around behind you and your awful children all week. You’ve been waited on hand and foot.”
“Awful children? How dare you! This is completely unacceptable. I demand to speak to the manager!”
“The manager is not here!” I yelled back.
My mom came down the stairs from the second floor where she’d been doing the bedrooms. Evidently all the shouting had carried.
“What’s going on?” she asked.
“We must speak to the manager immediately,” the dreadful woman demanded.
“The manager is away at present, but perhaps I can help you?”
“This young man hurt our daughter and then insulted us and our children!”
“Well I’m sorry to hear that. I’m sure he just got carried away. Langa please take those sheets to the empty rooms.”
“But Mom, it’s not true.”
“Ohh, so he’s your son is he?”
“Well yes he is.”
“You’re hardly a fair arbitrator then. I demand to speak to the manager. Phone them if you have to.” There was a nasty gleam in Mrs. Sullivan’s eyes.
“Of course. I’ll call her for you now.”
“I’m just glad we’re leaving this morning.”
“And don’t think we’re paying after this,” said Mr. Sullivan.
My mother bit her lip. “Let me make that phone call. I’ll do it downstairs in the hall. If your bags are ready, Samuel will bring them down for you.”
“Of course they’re not ready! How can we be ready with all this going on?” she snapped.
“Possibly because you’re supposed to check out by ten and it’s already half past,” I said.
The woman glared at me and my mother waved me to keep quiet.
“See how rude he is,” said Mrs. Sullivan.
“I’ll be downstairs making that call,” my mother said. “Langa, upstairs bedrooms please.” I opened my mouth to respond but then shut it and headed upstairs. My mom waited till she saw me go before heading downstairs.
I waited until the Sullivans were finally leaving at half past eleven to come down. Mr. Sullivan was complaining that he’d still had to pay half his bill. “Only half?” I said turning to my mother horrified. “For a whole week’s stay?”
“I’m afraid so,” she said, under her breath.
“But that’s not fair. Their kid ran into me.”
“Let it go,” my mother advised.
I stepped out the side door and looked round the front, to see Samuel packing their cases into the boot of their car. I was breathing heavily with the injustice of it all.
Mrs. Sullivan saw me lurking at the edge of the house, “You, young man, have a cheek showing your face here. You should be fired!” She turned on her heel and flounced off to the car. Already whipping out her cellphone for the next call. I was just about to turn and head back inside when I looked up to see Cynthia walking up to the side of the house. Her expression, worried and embarrassed, told me she’d heard the hateful Mrs. Sullivan. Just great.
“Hi Langa. I just came to drop off the tea cakes from the bakery.”
“Thanks,” I said. Turning away I could hear the engine starting out front. I’d never been so happy to hear a car leaving. “What happened to the normal delivery guy?”
“I’m helping at the bakery until Varsity starts. My uncle’s giving me a small wage to help out with my school expenses.”
My frustration was still bubbling from the Sullivans and suddenly I snapped, ”Why don’t you rub it in the rest of our faces some more? You’re going to University. That’s just great! Now why don’t you go and leave the rest of us alone.” I grabbed the box from her hands and stormed into the house. Leaving a confused looking Cynthia behind me.
After work I walked home with my mother in silence. The sun was just setting when we stepped into the house.
“Langa, we need to talk.”
I glared at her, “What?”
“It’s about this morning with the Sullivans. We can’t afford another mistake like that.”
“It wasn’t my fault. That kid ran into me.”
“But did you apologise immediately?”
“You have to treat the customers like they’re right, and yes, watch out for the kids too.”
“Why? They were pigs.”
“But they were paying pigs,” she said with a small smile. “The guesthouse needs the money Langa. We need as many guests as we can get and the money from them. That family won’t stay with us again.”
“Not good. I persuaded Sarah to take you on as a favour. The B&B can only just stretch to the extra wage as is. She won’t be able to afford you if we start losing guests. There are already months when we battle to cover Samuel’s and my wages. Now it’s the summer holidays, it’s our high season and we’re still not full.”
“I didn’t really want this job in the first place.”
“I thought you’d be glad to start contributing to our family,” she said, looking hurt. “Well, if Rise and Shine goes under it won’t just be you who is out of work, it’ll be me too. And then how will we eat?”
“Fine, I’ll pretend the guests are all wonderful,” I said with a sneer. Then scuffing my shoe on the cement floor, headed to my room.
The next morning things went smoother and it was a lot more peaceful without those Sullivans around. I served breakfast without a hitch and even gave the Joneses an extra plate of toast as a thanks for their help the day before. Table four asked for advice on the best hiking route and I directed them to the flower field trail that wound round Acre Farm and to a stream at the foot of the mountains. They seemed delighted with the idea. I helped with making up the bedrooms and tossed the sheets in the big washing machine downstairs. When the guests had left for the morning I got out the vacuum cleaner and got to work on the lounges and hallways. I caught my mom watching me with a smile.
After the house was clean I went down to move the sheets to the dryer. I pulled them out the washing machine and stopped. The sheets were stained pink. The white sheets now had streaky pink all over and the blue sheets were streaked with purple. The green sheets were the worst, on them the streaks looked brown. What happened? There was no way I could hide this. What was I going to do?
She was going to find out sooner or later anyway so I went to fetch my mom.
“I think you’d better see this,” I said and headed back to the laundry.
She followed me down the hall and into the warm damp room. Sheets in various stages of streakiness were spread around the machine.
Her hands flew to her head, “Eep, what happened?”
“I don’t know, they just came out like that.”
“She dived at the machine and started digging through the sheets until she came out holding a bright red t-shirt. “What’s this doing in with the sheets?” she said, holding it under my nose.
“I don’t know. I didn’t put it there.”
“Well, I doubt it climbed in by itself. You must have brought it down with the sheets without realising and tossed them in together. You have to check the stuff going into the machine to make sure things aren’t mixed in.”
“It’s not my fault.”
“It’s never your fault Langa and maybe that’s a great relief to you but it certainly doesn’t make my life any easier.” Her face screwed up and she turned he head away. Taking a deep breath she said, “Go to the market for stain remover.”
“Will that fix it?”
Still not looking at me, she said, “I certainly hope so.”
I was stalking back from the shops with the stain remover, muttering to myself, when I heard a shout.
“Hey Langa!” It was Siya, strolling along with his fishing rod over his shoulder.
“You’ve been fishing?”
“Yeah, beautiful day down by the river but I didn’t catch much.”
It was so unfair that he could go fishing while I had to work. “You’re so lucky,” I said. “Didn’t your father say you needed to find a job?”
“Yeah, but no rush. I’m working on ideas,” Siya said with a broad grin. “The river’s the perfect place for thinking.”
“Huh,” I said, continuing on my way.
“Wait up,” he said following me. “How’s the job going? What’s happening with you? I’ve barely seen you since you started.”
“Badly,” I said.
“I need to get back,” I said waving the packet with the stain remover.
“How about if we meet up tonight? You can tell me about it.”
“Okay, I’ll see you then.”
That evening my mother stayed at the guesthouse so I walked home alone. The house was very quiet without her. I did some baked beans for supper and then went for a walk. I called at Siya’s house. His home was packed and noisy as usual. With so many of them the place is always pandemonium. He came out to join me and we went and sat round the back in his yard. It was dark and peaceful out there. The odd soft cluck could be heard from the chicken hutch.
“So how’s your big business plan going?” I asked.
“Ah yes, the entrepreneurial dream. I have plenty of ideas going around. Just waiting for one to take-off.”
“You can’t rush these things. How’s it going at the B&B?”
“Terrible. I got into an argument with some really awful guests yesterday and they didn’t take it well. Ended up swanning off after paying only half their bill.”
“We shouldn’t have taken them in the first place. Should have taken one look at their noisy kids they never pay attention to and said ‘Sorry, we’re full’.”
“And today the guesthouse sheets were ruined in the wash.”
“Seriously? You are having a rough time. Although personally I think some of these tourists could use a bit of arguing with. Today a bunch came and parked at the river for lunch and then turned up their car radio high. What’s the point of coming to a quiet place like the river if you’re going to make a lot of your own noise. Maybe I should sell headphones to tourists. They could use them to listen to their own music or to block out other people’s. I could even record the river sounds when it’s quiet and then sell it to tourists who want to experience it but can’t because of other people.”
I laughed. “You never know. Maybe it’ll take off.”
The next morning my mother had brought down the winter sheets from storage, to replace the stained ones. Any musty smelling ones had to go in the wash before we used them. Some of the summer sheets had washed clean again yesterday but not all. There was also plenty of drying and ironing still to be done because the washing had run so late yesterday.
“Have you told Sarah about the sheets?” I asked.
“No. I’m still hoping we can wash them all out.”
After serving breakfast, my mother made a start on the bedrooms while I washed the dishes and wiped down the surfaces. I’d just got out the mop and filled a bucket with soapy water to do the floors when my mother came through to collect sheets from the laundry room. She disappeared back upstairs and I got on with the mopping. I started drying when there was a knock at the door. I went to open it and found Cynthia on the doorstep, bakery box in hand.
“Hello Cynthia, not only do you look lovely today, but you also smell delicious,” I teased.
“Hey Langa. Thanks, but I can’t take credit for the smell. That would be my uncle’s cinnamon rolls. How are you doing?”
“Excellent as ever. Working my way up in the world. Starting at ground level,” I said with a wave of my mop.
That got a giggle from her. “It’s good to see you working. Siya seems to just be hanging around still. He’s not even trying to find a job.”
“Siya’s not going to find a job, he’s going to start a business. You know that.”
