Any little money you get, you share it with the family.
That was the instinct––no, obligation to do right by them because Helen was raised by a community. She wouldn’t even have this money had it not been for their hard work and sacrifices.
How can she any little money I get, na enjoyment if her parents don’t have electricity? If her siblings are struggling with toiletries and taxi fare to school, and her aunt has not eaten since morning and has no idea what she’ll feed the kids before bed?
Sure, Helen is a 31-year-old single mother of two. But it’s not out of the ordinary for a chunk of her salary to be shared with her parents and her three younger siblings. Her auditing salary, and the maintenance payments for her two children, Willy and Taleni, have to stretch the month.
The sun shines into Helen’s tiny office.
It’s five days before pay day; she’s writing down her budget. It will be a tight end of January. She bites a nail.
No compromises on the first six items:
Transport to work: N$1000
Food and toiletries: N$3000
Then come the debit orders.
She rolls her eyes.
Car insurance: N$900
Panic crawls up her chest. She only has N$2500 left to cover the rest of February’s expenses.
The DStv payment, the children’s school stationery, and Mamma’s cancer treatment remain. Helen promised to chip in this month. Plus, she also needs to help with her brother’s toiletries.
She sighs and continues:
Kids’ stationery: N$150
“Okay,” she whispers. “Not too bad.”
You have space to breathe. Maybe treat the kids to a milkshake.
“Talking to yourself again?”
Helen starts, shielding the paper. She looks up. Jeremiah, her co-worker, is standing there, smiling. “Sorry,” she says, “I didn’t realise I was speaking aloud.”
“No problem. Are you fine? You seem bothered.”
For the past five years at the Office of the Auditor-General, they have shared so many details about each other’s lives.
Helen smiles back. “Just drawing up my budget,” she says. “Not too bad. You know, it’s an annoying process. I’m good.”
“You can always ask for help.”
“I know,” she says. “Thanks.”
She folds the paper and slips it into her diary. She’s left out getting her hair braided, tips for her nails, and airtime. Those items can only be paid for with spare money. She drops her diary into the drawer, slams it shut, and starts on a financial audit report that is due.
Across the room from her, Jeremiah taps away at his laptop.
Helen eases into the five o’clock drive time show as she heads to Windhoek. It helps with the bumper to bumper traffic. She giggles at the dad jokes.
This is the one hour she has to herself. Before she can settle into the drive, blue and red lights flash in her rearview mirror. She slows down, lowers the radio’s volume, and edges into the left lane, waiting for the traffic officers to pass by. Instead, they drive next to her. An officer rolls down his window and waves his arm, pulling her over.
Helen’s heart races.
What have I done wrong?
After she pulls over she rolls down her window and watches the male officer swagger over.
“Ma’am. Hello. Officer Shikongo.”
At least he seems calm.
“You took a turn back there by the robots without indicating.”
Confused, she says, “But I did.”
“Ma’am. I was right behind you. Licence please?”
Her cheeks burn. In her mind, Helen can still hear the clicking of the indicators. She pulls out her driver’s licence from the glove compartment and hands it to the officer.
Officer Shikongo takes the licence, raises a brow and says, “Ms. Davids, your licence expired. Last week, in fact.”
“No––no, way. That can’t be.”
“First, you denied indicating, now this. At least I have proof. Look.”
Shit. It expired on the 15th of January.
“I––I’m genuinely sorry. I didn’t even notice. I’ll renew it as soon as possible.”
“Well, you have a two week grace period. But it will cost you N$250.” He hands the licence back. “Now, let’s check your lights.”
She watches him walk to the back of her car.
“Please turn on your right indicator!”
He waits a little while and then strolls back to her window. “It’s your left bulb. It must have fused. You need to replace it.”
Helen swallows. “O-okay.”
“It shouldn’t cost you any more than N$20,” he smiles. “You’re free to go.” Then, without looking back, he walks to his car and drives away.
Not this. Not now.
Two deep breaths and then Helen eases back into traffic.
At home, she adds to her list:
Licence renewal: N$250
Left indicator light: N$20
That leaves her with a mere N$1160.
Pay morning finally arrives.
She can face February.
“It will be a good financial month,” Helen tells herself, even though she’s nowhere near where she wants to be––to have savings and travel domestically and not having to borrow money from friends and family and to get through the month with her own income.
