Gratitude by Khaleel Jooste

“You’re late.”

He stares her up and down. He shakes his head.

“Well, Merry Christmas to you too.” She brushes something off her dark-green coat. It reaches to her knees.
Gratitude by Khaleel Jooste
“I made an effort to be on time. I only expect the same.” He continues to stare at her. She was wearing black stockings and ankle length boots. “Sorry, I got held up. Last minute things for my mom.” She extends a hand in greeting. “I’m Mya.” He shakes it. He observes her firm grip. Her fingers soft. “Omar.” She takes a wet wipe from her huge, beige leather bag and wipes the hand she just shook his hand with. He notices. “My hands ain’t dirty.” She giggles. “Are we gonna stand out here all night? Where you takin’ me?” She tosses the wet wipe in a bin. Straightens up and stares at him. “Ugh, ugh. Thought you’d like to go to, you know, the ballet with me.” He clears his throat and stares at the side-walk. “That sounds fun. Let’s go.” She closes the huge gap between them and gestures that they should start walking. “Just a second. I…” He trails off. Worried expression on his face as he looks around. “Somethin’ wrong.” Mya looks in the direction he was staring. “Tiger, where you at?” He mumbles to himself. “Who’s Tiger? A friend of yours? I thought this was a date.” She shakes her head. Tight lips. He continues to look around. “My best friend in the world he is. He’s my cat.” Giving up he starts walking. “I’m allergic to cats. I hope you don’t have any cat hair on you. I get really stuffy and might go into shock.” She moves away from him and takes another wet wipe from her bag. She wipes her hands. “He was gonna join us. Guess it’s good he’s not here. Allergic you say?” Deep frown on his forehead. “Cats, dust, peanuts, latex, fish, shell-fish and all oil based lubricants.” “I can see we are going to get along very well.” He pulls his beanie tighter over his head as they cross the road. “You think?” She smiles eagerly. “I’m sure were gonna be the best of friends.” He puts his hands in his pockets as they pass the park. The theatre was not too far from there. He kept looking around. Where can Tiger be? “I’m so glad to be outta the house. Christmas is always busy. The whole family’s there. My brother’s annoyin’ girlfriend and not to mention my dad’s stepmother that everybody hates. Her children always come too and they always annoy me. They make this really dry turkey and ooooh greasy fried foods. I can’t stand those. My dad is always in a bad mood, so he takes it out on mom and she takes it out on me. I don’t know why, because there is my brother too, but he gets away with everything.” She takes a quick breathe, takes out a wet wipe from her bag, wipes her hands and continues. “Last night we had to stay up late to listen to my dad’s stepmother sing Christmas carols. That one likes to hear her own voice. Pity no one has the courage to tell her she sounds awful.” He nods and looks around. Tiger, where you at? “She also made us drink that horrible concoction she calls her Christmas speciality. I still get sick thinkin’ about it. It is really terrible. And every year the same thing. No one has the courage to tell her that it tastes awful.” He nods. “My brother keeps encouragin’ her to make it. I think it’s so that he can see us all drink it and pretend to like it. He always says we are all so pretentious, so he will let us suffer because of it. He never drinks any of it. But he constantly compliments her and tells her how great it smells. She likes him. Perhaps a little too much too. She always wanted grandchildren and none of her own kids have any. That’s why she lets him get away with the ridiculous things he says. Tiger… probably with the girls again. إ “Full house tonight, Angel-face. Even the mayor’s here.” He walks into her dressing room. “Just what I need, Bob. Thanks.” She breathes in deep. “Relax, Princess. I told you tonight’s gonna be great.” “I don’t know, Bob. Maybe I should let Maria do it.” “That blonde’s got two left feet. No grace what so ever.” He walks towards her and slowly reaches a hand to her shoulder and squeezes it softly. “It’s just nerves, Kimberly. It’s gonna be fine.” She puts a hand on his and looks in the direction of his voice. “With the mayor here, it’d