“Sure, but not really. He’s going to need a job to pay for food and stuff. He can’t expect his parents to support him forever.”
“You don’t believe he’ll start a business?”
“No. Do you?”
The way she said it, like I’d be stupid to believe it really rankled. “Did you tell him this?” I demanded.
“No, I’m sure he knows. If talking about it makes him feel better, where’s the harm? As long as he still finds a job.”
I stared open mouthed at her as she turned to go.
“See you Langa.” And with that she swanned off round the house.
I couldn’t believe she thought Siya was making it up about his business. I leant the mop against the door frame and stepped outside for some air. If it had been a grown-up who didn’t believe in him, I could accept it, but there was something about our own friend not believing that was very discouraging. How much of the rest of our dreams didn’t she believe in? Did she not believe I’d ever get out this place? That Nomsa would one day be a glamorous secretary?
I wandered down the garden deep in thought. Seeing Samuel weeding at the bottom, I turned around before he could ask what I was wandering around for.
A few metres from the back door I heard a scream. I ran back inside. My mother was lying flat on her back on the kitchen floor, tears in her eyes.
“What’s wrong?” I said.
“I fell,” she said. “Slipped on the wet floor.”
I crouched down to help her get up. From sitting position I slipped her arm round my shoulder and she tried to put her weight on her feet. She shrieked right in my ear.
“What was that for? Are you trying to deafen me?” I said.
“Langa, stop thinking about yourself. I can’t put my weight on my left foot. It’s agony.”
“Lean on your right then and I’ll help you to the couch.”
She looked quite pale by the time we reached the couch. I was starting to get concerned.
“You just rest here for a minute and you’ll be fine,” I said brightly. “I could make you a cup of tea.”
“You go dry that kitchen floor before Samuel ends up in the same condition!” she ordered. My mother normally never raises her voice, so I beat a hasty retreat. I quickly wiped down the floor with a dry cloth and then peeped round the door to see if she was up and about again. No luck, she was still in the same seat. I crept over.
“How are you feeling?” I asked.
“I still can’t stand,” she said, wringing her hands in frustration. “It’s agony.”
The elderly couple from room three looked in. “We got back early. Is it alright for us to go to our room?” Mr. Jones asked.
Mrs. Jones stepped into the room. “You don’t look too well,” she said to my mother. “Is everything ok?”
“I just slipped. Hurt my ankle.”
They came into the room. “Let’s have a quick look,” Mrs. Jones said, kneeling in front of my mother. “I was a nurse in my day you know,” she said smiling up at us. She returned to her examination. “Hmm…not good. I think you’d better make a trip to the emergency room for that. Could your son drive you?”
“No, we don’t have a car.”
“Well then we’ll take you.”
“You can’t possibly take me that far.”
“Yes we can, and whether you like it or not, someone has to. Can you bring her out young man?”
“Of course.” I slipped my arm under my mother’s shoulders and helped her out to the car. Once she was settled in the back seat. She sent me back, “Tell Samuel what’s happened. And finish up the rooms before the other guests get back. We can’t afford to lose any.”
“But what about when you get to the hospital. Mr. Jones won’t be able to support your weight.”
“Don’t worry young man,” said Mr. Jones. “They’ll have orderlies to help there.”
“Bring my bag please Langa.”
I fetched her handbag from the scullery and passed it to her in the back seat. Mr. Jones started up the car and headed into town, while I stood watching them disappear.
I went to find Samuel in the garden. His blue overall showed among the bushes in the vegetable patch. He was weeding around the tomato plants. It was midday and it was sweltering in the sun.
“My mother’s gone to the hospital,” I announced.
He looked up and raised an eyebrow.
“Did you hear me? She slipped in the kitchen and she can’t stand on her left leg and the Joneses have taken her to hospital.”
“I heard you,” he said straightening up. “That’s quite a drive. Broken?”
“I… I don’t think so. She just slipped. I’m sure she’ll be fine.”
“You better hope so, for all our sakes.”
“Who’s going to run this place if your ma can’t walk? Do you have any idea how much work she does here?”
“Who’s going to stay over tonight to look after the guests?”
“You’re in the outside rooms, won’t that do? Anyway, I’m sure she’ll be better by then.”
“I can’t deal with the tourists like your ma can. They need gentle handling.”
“I have to go finish up the rooms she was busy with.”
“Better hurry up. The guests will be returning soon.”
I turned and jogged back inside. I gathered up the sheets my mom had been carrying and took them upstairs to the half-done rooms. I started making the beds when I realised some of the sheets had gotten wet when my mother fell. I raced back downstairs with the wet ones and put a load in the dryer. While the machine was running I got out the vacuum and did the main hallways. The sound of the dryer’s beep brought me back to the sheets and I carried them upstairs to continue with the beds. I made the first bed and stood back, feeling quite proud, just to notice that the bed looked wrinkly. I tried to smooth it, but the undersheet had become bunched. I had to strip it and make it again, by which time the sheets were starting to look a little creased. I ignored them and went on to the next room. At this rate I’d still be making beds at midnight.
Three slightly scruffy rooms later and I was exhausted. It was already three and I hadn’t finished the bedrooms, nevermind the communal areas. Those would just have to wait till tomorrow. I really hoped my mother would be fine by then and ready to come back. I doubt I could do a whole day like this. I heard cars pull up outside and ran to the window to see which guests had arrived. The Finleys and Morays were fine. I’d done their rooms but that four-by-four coming down the road looked worryingly like the businessman Mr. Martin. I sprinted up to the second floor and whipped round his room, collecting glasses for washing and changing the sheets in record time. I was carrying away a bundle of the dirty things when he arrived on the landing. He frowned at me but didn’t comment and went on into his room. I breathed a sigh of relief. I hadn’t replaced the glass and coffee things but I’d bring those up later on a tray. I staggered downstairs to the kitchen.
Mr. and Mrs. Jones came in at five. I was busy in the laundry when I heard them calling out in the kitchen. I went through.
“Hello Langa,” Mrs. Jones said with a gentle smile. “We have good news for you.”
“Is my mother okay?”
“The good news is she hasn’t broken her leg. The doctor said it’s just a bad sprain.”
“So she can get back to work?”
“Oh no, dear. She has to stay off her feet and keep her ankle elevated for at least four days. She’s managed to do some real damage there.”
My horror must have shown on my face because she came over and patted my shoulder. “Don’t worry my dear, it’s not life-threatening. She’ll be fine in about a week.”
I couldn’t explain it hadn’t been my mother’s condition I’d been worried about but rather her workload. “Where is she now?”
“We dropped her at your home. She wouldn’t have been able to walk back.”
“Of course,” I said, my mind racing around what to do now.
The old couple were still watching me, smiling gently.
“Oh and thanks for all your help,” I said.
“Of course son. Just let us know if your mother needs anything,” said Mr. Jones. “She’s a good lady. She’s really looked after us since we arrived.”
I smiled weakly at them and they nodded and went up to their room.
It looked to be a very long week ahead.
I arrived home to find my mother on the couch with a thick bandage around her foot.
“I can’t believe this has happened,” she said. “What are you going to do?”
“Can’t we call Sarah to come back early?”
“After we already had to call her for the Sullivans? And your performance with the inspector? I really wanted to impress her with what an asset you could be while she was away so she’d keep you on afterwards.”
“Keep me on?”
“Well the B&B can’t really afford another staff member. We just aren’t getting enough guests.”
“I’ll get a better job.”
“Where? Has Siya found anything yet?”
“You’ll have to go back and stay the night.”
“Well, someone has to. You shouldn’t hear from the guests but someone has to be there just in case. Stay in Sarah’s room but make sure you keep it nice.”
“But I’m exhausted.”
“Well then do the supper and dishes here and then you can go sleep there. The sooner you start, the sooner you can rest.”
I let out a groan.
By the time I got back to the guesthouse it was in darkness except for one of the upstairs bedrooms. I slipped inside quietly and made my way down to Sarah’s room. I’d never been inside. I eased open the door, still trying to be quiet for our guests, and stepped in. The room was cupboard-sized with a window looking out onto the vegetable patch. All it had room for was a single bed and a bookshelf. I changed quickly into my pajamas and slipped between the sheets. It felt so good as my muscles relaxed, I was asleep in two minutes flat.
The next morning I was in the kitchen bright and early with a notepad of instructions from my mother on preparing the breakfasts and a checklist for doing the rooms.
I headed straight to the kitchen and got out the food, the way I’d seen her do. Eggs, bacon and bread. Then out came the pans and beater. I inserted the first four slices of bread in the toaster and started beating a couple of eggs for the people who’d want them scrambled. I don’t know what I’d been so worried about. This wasn’t as hard as I’d thought. Oops, got a little shell in the second batch of eggs. Oh well, they probably wouldn’t notice. The first batch was on the stove and I gave it a stir. Funny it seemed to be sticking to the bottom already. I stirred some more. More sticking. Was I going to have to stir the whole time? I kept stirring and scraping till they looked done and then scooped them out onto a plate. I poured in the next batch and looked into the dining room to see if anyone was down yet. Mr. Martin was sitting at his table.
“Coffee for you, sir?” I called over.
“Hmmph, yes please,” he replied, head in his newspaper. I ducked back into the kitchen, proud of myself for knowing his usual order. What was that smell? The eggs were burning. I went over and gave them a stir. The top was still runny but the bottom had started burning. It was dark brown. Bother. I took it off the stove, oiled a second pan and transferred the non-burned egg across. I watched and stirred until they were done this time. Once I had them on plates I realised I hadn’t switched the kettle on. I filled it with water and switched it on to boil. I could hear murmuring from the dining room by now. Judging the kitchen safe, I went out with a notepad and took orders. Mr. Martin asked where his coffee was.
