Fortune reached the rise of the last hill before home and stopped, sweat coating his tall frame from head to toe and making him wish he hadn't worn his heavy boots. He put one huge, long-fingered hand to his forehead and carefully wiped the sweat away. Today had been crazy-hot, and the long walk up the hills to his rented room was tiresome at the best of times. One got used to it, but the heat always made the distance longer and the inclines steeper. Then the man smiled, showing a row of square white teeth in a long, angular face. The smile looked perfectly at home where it was, despite the man's obvious discomfort in the heat. It gave the wrinkles in his countenance a purpose, and he looked ten years younger than his forty.
The reason for Fortune's good humour in such an odd context was the plastering job he'd just picked up. He had secured the contract for not one but three houses in a complex, one after the other and starting as soon as he had the materials. Fortune had been trying to make his way as an independent contractor for almost a year, and had only succeeded in surviving hand-to-mouth on odd handyman and painting jobs, since the economic recession had hit the building industry. It was his luck to have gone off on his own just before the building trade had disappeared down the toilet. But it looked like his luck was about to change. This new job would allow him to finish paying off his lobola and, if his luck held out and material prices stayed the same for long enough, he could also buy the first of what he would need for his house.
Fortune's bride was pregnant with their first child. Although Thembekile was quite large and older than him at forty-three, she had convinced Fortune that this was indeed the child he had wanted. Thembekile had two children from a previous marriage, and had left the father after she had found him cheating on her. Fortune had taken the children on as his own, which was uncommon amongst men of any culture, and though he maintained that he didn't mind whether she gave him any children, Thembekile believed that Fortune had his heart set on a son. So, she intended to give him one.
It had been a strange pregnancy, Fortune had to confess. For although he admitted he knew very little about the ways of pregnant women, it seemed to him a very long time since Thembekile had first announced that she was with child. At least eleven months, Fortune had counted recently. And yet she had felt it moving. Fortune was baffled, and despite the knowing smiles and head-shaking of the various white people who hired him or just knew him socially, he trusted in his wife's knowledge of the subject and went along happily.
It really didn't matter to him whether she was pregnant or not. He valued her worth as a wife. She was a competent spaza owner, and had her own house, where her children stayed. She could cook and sew and she knew about the rituals and ceremonies to honour the ancestors for all kinds of reasons. She also was not too pushy about sex, which Fortune still hadn't got the hang of. She gave him a much-needed status in the local black community, being a large and forceful woman, who still showed the proper amount of respect for her husband and his family in public, and who knew how a black woman was expected to conduct herself, which was rare in women these days. They generally went about acting like men, wearing trousers and smoking and drinking and being promiscuous. Thembekile was none of those things. She was a good partner and Fortune felt very pleased and indeed fortunate to been almost officially married to her.
It was now up to him to get permission from the local chief to build a house in the traditional rural farmlands where many of his friends and relatives had their own smallholdings. There, he could install her in their own house, where there was a close community and she would be safe. His primary concern at the moment was for her safety, since his rented room in Belland was in a block of what used to be servants' quarters. Each room was rented out for a small price, and most of them were used by migrant farm labourers during the week. Some of the visitors to the quarter, however, were less than desirable, some being thieves or layabouts with no work and a drinking or drug habit, izikelemu, they were called, or 'skelms' by the whites. They generally kept to themselves, but were known to occasionally make free with the possessions - and women - of the other renters. Since Fortune spent time away when he was doing work for people out of the locality, he had spent many restless nights, wondering whether his wife would be okay, and it had cost him much airtime and money spent in making deals with his neighbour to watch over Thembekile and see no harm came to her. And his neighbour was often out at the shebeen anyway, so he really couldn't count on anyone or anything. Yes, his own house was the answer. He and Thembekile had spoken about it, and she had applauded the idea, right then setting up their own private savings tin for her to put away cash into for furnishings and fittings.
Fortune smiled again and walked on, feeling less hot and sweaty. Tomorrow he would visit the building site of his new employer, Buddy Laringer, and make a list of all the materials he would need. Laringer had offered Fortune a deal of 30% upfront payment, with the rest due on completion. Fortune felt this was a little lean, but thought he could get by. Just. If necessary, he could always borrow some money from his brother to buy the remaining materials and pay him back later. It wouldn't take very long. The job was actually just down the road, so he wouldn't even have to pay for transport, which was usually his biggest expense after materials. This would help him make a good start, Fortune smiled wider to himself. It was his break and he was going to make it count every way he could.