Bootie shorts, skin-tight clothes, insanely low-cut tops, fancy make-up and always on stilettos: Beautiful girls are, as described by the world. A book judged by its cover; A generation ruled by a machine. Beep! The sound of a hospital machine breathing life into a human. Tap! The sound of a computer commanding a human. Click! A machine directing all the switches off and like every day, darkness overcomes the world.
Twelve hours later, the sun started flicking like a miner’s torch deep beneath the earth, where only black men could make money for their families thousands of miles away. The sun rose brightly in the wake of the beautiful mountainous Kingdom creating a silhouette of a rooster standing boldly on the peak of the hill singing his first morning lullaby and waking up the first-class. The class that owned people somewhere. This particular class only needed thirty minutes to get to their second homes: work. They were the people who dreamed and hired people to build those dreams. They were the sources of the increasing income of the country.
By the time they settled into their second homes and started coming back to the reality of hunger, the roosters started singing again back home. With the help of the hens, even the laziest of the second class started to ice out of their beds. A woman, who woke up thirty minutes after the first class leaves her house afraid of being fired for being late. It is an everyday occurrence.
The last class is not really sure of when to wake up. But eventually, they did, even blankets are bound to get tired of people, right?
In one house, the father left in the hour of first class and the mother in the hour of the second class. The house was left with one person, a girl as she saw herself in the mirror in front of her. She looked very beautiful indeed, with her hair cut flat and her round face coated in makeup. Her artificial long eyebrows brought out her big round eyes. Her lips were glossed with a dark red matte lipstick that made them look fuller. For a moment, she looked blankly at her reflection in the mirror, frowning at the pale skin showing on her forehead. Something was not right. She felt everything was wrong.
The last month had been the toughest of her life; as if her father’s constant nagging about acting like an upstanding man wasn’t enough, her mother’s had developed an incessant need to match her with a reputable young man if she was going to continue to act like a woman. Her features were feminine enough to pass as a woman when she wrapped herself in pretty makeup and a nice little dress.
The day she walked out of her room dressed as a woman her father had slapped her across the face making clear that he would not allow such disgrace in his family, either she abide by his laws or she closes the door on her way out. Her father’s laws were never simple and they had caused her tears every day since she agreed to abide by his rules. Looking at herself in the mirror, all she saw was pain and sorrow in her eyes. This was not what she had imagined her life would turn out to be like.
She looked back to her best friend’s words when she confided in him, “This is a big step and many people are going to mock and disgrace you. Never lose faith in yourself. Remember you are doing this for yourself and you are not alone. I will always be here for you.” Remembering that always made her feel better about her situation.
There was an exercise she practiced often. She had read about it somewhere. It told her to create an encouraging word that will calm her heart every time she felt lost. It could be her name or God or her favorite word. She took a deep breath and whispered her name, “Mpho”. She repeated the routine several times.
Mpho sat in place even after her father had left. Just like waking up wasn’t her choice, sitting there wasn’t her choice either. Her mother had told her to wake up and prepare herself for the blind date that she had arranged for her later at 11:00 am. When she asked why she had to wake eight hours before the date, her mother answered easily, “You have to prepare yourself properly, my child. You have to make a very good impression to this man. He is a very important man and needs only a beautiful wife. Come on now, these blankets will never get you a husband and good life.”
Like always, her mother was the one who had to get what she wanted in everything. She had reluctantly woken up and started going around the house doing nothing in particular. Despite the five other men who had already refused Mpho, her mother was still very determined to find dates for her in every possible way. She told Mpho that it was her fault that men didn’t look at her; it was because she hadn’t contained herself appropriately like a lady. When Mpho announced to her mother that she was a woman and not a man, her mother had taken it upon herself to find an eligible bachelor she approved of. Her father, on the other hand, was a completely different story.
