She's young, intelligent, with a bright future ahead of her. Perhaps.
|The day couldn’t have started better. Following a restful night’s sleep, Jacqueline awoke to the summer sun streaming through her rose-coloured satin curtains. She yawned lazily, with abandon, shaking off the last traces of sleepweariness. The delectable smell of freshly-baked cinnamon and cream pancakes tickled her tastebuds while the sound of freshly-roasted coffee beans whirring away in a Nescafe coffee machine added to the haste with which she threw on her pink shorts and cut-off kaftan. She realized, without surprise, that she was ravenously hungry.
“Hurry, we’re going to be laaate….” yelled Wesley. “For your date…, ”emphasizing the last word in a way that involuntarily paused Jacqui’s feverish haste, momentarily, while a wide smile broke the focused look of concentration on her freckled face. She gave her red mane a quick brush, sprinted to her en-suite bathroom to brush her beautifully even white teeth and splash cold water over her face to
imitate a wide-awake look. Finally, a quick trip down the spiraled staircase brought Jacqui to the kitchen and the cheery welcome of her flatmate. “Well you certainly took…Hey, mate, why the wan
look? Today’s the day, man. Put a smile on your face, bud, tonight we ce-le-brrrate, not so?”
“Hey, are you kidding me, oke, I’ve never slept better, no dreams last night, like a babe!” He smiled quietly, gesturing melodramatically towards the heavy oak table. “Let’s start the day, ma’moiselle, with strawberries and cream, and what-you-have.”
Jacqie gasped. The table was laden with, indeed groaning under, the load of a queen’s breakfast: strawberries, yes, cream, croissants and cheese, no cheeses. Cheesecake. Wait, cheesecake for breakfast? Well why not, Jacqui thought stubbornly. Fruits of various colours and flavours, her favourite walnuts and a white chocolate fountain! An unusual breakfast for an unusual day. They ate quietly. No words required; Wesley could see the gratitude in Jacqueline’s amber eyes, the appreciation that she would not express in so many words. He was comfortable with the thoughtful silence. This day would be the beginning of many new things for them. The thought somehow made him slightly nervous, and suddenly his appetite was gone. “Well,” he announced, dramatically as always,” I am done. Shall we wash this luxurious brekkie down with wholesome, freshly squeezed orange juice?” Jacqie smiled her assent. Wesley was a genuine friend, the kind that you will only see the last of once you no longer need them, the kind that, even then will leave their number in case you ever …feel the need to talk. “So what’s the itinerary this morning, sweetgums,” he interrupted her thoughts.
“Could you drop me off at school? They will pick me up there at eight. I’m sorry,” she added with a smile, ”that you’re not coming with.”
He stiffened almost imperceptibly. “You know it’s better.’ Jacqie nodded, an expression of sadness momentarily clouding her face. Yes, better. For whom?
Jacqie was sitting in the staffroom, staring sightlessly through the window that looked out into the courtyard. A slight breeze was ruffling the leaves of the old oak tree. Like royalty waving. Jacqie almost laughed. Not an apt comparison. Not now. Not ever. She felt something wet running down her face. Quickly wiped it. Save it for later. Later it will be tears of joy…
A soft knock on the door. “Morning, Jacqie.” It was Mrs Williams, the secretary. “Mr Khan’s chauffeur is here. “ The kindness, the compassion in that voice came as no surprise. Mrs Williams had become the shoulder to cry on which her mother…”Yes, thanks, Miss,” she interrupted the thought, refusing to complete it. Jacqie got up, perhaps too fast. A stitch in her side, followed by a sudden leg cramp, forced her to sit down again.
“O.K?” Mrs Williams looked at her enquiringly. “Fine, no worries. “ She got up slowly, “See you later…maybe.” As she walked through the staffroom door, she could feel the secretary’s eyes on her, and for a moment she wished she could be anywhere else but here, now. On the way to a meeting that would decide her destiny.