better be. After last time…” she trails off and sighs. Removes her hand from his and holds it to her stomach. “I think I’m going to be sick.” She runs into the restroom, shuts the door as Bob tries to join her. “Kimberly, are you alright.” He shakes his head and paces in front of the door. “Yes, Dad. I don’t need you seeing me… whatever. I’ll be out in a sec.” “Where’s Kim?” Asks Drew as he enters the dressing room. It’s almost time for her to go on stage. “She’s in the restroom. She’ll be out in a second.” Bob coughs loudly and stops pacing about. He goes and sits in a chair by the huge mirror against the wall. “How was the children’s show this afternoon?” “It was awesome, Mr Jones. The children all adored her.” He smiles and goes to sit next to him; on the desk. “She really has a way with children.” He seems to stare off into space, as if remembering something. ‘How was the piano? Did it sound okay?” Bob sits up straight and looks Drew straight in the eye. “Sounded perfect to me, Mr Jones. What? Did she give you a hard time again?” He chuckles. “Doesn’t she always?” Bob shakes his head. “Don’t worry, everything was perfect. Those orphans had a great time. They didn’t want her to stop playing. Those that never met her before couldn’t believe that she was blind at all.” Again, he seems to stare off into space. “Yes, she has adapted so well to it that one forgets. Wish she would stop walking around in the dark though. Nearly gave me a heart attack this morning.” “She got me like that a couple a times too.” He laughs out loud. “Nearly hit myself silly against the wall from the shock.” “Yes, it unnerves me to be spooked like that.” Bob stands up and goes to the restroom door. “Kimberly Amber-Jane. Get your butt out here. It’s time for your solo. You haven’t even dressed yet.” “She’s not dressed? What’s wrong with her? She’ll be late?” Drew panics. “Relax. She’s a bit nervous. You know… Last time is still fresh in her mind. She can’t seem to let it go.” Bob shakes his head. “But that was not her fault. It was an accident. Does she blame herself?” Drew’s forehead creases. He looks down. “Terrible accident, but still, only an accident.” He gets off the table and paces the room, mimicking Bob. “Would you stop that?” Bob was more nervous. “You’re making me anxious.” “What? The pacing?” Drew stops. “Yes.” Bob shakes his head. Drew does the same, but stops his pacing. He was dressed in purple. Barefoot. Still make-up on his face. “Where’s your shoes? Aren’t you going back on?” “Yes, but only in the last sequence. Those shoes hurt my feet. Think they’re a bit too small, never liked ballet shoes to be quite honest.” He sits flat on the floor and starts rubbing his feet. Kimberly opens the restroom door and walks to stand by the huge mirror. She stares at it as if she could see herself. “Your face is fine,” says Bob and squeezes her shoulder. “Where’s your dress. You need to get ready?” He looks about in the room. “It’s in the closet by the door. Maria left it there for me. She got it from the dry cleaners this morning. Hope there’s nothing wrong with it.” She gestures to the closet and Bob goes to open it. “Hope you don’t intend sitting there while I get dressed?” She turns and faces Drew. “Sorry, of course not.” He gets up. Surprised look on his face. He shakes his head. Kimberly could hear a pin drop. “I didn’t mean... too... I came to see if you were ready. Your solo is up next. You’d better hurry up?” He walks to the door. “I’ll wait for you outside. Don’t be too long.” “Thanks. Thank you, Drew. I’ll be quick. Don’t worry.” He closes the door. Kimberly takes her dress from Bob. “Best hurry up, Angel-face. What would the mayor say if you didn’t pitch?” He laughs. “Very funny, Bob. Probably shut us down quicker than you can say fetch.” She unzips the bag and takes out the dress. “Do you mind?” she stares at him. “If your mother…” He takes out his inhaler and takes a few puffs. “I’ll be outside.” “Bob…” She reaches with her hand. He takes it. She walks over to him. “Stop that, Bob. Please. I am fine. You can talk about mom whenever you want. Okay?” “Sure sweet cheeks.” He gives her a kiss on the cheeks and leaves the dressing room. Kimberly takes out her color talker and holds it to her dress. She presses the