And then there was love. Why couldn’t love just be
good? Why couldn’t it just be simple? She finally fell
asleep with these thoughts swirling around in her
head. She wanted so badly for things to work out
with Mzi, for things to be different and romantic, like
in the movies…
As she slid down into her dreams she tried to see
Mzi’s face; she wanted to take him into the dream
with her. At least there things could be perfect. They
could walk hand in hand on warm white sand; next to
a tropical sea on some paradise island; lie on the
beach, his fingers lightly tracing across her face, her
arms; his warm lips pressing down on hers, gently.
His breath warm and sweet in her ear, against her
hair. “I love you,” he would whisper, “and I always
will.” They would talk for hours. He would help her
with the lyrics for her first song. She would blot out
what had happened down at the river. She would
dream up a different ending to the night.
But where she went in her dream she couldn’t
control. And however hard she tried to pull Mzi down
with her into her dream, as soon as she was asleep
she couldn’t hold onto him anymore. And soon the
dream became a nightmare. The paradise island was
replaced by somewhere noisy, and filled with
fluorescent lights. She was standing backstage in a
dressing room, and all she could feel was a terrible
knot in her stomach. She could hear someone
singing on the stage, which must be through the
door in front of her. The singing stopped and she
heard clapping and cheering. A woman who was
doing make-up and hair sat her down in front of a
mirror. She started smoothing Ntombi’s hair and
putting in clips. “We’d better hurry,” she said. “You’re extra sized items with sleeves to wear of the wedding
on in ten minutes.”
Just then the door to the stage opened and Lettie
came running down the stairs. “That was fantastic,”
she said. “They just loved me. Did you hear them
cheering?” she asked Ntombi, then blew her a kiss
and disappeared. Ntombi wanted to stop her, talk to
her. Was this a concert? Was this the audition that
would get her into the Teen Voice final? Where was
she? And what had happened to Mzi?
She suddenly felt sick and had to run to the toilet,
where she threw up. Ugh! She looked at her face in
the mirror – she was all made-up. She didn’t look
like herself anymore. Where had the real Ntombi
gone? She just wanted to be herself again. But when
she came out, the stylist was ooing and aahing.
“Where have you been? You’re up girl. Good luck.
You look beautiful! Much better than before. Not that
you weren’t pretty...” her voice trailed off.
* * *
Ntombi was walking out onto a huge stage. The
lights were dazzling and blinded her. Every step she
took she thought she would fall over in the ridiculous
high heels the stylist had squashed onto her feet
before she went on. This was not how she wanted it
to be – how she had planned. She was going to wear
a simple, beautiful dress with flat sandals, and very
little make-up, to the auditions. She would be true to
herself, not some fake. But here she was in this frilly
ridiculous dress, and shoes that made her trip and
lurch forward towards the mike that was waiting for
her in the middle of the stage.
She didn’t know how long she had been standing
there, holding the mike, when she heard a cough off
stage. She turned. “Cue music,” the man mouthed.
The audience had gone silent.
Then the music came on. Ntombi felt better; she
knew this song so well. She could do this. Her eyes
had adjusted to the lights and she could pick out
people in the audience. There was her mother, with
something weird in her hair, waving and blowing her
kisses, there was Zakes slouched back in the next
seat with his arms folded on his beer belly.
In her dream Ntombi started to sing. It was beautiful;
she could see on the faces of the audience that they
were amazed. There was no doubt that she would be
singing her way into the final.
Her eyes moved slowly across the crowds and then
stopped. And in that second her voice stopped too.
Her mouth was open but no sound came out,
however hard she tried; and even worse, she had
forgotten the words to the song. There in the
audience, right near the back of the hall, sat Mzi –
and next to him sat Thumi, and his arm was around
her. He wasn’t even looking at Ntombi. His head was
bent and he was kissing Thumi on the neck, and she
was smiling up at Ntombi – that “cat who got the
cream” smile. Suddenly the audience was booing.
Then someone in the front row stood up and
shouted, “Get her off! Get her off!”