Sis Meissie asked Phila to show me my room. Being the little servant that I was, I had a small room backyard allocated to me. It was a very small room, with a single bed and a small dressing table. We walked in, and Phila stood by the door while I sat on my bed. “You’re brave hey, I admire you” she said. I looked at her. “I mean, nobody ever takes sis Meissie on like that” she added. “I didn’t take her on. I just asked her not to turn me into a prostitute” I explained. Her smile faded away. “I wish you’d stop calling me that” she said, pulling the lowest of tones. “I’m sorry, I meant..” I tried to explain that I didn’t mean to call her a prostitute, but she stopped me. “Its okay, no need to explain yourself. I just wish you’d stop labelling me like that” she said. I sincerely apologized, I really didn’t want to come across as judgemental, even though I was.
“Come, let’s go” she said. I shook my head. “No, I’d rather stay here” I declined. “Come on man, let’s go and watch TV” she insisted. “I just want to be alone for a while” I said. She shrugged her shoulders, “suit yourself then”. She then walked out, leaving me sitting on my new bed. I thought I needed to rest, before the duties I was going to face. I locked up, kicked my sandals off and got into bed.
“Mandiphumle!!! Hey!!! Mandiphumle!!” I was woken up by someone calling my name and almost banging my door down. I jumped out of bed when I realized that it was sis Meissie’s voice. I went to open. She was standing on the other side of the door, wearing her pyjamas. “What? Are you out of your mind?” she angrily asked. I rubbed my eyes, “I.. uhhh”.. She grabbed me by my dress and pinned me against the wall. “Are you trying to destroy my business?” she asked. My eyes widened, and I apologized endlessly. “Its 5am and you are still snoring, bloody fool. I told you to wake up at 3am” she said. “I’m sorry, sis Meissie. I don’t have an alarm to wake me up” I explained. “Whose problem is that? huh?” she asked, tightly pinning me against the wall. “I’m sorry, sis Meissie. I promise it won’t happen again” I begged. She let go of me. “It better not” she said. I nodded. “Go and start cooking, and make sure that my shebeen menu is ready by 9am” she said, walking away.
I fixed myself up and went to qickly wear my sandals. I had no time to bath, let alone wash my face and get myself freshened up. I went to the kitchen. It was so cold outside, and I had nothing else to wear, but the old dress that Phila gave me the previous day. I got to the kitchen, overly confused as to what to mix with what, in order to prepare the expected menu. Sis Meissie walked into the kitchen. “Hey, don’t just stand there. Take some veggies out and start peeling” she ordered. Without a word, I did as instructed. She told me what to do and how to prepare the meals. That made my first day at work easier, because I was learning. While I was waiting for the meals to be ready, I started cleaning the house, as big as it was. Sis Meissie walked into the living room, while I was wiping the dust off the electric appliances. “What are you doing?” she asked. I looked at her. “I’m cleaning up” I replied. “And the shebeen? Mandilakhe, why are you so stupid? Don’t you know that you have to start by the shebeen when you’re cleaning?” she asked, annoyed to the max. “I thought..” she pushed me and I fell on the couch. “Shut up. Stop back chatting” she said. I silently got up. “Go and clean the shebeen. We’re opening up in an hour” she ordered. I grabbed the cleaning material and rushed to the shebeen.
At 9am, I opened up at the shebeen. Stella, a lady who also worked at the shebeen arrived. I then went to finish up cleaning the house and took the food to the shebeen, where it was stored in a warmer. “Mandiphumle!” Sis Meissie yelled and ran to her, in the kitchen. One minute I was Mandiphumle, and the next I was Mandilakhe. She was standing by the kitchen counter, holding something that looked like a cloth. “Here” she handed me the cloth. I took it, and unfolded it. I realized that it was a dress. I looked at her. “Go and take a bath, and wear that dress. Your shift at the shebeen has started already” she commanded. I nodded and walked away. “Hey” she called out and I looked at her. “You are not allowed to make contact with my customers. Okay? You serve them and it ends there” she said. I nodded again and walked away. She also yelled that I should use the outside bathroom, and that my toiletries were on my bed. So she went to my room, without my consent. No privacy for me, but that was the least of my worries.