button. Dark, luscious, purple says the robotic male voice. Satisfied, she puts down the talker and gets dressed. أ He slips through the roof opening, into the theatre. Walks along the many beams and makes his way to the stage area. Where is she? He scans the stage. Disappointed, he walks along the beams, further to the back. He listens. “Where is Kimberly? She’ gonna ruin the whole show!” Maria paces about. “If she is not here in the next minute, I’m gonna do it myself.” She takes out her pocket mirror and checks her make-up. The tension he was feeling, leaves his body. His face relaxes more. Satisfied smile comes to his face. He stares at Maria pacing about. “I know the moves off by heart,” she says that with a smirk, “I was born for that part.” She paces more. Stares down the hallway and looks at her watch. “If this carries on, things are definitely going to be worse than last year. You mark my words.” She pops her hip and snaps a finger. He crosses the beams to his right and rests against the pillar that goes all the way through the roof. He shakes his head. What’s up with her? He waits. ج Kimberly leaves her dressing room. Drew is immediately by her side. “Kim…” He catches his breath. “Wow!” He gasps out loud. “What? What? Is there something wrong?” Kimberly panics and clutches the bottom of her dress, as if to pull it down. “Is it too short?” Her face immediately upset. “No,” he swallows hard, “everything’s… You look great, Kim. Wow.” He puts her arm in hers and gestures for her to start walking. “Thanks, Drew. I’ll take your word for it.” She seems less nervous. Tries to smile, but only manages a curve of her top lip. “We still have some time. Don’t worry. Everything’s gonna be awesome.” Drew tries to reassure her. “I hope so. A lot depends on this show being a success.” She holds onto Drew’s arm tighter. He squeezes her hand. “I know.” He looks at her worried face. He frowns too. “Don’t worry, Kim. Everything will be okay. Remember to breath and you can’t go wrong.” He manages a smile. “In and out, in and out. I’ll do my best to remind myself. Wouldn’t want to end up blue in my face. Perhaps my face will match my dress.” She manages a soft laugh, but stiffens quick. “This way.” He leads her to the stage area. ‘Finally!” shouts Maria. “Where have you been?! You’ll ruin everything!” “Maria, calm down. She’s here now. Back off.” Drew eyes her up and down. Sharp twist in his brow. She puffs her cheeks and walks away. “That girl needs a real attitude adjustment. Perhaps a whole new personality.” Drew removes his hand from Kimberly’s and lets go of her arm. “She’s worried. This is important to all of us. That’s all.” Kimberly smiles sincerely. “Sure, Kim. Always covering for everyone.” He shakes his head. “Any way, here’s your position. Remember, twenty paces and you’ll be in the centre of the stage.” He kisses her on her cheek softly. “Break a leg.” He backs away. “Remember to have fun.” Kimberly smiles as he walks away. She breathes in deeply. There is loud applause as the performance before hers ends. She starts counting. Loosens her fingers and takes a deep breath in, holds it for a few seconds, then exhales and takes her position. The orchestra starts to play. خ He hangs from the beam right above where Kimberly was positioned. He lets go and lands softly in front of her. He looks at the audience. Sure are a lot of people here. He looks at her. She stares him straight in the eyes. Can’t believe she’s blind. He looks her up and down. Smiles. What a beauty. He focuses. It’s now or never. He closes his eyes as the orchestra starts to play. خ س “I love you, Princess.” He kisses her forehead. “I love you too, Daddy.” She grabs his index finger with her small hand. “Is Mommy going to be home tomorrow?” Her big brown eyes expectant. She grips his finger tighter. He looks away. Stares at the picture on the wall. She drew it when she was five. It was a picture of her with him and his wife. The picture said, Me, Mommy, Daddy and Them. Below Them was a big blue-purple circle. He turns and faces her again. “Not sure, Angel.” He shrugs. “What is wrong with her, Daddy?” Her brown eyes serious; it penetrates his façade; it unnerves him. It was like she could see everything. He looks away. “The doctor doesn’t