“On its way,” I said with a bright smile. I returned to the kitchen and poured out the coffee and tea orders. The tray was too heavy with more than a few cups and teapots at a time so I had to do a couple of trips. By now the first batch of eggs I’d done was quite cool. I quickly took out the second batch to Mr. Finley and Mrs. Morey. Neither seemed delighted.
“Where’s my tomato?” Mr. Finley wanted to know.
“What about my husband’s fried eggs?” Mrs. Morey asked.
“Sorry, no tomatoes this morning,” and “On its way,” I replied buzzing round between the tables. I had forgotten about the tomatoes and didn’t have time to go looking for Samuel now. I cracked a couple of eggs into a third pan to fry and popped the first batch of scrambled eggs into the microwave to warm up for a few seconds. I flipped the fried eggs with mixed success. They certainly weren’t the model versions my mother usually produced. A popping sound came from the microwave. Having learnt my lesson earlier I whipped the eggs off the heat before going to investigate. Some of the scrambled egg had exploded, splattering the inside of the microwave. I was going to have a massive clean-up operation on my hands when this was done. I spooned the scrambled eggs onto two more plates and took them out to the Jones’ table. They at least thanked me and gave me encouraging smiles. I dived back into the kitchen to finish off the fried eggs and get them onto plates. I brought them out and delivered them. By now quite a few of the guests were trying to catch my attention.
“We don’t have any butter for our toast.”
“How about some fried tomatoes?”
“I need more milk.”
I dived back into the kitchen and collected butter, jam and milk jugs. I took them round, quieting the clamour. There was still muttering but people seemed to be making their peace with this morning’s service not being up to scratch.
I breathed a huge sigh of relief when breakfast was done. At least I could breathe now. I looked round the sunny kitchen. It looked like it had been hit by a hurricane. There were piles of dirty pans. How had I used so many? And both the stove and microwave needed cleaning. There was also the pile of dishes, cups, teapots and jugs from the breakfast, to be washed. I gave a sigh and started working my way around.
A knock at the door mid-morning heralded Cynthia’s arrival with the tea cakes.
“Payment please,” she said, producing a neat bill. I glanced over it and went to the small back office to get the money from petty cash. After extracting a sworn oath that I would be careful, my mother had given me the key to the cash box last night. I was surprised to find the box only contained a few notes. I went back to the back door.
“Cynthia, I can’t afford that much for tea cakes. Don’t you have something cheaper we could get instead?”
Cynthia frowned. “Chelsea buns are cheap.”
“Fine can we please have those instead?”
“Sure,” she said with a shrug. She produced a notebook from her pocket and made a note. “I’ll be back in about half an hour with them.”
“Are you actually enjoying this?” I asked, eyeing her.
“Of course,” she said primly. “I like achieving something. I’ve been neatening up my uncle’s accounts after I finish the deliveries each day. I’m making real progress.”
“So why don’t we go out one evening to celebrate your great success?” I said leaning against the doorframe.
“I heard about your mother’s injury,” she said with a sideways look. “I doubt you’ll be up to anything in the evenings once you’ve finished her work.” And with that she turned on her heel and walked off.
When the kitchen was finally, mostly clean, I made my way upstairs to make a start on the bedrooms. It was surprisingly peaceful. I’d taken so long in the kitchen the guests had all left for the day. I stripped the sheets from the first two rooms and took them downstairs to start a load. With the machine going, I headed back upstairs. Everything seemed to be moving in slow motion. It took me two hours to finish three bedrooms and I was exhausted. I opted to head downstairs for a break. I could start the sheets in the dryer while I was there.
I stepped into the kitchen and noticed there was a puddle of water on the far side. That was odd. I crossed the room and followed the puddle. It seemed to come from under the door to the scullery and laundry. I opened the door. The whole area was flooded. I couldn’t believe it, the area was like a lake. I waded through. I continued through to the laundry. Everything was soaked. The washing machine outflow pipe was lying on the floor. It must have come out the sink it normally ran into. I found myself scrunching up my eyes, hoping the sight would somehow go away. I turned and splashed out the laundry, past the scullery, through the kitchen and out the back door. There on the doorstep was a bakery box. Evidently I hadn’t heard Cynthia knocking either. I knelt down to pick up the box and saw a line of black ants running into the box. So much for the buns for today’s tea. “Aargh!” I cried, gripping my head in frustration.
Samuel wandered round the edge of the house. He examined me squatting on the doorstep. “Something the matter?”
“Oh no! Everything’s just wonderful,” I snarled.
“Ah,” he said with a shrug. “Well, if that’s all.” He turned and headed down the garden.
“Wait!” I called, springing up and running after him. He turned and raised an eyebrow in my direction. “I need help,” I said.
“Better show me the problem,” he said, heading back to the house.
“I took him inside and showed him the lake in and around the laundry.
“Hmm… I’ve got an extra mop and bucket or two in the outside rooms,” he said disappearing. He reappeared shortly and I got the kitchen mop and bucket and we set to work. I wanted to start the dryer while we worked but Samuel wouldn’t let me till the place was dry.
“All we need now is to get ourselves electrocuted,” he said. “Never run electric appliances in water.”
So we slogged away, with me hyper aware of how much I still had to do after this. I still had another bedroom, the communal areas, another load of washing, and the drying and laying tables in the dining room for tomorrow morning. It was going to be a long day.
When the floor was finally dry, I started the dryer and ran upstairs to do the last bedroom. When I came down again with the last of the next washing load, I found that Samuel had bent some wire around the end of the washing machines outflow pipe into a little harness that he’d used to hook it onto the sink securely. I started the dryer and made myself a quick sandwich while I thought. When I was done eating, I made a few more sandwiches then I stepped outside with them on a plate. I wandered round till I found Samuel resting in the outside rooms.
“I was making sandwiches and thought you might like some.”
“Thanks,” He took one.
“By the way, I wanted to say thank you, for your help today.”
“Of course. I work here too you know.”
“Thanks.” I collected up the plate and headed back to the house to get started on the vacuuming. Just outside the back door I heard the ringing of the telephone. I ran through and grabbed the handset, sinking onto the floor.
“Hello, Rise and Shine Bed and Breakfast here. How can I help you?”
“Hi, is that Langa?” Sarah’s voice came over the phone. “This is Sarah. I’m just calling to see how everything’s going. Can I speak to your mother?”
“Umm… about that.”
“She sprained her ankle, so she’s not in today. “
“Who is looking after things?”
“You are? You hardly have the experience to run a whole B&B. Maybe I should cut short my trip and come home early.”
“There’s no need for you to come home. Samuel is helping me and we have everything under control. There’s only guests in four of the rooms anyway.”
“Hmm… we could certainly use the extra business I’m working on. Okay Langa, I’ll stay. On condition you call me immediately if anything goes wrong.”
“Okay, I’ll get back to the conference. My cell number is in reception’s phonebook. Call me if anything goes wrong.”
“I’ll get it now and don’t worry about anything. We’re going to be just fine.”
I breathed a sigh of relief as I put down the phone.
A shrill ring jolted me from my momentary peace. Another call?
I picked up the phone again.
“Hello, Rise and Shine Bed and Breakfast here. How can I help you?”
“Hello. This is James Robinson. I visited your establishment a week ago.”
“Is this Sarah Owen?”
“No, I’m Langa. I work here. Is there something I can help you with Mr. Robinson?”
“Is Ms. Owen available to speak.”
“Unfortunately, she’s away at present.”
“Then please give her a message from me. I didn’t manage to complete her health inspection last week due to an unfortunate accident at breakfast but I will be back in the next week. And if the guest house doesn’t pass the inspection I will revoke her licence. Understood?”
“Of..of course. We look forward to your visit Mr. Robinson.”
“Just be ready.”
“We will be.”
I put down the phone and sunk my head in my hands. We were in deep trouble.
I struggled through the next morning running from task to task, doing all of them badly. It was crazy just how much my mother had gotten through in a normal day. Our supplies were also running short. There were only two eggs left and about a scoop of washing powder. After church, I was going to have to go shopping.
I went home to dress. My mother kept trying to persuade me to help her to church but I stayed firm. The Lord would forgive her missing one Sunday when she couldn’t walk. And the WI was unlikely to get up to anything too exciting this week. I eventually left her with her Bible and prayer book and a promise to report back on what her friends wore and said.
“And Mrs. Mabanga especially, tell her I’ll be back next week.”
“Will do,” I said backing out the door. I had to chuckle as I walked to the church.
I slipped into the back quietly. As Pastor Mbau spoke I found my eyelids drooping. It was so tempting to drop off for a few moments. My head fell to the left.
I jerked awake suddenly, everyone around me was standing up. Time for the hymn. I grabbed the pew in front to pull myself to my feet. The singing was spirited and I was awake by the end of it.
After the service I hung around outside, looking for Mrs. Mabanga to give her my mother’s message. The pastor came over.
“Hello Pastor Mbau. How are you?”
“I’m well thanks Langa. I was very sorry to hear about your mother’s injury. I’m planning to pay her a visit tomorrow.”
“Thank you Pastor. She will appreciate that.”
“And how is it going at the B&B?”
I burst out laughing. “I’m sorry Pastor but I’d need all day to answer that.” I said with a grin, “I’m still alive though.”
“Glad to hear it Langa.” The pastor excused himself to chat to another family. I spotted Mrs. Mabanga holding court near the church door. The coloured hats perched on the women around her’s heads looked like a flock of tropical birds. I approached the group, debating whether to interrupt. Eventually I realised I’d have to otherwise I’d never get back to work in time. I’d already lost a lot of time here today.