She stepped out into the sunlight. The school day had barely started, but the sound of learning was already emanating from the classrooms of the prestigious Khan Academy. How thrilled she was the day she was accepted on a scholarship, the result of many friendless, joyless hours of study, driven by a profound desire to prove that she would be successful in spite of the cards fate had dealt her. Father dead at three, dying poor and shunned by his family because he had married on the wrong side of the tracks. Black sheep, married to a girl whose ancestors were trekboere who intermarried with slaves. Her mother disappeared soon thereafter, and two years ago were declared dead by her only remaining relative, an aunt who lived in California. What hopes she had, what dreams. Even while she was growing up in a children’s home where no one ever visited.
As she approached the car, she smiled. The chauffeur was Lucky, who used to be friends with her, and with …speak of the ape, and he will be conjured. In the front seat sat Hassan, whose face she had hoped she would never have to see again. The face of betrayal, of heartlessness. The word heart couldn’t, in fact, be mentioned in the same sentence as his name; it’s an effrontery. True to what she thought of him, he sat there with a stony face, glanced cursorily at her midriff, then looked away, as if he had just seen something distasteful. Her mouth felt dry, her throat constricted. Her heart was racing. Every fibre in her body wanted her to turn, run away. Far away. But her common sense stopped her. Get it over with. By tonight this chapter of her life will be closed. Must be closed. Jacqie got in, refusing the help Lucky was offering. “Morningside Manor,” Hassan said gruffly, seat turned back, arm slung casually over the driver’s seat, as if to emphasise his ownership of the limousine, the driver…of her. Of what she was carrying inside her.
The drive was soundless, the interior insulated from the outside world by the quality that comes with that make of car, that only lots of money can buy. Jaqcui grimace. How ironic. The very success she .had been chasing when accepting the scholarship, which the Khan family offered her, was ripped from the fabric of her dreams by one of their own. If she didn’t detest him so much, perhaps the memory of their month-long courtship, an experience many young girls would kill for, would have been a cherished memory. Yes, what a smooth drive this was. As smooth as Hassan could be, when he brought you your favourite choccies, a different kind of bouquet waiting in the seccie’s office every day, moonlit walks at the beach, made you ache for his presence, to hear his voice… For a moment she felt as if a giant clamp was constricting her blood flow. No, Jacqie, be strong. Remember the disbelief in his eyes, no, the horror, when you told him, as if you’re making it up just to inconvenience him, or as if you want to extort money from him, or maybe as if you were pretending … it was a painful memory. To give so completely of yourself, and have all of it thrown back into your face, as if none of it ever mattered.
Throughout the short drive to the Khan Boutique Hotel, known as the Morningside Manor, Hassan stared straight ahead; the atmosphere in the car would have been icy had it not been comfortably warm in the car.”Here we are,” Lucky’s voice broke her reverie. She could be imagining it, but he looked a bit uncomfortable. Couldn’t be the heat. Well, if you want to sell your soul, there’s a hefty price to pay, she thought spitefully. But then, who was she to judge?
“Thank you, Lucky”. She couldn’t wait to exit the limousine and was certainly taking the train or bus back, dangerous or not. Hassan got out, slammed the door and strode towards the hotel entrance. His hotel entrance. Or soon to be.
“Follow me, please, “Lucky smiled, following his employer’s son. Lucky towered above Hassan, but the latter’s muscular build and aquiline features more than made up for what he lacked in physical stature. Now that she was no longer in the same space with him, she could appreciate the gait, the build and the charm of this boy-man, who what now seemed aeons ago, made her feel weak if he so much as looked at her. The concierge was friendly, politely greeting her, very deferential toward Hassan, who curtly nodded to acknowledge this as he strode towards his father’s office. J Any first-time visitor would be awe-struck by the plushness, the stylishness of the place, the soft, luxurious finishes, the ornamental corniches, but Jaqcui had too many bittersweet memories associated with it. Even the beautiful peach roses in the foyer failed to impress her.