know yet, cupcakes.” He lies. Tries not to look at her eyes. “Is it them? Did they do something to Mommy?” He looks at her. Tries to hold eye contact, but can’t for long. He gets up and goes to the bedroom door. “Get some sleep. We’ll see what the doctor says tomorrow.” He switches off the light. “Good night, my angel. Daddy loves you.” He closes the door. She stares at the ceiling. Blue-purple lights against the ceiling. “Night. Don’t let the bed bugs bite.” She blows a kiss and closes her eyes. ب ج Breathe in and out. One two three, one two three. Turn. Yes. Up. Down. Right then left. One two three, one two three. Don’t forget to feed the cat. Yes. One two three, one two three. Turn. Back. Yes. Up. Down. Breathe in and out. Right. Now left. Turn. Mom said not to get too close. That she did. Turn. Now right. Stop. Where did I put my talker? Up. Down. Pause. What’s that? Hold. Breathe in and out. Did I remember to lock up? Breathe in and out. Turn. Turn again. Slower. Lift. Stop. What’s that? Go back. Turn. Turn. Turn. I hope I don’t faint. Turn. Turn. I should have had something to eat. Yes. Mom was right. Yes. Turn. Breathe in and out. Stop. Hold. What’s that? Turn. Slower. Mom was always right. Slow down. Stop. Pause. Breathe in and out. Hold. That’s right. I should have listened to mom. Hold. Hold tight. Too tight. Let go. Pause. Breathe in and out. Faster. Stop. Hold. Hold tight. No. Mom said to let him go. She was right. No. Hold. Hold tight. Yes. Let go. Stop. Turn. Turn. Turn. Turn. Turn. Turn. Now left. Stop. Right quick. Stop. Please don’t let me go. I need you. Stop. What about dad? Pause. What’s that? Move. Please don’t stop. Dad was wrong. It was not the cat. Turn. Breathe in and out. Stop. Hold. Hold tight. Pause. Almost home. No. Breathe in and out. Drew is such a nice guy. Stop. No. Left. Turn. Right. Turn. Left. Spin. Oops. I forgot to twist. No. That’s later. Turn. Stop. Stop. That’s what mom said. Yes. Why didn’t I listen? Turn. Turn. Turn. I should have had that apple. Yes. Stop. What’s that? Hold. Hold tight. Please don’t let me go. Stop. Hold. Hold tight. Too tight. Don’t ever let me go. Stop. Turn. Turn. Turn. Turn. Turn. Turn. Stop. Pause. What’s Maria’s problem? Stop. Breathe in and out. Stop. Faster now. Twist. Lift. Down. Stop. Pause. Hold. What do you want? Stop. Turn. Turn. What’s that? Breathe in and out. Hold. Hold. A bit longer. Jump. Stop. Hold. Hold. Please. Don’t let me go. I need you. I do. I beg you. Please. That’s it. Wonder what the mayor will do? What’s that? Stop. Turn. Turn. Turn. Turn. Turn. Turn. Turn. Please. Breathe in and out. I need you. Please. She hears it. A beat. Soft. What’s that? It beats again. This time it’s louder, almost like it was right next to her. “Is someone there?” she speaks softly, her lips barely moving. She turns. Stops. She looks. Yes. A faint blue flicker to her left. What can it be? She turns and stops. The blue throb right in front of her. The throb matches the beat. It was the same as she saw earlier while she was outside. She turns; hesitates. What is that? She trips. Falls. Something grabs her hand and twists her around. Spins her in one spot. Throws her back and brings her back up. The beat loud. Right against her chest. Breathe in and out. She sees it more. The blue flicker no more. It changes to purple. She sees a face. Faintly. She reaches with her hand. Slowly. Breathe in and out. She reaches more. She touches it. It’s warm. She feels the beat in her hand. Strong. Breathe in and out. The face clear. The eyes almost as if they were glowing. A faint blue. She gasps softly. ۋ‎ Careful. What must I do? Turn. Turn. Stop. Right then left. Will this do? Turn. Turn. Turn. Stop. Is this a good idea? Watch out. That almost did it. Turn. Turn. Turn. Left then right. Stop. Right then left. Up. Down. Lift. Slower. Down. Will this work? Sure are a lot of people here. Turn. Turn. Stop. Is he looking at me? Turn. Turn. Stop. No. His looking… Yes. At her. He does look familiar. Is it? Yes. It is him. What is he doing here? Turn. Turn. Turn. Turn. Turn. Turn. Turn. Sure are a lot of turns. I’m sure. Turn. Yes. It is him. I must warn her. But how? Turn. Turn. Turn. Up. Down. Stop. It’s now or never. Focus. Yes. Concentrate. More. Almost. Can