I was busy washing my car one Sunday morning, when I saw Jameel, my close friend, pulling up in my driveway. I pretended I didn't see him.
"Hey!" he shouted, leaning his head to one side. "Is that car so important?"
I laughed. "Maybe."
Jameel was tall, handsomely built, with long, black hair, a real ladies' man. He was married and had two children.
He came to me and we shook hands. He looked much younger than his 49 years. He hardly had any grey hair.
"Hello, Uncle Myle," Someone shouted from the other side of the road, and I saw it was Fairuz, my neighbor's daughter.
"Hello." I muttered and watched as she came over to me. She was dressed in a short, tight-fitting skirt and her blouse barely concealed her breasts. She was scarcely thirteen!
I agitatedly resumed my chores, wondering how Joe, the owner of the property they lived on, could still tolerate them, seeing that they never paid him a cent.
"Can I get you anything from the shop, Uncle Myle?" She was speaking to me but was glancing at Jameel.
"No, thank you," I said tersely, hoping she would be on her way. If Fatima, my wife, found her here now, she would blow a fuse. Fatima always blew a fuse when she saw this girl near me. I simply wasn't in a mood for a fight today.
"Can I get you anything, Uncle? She turned to Jameel, undeterred. "Cigarettes, maybe?"
"Yes. Get me ten rand airtime. Please." Jameel took out some money and told her to keep the change. She ran off excitedly.
"How much did you give her?" I frowned at Jameel. "You should not give her money!
"Why?" Jameel frowned back at me. "She looks like a nice enough kid."
"Yes." I sighed. "Until they get you into their pockets." I was thinking of the numerous occasions she and her younger brother came to knock on my door, asking for bread, for milk, for anything, even money to make a phone call!
Jameel said something, but I wasn't listening. I kept thinking about them, about the many letters Fairuz brought me from her father, asking to borrow money – R50, R100, sometimes R200, which they never paid back! I later discovered what their devious motives were.
Jameel was laughing at me. "Hey! You're splashing more water on you than the car!"
I was furious with myself for having fallen for their tricks; I had loaned them a lot of money!
I completed the washing of the car and saw Fairuz coming back from the shop. She was smiling secretively at Jameel. I wondered what devilish scheme she was hatching this time. She nearly had me in serious trouble.
"Thank you," said Jameel, when she handed him the airtime voucher. "That was quick."
"Yes I…" She wanted to linger on, but I cut her short. "Thank you, Fairuz," I said dismissively. "That will be all. I'll call you later if we need anything. Thank you." She left, but not before she had again given Jameel her secretive smile. She walked off slowly.
I shook my head. "You wouldn't believe how many people they owe money to around here." I stared at Jameel in earnest. "Nobody wants to give them anything anymore. They are very bad people!"
Jameel frowned at me as I bent down to do the wheels. "But how come I never saw them before? How long have they been staying here now?"
Not long," I said, looking up at him. "They've been living all over the show. I believe they even slept in an old car in someone's backyard."
"Really?" Jameel didn't seem very convinced. "She's such a pretty girl."
"Yes. She is. She's very pretty. But don't let that fool you. You don't know them. Don't go near her. Don't!"
Jameel laughed out loud. "You sound as if you had a run-in with her, or the father."
I wanted to say something, but then I saw Fatima, my wife, in the doorway, and I watched as she brought us a jug of cool drinks.
"I heard your voice," she said to Jameel. "How is Shamila? Why didn't you bring her with?" Shamila was Jameel's wife and she and Fatima got on very well.
Jameel took the cool drinks from her and said something that made her laugh. I was wondering if she had heard or perhaps even seen Fairuz with us. I knew she couldn't say anything, because I hadn't been alone with the girl. But thinking back to that day when she had found the child alone with me in the house still gave me the shudders.
Fairuz had, as usual, come to borrow something and had knocked and knocked, or so she said, and nobody had answered. Fatima had already gone to the shop and I was still sleeping. So the girl tried the door handle, found the door was unlocked, and came in.