Mr Khan was slumped in a leather chair, leering at her through rings of cigar smoke. The room smelled slightly musty, stale, which was a shocking contrast to the rest of the hotel. Jacqui didn’t greet him. “Sit,” he barked. Since the last time she had seen Hassan’s father, a year ago when he came to wish the grade elevens well for the exams, he had picked up weight. He looked bloated, and she almost felt sorry for him. He did not look as if he was living in a healthy body. “So,” he barked, “have you decided? “
She had awakened that September morning, knowing that somehow between the previous night and that morning, something had irrevocably changed. It wasn’t just that the love of her life had told her that he would buy her a whitewashed cottage on a Greek island while cradling her face in his strong beautifully formed hands, and that she would have gone to the depths of anywhere with him at that very moment. Neither was it that just that morning her teacher had told her that she was a strong contender for a prestigious bursary which would guarantee that she could pursue university studies without the financial cares that most such students had to endure. This feeling of otherness had continued for the next few days and weeks, and she could not put her finger on it.
Then one morning she almost fell on the dorm floor in an effort to get to the bathroom to vomit, and, looking at her slightly rounder face in the mirror brought her to a realization that was a relative of the eureka moment, depending on the angle you observed it from. She was experiencing morning sickness.
She confided in her closest friend, Angie. “That was not a clever thing to do, Jaqcie. You could lose your scholarship. “
“Well thanks for your support, Angie. After spending the morning in the bathroom I feel so much better now, chum.“ Angie looked at her, with an expression akin to disapproval .It was a Saturday morning, and Angie’s brother, who was a paediatrician at a nearby hospital, would be picking her up soon. She shook her head. “You were not born with a silver spoon, my friend, but you have so much going for you now, the chance to become self-made. Do you expect me to congratulate you? This is your future…” She stopped when she saw the tears welling up in Jacqie’s eyes, and immediately regretted her outburst.
Jacqui went to lie on her bed. “Only once, in a moment of weakness, only once.” She stared at the ceiling, calmer now. “What must I do, Angie? If the school finds out, I’ll have to leave. Back to the home. I’m not yet eighteen.” A sob, filled with so much pain, escaped from her throat. Her hazel eyes were moist, her red hair uncombed. She reminded Angie of a frightened little girl lost in the woods; hapless, knowing that whichever way she turned, she would find danger. An intense feeling of pity rose up in Angie. This was the friend that comforted her when she flunked her September exams, who sat up with her for nights on end to help her master Physical Science concepts, whom she could trust with any secret, and who would never take advantage of the fact that her father owned half of the town they lived in. This friend had no one to turn to now. No one except her.
“Are you sure? You’ve done the test?” Jacqui nodded. “You must tell him. You can’t do..”
“No!” Angie looked at Jacqui intently, surprised at her vehemence.
“Why not? It’s his responsibility as much as yours.”
“They…they’ll not agree with this, Angie”. Jacqie sat up, hugged her knees. Angie could almost hear the cogs turning in Jacqie’s head. The self-pity party was over, for now. “They will try to terminate it, or force me to give it up. Hassan is the only heir to his father’s empire, and I get the feeling, I just know…they won’t approve of me. I’m not good enough. This is not good enough.”
The room was quiet. Outside the room a buzz could be heard. Excited, carefree students were preparing to return home for the weekend. In the Tree, their tree, where they shared so many secrets, birds were chirping away happily, as if everything was as it should be in the world. Angie looked away, ashamed of her own disapproval. But hers was not a rejection. It was the disappointment of a caring friend who wanted the best for someone who had meant so much to her for the last four years that they had been sharing a dorm room.
“I can’t tell you what to do, Jacqui, neither can they. This is your life, your body, your future.” Angie paused, then continued as if she had found the right words, for that moment. “Take charge, my friend. Whatever you decide to do from here on out will impact the rest of your life. I’ll support you and help you wherever I can, but remember that no one can live your life for you. You have major decisions to make.” Jacqui nodded, as if this was a sage uttering a truth no one else had ever been privy too. There was going to be many more times when she would break down, but now it was as if a new energy had taken hold of her being, and a strange light shone in her eyes. She got up and started pacing, saying nothing. Then she stopped. Angie looked at her expectantly.
