Ubu was near hysterics. She was at that stage of crying where the body enacts all the gestures of weeping yet, the voice cannot muster a sound, the mouth moves but no words come out. When crying pushes all the air out of the lungs but the body desperately, violently tries to swallow breathe and hold on to life. She held the wailing baby tighter against her chest. ‘There must be another way, there must be another way…”
Her words could not have fallen on deafer ears, that early morning, in a short passage behind the KFC. Ubu was standing against the back wall of the laundry shop across from the KFC. Killy and Voel stood facing her. The two older women were not listening to the young girl. Voel was holding a broken bread knife. The handle had been created by wrapping the jagged blade with a piece of cardboard then sealed with brown sellotape. She gripped the knife harder, never looking up at Ubu. ubu knew that Voel wasn’t going to respond. She turned to Killy, pleading to her senses. “You promised! You promised!” Killy was despondent. She merely gazed down, never looking Ubu in the eye.
They were doing what the old woman had instructed. They were slaughtering a chicken where Kana was born, to somehow cleanse the boy who was born in the streets to three mothers. After that, they were going to find the baby’s mother. After a thorough beating from Voel, Joshua had told them where she came from. It was some place near the Eastern Cape. It was going to take more than a day’s traveling to get there.
After the chicken died, Voel stood transfixed, blood dripping from the hands and knife. “Ubu, go wash you and the baby”, she said. Ubu had found a strange comfort in Voel’s voice. Ubu walked with the baby into the KFC, the one they lived behind. Mpho, the manager, had agreed to let them use the bathroom. It was early morning and there were no customers.
Inside the bathroom, Ubu laid the baby onto the closed toilet seat. She carefully unwrapped the blanket. Gently unbuttoning his baby grow. She let the water run warm in the basin. She then placed the baby inside, softly wiping the giggling bundle with face cloth. After she meticulously wrapped him again in the blanket. She then took the same face cloth and started wiping herself. She re-tied her doek, picked up her baby and walked out. Killy was waiting for her outside. She hugged Ubu and kissed the baby then walked into the bathroom.
She closed the door and locked it. She looked at herself for a long time in front of the mirror. Slowly, she unbuttoned her dress. She let it slide slowly down her body until it reached the floor. She stood and looked at her naked body. She took off her wig, revealing a short and unkept fro. She let the water run in the basin and dipped her head in. The water turned darker shades of brown. She raised her face, beads of water tracking down to her chin. She looked herself straight in the eyes. She dipped her head again the water, more forcefully. Again and again, the water getting darker and darker as the thrusts into the water got more violent. She looked at herself again, her shoulders heaving as she wept, her tears melding with the water.
She stood up again, calmer. The water was trickling from her head, down to her chest, past her belly, across her hips. She took the face cloth, rubbed some soap on it, slowly. She then pressed it between her legs. She started making long, slow but firm strokes with the face cloth. She then put the face cloth back into the foamy water basin. A brownish tint sipped from the face cloth, into the water. She rinsed it, took it out, and then rubbed some more soap. Again, she reached between her legs and made firmer, longer strokes. All the while she looked at herself straight in the eye.
Killy was in the bathroom for a long, long time. Eventually she came out. Voel was waiting for her outside. Killy stood in front of the bathroom holding a Shoprite plastic bag with all the “old stuff” in it. Killy was wearing her “birthday” dress. “You look beautiful my sister”, said Voel. “Thank you”, replied Killy. Holding back the tears. “Ubu is at the back”, said Voel.
Killy strolled out of the shop, thanking Mpho on her way out. Voel walked into the bathroom.
She took out a pair of scissors and started cutting her depraved dreadlocks. After, she rubbed some soap on her head. She took out a Minora razor blade and started sliding it across her head, shaving off what remained of her hair. Halfway through, she trailed her finger over the scar on the side of the temple. She had never really looked at it before. She started remembering her mother. The one time she was forcing Voel to wear some floral, powder blue dress. It was a serious physical altercation with the little girl. It ended with the two of them intertwined on the ground, in stitches with laughter.
Voel wiped herself clean and put on a pair of jeans she had not worn in while. They were tight around the hips but she didn’t care. She walked out and thanked Mpho. When she reached the back of the shop she picked up a whiff of smoke, something burning. As the turned into the passage where they lived, she saw Ubu, baby in arms, standing next to Killy. Killy had gathered all that was their “home” and put it in the big metal rubbing bin. She set it all on fire. Voel joined them as they looked on, the flames swallowing everything they had known.