For the longest time, Mpho couldn’t understand her parents. Just a month ago, she was her father’s perfect son. She went to work with him and was proclaimed as the heir of the company. She was forced to wear suits and act like a gentleman. She attended meetings with her father and everything was narrowly smooth for them. The only problem was when people would mistakenly call her a girl. That was when her father’s wrath was incurred.
Once after a meeting with prominent people, Mpho was greeting the men when one of them approached her. The man complimented her beauty and before his father could respond, Mpho had already thanked the man and blushed blindly. When they got home, her father complained to her mother about her behavior. His actual words were, “I can’t take this nonsense anymore ‘Mampho. Whatever the devil has possessed this child of yours is beyond control. He is a man pretending to be a woman flirting with other men in my business. Just try your prayers on him or whatever it is that you want, but I don’t want this demonic behavior in my house.” Hearing her own father say those words, her heart contracted. She could take anyone’s insults but not her own father’s. From that day onwards she stopped attending her father’s business and became her mother’s puppet instead.
The cell phone bedsides her rang, Mpho jumped out of the chair and raced to get it. In her mind, she could see herself talking to her best friend, Alex; the only person who understood her completely. Mpho knew Alex from the University of Cape Town, where they both studied Public Relations. Alex was a white man from America, and unlike Mpho, Alex’s parents never really cared about him being gay. Mpho picked up her phone and her mood slightly brightened.
“Bestie, I hope you got good news for me. That’s all that I need now.” Mpho said, sitting on the bed and absentmindedly tidying her nails with her thumb.
“You won’t believe what just happened?” Mpho could hear the excitement in Alex’s voice.
“Did you finally get the African Chihuahua?”
“You have finally broken up with Mike?”
“Okay, you tell me. I’m useless.”
“I got the ticket to attend the Ellen Show for the whole of next of next month,” Alex screamed at top of his lungs.
Mpho could hear the noise of him jumping up and down. Mpho felt a tinge of jealousy sting her heart. She always felt it when Alex told her things that she was forbidden to do. She wanted to do things together with Alex.
“Wow, that’s amazing. So when are you leaving?”
“Next month. We are leaving at the end of the month. It’s a couple ticket. This is our chance to go and find erogenous husbands.”
“By ‘we’ you mean…” Mpho prayed silently.
“Oh really now! Who else do you think I would go with?” Alex said.
“Really! Would you go with me?” Mpho sat down. The excitement was overwhelming. She could at that instant see herself running around in America with Alex.
“Yes, Bestie. But you will need to stand up to your parents first. They will need to know where you are going. And at some point, you will have to stand your ground, for your happiness and mine too.”
“We can just run away.” She said in an almost begging voice, “I am exhausted of the madness my mother is making me put up with. And my father, that’s a whole other story.” Mpho sighed.
“You know that I can encourage you to drink the whole of the bar for the night. But I wouldn’t dare make you leave your parents like that.”
“Okay. I will do something about it. Just promise me that you will not change your mind and decide to go with Mike. God, I hate that guy’s guts.” Mpho stood up and walked to the mirror, she observed herself in the mirror.
“Mpho, we’re going to America because we are looking for our Prince Charming. I am not going to drag Mike all the way to America and sabotage my chance of getting hot boys.”
“That’s even better. I would rather…” Beep! Beep! Beep! Another machine signaling the end of the call. Mpho put down her phone. She was accustomed to Alex always cutting calls. She knew that Alex wouldn’t spend the whole day without calling her. Even though it would cut off they would have talked for a bit. It was one of the many reasons why Mpho didn’t like Mike, Alex’s boyfriend. Mike wanted Alex to always call him and give him money. Even though Mpho didn’t agree with her parents in many ways, she did agree that it would be best to date rich kids only. Poor kids always seemed to only love her family’s money not her.
Looking at the watch on the mirror table, Mpho frustratedly took her phone and headed to the sitting room. 8:00 am; she still had two more hours of doing nothing in the house. She took the TV remote and switched it on. She lay down on the sofa and closed her eyes. Listening to anchorman reading news, she slowly drifted into a tired soundless sleep.