“Hassan will know what to do. He won’t let them take it away from me. He loves me, “ Jacqie said. Angie would have laughed at the absurdity of this conviction had Jacqie not been the friend she had grown to love.
“So you’re going to tell him?”
“Yes, yes, he’ll know what to do.”
Angie felt a pang. Did she not see this coming? Her friend had been raving about Hassan; beautiful Hassan, rich Hassan, generous and caring, considerate, friendly and all-the-other-flattering epithets you could imagine. She sometimes slipped in late at night, slipped out early in the morning. Alarm bells should have rung. The boys’ dorm was on the other side of the fence, this was the owner’s son, and her friend was intelligent but gullible, not used to the ways of men. Angie’s own life with her father’s many girlfriends had taught her a thing or two which she could not ignore, fond as she was of her father. But she had not wanted to butt in; she had so much respect for her friend and confidante. Where did one draw the line between respecting others’ decisions and interfering because you cared? This was something Angie had yet to learn, but it was too late to stop her friend from making the biggest mistake of her life. Her phone beeped. “My brother’s here. We’ll talk tomorrow when I come back. Take this time to think, I beg you. Do it with your head, not your heart.” She hugged Jacqui, grabbed her bag and left. Jacqui made a quick decision. She phoned Hassan, asking him to meet her at the café in town, one of the few places his father did not own.
Hassan was already waiting when Jacqui came, welcoming her with a white smile and a peach rose: her favourite flower. She was wearing a pale pink cut-off blouse and white slacks which showed off her still slender figure to advantage. “How’s my breathtakingly gorgeous flowerbud today? Queen of my heart, …” He stopped when he saw that she did not respond with a mock royal wave at his teasing. “Hey, what bites this beautiful day, my pretty?”
That day the fries that were waiting turned cold, would remain uneaten. The chocolate sundae became watery, and to bystanders it would have seemed as if the peach rose was wilting in front of their eyes.
Jacqui would never forget that handsome grin on his face as he regarded her. And how the expression on his face changed when she told him. That memory would continue to haunt her days and nights for months to come. The unexpectedness of his response, the utter betrayal of what she allowed herself to believe that they had. It was dust on the wind. His “No, you can’t be serious, who else have you been seeing? “, that morning, broke something inside her. She could almost hear it snap. For a split second she felt like she was losing her grip on reality, as if she was listening to him from somewhere out there. But it was happening, in front of her eyes. He was not the boy she fell in love with. He was denying responsibility.
“What do you mean? What are you implying?” The two young people had locked eyes, two worlds colliding. The casualties on that first day of Spring would be a young girl’s willingness to love and trust unconditionally, her belief, in spite of the raw deal she was given, in the innate goodness of people. It would be the carefree playfulness of a young man who had the prospect of a kingdom of his own when he came of age. It would be the futures they had thought were beckoning to them. Except that, five minutes after Hassan had stomped out of that café and left a shattered heart in his wake, he had made a decision, with a steely look in his eyes, that Jacqui was now a part of History. His father, an uncompromising patriarch, was a proud Indian, and would not allow his bloodline to be sullied by unknown foreign genes. He had made it clear that his son would be married to an Indian girl from the continent, and the marriage was all but arranged. This was if he wanted to inherit . “Nothing will stand in my way,” Hassan whispered to the air, as if expecting it to nod in approval.
Tears clouded his vision as his new Mercedes sped off.