After bathing, I got dressed in my new dress, with old sandals and rushed to the shebeen. I was in so much hurry, that I could not even make my bed. I got to the shebeen and helped Stella with serving customers. “Fuck, I’m so tired” I said, as I entered our little shebeen kitchen. Stella looked at me and laughed as I leaned over the kitchen counter. “Why are there so many people here during the day? Don’t people have lives to live other than drinking and eating the whole day?” I asked, resting my head on my hands as I used my elbows to balance on the kitchen counter. “That’s how township people roll. They drink all day everyday” she said, laughing. Because I was so tired, she asked me to relax while she took care of our demaning customers. I pulled a chair and sat down, trying to give my feet a little rest. “Where is Mandiphumle? Mandiphumle!!!!” Sis Meissie shouted and I jumped off my chair. I pretended to be tidying up in the kitchen when she walked in. “Oh, there you are” she said, standing by the doorway. “Listen my love, I want you to help me with something” she said. “What?” I asked. She cleared her throat. “Phila had a little accident, while she was with a client” she replied. “Accident?”.. She nodded. “She had her bed soaking wet with blood. Her menstrual cycle is that crazy, this month she’s on the last day of the month, and next month she’s on mid month” she explained.
Confused, I asked what she wanted me to do, and I was beyond disgusted when she told me that she wanted me to get Phila’s bloody linen cleaned up. I could not believe my ears. “No, sis Meissie. That’s not what I signed up for” I said. “Signed up for?” she asked, nearing closer to me. “Young lady, you signed up for anything and everything that I ask you to do” she said, gently patting my shoulder. I sighed. “Please hurry up, Phila will be using the other room in the meantime” she said, walking out. Stella walked in, right as sis Meissie walked out. She saw the sour face that I pulled. “And then?” She asked. “Sis Meissie is asking me to wash Phila’s menstrual blood” I replied. Her eyes widened. “What?? That’s so disgusting man. Who does that?” Stella shouted. “This is just fucked up man, I don’t know how much of this I can take” I said, walking towards the door. “No, wait” Stella said. I looked at her. “Don’t let her get to you. She just wants you to quit” she said. I ignored her and went to the main house. Sis Meissie had a washing machine in her house, but she wanted me to hand-wash Phila’s linen. I was sick. When I was done, I went to hang everything outside and went back to the shebeen. Stella was on the phone, so I took the tray which had a plate of samp and beans, and a glass of Coca-cola, and went to serve the customer. The tray had the table number on it, to avoid mix-up, so it was easy to know whose order it was. On table 5, there was a man, busy on the phone too. He had a Nigerian accent, but wasn’t nearly as dark as most Nigerian guys are. Infact, he looked more like a South African guy, with his fairly light skin. I silently mouthed “hello” and he nodded, busy on the phone. I placed the tray on the table and walked away.
My day got worse, as sis Meissie had more demands as the day went by. I was struggling to take it anymore. I had little to no energy left in me to go on. Stella knocked off at 20:00, and I was left alone in the shebeen. I never even had a lunch break that day, the way I was running around like a headless chicken. At 22:00, I closed at the shebeen. I wanted to clean up, in preparation for the following day, but I had no energy left in me. When I got to the house, to get my supper, sis Meissie was in the kitchen, having a cup of tea. I dragged my feet, walking past her. “Your food is in the microwave” she announced, sipping on her tea. I silently took my food out, along with a spoon. On my way out, “Its not too late to change your mind” sis Meissie said. I knew what she was talking about, but I decided not to ask. I just looked at her. “With the job that Phila is doing, you can earn a lot of money, for me and yourself” she said. “I told you, I don’t want to be a prostitute” I mumbled. She laughed. “You think you are special? Okay, listen.. You will earn 500 Rands a month on your current job and I will deduct 200 Rands for rent” she announced. Before I could say anything, “also, you are no longer allowed to use the electric stove when cooking in the morning. From tomorrow morning, please wake up at 2am, because you have to set the fire and cook outside” she added.
“Okay, fine. You want me to quit? Fine, I quit. I don’t want to work here anymore” I said, placing the plate on the table. “Oh really? please take my dress off, before you go” she said. With no care in the world, I took the dress off and threw it to her face. “There. You can have your stupid dress. I’m done with you!” I said, rushing out. Reality started kicking in when I was walking down the street, naked….