Fifteen minutes to eleven, Mpho was sitting on the table just near the window in the restaurant. The window just had a perfect view of the road outside. It was the main South road that swallowed every car that drove through the downtown of Maseru. Like every other Friday, it was already clogged with traffic. The atmosphere was pleasant high that even ‘Plasma’ (the famous waif of Maseru) kept going up and down running about. Watching him running up and down the street, Mpho wondered if he was high or just normal at the moment. But no one never knew with Plasma, when he ran around people would say he is high, but sometimes he would be running after ladies and kissing them if he got them and that was considered normal of him.
Mpho always found it depressing when she would watch the waifs on the street begging. Her father had always told her that she should never give those kids any money because people would say she was encouraging them to stay on the streets, another thing that she didn’t understand about her father. Sometimes, Mpho would give a waif some money and silently hope to God that they really were going to buy food and not drugs.
Mpho looked back in the room. The smell of the fresh tea and bacon was overwhelming. She had already eaten her breakfast but then she was the type that would eat breakfast meals at any time of the day. It was her favorite meal. Another reason for the last failed dates, she had spent most of them ordering eggs and bacon with hot chocolate. She grinned sheepishly at the thought of her last date’s face when she ordered her food. He was the son of the minister of Health and apparently he was also a nurse. He kept commenting about how hot chocolate was a junk and shouldn’t be served in restaurants. He made it clear that if Mpho was determined to be his wife, she should start taking courses of the meal seriously. Mpho was overly glad to tell him that she had no intention of changing her diet or being his wife. The date ended, leaving Mpho to eat her free meal in peace. The boy stormed out of the room muttering curses. So far her plans had been working quite well. Her mother would be running out of dates soon and she would have achieved a lot by not getting any of them.
She glanced at her watch and frowned. Her date was five minutes late already. She hated being late as much as being kept waiting. Whatever the reason was, she added this to her list of things to attack him with. She couldn’t find much on the guy except that he ran his own record label company. He didn’t post much on social media about his personal life. But that was okay with Mpho because she was skilled at criticizing the local music. The chair in front of her creaked as it was pulled back, causing her to look up with a start. It was her date. He looked taller than he really was as she looked up at him. He was wearing black pants with white Puma sneakers. His gray locally printed sweater matched with the flat cap on his head. He sat down, slightly bemused by Mpho’s startled look.
“Sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you. You looked like you were sleeping as I approached.” He said not looking apologetic at all.
“You are late.” Mpho accused him with a glare.
He didn’t seem to notice that because he eventually busied himself with the menu in front of him and didn’t bother to look at her properly. She wondered if any of the dates had noticed that underneath it all she still had the body of a man, something she intended to change as soon as she could go to America with Alex.
“I had a meeting. It took longer than I thought it would.”
Mpho scrutinized him. He didn’t look like he wanted to be here, or rather he even didn’t look at her. She thought of the angle to take for her attacks. She wanted to feel superior to him and bury him in her words but he looked like he didn’t care much about this meeting or her. It annoyed her. Suddenly he looked up at her.
“Are you going to order?” he asked simply.
Mpho pushed her own menu aside. She folded her hands on the table and leaned closer towards her date. Thabiso was his name, she recalled from his profile. It had surprised her that he used his name instead of common fake names that people would call themselves on online. She for one called herself Gift, but it wasn’t fake as it was her name translated and most of her friends called her Gift. Thabiso looked at her simply and didn’t seem intimidated by her gaze.
“Thabiso, right?” Mpho said, not bothering to hide her sarcasm.
“Yes, Mpho. I am Thabiso. I see you did your research on me.” He also put down his menu and folded his hands as he leaned back on his chair.
“Yes, I did.” Mpho leaned back too. “I take it you must be wanting a girl from a rich family for you to have come here?”
