Cherry Marbles | Business

Cherry

Marbles
Shuki e NkoSaNa
S
Shukie Nkosana
SAPPHIRE PRESS
Sapphire Press is the romance imprint of Kwela Books,
an imprint of NB Publishers,
40 Heerengracht, Cape Town, South Africa
PO Box 6525, Roggebaai, 8012, South Africa
sapphire@kwela.com
Copyright © PS Nkosana 2010
All rights reserved
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form
or by any electronic or mechanical means, including photocopying
and recording, or by any other information storage or retrieval
system, without written permission from the publisher
Cover image by Gallo Images/Getty Images
Cover design by Hanneke du Toit
Typography by Nielfa Cassiem-Carelse
Set in Plantin
Printed and bound by Ultra Litho, Johannesburg,
South Africa
First edition, first impression 2010
ISBN: 978-0-7957-0302-7
-
1
An unexpected case of inflamed vaginal thrush and the
Sunday paper brought the two together in a Parktown
pharmacy. Langa had burst into the pharmacy, fresh from
church, the ailment in question behind the manic and il-
legal parking of her Volkswagen Beetle on the pavement.
She cursed under her breath despite the holy anointing she
had just received as she made for what she felt was refuge.
The only customer in the pharmacy was a black middle-
aged man with an unkempt sort of handsomeness about
him. He was holding the Sunday Star and chatting away
heartily with the pharmacist, an old white man. They both
briefly looked up at her, the dishevelled one’s eyes linger-
ing on Langa a little longer before resuming their conver-
sation. Despite the frumpy sweater he wore, his caramel
complexion and stubbly beard brought out the best of his
hazel eyes.
Langa sauntered to the feminine hygiene section of the
pharmacy, the gruelling itch inside her imploring relief
with every step she took. In front the two men went on
speaking animatedly in a language she thought sounded
familiar, erupting into frequent bouts of laughter. After
fervently considering the products on the shelves, Langa’s
annoyance got the better of her. Gnashing her teeth, she
stormed to the front counter, trying to keep the rubbing
of her legs against each other to a minimum.
6
“What do I have to do to get service around here?” she
yelled, mainly at the unkempt man who now had tucked
the paper under his armpit. Langa knew she sounded crazy
and both men’s faces confirmed the fact. But the thrush
was driving her insane enough not to pay attention to any-
thing else.
“I’m sorry, sisi; how can I help you?” the pharmacist
ventured after a puzzled moment, contritely lowering
the hands he’d been waving in emphasis of whatever it
was they had been discussing. Langa could feel that the
scruffy one’s eyes were dancing with delight as he looked
at her.
“Are you patronising me?” she demanded from the
pharmacist. She hated it when white people talked down
to her by calling her sisi. Her fiancé, Richard, knew that
only too well.
“I’m sorry, madam,” the pharmacist tried again, his
old face turning crimson, the folds of skin gathering around
his mouth in a superior grin reserved for the occasional
difficult member of the fairer sex.
The black man turned towards Langa and looked into
her eyes. “I apologise; we got a little carried away.”
“Do you have a female pharmacist I could talk to?” she
countered, impatiently running her fingers through her
dreadlocks, avoiding eye contact with both men. The black
man’s lips twitched and the pharmacist mastered all the
willpower he possessed to remain professional.
“She doesn’t come in on a Sunday,” he said, “but I’m
sure I can help.”
Langa could tell he thought she was a little off the rails.
“Well,” she began, “I . . .” She gave the black man
¬
standing beside her an intolerant look before snapping,
“Do you mind? I’d like to have a private word with the
pharmacist.”
“I’m sorry,” the man said, taken aback. “Thank you,”
he went on, addressing the pharmacist before they cor-
dially shook hands. He turned to leave after a friendly nod
in Langa’s direction.
A few minutes later, she stepped out of the pharmacy
armed with two tubes of cream the pharmacist had as-
sured her would help soothe the discomfort. He had the
same silly grin on his face when she insisted on taking
two tubes even after he’d explained to her that one would
suffice.
Langa found the unkempt man standing outside in the
sunshine, his paper and smile still intact, seemingly wait-
ing for her.
“You can go back inside now and continue your con-
versation,” she told him as she fumbled in her handbag for
her car keys and then abruptly gave him a suspicious look.
The thought that he could very well rob her right there
and then had suddenly struck.
“I want to apologise for disregarding your feelings in
there. I just got a little excited about the fact that a white
man could actually speak Ndebele.” His voice was smooth.
Langa noticed his long eyelashes, the wavy dark hair that
outlined the contours of his face and his defined jaws.
She found it hard to believe he was Ndebele; weren’t they
supposed to be dark and have a chauvinistic intolerance
of women? He was the best-looking man she had ever seen
and when he spoke she found herself drawn to him, not
wanting him to stop.
8
“I’m not really bothered, and now if you don’t mind,
you’re standing in my way – and where the hell are my
keys?” Langa needed to get home quickly; her discomfort
was getting unbearable.
Furiously yanking the keys out of her handbag, she
dropped the tubes of cream. They both scrambled for
them but he got to the tubes first.
“Give me those!” Langa shouted, snatching them out
of his hands. She was sure he’d read the labels. They were
extremely bold and left nothing to the imagination.
The man stepped out of her way, looking a little fear-
ful of the harm she could possibly do to him.
“I’ll have you know that I’m engaged,” she said as she
opened her car, uncertain why she felt she had to justify
herself. Then Langa flashed her diamond ring at him be-
fore uttering, “I also recently found Jesus!”
Slamming her car door, she revved the engine with more
force than necessary, too ashamed to cast another glance
his way, too exasperated to turn down Lira’s thunderous
voice that blurted out the speakers as she sped down Jan
Smuts towards home.
A light rain fell like sheets of delicate glass, shattering as
soon as the drops touched the ground by the time Langa
got to her New York-style apartment on Quinn Street in
Newtown. She ignored the muddle of paperwork on her
kitchen table and the fact that it was still partially set with
place mats and her best wine glasses, reminiscent of the