“Excuse me,” I called across the twittering heads. “Excuse me!”
“Ah, Langa,” Mrs. Mabanga said looking up regally.
“Hello Mrs. Mabanga. My mother asked me to say hello on her behalf and assure you that she will be back to her WI duties as soon as possible.”
“Of course Langa. I was very sorry to hear about her fall. I hope she feels better soon.” Mrs. Mabanga arched her brow. “Of course, it’s not like her to be careless.”
I clenched my teeth, “No, she slipped on a wet floor.”
“Ohhh. Was something spilled?” Her eyes were bright as she examined my face.
It was like being grilled by the headmaster. I took a deep breath and pasted a smile on my face. “Well I have to get going Mrs. Mabanga. The Rise and Shine won’t look after itself.”
“Please give my good wishes to your mother for her recovery.”
“Thanks Mrs. Mabanga. Will do.”
I hurried off gratefully. It was already lunchtime so I decided my mother would have to wait for tonight to get the church news and I dashed straight back to the Rise and Shine.
When I got back, I emptied the cash box and headed into town. I couldn’t afford everything we needed and was just despairing over what to do, when I had an idea. What if I moved our chickens in at the B&B? I could probably borrow one from Siya’s family as well. Their eggs would help cover us for breakfasts and they could even be said to contribute to the country atmosphere of the place. They’d be a feature. I’d get Siya to help me set it up this afternoon. I grabbed the rest of the supplies, we’d just have to do without fabric softener and air freshener, and headed back to work. The washing machine was soon rumbling away and I called Siya to help me bring over our hutch and chickens.
“How are you going to feed them and lock them up for the night if they’re at the B&B?” he wanted to know.
“I’m staying there nights at the moment anyway.”
“The owner’s away and someone has to be available in case the guests have an emergency. Anyway I’ll just have time to feed the chickens and lock them up for the night, before I go home to do supper for my mother and I. Then I’ll go back to the guesthouse to sleep.”
“They’re keeping you pretty busy there, hey?”
“I’ll say. I’m exhausted.”
“Okay. I’ll meet you at your place.”
“See you in ten minutes.”
Siya had brought one of his chickens with him. We lifted the hutch between us and carried it carefully down the road. A group of small boys came round giggling and asking what we were doing. By the time we arrived at the B&B the sun was starting to set. We ran back to collect the chickens and made the trip back with a chicken under each arm. The little boys thought that was really hilarious. Siya looked annoyed at their chuckles but I thought it was pretty funny myself.
When the chickens were securely in the back yard, I fed them and then locked them up for the night. Siya and I were making our way home, winding between the parked cars in the driveway when Siya burst out in one of his characteristic rants. “It’s not fair you know.”
“You busting your butt here all day everyday for peanuts while these rich people just sit around.”
“They are on holiday,” I said.
“Why do they get holidays? We don’t!”
“You are kinda on holiday,” I said with a smile. “And anyway if they didn’t come here on holiday my mom and I wouldn’t have jobs at all.”
“Oh ho, you’ve bought into it haven’t you? You think this is the answer, don’t you?”
“No, I definitely want a better gig than this. But we still gotta eat in the meantime.”
“Aargh.” Siya suddenly pulled out his house key and ran it down the side of one of the guest’s cars.”
“What are you doing?!” I screamed.
“What does it look like I’m doing?” he said, eyes flashing. “What we should be doing. What you would have done a few weeks ago.”
“Are you insane?!”
“What are you freaking out about? They can afford it.”
“Get out!” I screamed. “Get out of here!”
“Fine. Apparently you don’t need my help now.”
I stared at the damaged car. Not only would I be facing awkward questions tomorrow. I could see that scratch as another guest who wouldn’t be returning to the Rise and Shine B&B.
“Just go,” I whispered. Siya turned and stalked off.
I didn’t tell my mother about the problems that night. But she was full of questions about church so there were no long silences. As I gathered the dishes to clear the table I turned to her.
“I’m sorry about the wet floor the other day.”
“What?” she said, looking up in surprise.
“I’m sorry I left the floor wet and you fell.”
“Oh, okay. Thank you.”
“You do a lot at that B&B. I’m being run ragged trying to keep up.”
She smiled at that. As I was about to leave for the night, she spoke, “Langa.”
“I know you can do it.”
“Thanks,” I said with half a smile and headed back to the B&B where I collapsed into bed.
The next morning I got in early. First thing I let the chickens out and fed them, then I gathered the eggs for breakfast. I felt good about having a solution to our cash flow problem. I even had an extra egg to take home to my mom tonight.
I was humming to myself as I started the breakfasts. I had remembered the tomatoes and soon the kitchen smelt delicious. I remembered to start the kettle boiling just in time and went out to get the drink orders with a smile on my face that didn’t feel forced. Breakfast went off smoothly and the Joneses asked after my mother.
“She’s resting. She still can’t put any weight on her foot.”
“Well at least she has you to look after things here,” Mrs. Jones said with a warm smile.
After breakfast I got on with cleaning the kitchen. I was just drying the dishes when the back door banged open. Samuel stalked in with a scowl.
“What did you do?”
“What are we talking about?”
“My vegetable garden has been destroyed!”
“What?!” My heart was beating hard. We did not need more bad news now.
“You heard me. You brought in chickens! Even though the vegetable garden isn’t fenced off. They’ve been wandering around pecking my vegetables and scratching up seedlings.”
“Oh no,” I ran outside to see the damage.
“Look what they’ve done!” said Samuel, following me.
The chickens were indeed scratching among his plants. One of them looked up at us with a cluck. The dissatisfied expression that is standard on all chickens seemed funny now, as though she’d inspected the garden and found it wanting. I stifled my chuckles, not wanting to annoy Samuel further, and gathered up the chickens and returned them to their hutch. It was while I was chasing the last chicken round the vegetables, with Samuel shouting at me not to do more damage, that Cynthia arrived.
“I’m just here to drop off the buns but there was no answer at the house.”
I stopped my chase and came over. “Hi,” was all I could get out for panting.
“Hi,” she said with a smile. “Having fun?”
“Not sure I’d call it fun,” I said with a grin.
“Fun to watch anyway,” she said.
“Hey!” Samuel suddenly said behind me. I turned around and with a sour expression, he dumped the last chicken in my arms. “You have a job to finish.”
Cynthia burst out laughing at this. “See you around Langa,” she said and went off, up the garden path.
“But…” I said, watching her go.
Samuel cracked half a smile to see my disappointment as I stared after her.
Once the chickens were safely stowed, I went round the garden with Samuel, being suitably apologetic about each pecked vegetable. Fortunately there was quite a bit of good produce left. Samuel mellowed slightly as we went. We picked the damaged food to be used immediately.
“I guess I’ve cost the guesthouse even more money now?” I said.
“This is just a drop in the ocean. What this place needs is more guests, more often. Even now in the middle of the holidays we have an empty room.”
“Maybe I can do something about it,” I said, thinking furiously.
I took the rescued vegetables to the kitchen to clean. I’d have to cut-off quite a lot but we could use most of them. Cynthia had left the bakery box on the step again, but this time it was tied up in a packet. I was grateful for her thoughtfulness. I put away all the food in the kitchen and then began on the bedrooms. Once the bedrooms were done and a load of towels in the washing machine I took a walk to our house for soap powder. There was nothing left in the petty cash so I figured I’d take some from home. Maybe Sarah would pay me back when she returned. Since I was going out I decided to do something about finding guests for the B&B.
On my way back from our home I went in at the churchyard gate. I found the pastor in his office, bent over paperwork. I cleared my throat to get his attention.
“Pastor Mbau, can I have a word?”
He looked up with a smile, “Of course Langa. I always have time for you and your mother.”
Normally this sort of comment would irritate me but today I sighed with relief.
“You know I’m working at the B&B now?”
“The Rise and Shine is struggling financially.”
“I’m sorry to hear that Langa. What can I do to help?”
“I was hoping you could mention the guesthouse to the other parishioners,” I said, leaning forward. “You know most people think the B&B is only for tourists. They don’t realise how reasonably priced we are.”
“I’m sorry Langa. I can’t start advertising for you. If I did that, everyone would want me to advertise their businesses,” he said with a twinkle in his eye.
“What about when the church has special guests? Speakers and visiting pastors?”
“The B&B should be quite suitable for them. I’ll see what I can do.”
“Thank you,” I said, breaking into a grin. At last maybe I’d started to make up for some of the damage I’d done.
“And Langa, I know there’s no love lost between you, but how about speaking to Mrs. Mabanga? You know her heart’s in the right place and she’s very good at getting the word out.” The twinkle was back in his eye. I stared at him, open-mouthed. I’d never heard such a diplomatic way of calling someone a huge gossip. “And Langa…”
“I’m glad to see you interested in helping.”
I gave him a half-smile and headed out.
Standing outside in the sunshine I realised the pastor was right, if anyone could get the word out about the guesthouse it was Mrs. Mabanga. Now I just had to swallow my pride and go see her. The sooner it was over the better so I walked over to her house straight away.
Although it wasn’t much bigger than ours, and Mrs. Mabanga had four children, it was the smartest house in its street. The paintwork was fresh and flower pots flanked the door. No one else has flower pots in our area.
I took a deep breath and knocked on the bright blue door. It was opened by Mrs. Mbanga’s eldest daughter, Hyacinth.
“Can I help you Langa?” she said, looking me up and down like something the cat dragged in.
“I need to speak to your mother.”