“And you must be looking for a rich husband to have come here?” Thabiso wasn’t showing any emotion if he was feeling any.
Mpho studied him, not dropping her gaze when Thabiso returned her gaze. They sat looking at each other, obvious that they both did not really want to be there. She wanted to stand up and leave but it wasn’t in her game to be the one to leave, she would lose. She would then play the criticism game. Her phone vibrated in the side bag placed on the table beside her, she tried to ignore it but Bruno Mars’ That’s What I like ringtone boomed through the bag causing both of them to look at the bag. Mpho took out the phone and looked at the screen. She sighed heavily. What possibly could her father want now? He knew that she had to be on a date. She lazily answered it.
“Where are you?” Her father asked hastily over the phone.
“I am still in town. Attending to mother’s matters.” Mpho said, wondering if Thabiso will be clever enough to figure out that he was her mother’s matters. She didn’t care either way.
“Leave it and come to the office. I need you to sort something out for me.” Her father said.
“I can’t dad. Still in the middle of a date now.” Thabiso was still intently looking at her. She didn’t like the look on his face. It looked like he felt pity for her. Mpho looked away as her father spoke.
“Leave it. There’s a conference at 11:45 and I need you here for it. Wear a decent gentlemen suit and don’t come wearing one of those fake eyelashes of yours. I have got potential investors coming. Don’t blow it.” Then the phone clicked off.
Mpho sighed. Pretending to be a boy when she had finally felt the freedom of presenting as who she felt she was was exhausting. It hurt her to see that she was a tool that her parent used to get rich. Tears threatened to unleash themselves and to gulp away the sudden bout of sadness. She reached out for the glass of water sitting in front of her and took a sip. Then she felt brave enough to look at Thabiso. He was just sitting there and staring at her blankly. Mpho stood up, gathered her bag and looked down at him.
“We will say it was one of the bad morning dates and hope to never see each other again.” Then she walked away before he could say anything. She could feel his eyes on her as she walked away but she refused to look back. She held on to her breath until she got in her father’s Mini Cooper.
Only when she was sure that nobody could see her did she burst into tears. She cried for a few minutes, not wanting to leave anything out. Normally she would wait until it was night and she was alone before she would attempt to lessen her sorrows. But she felt like she wouldn’t make it to the meeting feeling like this. After a full ten minutes, she started the car and drove straight home. It didn’t take her more than ten minutes to transform into a gentleman.
Dressed up in a white shirt, a blue tie, and black suit, Mpho opened the door to his father’s office and formally greeted him. His father looked briefly at him and smiled a little. He seemed satisfied. He rose from his chair and went around to his son.
“You look like a very big successful man.” His father said as he reordered his tie in a gentle way.
Mpho nodded appreciatively to his father. He felt almost proud of making his father smile at him. His father’s smile was something that he only dreamt of most of the time. He would see him laugh with his mother or his colleagues or rather on the phone, but never with Mpho. To his father, he was a big disappointment. A son he never had but would have when he needed him desperately. Mpho knew that very well, even to his mother.
His father went back to his desk and started to file out documents on the table. He handed them to Mpho.
“Try to read the top two and find out more about them. They will determine whether we get these people or not. Memorize them and make a good presentation.”
Mpho gave his father a bewildered look, “I only have fifteen minutes before the meeting. How am I supposed to memorize all this?”
“Then go on and start already. Don’t disappoint me, boy.” His father went back to sitting down.
Mpho’s face turned ashen. He couldn’t believe his father. Of all his cruelty to him, Mpho would have never thought that he could stoop to the point of jeopardizing his business. He closed the door and went to the boardroom. His mind was working on deciding whether to drop everything and go or to stay for the meeting and embarrass himself and his father. His father had to know that he was risking by making him do the presentation for an important meeting like that, and yet he let him. Then it hit him; he was placing him on the edge of disappointment. His father was giving himself a ticket to always find a reason to belittle him. He was being set up for failure. For a moment, he thought his heart would suddenly stop beating. He sat down on the chair and tried to normalize his breathing. Tears rushed down his cheeks and for a moment he let them flow. Somehow the tears washed away a bit of his sorrow. He cleared them away and opened the first file. What he was determined to do was for himself and no one else, not his father and not his mother, not for the world or his father’s company, only for himself alone.
