Zulu Brothers story: Nqobizitha

"What's 47 plus 59?"
"106," he said immediately.
"382 plus 54?"
"...divided by two?"
"...times nine?"
"You're doing this again?" he asked.
She gave up and rolled her eyes, crossed her legs and held tight the steaming cup of green tea in her hand.
He'd caught her, again, just when it was getting interesting and even sexier to watch.
"It's fascinating to watch," she said.
She knew he hated it, and if she pushed harder he'd stand up and walk away.
Of all the women he had been with, she was the only one who was able to crack him.
It was one of the things that fascinated her about him, his beautiful mind. Sometimes she'd sit and stare at his tight jaw and intense eyes as he put together a puzzle or fill in soduku in just minutes.
If they weren't having sex at any place, anytime in that mansion in Winchester Hills, he was sitting quietly on her employer's single leather couch playing with anything that had numbers while she cleaned and ironed and cooked.
He would take breaks and watch her moving around the house, labouring like he did every day at the taxi rank.
This was not the life he envisioned for himself when he was a young boy, sneaking around a white man's house with his 20-year-old domestic worker girlfriend, sitting on furniture he could never afford and eating food he didn't buy.
Nqobile was unbothered, she believed she still had a future and that she would get them out of the pit one way or another.
It wasn't just Nqobizitha's intelligence and free spirit that had her pining over him, it was the whole of him. He was black and bold and had a voice that aroused her from the tips of her toes to the strings of her hair.
His hand was firm but it's caress was tender, his chest and shoulders so wide they swallowed her whole tiny self when he held her.
She teased him about his eyes and he'd tease her back about her eyebrows because they met in the middle.
And the first time she successfully begged him to come inside the house, was the first time she came out and told a man he needed to take her clothes off and show her what he is made of.
Nqobizitha had always been a tough one, commanding and in control all the time, but Nqobile could tame him with just a smile and a clan name.
At the house, he always came in through the back door, in case one of the neighbours decided to pry and risk her losing her job for letting strangers into her workplace.
He figured the first time he entered that house that there was more going on in there than the expensive paintings lining the walls and the safes hidden behind them.
But that was not what got to him, it was the size of the house and the reality that some people had too too much while others had nothing.
Nqobile's boss was a man in his 70s, living alone in a house that had a tennis court in a space big enough to fit a shopping mall.
They called him The Greek because his surname, Pappachistoforou was too long and too hard to pronounce.
Besides, he had never met him and was never going to because he rarely ever was in the country. When he did come to the house, he was hosting guests and would call first to give Nqobile instructions on what rooms to prepare and what food to cook, and then he'd instruct her to stay in her room and not come out until the guests were gone.
Nqobizitha found that to be telling, there were things in that house and the less Nqobile knew about them, the better.
At 22-years-old he had lost hope that he would go somewhere in life, something he told Nqobile over expensive whiskey stolen from The Greek's collection and replaced with cheap liquor.
At that time Nqobizitha was already exploring petty crime, nothing big or bloody, just things boys do to survive.
The last time he was in a classroom was when he was 14 and in Grade 11.
It was the last day of the school year and as usual, his class teacher stood at midday assembly and called out names from number-10 downwards.
When he said: "Number-1"
The whole school shouted "Nqobizitha Zulu!!!".
It had been like that since the first day he set foot in school. By June he had been promoted to Grade-2 and within two years of starting school he was promoted three times.
They stopped when Sbopho personally went to the school and told them it was enough.
He was 11-years-old and sharing a desk with a 14-year-old in Grade 8.
Had they promoted him again he would have been in the same class as Nkosana.
Many dreams were sold to him by his teachers.
It was a bad time, a time of war and uncertainly. But this one teacher, who was an outsider and knew nothing about Mbuba, was adamant that he was destined for far bigger things.
Of course Nqobizitha knew that and he was going to go to university and be a doctor, because that's what smart kids did, they became doctors.
That was until that teacher opened his eyes to new things.
He told him about stuff like actuarial science and engineering. He said he could even easily be a pilot.
But then he, the teacher, was shot dead because someone said he had been sent to Mbuba to spy.
It was a setback but he remained top of his class.
He had made a decision, he was going to be all of those things. He was going to study and qualify for all of those things.
First he was going to be an actuarial scientist and then the rest would follow.
He was going to start applying for bursaries as soon as schools opened the following year.
But then, the day schools opened the following year was the day he started his first job ever, herding cows for some family in Ngudwini eShowe.