“I’ll see if she’s available to receive you,” she said, turning on her heel. She half closed the door behind her so I couldn’t follow. Sigh. This could be an uphill battle.
Hyacinth returned and lead me inside. Mrs. Mabanga was sitting in state on her mahogany trim sofa.
“Hello Langa. How is your mother doing? I do hope her ankle’s improved.”
“She’s getting better, thank you Mrs. Mabanga. And how are you?”
“Fine thank you. And what brings you here? I know you well enough to know you are not here just to ask after my health.”
“Yes ma’am. I came to ask if you knew of anyone who might be interested in staying at the B&B. Our rates are very reasonable.”
Mrs. Mabanga shuffled on the couch, shifting her weight. “Well I’m sure price is not an issue but any guests of mine would expect exceptional service in impeccable surroundings. My sister is coming to stay tomorrow and I’m having her here of course, where I know everything will be perfect.”
Glancing around the tiny four and a half room home that housed six people, plus apparently guests, price obviously was a consideration but I needed a different approach.
“We couldn’t provide quite the warm home you do Mrs. Mabanga, but the B&B does provide prompt service and extremely clean environments. The rooms are all beautifully decorated and turned out everyday. The food comes fresh from our own garden and chickens. We have indoor plumbing, half the rooms even have their own en suite bathrooms attached.”
“None. And we have tourists from all over. International glamour at local prices,” I said with a grin. I was stretching a bit now but I could see Mrs. Mabanga’s interest had been piqued.
“It might be nice if my sister had some space of her own,” she said, looking round the cramped living room cum kitchen. “And you say the service is good?”
“Only the best!”
“Fine, I’ll chat to her tonight. You can expect her arrival tomorrow around lunchtime.”
“That would be great Mrs. Mabanga. Thank you.”
I bounded out the house, full of enthusiasm. If Mrs. Mabanga was happy with the B&B all the ladies from the WI would want to have their relatives stay there. This would show Sarah and my mother that I didn’t scare away business. I found brand new business.
When I got back I headed outside to do something about the chickens. They were clucking loudly in their hutch. Cross at being indoors during the day. I found some wire in the outside rooms and used it to create a low fenced run around the hutch. I used sticks to provide supports and attached pegs at intervals around the bottom edge of the wire and stuck these in the earth to hold the wire in place. I had to use wire cutters to cut off the piece for the fence and my hands were full of cuts by the time I was done.
When the area was secure I let the chickens out. They paraded out, one at a time, each pausing to give me a filthy look before beginning to scratch.
After the chickens I still had the general areas and drying to do and the dining room tables to lay for tomorrow morning. Once again the sun was setting by the time I headed home and my body ached. At least my mother looked a little more cheerful this evening.
“I must say, this rest is doing wonders for me,” she said with a smile. “I really appreciate it.”
I could only manage a half-hearted smile in response.
She looked at me thoughtfully. “You’d better soak those hands in some water with disinfectant,” she said. “Use the tub in the cupboard under the sink. And make it an early night.”
“Yes mom,” I said, giving her a quick hug. “I could sleep for a week.”
The next morning I worked my way through breakfast and the bedrooms. Some of the tourists lingered in the garden after breakfast. Normally they rushed off, but someone had heard the chickens clucking this morning and wanted to see them. They laughed at the antics of the chickens, then wandered round admiring the peaceful layout Samuel had created. There were benches dotted around the garden and a bower of trees that framed the view of the mountains, towering nearby. The guests chatted amongst themselves and took photos of the view.
I was putting the vacuum cleaner away at twelve when Mrs. Mabanga’s sister Mrs. Ndlovu arrived with her husband. They were the first new arrival while I was on my own but my mother had shown me the check-in steps so I carefully went through filling-in the form and then took them up to their room. It was a nice big one with a view and a reasonable price because it shared a bathroom with one other room. I left them to themselves and wandered downstairs congratulating myself. I met Samuel in the kitchen.
“Good morning,” I grinned.
“Well you’re certainly chipper today,” he said. “I suppose you’re pleased to be having a full house at last.”
“Yes, wasn’t it a good idea?”
“Good idea? I meant because next week is the one full week this summer.”
“What do you mean?”
“Sarah said that the last week of this month was the one week we were fully booked.”
My eyes grew round as the implications of what he was saying sank in. I ran to the front desk and checked the reservation book. Samuel was right. We had one couple leaving today and a single man replacing them this evening, then another couple were booking in in two days time. And I’d just given away their room!
The rest of the day passed in a blur as I went through my jobs. What was I going to do. The Nkosis were going to arrive in two days and I had nowhere to put them. By evening I was starting to emerge from my cloud of doom and I went round the house looking for anywhere I could lodge an extra bed. Kitchen, living room and dining room were out. The scullery and back office were too small. Sarah’s room wasn’t big enough for a double bed and was also only accessible through the kitchen and back passage. I was walking round the garden after feeding the chickens when, finally, I had a possible idea. The outside rooms. This was where Samuel slept and the garden equipment was stored. An old servants quarters that consisted of a simple bathroom and two small rooms. The main room was just big enough to fit a small double bed. We could fit a couple of chairs and a little table in the alcove room between the bedroom and the bathroom. At the moment, the room was full of garden equipment and rubbish and there were marks on the walls and a grubby concrete floor but it would have to do. I went to find Samuel.
“You want to do what?!”
“Samuel, I’m sorry but we have to. There’s nowhere else.”
“And where am I supposed to go?”
“You can stay with us.”
“Stay with you?”
“Yes, you can have my room at home.”
“You have your own room?”
“Yes and you can take it. I’m staying in Sarah’s room at the moment anyway and I can always use the couch at home if I need to.”
“I guess that would be okay.”
That night I turned up on Siya’s doorstep.
He looked surprised to see me. “I thought you were too busy working these days to visit your friends,” he said.
“Siya, my mother sprained her ankle. I’m running the whole B&B myself. Well, with Samuel in the garden. It’s a miracle I can still stand by the end of the day, never mind go visiting.”
His expression relaxed a little. “So what are you doing here then?”
“Have you started your business yet?”
“Taken a job?”
“Then I want to hire you for a job at the B&B.”
“Why would I want to take a job there?”
“Just temporarily, while you’re working on your business ideas. I need the help.”
“You think I want to cook and clean?”
“No, I need help cleaning up the outside rooms. We need to strip and paint them and sort out furniture and lay carpet…”
“What are you talking about?”
“I overbooked the guest house. I have two days to convert the old servants quarters into another room good enough to take guests. I need you to help me.”
“So it’s just for a few days?”
“Yes. Think of it as a way to earn a starting bonus for your business.”
“Okay I’m in.”
“Yes!” I air punched.
“But I’m not doing it because of the money. You’re my best friend. Of course I’d help you out,” he said.
I grinned. “You’re the best.”
“You can still pay me though.”
I laughed and ran home. Maybe I really could make this work.
Next morning I dropped by Siya’s house first thing. He complained bitterly about how early it was and his older sister gave me a filthy look for waking the whole family to get Siya. Personally I thought they could look a little more grateful considering I appeared to be the first person to get him to work. Anyway, he was no use to me if it wasn’t early. There was no point if we ended up with half finished rooms. We had to finish those rooms completely before the guests arrived.
I set Siya to clearing the rubbish out the rooms and scrubbing them while I got on with breakfast. In the laundry I looked out spare sheets for the new room. I had an idea. Some of the white sheets streaked with pink looked quite nice. If we did the rooms and furniture in white, they could work. I looked out sheets, a duvet cover and a couple of pillowcases. We’d still need curtains and pillows. There was an extra duvet case and I had an idea. I called Nomsa.
“May I speak to the master seamstress?” I asked, in my poshest tones.
There was giggling on the other side of the line. “Is that you Langa?” she asked.
“The one and only,” I replied. “And Nomsa, I need your help.”
“What trouble have you gotten yourself into?”
“I’ve booked more guests than we have rooms at the B&B.”
“Wow. That’s great!”
I laughed. “I wish. I need to prepare an extra room quickly.”
“So what can I do to help?”
“Would it be possible to make curtains from a duvet cover?”
“And could it be done in a day?” I asked, holding my breath.
She laughed. “I’ll be over with my tape measure this morning and see what I can do.”
“You’re a real star Nomsa.”
I went out to see how the rooms were going. Siya and Samuel had all the furniture out and Siya was scrubbing the rooms while Samuel went backwards and forwards, moving the garden equipment into the scullery. I went over the bed checking if it was in good enough condition for guests. The wood was scuffed and marked and would have to be painted with the room. If everything was painted white would the room be blinding? I’d have to think about how to break it up. Siya’s voice broke into my thoughts.
“I hope you appreciate how much work this is.”
“Don’t worry, I appreciate it enormously,” I said sincerely. I had definitely found a new appreciation for hard work.
“What about paint and rollers and stuff?”
“We’ve got sandpaper and one tin of white paint. I’m not sure what to do for the rest.” I bit my lip, thinking.
“Can’t you buy some from petty cash?”
“I spent petty cash days ago,” I said grimly. “We’re living on fumes here.”
“Well you better make a plan. We can’t exactly do the room by finger-painting.”
I left Samuel getting out the sandpaper so they could start priming the furniture etc. but Siya had a point. What was I going to do? I stood looking around the kitchen. We still had bread and tomatoes from breakfast and I had cucumbers from the garden that weren’t used for breakfasts.
I ran upstairs and made an announcement on the landing as guests wandered between their rooms and the bathrooms.
“We now offer picnic lunches at reasonable rates for anyone who might like one. Perfect for taking with you on a scenic drive or hike.”
