The cool winter’s breeze whispered through the open window, singing along with the familiar sound of the occasional car passing by outside. As the cool air gently brushes across her arms, Gladys Tyamzashe’s strands of hair stand up, mounted on the goose bumps of her aged and wrinkled skin. The discomfort of the cold is appeased by the comfort of the sounds of life outside her window.

“Knock, knock”, she hears accompanied by 3 light taps on the door. “You can come in” she responds. The handle sounds its turns, and the door gently opens giving way to the three care workers of Evergreen Lifestyle Village in Broadacres. Wearing tired and worn party hats on top of their clinical uniforms, they walk in singing in perfect disharmony:

Happy birthday to you,
Happy birthday to you,
Happy birthday dear Gladys,
Happy birthday to you…

“Hip hip! Hooray! Hip hip! Hooray!”, they shouted in unison. “Happy 83rd birthday!”

“Thank you so much! I had even forgotten today is my birthday”, remarked Gladys in appreciation, as she accepted the Woolworths chocolate cake with 3 lone candles on top. “Yhuu! This is too sweet for me. Maybe you ladies you can enjoy it on my behalf”.

“Do you have any plans to celebrate the day? Is your daughter and grandchild coming today?”, Laura, one of the care workers asked.

“My daughter has gone to Dubai for some meetings”, she said proudly with her head held high. “You know, she’s now an executive at Vodacom. Maybe when she comes back, she’ll come and visit.” Jess, another of the paid visitors starts rolling her eyes to Laura, as she anticipates the familiar boasting stories of yet another elderly woman.

“You know, she has taken well after me. When I was her age, I was also a rising star when we were in exile in Nairobi. Heeyi, they were sending me all over East Africa with the bank. I even…”, Gladys was saying, until she was interrupted by Laura. “Umm, sorry to stop your story, but we have to go and see the other residents”. “Oh”, said Gladys disappointingly. “I completely understand. You can go.”

The clock on her wall ticked and tocked, loud and soft, providing a constant rhythm as time snailed past on what was supposed to be a special day. The television didn’t provide the company it usually does, because she was too embarrassed to ask the care workers how to work all these new streaming services. The familiar sinking feeling of loneliness started again, transporting her memories on a carriage back to her now-dead ex-husband. Ever since his death, the hurt and pain caused by the string of affairs their lifestyle came packaged with, was slowly displaced by the emptiness caused by him not being around to hate. As a tear rolled down her eye, the piercing silence was interrupted by her phone ringing.

“Molo Mama”, the video call started.

“Molo Ma Radebe. How are things going in Dubai?”

“It’s from the hotel to the office and back all day, so I don’t really get to enjoy it. But I feel very guilty for not being there for your birthday”, Busisiwe remarked.

“Hawu Ma Radebe. Please don’t worry about me. As I always say, worry about yourself and your career, so that you can provide a wonderful life for yourself and your son. How is my Musa doing anyway?”

“He says he’s not enjoying having to stay in hostel at Reddam, but he’ll be going to his dad over the weekend.”

“He’ll be fine m’tana wam. Don’t worry about it too much. You are lucky you don’t have to rely on a rich man like some of us had to. As I always say, just keep making sure you serve money…”

“…and everything else will fall into place”, Busisiwe completed her sentence for her cynically. “Anyway, I have to go. My transfer taking me back to the hotel is about to arrive. I’ll try and call you later”.

Back to the solitude of her hotel room, the cold winter breeze again brushed her hands. The single hairs again stood on the mounds of her aging skin. A car outside passed again, reminding her of life beyond the walls of her room. Sinking again into the endless cycles of reflection that extended solitude brings.

She had served money well. And Mammon had served her well. Alone.

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