she see me? Looks like it. Yes. But. Wait. No. No! No!! No!!! No!!!! Watch out!!!!!!! Kimberly! I’ve got to. Got to go. Here they come. What have I done? Please. Help her. I should never have come. Yes. It’s all my fault. Please. Kimberly. ـو “Bravo! Bravo! Bravo!” The audience erupts into loud applause. “Way to go, Kim. That was something else.” He kisses her on her cheek. Kimberly looks. It was gone. She smiles. Disappointed. “Come I’ll lead you off the stage.” He puts his arm in hers. They take a bow and leave. ۋ‎ Maria comes closer. Her lips pressed together. She frowns. “You go, Bat-girl. Way not to mess up.” It sounds sarcastic and forced. She rubs Kimberly’s arm and gives it a light squeeze. That seems fake too. “Thanks, I guess.” Kimberly doesn’t really pay attention to her; she was still a bit confused; mostly disappointed. She looks back. Hopes to see something, but there was nothing. All she heard was the music and the dancers moving around. The audience were still cheering. “You best leave her and come, Drew. We are not done yet.” She pulls him by his arm and glowers at Kimberly. “See you in a bit, Kim.” He let’s go of her and joins the rest of the dancers. Kimberly feels for the wall and rests against it. What was that? She tries hard to see if she can find it, but she sees nothing. Again, she listens. The noise in the theatre makes it hard to discern the sounds. But it was there. The faint beat. It was coming from her right. The more she listens, the clearer the beat becomes. Steady and strong; the same as before. She moves in the beats direction. It moves away from her further to the back, more to the dressing rooms. She follows it, always a hand against the wall. The beat starts the same throbbing it did outside. The blue glow starts flickering faintly. It goes into her dressing room. She follows it. “Is someone here,” she asks as she enters and closes the door. All she hears is the beat. The glow almost in the centre of the room; it starts turning purple. She walks slowly towards it, clutching her dress with her left hand, while the right reaches towards the purple glow that was now more visible than before. Again, a face forms, a bluish glow from the eyes. Slowly she touches it. She feels the beat. The face feels warm. “Who are you?” She asks softly. “Are you real?” She runs her hand softly over the face all along the eyebrows, gently traces the nose and runs her fingers along the lips. It all felt real. Kimberly swallows hard. She takes her hand away. Something touches her arm and then takes her hand and puts it against what felt like a chest. She could feel the heartbeat fast and strong. The chest felt warm. Unusually warm. A smile comes to Kimberly’s face. She goes closer. “Is it you?” Kimberly was excited. Soft drops form at the top of her lips. She breathes deeply. She sees the whole body. The face becomes clearer, the eyes no longer glowing, but still blue. “Your eyes…they’re beautiful.” She sighs softly; doesn’t blink for a second. Scared she’d miss it. She reaches for his face and puts her hand to his right cheek. He smiles. Then vanishes. “I told you everything’s gonna be fine, Angel-face.” Bob walks into the dressing room. Puts an arm around her waist and lifts her into the air. “You were great!” He puts her down. “What? What’s wrong? You look like you just saw a ghost?” He frowns concerned. “What’s with the tears?” Kimberly looks around. He was gone. She turns and faces where she heard Bob’s voice. Wipes the tears from her cheek. “No, just a bit overwhelmed. Glad it’s all over.” She wishes Bob didn’t show up. She tries to listen for the beat, but there was nothing. ي The room was dark. He jumps off the bed and cowers against the wall. His eyes were wide and white. Sweat pouring down his face. “Get away from me!” He shouts. He rushes to the door. Trips over a shoe and almost falls. He grabs the knob. Swings himself around as he feels the hand grab his shoulder. “Don’t touch me! Get away from me!” He shoves the figure of a person back. It moves closer. The dark room made it difficult to see it. “I’m warning you! Stay away from me!” He turns and fiddles with the door knob more. “Where’s the key?! Unlock it! I don’t wanna be here!” He panics. Again he turns as he feels the