A couple of families showed an interest and I raced downstairs with orders to make. I had four packets ready to go by the time the guests wandered down. The businessman had heard about the lunches and asked if I could do for him too.
“They’ll have nothing but biscuits all morning at the office,” he said. “By lunchtime I’ve eaten half a packet of biscuits and I’m ravenous. Terrible for my diet.”
“Of course sir. They’ll be ready in five minutes.”
By the time all the guests had left I had just enough for turpentine, a roller and a couple of brushes. We’d just have to use old trays to hold the paint. I gave Siya the money and got on with the bedrooms. I wanted to be done in time to help with the painting.
When the sheets were rumbling away in the washing machine I went out to join the painters. They were busy on what would be the main bedroom. I got to work on the bed. It was hot outside and by lunchtime we were drenched with sweat. We were having to use Sarah’s bathroom while we were working on the rooms. I took a quick shower and got the dryer going and the second load of sheets into the washing machine. I made a sandwich for each of us and took Siya’s and Samuel’s out to them. Then I got the vacuum cleaner out for the communal areas. While I vacuumed and dusted my thoughts were on what to do about the room. One of the small pictures in the hallway showed a pink and purple sunrise over the ocean. It would fit in well with the new rooms. In the living room there were chairs and tables arranged in sets where people could relax together. The small set by the window could be used in the alcove area here.
What would the guests use for storage? There were no built-in cupboards in the old servant’s rooms. I went over the house looking for a suitable spare wardrobe. All the guest rooms had built-ins that couldn’t be moved. I was getting desperate enough to look at the bathroom medicine cabinet speculatively when I finally had an idea. There was a wooden cupboard in the scullery that could be moved. I unpacked the cupboard carefully into some cardboard boxes and then half-dragged, half-carried it out into the garden.
“What’s that for?” Siya asked.
“The guests are going to need somewhere to hang their clothes.”
Siya opened the cupboard and took a look. “No hanging space.”
“There’s no hanging rail. Just shelves.”
“Eish, I hadn’t thought of that.” I looked over the cupboard, wracking my brain for ideas.
“What’s that board there?” I asked.
“What? The shelf? We took it down for while we’re painting.”
“It’s from the room? Where was it?”
“In the bedroom corner, on the same wall as the door.”
“Can you put it back up when you’re done painting?”
“Perfect. I’ll sandpaper and paint it like the bed.”
“How can you hang clothes on a shelf?”
“Just wait and see,” I said and scampered upstairs to the top floor bathroom. As I’d remembered, there were two towel racks in the room. One of them was half-length. I fetched the screwdriver from downstairs and removed the railing. Outside I set to work cleaning up the shelf.
“What are you going to do with the railing?” Siya wanted to know.
“I’ll hang it under the shelf,” I said. When the shelf is back in the corner, we’ll put the cupboard next to it and it will be like one storage unit. Hanging space right next to the cupboard, protected by the shelf.”
“Hmmph. It could work.”
“Now it’s just the flooring that’s still a problem.”
“What’s wrong with it?”
“Cold cement flooring just doesn’t look like a guest room.”
Siya shrugged, “By the way Langa…”
“Sorry about scratching that car the other night.”
I looked up in surprise. “Thanks,” I stammered.
“You know when Nomsa messaged me this morning she was actually impressed I was working.” He shook his head. “Go figure women.” He turned and disappeared back into the bathroom with his paintbrush.
When the painted furniture was drying in the sun, I returned to the house to get on with cleaning the communal areas. I was taking the vacuum cleaner through to the dining room when I heard a knock on the back door. I went through the kitchen and opened it to find Cynthia standing there with the bakery box.
“Oh hello,” I said. “I’d forgotten about our delivery with everything else going on.”
“Yeah, I was wondering about that,” she said. “What’s happening with the outside rooms? I thought I saw Siya down there.”
“Yeah, he’s helping me clean it up for guests. I overbooked us,” I said with a shrug and grin.
She laughed. “Oh well, more guests is probably a good thing but I don’t see how you can turn that place into a guest room. Won’t it be obvious it’s just an old servant’s quarters?”
“We’re painting it and furnishing it. You just come see it tomorrow. You’ll love it so much, you’ll want to move in,” I said with a grin.
“That I’ll have to see,” she said.
“It’s just the floors I’m still worried about,” I admitted. “Plain cement just doesn’t say guesthouse.”
“Definitely not. You have to have proper carpets or wood panelling.”
“I don’t see how we can get either. Especially before tomorrow.”
“Can’t the owner buy them?”
“She’s not here and we don’t have the money.”
Cynthia scowled. “She should know you have to spend some money to make it. She can’t expect you to do a big project like this without any funds. And what about all the profit she’s going to make in future from these rooms?” she said, hands on hips. “She should be willing to pay towards them.”
It was quite strange to hear Cynthia of all people defending me. I was tempted to leave it at that but thought I’d better try and explain. “I don’t know if she can keep using them afterwards. Samuel is staying with us for now but he’ll probably want to come back here.”
“I don’t see why. Your place is nice. Charge him a low rent and he should be happy.”
I raised a hand to interrupt her flow. “Cynthia, I haven’t actually told the owner about any of this. She’s away at a conference and all we had access to was a small petty cash, that’s all gone. We have to do this cheap.”
“Hmmph,” she snorted. “Fine, I’ll get the carpet. My uncle’s a manager at the Buy-in-Bulk.”
“Wow, that would be fantastic,” I said gruffly, completely taken aback. “Thank you!”
“Sure,” she said with a shrug, but the edge of her mouth turned up in a smile. “But I’ll need to measure first. Do you have a tape measure?” And she was straight back to business.
I indicated Nomsa coming out of the rooms. “I think you’re in luck. Nomsa’s here to measure for curtains…”
“So she’ll have a tape then. That should be fine.” Cynthia headed down the garden.
“Thanks,” I yelled after her.
She turned and gave me a regal nod before continuing down the path.
I shook my head and went back to my vacuuming.
I was vacuuming the lounge when I heard a faint ringing. I switched off the cleaner. It was the phone. I ran to answer.
“Hello, Rise and Shine B&B. How can I help you?”
“Hi, we’d like to make a booking for the fifth.”
“Just a moment,” I said. I dug the reservations book out the draw. I wasn’t having a repeat of this week’s performance. “How many people and how long would you like to stay?”
“We’d like a week please. Two adults and two children”
“Yes, we have a family room available then.”
I pencilled the reservation into the book.
“May I ask how you heard about us?” I asked, wondering if these were some of the new tourists that Sarah was organising at the conference.
“Oh, Mrs. Mabanga spoke very highly of your establishment. Her daughter works for me.”
“Thank you very much ma’am.” What did you know. Mrs. Mabanga had her uses after all.
That night when I got back to the guesthouse it was already late and I was exhausted but I still had one more job to do. I needed two more pictures for the new guest rooms. In Sarah’s room I took down her pair of family photos from the bookshelves and gently removed the pictures from the frames. I slipped the photos safely into a draw and then took the plain wooden frames to the outside rooms. There was still some paint left so I carefully painted them in white to match the rest of the room. Back inside the house I got out my sketchbook and coloured pencils. I picked my pink and green crayons and went to work doing a pair of sketches of pink daisies. I did a soft green background and picked out the jagged edges of their leaves in dark green. When the pictures were done I put them to the side to go into the frames in the morning. Then I collapsed on the soft bed and was immediately out like a light.
When I woke the next morning I ached in places I didn’t even know I had muscles. I limped home in the pink dawn light to make breakfast for myself and my mother. Samuel was at home and seemed to have settled in happily enough.
“You come back every morning and evening?” he asked.
“Yeah, can’t really expect my mom to cook and do dishes and things with her ankle like that. What if it gave way while she was cooking and she got burnt or something? I do breakfast and leave lunch in the morning and come back to do supper in the evenings.”
“Good,” Samuel said curtly and returned to his porridge.
I spooned my porridge into my mouth very slowly. My arms protesting every step of the way. My mother watched me with a frown.
“What’s wrong Langa?”
“My muscles are aching. It’s the painting on top of all the usual work at the guesthouse.”
“How are you going to cope with work today if you can barely move?” she asked.
“I’m counting on loosening up once I get going,” I said with a smile. Samuel gave a snort.
“Well, I hope it works out,” she said with a fond smile.
Back at the guesthouse I headed for the kitchen, switched on the kettle and started cracking eggs. A scream overhead caused me to drop the mixing bowl. I cursed inwardly at the waste of good eggs. With that much noise, it had better be serious. I ran upstairs to see what was wrong.
Upstairs Mr. Martin was heading into the nearest bathroom unphased, but the Jonses were milling about in the corridor, with their heads together. They were glancing at the closed bedroom doors and murmuring to each other.
“Did you hear which room the scream came from?” I asked.
“We think it was room one,” said Mr. Jones.
“Thanks,” I said with a grateful smile. I knocked on the door of room one. It was opened by an agitated man.
“Good morning Mr. Finley. I thought I heard someone scream up here. Is everything okay?”
“Oh no, I’m afraid my wife’s cut herself. Her glass broke and her hand looks terrible. I’m not sure what to do.” He opened the door and stepped back so I could see Mrs. Finley sitting at the dressing table. She was cradling her hand and dripping blood all over the carpet. Thoughts of stain removal immediately sprang to mind, surprising myself considerably.
“I think we’d better get her to the clinic quickly. The sister there should be able to sort her out.”
Mr. Finley pushed his hands through his thinning hair, “Where is the clinic? Is it any good?”
“Mr. Finley, I know the nursing sister personally and she’s excellent. That clinic is run like a clean and efficient machine.”