She pays her water bill and taxi at the office and buys electricity; she e-wallets Mamma and Toshi and crosses them off her list.
After work, she fills her trolley with groceries at Shoprite with Willy and Taleni and takes them for milkshakes just across the street. An additional N$180 is gone.
At home, her phone flickers with a train of messages.
Helen Hi! How are you? And the kids?
It’s her ex.
I’m sorry to inconvenience you again––she rolls her eyes––I know it’s last minute but I need to register for my studies. I just won’t be able to squeeze in the maintenance funds for this month. I am terribly sorry. After that payment I can see what I can do.
How many times had he told her he would see what he could do?
Helen steadies her breath and types frantically:
Harold, I need that money to order their new school uniforms.
Guess it will have to wait. I’ll need you to come up with half for next month. It will assist me greatly. Let me know. Thanks!
Helen learned early on not to count on maintenance payments. Harold had been inconsistent since before they divorced. The late or lapsed payments created too many arguments between them; she decided to8+ take care of the children herself. Whatever he sent was a bonus.
The panic returns, along with a headache. Only one thousand Namibian Dollars left.
She props her feet on a pillow that night; it will have to do instead of a massage. She scrolls through WhatsApp messages, an escape until she gets to her children’s class group.
Crap. She had forgotten about the sports day.
She loves supporting her children in athletics. Another N$200 worth of spending.
She notes the expenses, puts her phone down, and closes her eyes.
“Mom! Mom, come and see!” Taleni is yelling.
Helen glances at her phone. It’s just a few minutes past 6 in the morning. “What’s wrong, my baby?”
“It’s my tooth. My first tooth fell out. Look!” Taleni grins for Helen to see the gap, she hold out the tiny tooth.
Helen smiles at her and hugs her daughter. “Let’s go and rinse your mouth.”
“Will the Tooth Fairy come?”
“Of course. They would love to have your beautiful tooth.”
“Will the tooth fairy give me money?”
Just then, Helen’s phone rings and her gut grows uneasy.
Mamma never calls this early.
Helen tells herself to call back later. She doesn’t want to get distracted from her morning routine which would make all of them late. She returns the call when she gets to the office.
“Helen. Moro,” Mamma answers on the second ring, her voice small and quiet.
“Moro Mami. Matisa? Dit gaan goed met ons, my kind. Maar.”
“Maar wat Mammie? Wat het gebeur?”
The line goes quiet for a beat.
A lump swells in Helen’s throat.
What is wrong?
She waits for her mother to speak.
“Dis jou auntie. Sy het nie die son opkoms gesien nie. Sy is weg my kind.”
Helen doesn’t need to ask who Mamma is talking about. Her aunt has also been battling cancer and has become worse of late.
Helen’s chest tightens. She blinks. “Okay,” she hears herself say. “Dankie dat Mammie laat weet het.”
There are no goodbyes before the silent sobs take over, and for a few minutes, she just sits crying.
Any minute now, Jeremiah will step in.
She feels her body rise, shuffle to the bathroom where she freshens up before returning to her desk.
Her budget paper peaks through the corner of her diary.
She snatches it, scratches off all her items and writes:
Sports Day: N$200
That means she has N$560 left. Only two days after she received her salary. For a moment, she asks herself whether she really needs to attend the funeral, but guilt quickly silences that question. She’d spent almost all her holidays with Aunt Maggie.
Now she’s scared.
Helen counts coins from her purse to play Tooth Fairy.
After a stronger cup of coffee, she continues with her work.
A beep from her phone distracts her again ––a message from her son’s teacher.
Hi. Willy has been coughing since he came to school this morning. I think it’s best we send him home. Kindly confirm so that I can send him back with the school driver.
When it rains––
Thanks for letting me know. Please send him home. His nanny will attend to him.
Another N$100 for Willy’s medical consultation and prescription.
Her side hustles have to come through now. She texts her regular clients to see if their laundry needs washing.
She chews at her nails, works, and waits.
At home she places the ten dollars in Taleni’s shoe.
Andelaine Tsowases is a Namibian writer and the self-published author of An Angel’s Sin (2019), a fantasy novel. She was born and raised in Keetmanshoop and completed high school at Silver-Oaks International College in Pretoria, South Africa. Andelaine obtained her Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting (Honours) from the University of Namibia. She started her career teaching accounting at various local schools. Since 2016 she has worked as a performance auditor in the Office of the Auditor-General.