It was time for him to be a man. The parents were dead.
There was no time for school or dreams. He had responsibilities.
Nqobile didn't get this.
She thought she could still find that young boy with big dreams in him.
And when she realised there was no boy left in him, she decided she'd take it upon herself give him a way out.
"There are safes all over this house, behind the paintings," she told him one morning.
He had already figured that out.
Most of the information she shared was volunteered, and it was a lot of information that had nothing to do with where she came from and why she never went back to visit home.
Nqobizitha didn't bother much with finding out because he too was hiding his past.
"Why? What's in the safes?" he asked.
"I don't know for sure, but I know it's worth a lot, a whole lot. Do you want to see them? The safes?"
He shook his head. The last thing he wanted was to go further than stealing the old man's alcohol and having sex in his house. At least if he got caught and arrested, it would be for trespassing only.
But Nqobile didn't drop the subject, she kept mentioning things, like how much the paintings cost each and how she had figured out how to pause the security cameras every time she let him in the house.
He knew what she was trying to make him do, and he tried to ignore her which was impossible because she was daring and uncontrollable. She was naughty and impulsive. She loved testing limits, and shocking people. She was addictive.
Within two months they were married. She asked him to accompany her somewhere and the next thing he knew they were at Home Affairs. She looked at him and said: Prove that you love me by marrying me now. He did, young, love struck and stupid.
He had just started a small tuck-shop in Rosettanville and was forced to live with Ntsika because there was no Carol anymore. And he was a husband now, much to Nkosana and Ngcobo's disapproval.
It was fun in the beginning, Nqobile was fun. She was full of life but also, she could be testing. She was one of those people you'd describe as moody. There were times where it would be difficult for her to even get out of bed. She would not talk to him or anyone for days. She'd be angry, really angry and tired and miserable and cold.
It frustrated him. Actually it hurt but he loved her. He wanted to fix her more than anything, but a year was enough for him to go and find comfort in Mandisa who knew from the beginning that he was married.
Mandisa was nothing like Nqobile but at that time she was a good distraction, one that ended with his wife dead.
They buried her in a fresh grave, under the body of a woman they had attended a funeral of three days earlier.
It was Mqhele's idea. He said it would be easier because the woman was a member of the Shembe church and had been buried wrapped in a blanket instead of a coffin.
It took only R200 and a lie about performing a ritual to convince the security guard to let them through the gate in the middle of the night.
They only took Nqobizitha along because he insisted he wanted to know where they buried her.
But, he never touched a shovel. He sat on the red soil with his knees up and watched them labour under the moonlight.
It was night but he could see all of it clearly, even their sweat dripping.
They dug until they reached the brown and black and brown blanket.
Sambulo and Mqoqi were barely grown men but they dug and shovelled like their lives depended on it.
He watched them pull the body out and place it on the surface.
Nkosana stopped and looked at him.
He didn't speak but he knew his brother was offering him an opportunity to say his last goodbye.
He stood up, opened the blanket and touched her face.
They didn't even bathe her. She was still covered in blood.
They lifted the body the moment he started walking away.
He didn't look back after that.
Mqhele and Qhawe jumped in and placed the body at the bottom of the grave. And right on top of it they placed the original owner.
The shovelling started, again.
They were done before dawn, and they needed to burn the clothes.
In the house they found Ntsika sitting at the table waiting for his porridge to cool. He asked where "Aunty Nqo" was. They said she went to work. He went back to stirring his porridge.
Behind him was Zandile frying eggs and at the far corner was Mandisa sitting down on the floor staring at the wall.
Nqoba had not entered his house. He came home and sat down behind the wall of the tuck-shop clutching Nqobile's handbag and a set of keys.
They all sat with him, but none of them spoke.
"There's money in that house," he said after a long silence.
They didn't respond.
"I know the safe codes, but we can only hit four of them. The others have things you don't want to see. The Greek won't be back until next week," he said.
They knew which house, and they knew he wasn't lying.
They had never hit a house before, just a few small jobs they did for Ngcobo which gave them a few thousands that were still buried in Nkosana's kitchen.
Mqhele would go inside, he could walk in and out of places undetected. Qhawe's was a good driver, he was to handle the getaway car.
But if they were going to pull this off successfully, they needed the Bhunganes.
"I go in first and leave last. Nobody is to be left behind. I'll call Mahlubi," Nkosana said.
They never spoke about Nqobile after that morning.