“Oh, well that’s good,” he glanced around vaguely. “How will we get there?”
“I’ll be right back,” I said and ran downstairs.
Ms. Harris from room six was already waiting for breakfast when I ran through the dining room.
“One of the guests has had an accident so breakfast is running a few minutes late,” I announced before ducking into the kitchen. I ran out into the garden and down to the outside rooms.
“Siya! Siya!” I yelled.
He emerged from the rooms, “What’s with the yelling? What’s up?”
I grimaced, suddenly realising I’d been yelling in the garden again. Oh well.
“I need you to go with the Finleys in their car, to direct them to the clinic.”
“Why can’t you do it?”
“I still have to serve breakfast. I’ve barely started and there’s already people waiting.”
“What about these rooms?”
“Samuel can carry on for now and I’ll join him as soon as breakfast is done. It shouldn’t take you too long to get the Finleys sorted anyway.”
“Thanks. See you in the front hall in five minutes,” I said as I turned and ran back to the house. I got the tea and coffee things ready and brought them out so the guests could help themselves. Why hadn’t I thought of that a week ago? Then I went to fetch the Finleys and introduced them to Siya.
Once they were off, I hurried back to the kitchen and breakfasts. I soon had eggs frying on the stove and was beating another batch for scrambling when the doorbell rang. It could hardly be new guests at this time and deliveries all came and knocked at the back. I turned down the heat on the stove and went to answer the door.
Mr. James Robinson was standing on the doorstep, clipboard in hand.
My mouth dropped open in surprise. “Inspector?!”
“Hello Langa.” He raised an eyebrow. “I did say I’d be back this week to complete my inspection.” Images of the spilled eggs in the kitchen and the blood in bedroom one sprang to mind. Somehow I didn’t think these things would be a hit with the inspector.
“Of course, please come in.” I led him through to the dining room. “We’re serving breakfast at the moment. Would you mind joining the guests?”
“That should be fine. Which table is free?” I lead him to the Finleys’ table one and headed back into the kitchen. Inside I got the eggs going again. The next hour was a bustle of cooking and serving, till the last guest was fed. Just to keep me running, the phone rang halfway through and I took another booking for the end of the month.
I offered the inspector another cup of coffee and some biscuits while I washed the breakfast things. He eyed the door to the kitchen but agreed. I cleaned up the floor first and then the counters in case the inspector decided to interrupt me. Then I started on the dishes. I was rewarded for my caution because the inspector came through while I was busy and wandered round the kitchen examining surfaces. He asked to check the fridge as well and I could hear him mumbling over sell-by dates.
“You don’t have much in your fridge. No egg cartons or anything. In fact your whole kitchen seems to consist of some bread and milk.”
“There’s some packs of bacon in the freezer but we get most of our food from the garden and our own hens so, at this time of year, we pick as we need it.”
“That’s very eco-friendly.”
“Speaking of bread, I need to make a few sandwiches for some of the guests who’ve ordered packed lunches.”
“Packed lunches. That’s a new feature.” He watched as I laid out the bread.
“I just need a cucumber from the garden. I’ll be back in a moment.” I stepped out the back door. The inspector stood in the doorway looking around the garden. When I returned with the cucumber he was ready with questions.
“That ladder down by the outside rooms. I hope you have approval for any building you’re doing.”
“No building involved,” I said, washing the cucumber at the sink. “We’re just giving the old rooms a paint job. They were due a makeover.”
I prepared the sandwiches quickly and handed them to the departing guests and collected their money.
“I’m not sure what the procedure is for an inspection. Would you like a tour?”
“That won’t be necessary. What would you usually do this time of the morning?”
“The bedrooms, while the guests are out.”
“Carry on with your normal routine. I will observe.” He pulled out his clipboard. “Things seem to be running a little late this morning. No-one had their food yet when I arrived although the dining room was full. Is this a usual occurrence?”
“No, I’m afraid a guest had an accident this morning so I had to arrange for them to visit the clinic immediately. It was unfortunate that it delayed the other guests’ breakfast.”
“An accident, hey? What happened?” he said, making a note on his board.
Oh well, honesty would just have to do. “She cut her hand on a broken glass. In fact I’m going to start with cleaning their room because I think there may be stains. The sooner I treat them, the better.”
“Lead the way.”
I was soon hard at work. Luckily there’d been a half-used bottle of carpet cleaner in the supply cupboard. I treated the blood stains on the carpet, wiped off the dressing table, and the stained dressing table cloth went straight into a cold soak downstairs. I was soon stripping beds and once I had a load of sheets going in the washing machine, I returned to finish my work on the stain. I breathed a huge sigh of relief when the carpet came clean. Despite the inspector, the accident and the half finished rooms outside, it felt like my lucky day.
I returned to do the bedrooms on the top floor and then, with one load in the dryer and another in the washing machine I started on the communal areas. The inspector wandered around behind me making notes. It was almost lunchtime when the doorbell rang. I pushed the vacuum cleaner out of the way and went over to answer. A portly couple was standing smiling on the doorstep, surrounded by luggage. Looking at the pile, my jaw dropped.
“Hello,” said the man with a big grin. He gripped my hand in his and gave it a tight shake. “We’re a little early, I hope you don’t mind.”
“Welcome,” I said throwing the door open, and nearly hitting the inspector hovering behind me. “Please come in. You can leave your bags here. I’ll call someone to collect them.”
I led the way into the lounge area. “Please make yourselves at home. Would you like tea or coffee?”
They settled into the couches.
“It’s very nice here,” the woman said, looking around the room.
“Yes,” said her husband, getting up and crossing the room to look out the windows. “Wonderful and fresh up here. I can feel the mountain air doing me good already.”
“I’ll just get someone to see to your bags and be right back.” Seeing the inspector about to follow me, I turned back to the couple. “Mr. Robinson here is a local and can tell you all about our great mountains and the best ways to enjoy them,” I said with a broad grin. Then I scuttled out before the inspector could catch my eye.
Through the dining room, then the kitchen and out the back door. I sprinted down the garden to the outside rooms.
“Samuel, they’re here!”
“Hello to you too. What’s up?”
“The couple for this room. They’ve arrived. Is the paint dry?”
“Everything but the windowsills. But there’s no furniture or anything yet.”
I rubbed my hand over the back of my head trying to come up with a plan when I saw Cynthia coming down the lawn with a roll under her arm and a bucket in her other hand.
“Hi. Carpet as promised,” she said with a smile. “Underfelt included and I brought the glue for laying it.”
“You’re a life saver,” I said. “What about today’s buns?”
“I left the box in the kitchen. Your back door was open.”
“Thank you.” An idea was beginning to form.
“Can your uncle manage without you for the afternoon?”
“Yes, I asked for the afternoon off, to help with the room.”
“That’s excellent news. I have a special job I need you to help me with.” I turned to the gardener. “Samuel, please collect their luggage and put it in the scullery until we’ve sorted the room out.” I led Cynthia back to the house. Inside I quickly looked up the name of our new guests. Then I put the chelsea buns on a plate with a few biscuits, and the tea and coffee things on a tray. “Here,” I said passing the plate to Cynthia. I picked up the tray and led the way into the lounge.
“Sorry for the delay Mr. and Mrs. Nkosi,” I said putting the tray down. “Please help yourselves. We have cakes as well,” I said indicating Cynthia’s plate.
“How lovely,” the woman said helping herself to a bun.
“And we have something special planned for you after tea.”
“Something special?” the inspector said, raising an eyebrow.
Mr. Nkosi was watching the inspector. “I’m sure we’ll enjoy whatever it is,” he said. He leant over and helped himself to a cup of coffee.
Sensing a sympathetic audience in the Nkosis I pressed on, “This is Cynthia. She will take you for a short tour of the attractions near here. Point out the best hiking routes and answer any questions on local attractions.”
After a momentary double-take, Cynthia turned on her megawatt smile, “So pleased to meet you, Mr. and Mrs. Nkosi. I’ll be delighted to show you around.”
“I’m sure you’ll do a better job of entertaining us than Mr. Robinson here.” Mr. Nkosi turned to me. “Is he on your staff?”
I stifled a laugh. “No, Mr. Robinson is just visiting.”
“Hmmph. Just as well.”
“I’d be interested to know what these tours of yours entail,” said the inspector, helping himself to a bun.
“That’s an excellent idea Mr. Robinson. Please join the Nkosis for the tour. The more the merrier.” I noticed Mr. Nkosi didn’t look too thrilled but I doubted they’d pay much attention to the quiet inspector once they were out, seeing the sights. I left them in Cynthia’s capable hands, put the vacuum cleaner away quickly and returned to the outside rooms. They certainly looked clean now but also very bare. Samuel came strolling down the garden, having stored the Nkosis’ luggage.
“So now what Langa?”
“Now we lay the carpet and get the furniture inside.”
“Great, let’s get to it.”
“I’ll just get the vacuum cleaner and run it over the floors before we start gluing.”
When I returned, Samuel was holding up a piece of carpet, “She’s had them cut to the right sizes, enough for the bedroom and the sitting alcove.”
“Perfect.” I quickly ran the vacuum cleaner round, making sure I got all the edges. Then we started with the alcove, applying a layer of glue, followed by the underfelt. We went on to the bedroom underfelt. While the glue dried we fetched the mattress from the main house. Siya was waiting for us when we came out carrying the bulky mattress.
“I see the carpets came through,” he said.
“Yes, thanks to Cynthia. How are the Finleys?”
“Huh. She’s fine. Had to get two stitches in her hand.”