One hour later, Mpho was standing by the boardroom door, greeting the president of the biggest investment company in the country and his other companions as they headed out at the end of the meeting. All of them were smiling. For that past hour and a couple of minutes now, Mpho had forgotten everything except that he was making a name for himself. He did, and he had succeeded. The President, Mr. Lerotholi produced his business card from his wallet and handed it to Mpho.
“You are a very good businessman. Call me here and we will talk about a decent and better work for you.” Mr. Lerotholi said.
Mpho accepted the card happily and waited until they were all out before he could get back to collect his files. His father came in just after him. He looked quite impressed with Mpho.
“So, you did it. I am impressed.” His father said.
“I am also impressed, father. The job is done and the investor signed in.” Mpho said without looking at his father. He busied himself with arranging the files on the table. He couldn’t look up. He felt as if he did, he would lose control of himself and disrespect his father.
“We should celebrate with your mother tonight. We will also celebrate you joining the company permanently.” He father said.
He looked at Mpho waiting for a reaction. Mpho decided this was it. He was ready to face his father and stand up for himself.
“There is no need to celebrate me because I am not joining the company. Mr. Matekane offered me a job. We can celebrate him as your investor and my new employer.” Mpho twitched his mouth slightly giving his father a small secret smile. His father didn’t give him any reaction.
“You are not going.” He said simply.
“What? Father, you can’t possibly tell me to deny this offer.” Mpho argued.
“You are my son and I know what is best for you. You are not going to work for someone when there is a family business. You are going to work here and marry a woman who will give you a son that will run this business after you. And that’s it.” His father’s voice was stern, but Mpho was determined.
“No father. No, you can’t tell me what to do with my life. I have that right to do as I please and I am old enough. My life is my choice and I will live with the consequences.” Mpho stepped forward towards his father. His voice was still in control, to his surprise and it came out as strong as his father’s. He came close enough to his father and their eyes were almost on the same level. Mpho was not aware that he was almost his father’s height until now. “And I’m not your son, I am your daughter.”
“Do whatever you want, but once you do that remember to find yourself a new family. I don’t have a child who rules himself.”
“There’s no need to father. You had already disowned me a long time ago. You were just using me as your tool now. I am done with that too.” Mpho handed the files over and walked out of the room.
Four hours of sleep did give Mpho a sense of being a human again, a girl for that matter. She felt relieved that the day was almost over. What she had to do was just to go through dinner with her parents and then she could look forward to tomorrow. Her friend Alex had called earlier to invite her to a party for LGBT folks. She wanted to go out with friends and have fun but she doubted if booze and loud music would make her feel any better. She wanted something quiet and relaxing, and someone to talk to. Her door opened and her mother peered in.
“Mpho, wake up and help me in the kitchen.” She said and left the door opened.
Mpho sighed and got up. She changed her clothes to track pants and a sweater. It was safe to wear neutral clothes in the house or else either her mother would complain about her claiming to be a decent woman and wanting a rich man but wearing suits or her father complaining about her wearing skinny jeans like poor kids who want the world to see them as rich. She walked into the kitchen and found her mother peeling the onion. She handed her the knife and she started slicing the meat.
“How was the date? I haven’t got a call from them.” Her mother said simply. Mpho was used to those kinds of questions after every date.
“It didn’t go on. Father called me and said I had to attend the meeting.” Mpho said.
“I don’t know how your father thinks you will get married if he continues to ruin your dates. I guess this one went poorly too but it’s not your fault. Your father says you want to work for another company, is it true?” She didn’t wait for Mpho’s reply, “You can’t do that sweetheart. Your father needs you in the company and you are the heir. You should work with him. He told me you did well today with the investors. You are meant to work with him.”
