We are in the most spectacular bedroom I’ve seen in my life.
It is colorful and obviously made for someone young, this baffles me- who goes to all this trouble for a child’s bedroom? The walls are white and this is how I know someone made a mistake; kids are messy.
I’m not a messy one but I know every other kid is messy. My fairest Ruby is messy.
We have been here for five days, in those days I have seen my aunt become someone else. She has fit right into this town, too loud for my timidity. She speaks. She laughs loud and pats her thighs rhythmically.
Today she had people over.
We woke up early to prepare lunch for her guests. Ruby helped with the cooking while I quietly cleaned the house. I had never been so keen on guests. At home I carry out my chores quickly and nonchalantly to make sure that I am out of the house before my grandmother’s guests arrive.
Today was different, I did my work diligently, doing all I could to conceal the excitement I felt. I didn’t know who I would meet or what meeting them would mean to me. They had to be special, I thought, because I didn’t get excited for anything.
It was midday when a car pulled up and out of it came two differently beautiful women. One who made me think of an older version of myself, was a dream dressed in boys clothes and a cologne so entrancing I had to ask my aunt to repeat her name. The other, an older Ruby, smiled as if smiling her whole world through with her hair tied back in a little bun.
We ate, they spoke to my aunt and all I saw was the way their hands stayed intertwined, the way they looked at each other. I saw how my aunt wasn’t chasing them away for being cursed.
Ruby is sleeping quietly and away from me. I want to ask her what is wrong but I already know the answer. She will reply that nothing is the matter, but I know something is.
She is sleeping close to edge of the bed and carefully avoiding my feet.
She has been quiet since Zanele and her partner, Lihle arrived.
She spent the day lost in a haze, breaking out once in a while to stare blankly at them, at Zanele and then at me, disappearing back into a daze almost immediately after making any eye-contact with the three of us.
It was obvious what her mind was running wild about.
She offered to do the dishes before we were done eating and dismissed me coldly when I offered to help her.
Everyone saw it.
My aunt said to give her some time, maybe she was homesick. Zanele offered a distraction and asked me about school. I was lost in her interest in me. Eventually I emerged from the revine and went to seek out Ruby.
“What is wrong with you?” I ask, almost trembling.
‘Are you like them?’
She says this too soon and I haven’t prepared my tongue to tell her the truth. I may not even know the truth.
‘How do you mean?’ I ask her, buying time.
‘Well, are you like Zanele? And don’t ask me how she is because I’m sure you know.’
‘I don’t know… Yes.’
‘Well then we can’t be friends anymore because if you’re like Zanele then I must be like Lihle and I refuse to be like that.’
I am twenty two.
I am a child.
She is the tree and her branches are coming down on me.
There has been a storm and my body is the aftermath. She is still holding my hand like I am fragile dust, she’s still threatening to blow me open like I’m made of paper cards.
I am still counting the number of lies she’s told. That should be the very thing of love. She’s been many ugly things and I swore I couldn’t love ugly but I stay wanting her with my whole existence. I hate her. Last night she told me she wanted to leave and I couldn’t follow her this time. Last night I kissed her and told her she’s the only home I have.
I am twenty two and I have followed her everywhere she has needed to escape to.
She helped me escape that tree at grandmother’s, when it started to rot I couldn’t stand it, she helped me get away. She is the tree and I’ve planted her in every apartment we’ve shared. She’s the tree and I’ve uprooted her every night we have fought.
We are children and love is the tree, breathing heavily and threatening to destroy us. If anyone should ask, it was the children, we started the fire. It is winter and we’re a fragile tree, one of us has to set it alight before we die here. I can’t be the one but she’s still lying.
I am twenty two and this tree is well out of shade. We should have plucked her a long time ago. She is packing her suitcase again. This time I will not protest. The only home I had I have left too long ago, the only home I have known is moving again and I must not follow her. She is the tree, she is the child, she started the fire and I am the aftermath.