romantic dinner she had served Richard a few nights ago
when he was in town. The same dinner during which he
had struggled to keep his eyes open.
n
Slipping her buxom body out of her Stoned Cherrie
ruffle dress, Langa piled her dreadlocks high on her head
before running the shower. She tried not to think of how
she and her fiancé had already begun to drift apart months
before their nuptials as she stood under the shower, a warm
burst of much-needed life.
She’d met Richard at an SABC conference, one of the
first events her company, Buthelezi Events, had coordi-
nated. He was the gorgeous dark-haired white man who
helped her find an air-conditioning company when the one
she’d initially contracted let her down at the last minute.
Richard’s cousin Pieter ran a small air-conditioning busi-
ness in Joburg and instantly arrived at the venue, saving her
fairly new company at the time the disgrace it would have
faced. Richard, who’d overheard the distraught Langa on
the phone after the original air conditioners had bailed
out on her, promised he could help in exchange for her
phone number. She happily obliged, especially when the
beer-bellied Pieter appeared with two trucks in tow.
Langa had met Richard for coffee the next day and en-
joyed his easy company. Now it was two years later, and
the two were getting married. The past year had been hec-
tic for both of them, between running Buthelezi Events
and the time Richard spent out of the country filming
wildlife documentaries for the SABC.
Despite the fact that South Africa was called a rainbow
nation, both their families initially had reservations about
their union. Gerda Muller, Richard’s mother, a conser-
vative Afrikaner woman who had raised her only child
single-handedly, felt she was losing him to Langa and did
everything she could to discourage the relationship. The
)o
fact that Langa wasn’t Sharon from Stellenbosch with
blue eyes and blonde hair didn’t make things any easier.
But Gerda eventually warmed to her prospective daughter-
in-law when she realised how much her son loved her.
Langa’s own family didn’t feign their approval of Richard
the first time they met him either, although they also mel-
lowed with time.
Langa spent the rest of her Sunday in her apartment,
going over the work she’d brought home for the weekend.
With the thrush subsiding, she focused on the presenta-
tion set for the next day. Her company had been short-
listed as the official coordinator of the annual Innovation
Cosmetics Exhibition, an internationally recognised event
hosted by Sasol Wax. She had worked hard on her initial
proposal and her presentation the next day would deter-
mine if Buthelezi Events landed the contract. She forward-
ed a few adjustments to the presentation to Zandile, her
head event coordinator who would be presenting it with
her before calling Naledi, her best friend.
“Hey, mngani,” Naledi said into the phone when she an-
swered. In the background Langa could hear jazz playing.
“Hello there, girl,” she said. “Nenzani noThabo? I know
you’re up to something when you play ijazz.”
Langa and Naledi had been friends ever since they were
eleven. They’d gone to the same primary and high school
in Durban, and finally moved to Joburg together for uni-
versity. Langa had been sceptical when Naledi started
dating Thabo at varsity. The couple had however stuck it
out through those years and the ones that followed, so it
was no surprise when they recently tied the knot.
Langa had always admired their commitment to each
))
other and she had grown to love and respect Thabo. It
seemed that the two grew more in love with each other
each time she saw them. Langa remembered with longing
how easy it had been to fall in love with Richard and how
he had swept her off her feet.
Naledi laughed before saying, “Kahle, you got me. I’ve
been cooking for him and we were about to settle down to
a meal and a bottle of wine.”
“At least you have a life. I’m stuck at home working on
the Sasol Wax presentation, and uRichard is in Namibia
this week,” Langa replied into the phone as she shut her
laptop and made her way to the fridge. “I can’t even talk
to him because there’s no reception in the bush where he
is filming.”
“You two are always working,” Naledi complained. “We
didn’t even get to celebrate your thirtieth birthday last
month because you were slaving away. The last time we
got together you were either both on your phones, or ar-
guing about one thing or another. I know I’ve asked be-
fore, but are you sure you guys are alright?”
“Of course I’m sure.” Langa sighed, her head buried
deep in the fridge, undecided between yoghurt and cake.
Eventually she took out both and settled comfortably on
her couch, grabbing the TV remote from its caddy.
“Can we not talk about this right now?” Langa mum-
bled into the phone. “I know how you feel about Richard.”
“It’s never been about race for me, you know that. I
mean, Richard could be a Red Indian for all I care. I just
want you to be happy,” Naledi said. “The way you two
carry on makes it uncomfortable for everyone around. You
never settle down in company.”
)z
“Can we not talk about this right now?” Langa repeat-
ed. “I’m trying to keep my mind focused on tomorrow’s
presentation.”
“Alright,” her friend huffed. “On that note, I’m happy
Buthelezi Events has grown from organising small parties
to Sasol functions. Your mom would be so proud of you.”
Langa smiled at the memory of her mother, grateful
they had stopped talking about Richard.
“Well, I haven’t landed the contract yet, so don’t start
popping any champagne!” she warned. “I take it you two
didn’t make it to church this morning? I looked out for
you.”
Naledi chuckled guiltily. “You know me too well, and I
guess I don’t need to ask if you attended.”
“I did actually but I hardly lasted to see the end of the
service. The devil sent a sudden case of thrush my way!”
Langa told Naledi about her grand prix-style driving to
the pharmacy and cringed at how rude she’d been to the
Ndebele man. By the time she was done with her story,
Naledi was laughing so hard that Langa had to laugh at
herself too.
The next day Langa drove to Melrose Arch with knots in
her stomach. Their presentation would take place in one
of the boardrooms at Melrose Arch Hotel. Carrying her
laptop more calmly than she felt, with Zandile in tow, she
met Mr Zanier at the entrance of the hotel. He was greet-
ing a few other board members who stood undecidedly at
the entrance of the innovatively decorated hotel, some of
them spilling out into the square.
Mr Zanier was the junior MD of Sasol Wax and worked