“Come give us a hand with this then.” We laid the mattress on the painted bed frame. When the felt seemed secure, we laid another layer of glue over the felt, a very messy job, and then laid the carpets. I was making the bed with the pink and white sheets when Nomsa arrived with the curtains. She and Samuel hung them. Then they fetched the small chairs and table from the lounge for the alcove. Samuel hung the shelf back and Siya and I moved the bed and closet into the bedroom and hung the pictures. Nomsa and I were giving the bathroom a once over when I heard the front doorbell ringing in the distance. I called to Samuel to fetch the Nkosis’ luggage to their new rooms and ran up to the house.
I opened the front door to find Cynthia with the Nkosis and Mr. Robinson. They were chatting together and Mr. Nkosi had the ladies laughing.
“Did you enjoy your tour?” I asked, ushering them inside.
“Oh yes,” said Mrs. Nkosi. “It was lovely. The scenery is breath-taking and yet we’re still quite close to the shops.”
“Our shops aren’t anything fancy, like you’re used to, I’m sure.”
“Oh no, but then if we’d wanted to spend the holidays shopping we would have stayed home,” she said with a smile. “We wanted to get away to some peace and quiet.”
I turned to the inspector, “Will there be anything else for you sir?”
“I’d just like to go over the whole place once more,” he said, picking up his clipboard again.
“Of course, please feel free,” I said.
Cynthia turned to the Nkosis, “I’m so glad you enjoyed the tour. I’ll leave you with Langa now.” She nodded to me and slipped out through the dining room.
The doorbell rang again. I looked up in surprise. Another guest now? I went over and opened the door. Standing there was Sarah.
“Sorry to ring Langa but my key’s in my bag and I could see people in the front hall.”
“No problem,” I said. “Let me take those bags for you.” I led the way inside. “These are the Nkosis, our guests who arrived today. And the health inspector, Mr. Robinson is wandering round the house.”
“The health inspector?” she said, eyebrows raised.
“Yes, the health inspector,” I said nodding.
“That explains a lot,” Mr. Nkosi whispered to his wife with a sly grin.
I took Sarah’s luggage through to her room and put out the rest of the buns on a platter for the other guests as they came in. I went back through the hallway where Sarah was now chatting with the guests. I left the platter in its usual place in the lounge and joined them. The inspector appeared at the foot of the stairs.
“Ah, Ms. Owen. Nice to see you again. Back from your trip?”
“Yes, just a few minutes ago. How did the inspection go?”
“It went very well. Here is your temporary certificate. The permanent documents will be in the post and I must say, I wasn’t sure after my first visit,” at this Mr. Robinson eyed me. “But it’s wonderful to see a neat little place like this expanding. I wish you good luck with it in the future.”
“Expanding?” Sarah turned to me.
I pasted on a grin, “How about I show the Nkosis to their room, then we can talk?”
“By all means,” she said with a smile. Mr. Robinson said his goodbyes and drove off. I lead the Nkosis through the dining room, towards the kitchen and back door. Sarah followed with a perplexed expression. I lead them outside and down the path to the outside rooms. By this time Sarah’s mouth was hanging open and my hands were sweating when I opened the door to show the family inside.
“We thought you might enjoy our garden suite,” I stammered.
“It’s lovely,” Mrs. Nkosi said, ducking inside. Good as his word, Samuel had left the luggage neatly at the foot of the bed. “Look darling, we have our own little sitting room.”
A small vase of flowers had been placed on the little table in the alcove and the air smelt of air freshener. Must have been Nomsa’s idea to cover the paint smell. A clever touch. There was no doubt she was going to be a great asset in an office.
“We’ll leave you to it,” said Sarah taking charge. She guided me out and headed back to the house.
Inside the kitchen, she turned to me, “Okay, what happened here? The outside rooms look beautiful but why are we putting guests in them? Is something wrong with the normal rooms?”
“They’re full. I accidentally overbooked us.”
“You overbooked us? I only just managed to fully book us for a week this whole summer!”
“I talked to people, tried to persuade them we’re affordable for locals.”
Sarah’s brow creased. “How did you find the money to redo the rooms? I only left the petty cash. There wasn’t that much in there.”
“You’re not kidding. There wasn’t much in there at all,” I said. “We ran out of money for food and soap a couple of days in.”
“Sorry about that,” she said shrugging sheepishly. “I didn’t check it before I went. How have you been feeding the guests?”
“Eggs from my chickens (I moved them in here) and vegetables from the garden. I also introduced packed lunches for sale to the guests. The cash from that helped. I also brought stuff from home to tide us over.”
“I’ll pay you back for everything. In fact I think after this I’m going to have to give you an increase.”
“But aren’t you practically going under?”
“I ran into an old friend while I was in town. We worked together when I was an accountant. They’re giving me some consulting work. That’ll help cover the guesthouse during the leaner months. And with your changes, the guesthouse could start paying its own way. I’m willing to give you the chance to find out.”
“That would be awesome! I’ve still got a few ideas to try out.”
“And I still want to hear how you outfitted new rooms without any money.”
“Well I’d appreciate if you can cover my friend’s wage for two days of labour, stripping and painting…”
The doorbell rang again and I went through to answer it. Standing on the doorstep was my mother with the Joneses.
“Surprise,” she said
“Surprise indeed,” I said staring open-mouthed. “What are you doing here?”
“My ankle’s so much better the doctor says I can resume walking as long as I take it easy. No running for a while,” she said with a wink.
“Did you walk here?”
“No, Mr. and Mrs. Jones dropped by this morning and offered to take me to the hospital for a follow-up. When the doctor gave me a clean bill of health, they brought me straight here.” She was grinning like a kid at Christmas. Then she looked past me.
“Sarah? You’re back already? I’m so sorry I wasn’t here. I slipped and fell. Langa looked after the place,” her words rushed out.
“Don’t worry Margaret. He’s done an excellent job.”
“He has?” she looked questioningly at me.
“Yes, he has. The health inspector has given us the okay and we’re busier than ever.”
“That’s wonderful,” my mother said, clasping her hands together. “So you think you’ll keep him on?”
“I certainly want to. What do you say Langa?”
“Yes. I want to stay,” I said. Thinking of coming to this place everyday and making it even better, I smiled.
“You’ve got your school finishing certificate right? You passed?”
“Yes,” I said, wondering where this was going.
“If the summer goes well maybe we can even send you on a tourism course in the city. You can bring the latest techniques to this place.”
“That would be great!”
“And Langa, those framed flower sketches in the new rooms, did you do them?”
“You never mentioned you draw. They’re good. I’ll pay you separately for those and I’d like you to do a couple for the upstairs bedrooms too. I never really finished decorating those properly.”
“Sure, I can do that. I know just what would look good in the blue room.”
“In fact if you did a few sketches of the mountains the tourists might be interested in buying them as souvenirs.”
“Maybe we could put a few on the booking table,” I suggested. “With discreet pricing. When they’re checking out they might buy them.”
“That will be fine Langa.”
After I’d left Sarah and my mother catching-up, I wandered out to the garden where my helpers were relaxing with mugs of tea.
“Hey Langa, how’d it go?” asked Samuel.
“What do the Nkosis think of their room?” added Siya.
“They love it,” I said with a grin.
“Glad to hear it,” said Cynthia. “I was running out of places to show them around here.”
“You all did a great job. Thank you,” I said.
“I was just telling everyone that the owner’s back,” said Cynthia.
“Yeah, my mom’s back on her feet too.”
“That’s great news.”
“Well, my work here is now done. And you could be free, your mom can carry on here now,” said Siya. “You can move on to something bigger and better. What do you want to do now?”
“A car washing business,” I said.
“What?” he said.
“For you Mr. Entrepreneur – you can start a car washing business. You’d be your own boss and you could build it up over time.”
“Where am I going to find enough cars to make a profit? None of our neighbours have cars.”
“Make arrangements with the hotels and guest houses. Starting with ours. We’ll find out which guests want their cars washed and collect the money. You arrive in the morning, take the money from us and wash the cars. And you can make arrangements with the farmers. Monday afternoons you go wash the cars and tractors on Hillside and Ridgetop farms in the east. On Tuesdays do the farms to the south. You can use your bike to get out there. Charge per car you wash, a higher fee for anything over a meter and a half. Your little brothers can help at weekends and maybe when Simphiwe finishes school next year you’ll be able to take him on into the business. Make it a family affair.”
“But what about you? Don’t you want to come into business with me?”
“I’m going to stay on here. I’m enjoying the hotel industry after all. And I’ve got plans for the future of the Rise and Shine. I think we can really make a success of this place.”
“You’re going to be a cleaner?”
“I know I always said my mom was just a cook and cleaner here, but I’ve done the job for a week and really she’s the guesthouse manager. I could live with that for a career. Sarah’s even offered to send me on a tourism course. I’ve got a real future here.”
“That’s great Langa,” said Cynthia, looking impressed. “Sounds like you’ve got it all worked out.”
“You do seem pretty happy,” Siya admitted with a shrug.
“Yeah, I reckon we’re all ready for our futures now,” I said with a grin.
“Looks like it,” Cynthia said with an answering smile.
“Nomsa’s going to be a PA, Siya an entrepreneur, I’m going into tourism and you’re off to university soon. And knowing you Cynth, I know you’ll do us proud.”
She slipped an arm around me and gave me a quick squeeze. I was struck dumb on the spot.
“You’re not getting rid of me completely. I’ll be back for the holidays. I’ll see you then.”
“Su-ure,” I stammered.
She laughed mischievously.
Darryl Brent writes and illustrates books and short stories that are a mix of sci-fi and family tales for children and adults.
When not reading or writing, Darryl can be found riding the nearest wave.
Read more at Darryl Brent’s site.