I remember how Fatima had screamed when she had found the girl sitting by my side, because she had made no effort to get up even when Fatima had come to stand right in front of her. And, to make matters worse, she had been dressed in the same type of clothing, the kind that barely concealed her full body. I had just woken up and was more surprised than anything to find the child sitting there. I could just gape flabbergasted as Fatima practically threw her out, and for a long time they never came to borrow anything. I had tried explaining to Fatima that I had no knowledge of the child's intentions, but Fatima was adamant that if I wasn't so accommodating in giving them food and money, and anything that they asked for, they wouldn't be so forward, especially the girl!
"Sweetheart…Sweetheart…" Fatima got through my reverie, and handed me a glass of cool drink. There was no accusation or anger on her face. She was just smiling broadly. "Who or what are you thinking so passionately about? Hmmm?"
I kissed her on the lips. "You, of course!"
She laughed. "Thank you, Sweetie. I believe you. With all my heart." And she went back to the house.
I winked at Jameel, and thought how lucky I was to have someone like Fatima by my side. Not only was she an understanding kind of person, but also someone who couldn't bear a grudge against anybody. Whether she had seen Fairuz there with us or not, she would not harp on it. And should they come looking for food or anything else, she would not turn her back on them. But I wondered, as I finished my drink, what she would have said if she had known about that one morning when Fairuz had gone to the shop for me and on returning had been alone with me in the house.
"Give me your glass," said Jameel, holding out his hand, "I have to go now. "Shamila must be wondering what happened to me."
I nodded at him and handed him the glass, thinking for an insane moment what he would have done had he been in my shoes. How would he have handled Fairuz that day, when I had asked her when her Daddy was going to pay me the money he owed me. Jameel was a good person. He and his wife Shamila were honest, hardworking people, very kindhearted and very much in love with one another. But sometimes that was not enough when dealing with the unexpected things in life. Sometimes you need Divine Providence and Guidance when life throws you a curved ball. I remembered how Fairuz had looked at me when I insisted on her asking her father for my money. I had been very agitated because he owed me a lot of money and was making no effort to pay me.
"Tell him…" I had raised my voice. "Tell him…" And she had placed her hand on my arm. "Please, Uncle Myle. Isn't there something I can do for you? My Daddy won't be able to pay you. He is not working!"
I had stared at her quizzically. "What do you mean? What can you do for me?"
"Anything. Anything you want me to do for you."
I don't know up till today what had gone through my mind; I said,"Will you massage my back for me?"
"And my head…Will you massage my head and my whole body?
"Yes." And there had been such a look in her eyes, a look that I had never seen in Fatima's eyes, not for all the years that we had been married. It was a look of such want that it released all the animal instincts in me.
All I had thought of at that moment was, "PLEASE, ALLAH. HELP ME. PLEASE HELP ME!" And if a neighbor hadn't come knocking on the door at that moment looking for Fatima, my settled life as I knew it would have been over. She would not have left me alone.
It was some weeks after that day when I was washing the car and Jameel had met Fairuz, that Fatima came to me one evening while I was watching TV, and pointed to the curtains in the lounge.
"What?" I had queried?" Not knowing what to expect. "What is it?"
"Outside!" She continued pointing at the curtains. "Look outside!"
I hurried over to the window and was just in time to see Fairuz getting out of a 4X4 wagon. It was well after 11 pm.
"Isn't that Jameel's van?"
I looked closer. I didn't want to open the drapes too wide, but there was no mistaking the bull bars and the modifications he had done to his vehicle. I stepped back, trying not to think the obvious. "Maybe it's someone else." I muttered. "Maybe…" But Fatima shook her head. "Its him, Myle. It's him!"
"But how can you be sure?"
Fatima narrowed her eyes. "This is not the first time I've seen him dropping her off at night!"
"And you're telling me only now?"
Fatima shook her head. "I don't know about you, but he's not welcome in my house anymore. Not at all!"
I didn't bother to comment. I was thinking about Shamila and her children. What was she going to do when she found out? I suddenly hated Fairuz and thought of going there and bringing the whole thing out into the open. But was Fairuz really the one to blame? What about the mother and the father who sent their children to go and beg on the streets? What about the thousands of pretty girls selling themselves for money on the internet? What about those parents who are aware of the dangers of chat rooms and all sorts of pornographic avenues on the web, but choose to turn a blind eye to what their children are doing?
One can only pray to the ALMIGHTY that HE must open our eyes so that we may be better parents and role models for our children.