from their head office in Germany. He’d flown to South
Africa to attend presentations by all the potential events
companies. His disarming character now saw him the un-
official chairperson of the meeting, a position he seemed
to take in his energetic stride. He introduced Langa to the
group, impressively taking a few moments to colour the
role of each person he introduced.
“Finally, Miss Buthelezi, I’d like you to meet Mr Ma-
bhena, the owner of Mabhena Oil Limited, South Africa’s
largest privately owned producer and marketer of synthetic
and petroleum waxes,” Mr Zanier announced. “His cor-
poration is currently merging with Sasol Wax and you will
work closely with him, should you secure this contract.”
Langa stood rooted to the spot, as if her Phindi Ks had
suddenly been nailed into the wooden floor of the lobby
and opened her mouth, willing a sound, any sound to
come out of it, but failed. She felt the thrush return in-
stantly.
“Erm, it’s a pleasure to meet you,” she stammered, un-
sure what Mr Mabhena’s response might be.
“Likewise, I’m sure,” he replied, seeming unruffled. His
firm handshake made her feel fragile and increasingly un-
comfortable. Holding the same chilling gaze he had given
her the day before, his handsome face broke into a boy-
ish grin as her pounding heart threatened to rip out of
her chest.
“Well, ladies and gentlemen, we’d better settle down
and start this presentation,” Mr Zanier said to the small
group as they followed an usher to a boardroom at the
back of the hotel. Langa felt more like a lamb being led to
slaughter than a self-motivated, hard-working woman

whose events company stood a chance to get the contract
of a lifetime.
Zandile sensed her boss’s discomfort and threw her a
quizzical glance as they sat at the long table. Langa puck-
ered her lips before they curved into a tepid smile. Mr
Mabhena sat across from her, his effortless smile reveal-
ing a brilliant set of white teeth, his hazel eyes on her.
“Please call me Regile,” he said, his voice silky as before.

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