“He wants me to marry a girl and have a kid,” Mpho said. He wanted to see how his mother would react to this. But she simply shrugged her shoulders.
“Yes, you have to marry someday. We will not put pressure on you but you do have to carry out the family name.” Mpho couldn’t believe what she heard. After everything that her mother had forced her to do and she still wanted her to be a boy?
“Why then did you force me to go to all these dates that you set for me?” She was getting angry again. It seemed her day wasn’t going to get any better after all.
“You are the one who wants to be a girl. I am just helping you to be a good girl and marry into a decent family so that you don’t have to work hard and shame yourself in everything.” Her mother said.
Mpho put the knife down. Fury was boiling inside her. She felt like screaming and throwing everything she in sight all over the place. Instead, she folded her arms and glared at her mother. She didn’t want to feel like that but she had long lost her control. It was good that her mother was busy chopping carrots and not looking at her. Eventually, she sighed and walked out of the room back to her bedroom. She put on makeup and dressed up. She walked out of her bedroom and passed her mother who was setting up the table.
“I will skip dinner. I’m going out with Alex.” Mpho said and didn’t wait for her mother’s reply. She opened the outside door and came face to face with her father who stepped aside and Mpho passed him without a word.
“Where do you think you are going, young lady?” Her father said.
Mpho stopped in her tracks and turned back to her father. She couldn’t believe she had heard right. Her own father just called her a ‘lady’. That was something that she had never imagined hearing until maybe her next lifetime. She smiled ruefully at her father and watched patiently as it also hit him that he called her a lady.
“I am going to my friend Alex. We planned dinner together,” Mpho said with a smile and turned to go. She could feel his eyes on her as she got in the car and started the engine.
She drove away and looked back in the mirror before she turned the corner. Her father was still standing at the door looking towards her. She felt a sense of satisfaction then. Her father might treat her bad and call her names, but he would come around in time. That’s what she saw tonight. If she held on to her life and accepted herself, people would come to realize that she was not that much different from them after all. Her father took one step tonight and that was a huge step for her.
When she arrived at the house with the address that Alex had sent to her there were several cars already there, but not many. She wondered if the party hadn’t started because she didn’t hear any music. She parked the car and headed to the house. She heard applause from inside and a cheer. She opened the door and stepped in. There was no one in the kitchen but the noise came from the back room. She followed the noise and found a door leading to the room big enough to be lit with three lamps. But two of the lights were off and candles were lit up on the side walls giving the sitting crowd dim faces and making it hard for her to see where Alex was.
She stepped inside and looked at the person reciting a poem on the stage. The light shone brightly above the stage and Mpho could see two guys sitting on the far corner of the stage, one playing guitar and the other a keyboard. The poet’s was enrapturing.
… That time is upon us.
I can feel it coming.
That normal culture will not
Be satisfied until it has engulfed
Our society in war and death.
I fear for us all …
Mpho found a seat for herself. Her heart skipped as she registered the voice of the poet. The poet turned at that moment and went through his audience.
… I stood up once against fear
My tombstone is the biggest
In this graveyard of stupidity
You might want to face him too
There’s a small space beside me
And it might fit you …
The poet looked directly at Mpho and Mpho recognized the face. It was Thabiso from the date. He was dressed in the dress-trouser costume. His left body was a man wearing a fancy suit while the right body was a lady in a nightgown with a long wig and very long beautiful eyelashes. Mpho felt a surge of powerful feelings. She briefly closed her eyes and breathed in the atmosphere. A wide smile spread across her face. She looked up and Thabiso smiled at her encouragingly. At last, the day was ending quite beautifully.
… Love makes fear sad
Kindness makes fear tremble
Fake Eyelashes make fear kneel
The world will be begging us soon.