Jacqie didn’t respond immediately. She looked around the room. Hassan was leaning against the door, as if he was guarding it, while staring through the window. In the last hour since they’ve picked her up he had only looked at her once. What was it she saw in his eyes? Regret? Shame? Anger? Resentment? All of the above? Plush leather couches lined the far side of the room, a French sofa providing character, together with the antique table and chairs that spoke volumes about the kind of upbringing the father of her baby had had. The baby they wanted, as she had initially thought they- no his father- would, to have adopted by someone else or handed over to them. As if it were a thing or an idea that could be tossed around while deciding what to do with it. Jacqui turned her gaze on the father. By the age of four she had lost everything that mattered to a young child, both her father and then her mother. She was rejected by her father’s family, and her mother’s family was either too old or too self-absorbed to take over her care. She grew up in a children’s home, and many were the nights that she longed for a person, anyone, to love only her, to want to spend time with only her, the way her mother and father would have. Instead of having to share affection with ten other girls, who were not her family. Perhaps she was being selfish. Or maybe she was just being human. No one to visit her or fetch her over weekends. It seemed to her that her entire life, or most of it, before she met Hassan, was spent in confinement of some sort, in the home, in the dorm, inside herself.
She had been tossed around herself one time too many. This was her life, her child, and over her dead body would she allow anyone to prescribe to her what she should do with it. The days of slavery were done. Money would not buy her, or her child’s future.
Jacqui leaned forward and her eyes bore into Mr Khan’s. He looked momentarily taken aback by her impudent boldness. “First your son, here,” and she poked the air as she said this, “denies responsibility and accuses me of prostitution. “ Jacqui paused, taking a deep breath. “Then you decide, okay, let the little…have the baby and then we’ll take it from her, or buy it. Or if not, let her disown it, so the little brat can have no claim to the Khan heritage!”. Jacqui stopped. Everyone stared at her, almost shocked that such ugly verbiage can emanate from such a beautiful creature. She herself looked shocked.
“No, you’ve got it all wrong, miss” Mr Khan fenced. We merely suggested what we thought would be in the best interest of the child. What can you offer it? You have no family, no job, no money, no home. Surely you want to go on with your life and have a career? We could even put in a good word to give you the chance of actually winning that bursary, eh, Hassan?” Hassan ignored his father, and Jacqui, as if this conversation was the equivalent of a bitter pill that he had no choice but to swallow. “My son, here, “he continued, poking the air at Hassan,” has to marry an Indian girl, promised to him many years ago, and has too many responsibilities he will have to shoulder to solely take on a kid now. How far along are you?” The last sentence was said matter-of-factly. With less passion than the part that referred to his son.
Jacqui almost laughed. What did Wesley always say? “Give as good as you get.”. “Well, she started, and smiled at how much this sounded like him, “since I only had a passionate love affair with your son for one month, it can’t be more than three, can it?”
She smiled again, faintly, when she saw how he flinched at her choice of vocabulary. She doubted that he comprehended the meaning of passionate in the context of human relations. “Let me make it clear, Mr Khan. You can take away my scholarship, and my bursary, as you’ve already kicked me out of the dorm, but you will not take away my child. As for having no money, and no home: you’re mistaken. I have a very good friend who is taking care of me. And no, he is not taking advantage of me, nor I of him.
As soon as I have written my exam, I will look for part-time employment, and will eventually repay him, monetarily, for board and lodgings. I need nothing from this family. Enjoy your little paradise. I want none of it,“ and she looked pointedly at Hassan, who in the course of her tirade, had looked at her as if he was seeing her for the first time. “And call off your watchdogs, or I’ll lay a charge of harassment against you. “
She got up. “ And now if you will excuse me, I have to go and prepare for my child’s future.”
Jacqui closed the door quietly, highly pleased with herself. Their mouths all but hung open as she exited the room. Gone was the girl that cried herself to sleep for days on end. Wesley had helped her to find herself again. His unexpected kindness, or perhaps not, since he was Angie’s cousin, had restored her confidence in herself, if not entirely in men.
Jacqui caught a bus back to school. She would be in time for the Maths test, her favourite subject, and probably the reason why she was being offered so many bursaries: she was an A-student in Pure Maths. Nothing was going to stand in her way now, she thought as she entered the school gate.
“Hey, back so soon. How did it go?” Mrs Williams welcomed her. “No, don’t answer, your smile tells all. Hurry up, Mr Brown is waiting to start the test.”
Jacqui raced to her classroom, glancing briefly at the dorm on the other side of the fence as she passed the window in the corridor. Let the future hold what it will. Jacqui Willemse and baby are ready.