hand on his shoulder. He turns and swings his arm. Hits the figure right in the face with his fist. “I warned you! Stay! Away! From! Me! Where’s the key?!” He starts banging on the door. A loud shrill leaves his mouth as the figure takes him by his shoulders. He fights to free himself. Manages. He turns and kicks hard with his size twelve’s and the figure stumbles back and falls to the floor. He lunges on top of it and starts beating it in the face. He then puts his arm around its neck and starts to strangle it. Two hands try helplessly to loosen the death choke. Small whimpers leave the things mouth. “Omar… please… it’s me…” ص “Madam mayor, such an honor it is.” “Madam mayor sounds so awful, please call me Sue.” “Kimberly, I’ll wait for you outside.” Drew looks the mayor up and down, before he heads for the door. “As you wish, Sue. I trust you enjoyed the show?” Kimberly faces the mayor’s direction; listens as she starts moving about the room. “It was quite a performance.” The mayor’s voice lacked emotion, was monotonous. She clears her throat. “I can’t say that it… what I mean is… we’ll have to see.” She clears her throat again. “So, you’ll reconsider?” The mayor says nothing. She walks less on her heels and moves slowly closer to Kimberly, from behind. When a feet or so away, she stops and stares Kimberly from the back. “Is something in my hair?” Kimberly turns and faces her. Unnerved, the mayor takes a deep breath, swallows and moves away. ڧ “You sure your folks won’t mind me rockin’ up, you know, it’s Christmas?” He looks at Mya. She was busy on her tablet. She taps the screen a few times. Shakes her head annoyed. Puts the tablet in her bag. Removes her cell. Checks her messages. Laughs to herself. “Mya, are you listenin’ to anythin’ I’m sayin’?” He tugs at his beanie uncomfortably. “Omar, you’re sayin’? Sorry, just have to reply to this message quick. It’s my friend, Angela, she’s comin’ over lata, just have to get the details of where we’re goin’. Got such a lot to do. My hair’s a mess. My manicure needs a touch up.” She stares at her free hand. She continues walking down the pathway to the front porch. He shakes his head in annoyance. Does this woman even know where she’s headed? Hope she trips on the staircase. He watches as she starts ascending the stairs with no hassles. She reaches for the doorknob. Streamers covered the door and a huge star was hanging from the peephole. He grabs her by her shoulder. “Wait! You sure it’s okay for me to be here?” “Ouch. That hurts, you know. I’m very delicate. She puts the phone in her bag and removes her shoulder from his grip. She rubs it. “What’s up witchu?” She eyes him up and down. “Is there a problem?” She straightens herself and focuses on Omar’s worried face. “I aksked you if it’s okay, you know, for me to be here? But you’re so glued to those screens of yours, you know, that you haven’t heard a word I was sayin’.” “Chill. Just chill, okay. If anyone has a problem with you bein’ here, they can deal with me.” She shakes her head. “And I’m not glued to my screens,” she rolls her eyes,” I just have a life. Can’t help it if I’m in demand. People can be so needy.” She smirks. He laughs to himself. “You sure have some chip on your shoulder. Does that come with some shiny sparkles to blind everyone as you make your entrances?” “What does that mean?” She looks at her shoulders. He tsks. “Nothin’. And I’ll have you know, you know, that I don’t just barge into people’s homes. The man of the house has to be respected, in spite of what you might say.” She purses her lips. Rolls her eyes and lets out a soft sigh. “They know you’re comin’, you happy now?” He bites hard and his jaw tenses up. “Why didn’t you just say so from the beginnin’, you know?” He clenches his fists. Blows of some steam and slowly relaxes. “I didn’t think it was important. We’re both grownups, aren’t we? If my younger brother can bring his girlfriend, why can’t I bring a date too? Can we go… in… now… please?” “Lead the way, Miss Mya.” “Oh, we’re bein’ sarcastic now, are we? How very grownup of you.” She opens the door and heads inside. He takes his beanie off his head. Peeks first. Cleans his shoes on the Happy X-mas mat and heads in.


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