At 3:00 the post was distributed and Belita waited for the envelope to be placed in her box before taking it outside to read. She now sat on the bench outside with the unopened letter in her hand. Its contents would decide her future. If the envelope contained a form letter, thanking her for her participation in the contest, she would be staying in Diepsloot until the next opportunity to model. If the letter was an affirmative invitation, she would soon be on her way to Los Angeles, in order to pose for a lingerie feature in a national magazine.
Belita had modeled lingerie since she was sixteen. Her first job was very dodgy, where the models were asked to pose for a photographer with a hand-held camera in front of a sheet. She had been taken to downtown Johannesburg with three other models in a long car that served them champagne and told them they were going to be rich. It was only partly true: the models took home two hundred and fifty rand that day. Posing in a bra earned her whole family groceries that week, which was good enough to warrant congratulations from her Gogo. Belita did not have the heart to tell her that she modeled her underwear for strangers; she knew her religious Granny would not approve.
At first, Belita kept it a secret from everyone, until she started getting national recognition from photographers and advertizing agencies. At eighteen, she posed for a headshot advertisement with a young man she thought was quite homely. To her surprise, one of the photos was used for advertizing Durex Condoms. Her friends teased her, saying she was now famous. They asked her for money, assuming that she would collect part of the royalties for her face on a million street signs. Little did they know the eight hundred rand payout was for one-day’s work. She had signed a release and didn’t profit from the picture at all- no matter how popular it became.
After two years, the condom stigma wore off. Her Gogo found out she was a lingerie model and pretended to object; she didn’t stop eating the food Belita brought home, however. The Pastor and his wife took her aside one day and confessed they were worried about her salvation; they advised her to find other work.
In truth, it was easy for others to judge. It was easy to say “Oh, yes, I will begin looking for other work!” In reality, modeling lingerie put food on the table – lots of food. The more reputable the agency she signed on with, the less nonsense she had to put up with. It led her to some very nice work environments; all she had to do was look good in bras and panties.
Two months ago, she entered a global contest called “Pearls of Africa” – a scouting of fabulous models from all over the continent. She submitted a portfolio of work that she had managed to save over the years. She had also enlisted the help of her brother, an amateur photographer, who took additional shots with a borrowed camera. They sent the portfolio off, paying an exorbitant price for DHL shipping. Her return address was a box at the 3-in-1 at Fourways Crossing, down the road from the township.
The letter arrived today from the magazine; Belita was strangely afraid to open it.
She had made peace with modeling, even lingerie modeling. She had not yet made peace with success. Success meant she might be choosing a wicked path and disregarding the pastor’s advice. In truth, she sought the counsel of God at every step; He remained the very core of her being. He was the One who had caused all of this to happen, Belita thought. If He willed it, it would come to be.
“Lord,” she whispered. “Not my will, but yours be done.”
The wind blew and she quivered, clutching the envelope tightly. At last, she dared to break the seal. Inside was a letter that was addressed to her, looking official.
“Dear Ms. Mbantwa,
Thank you for your entry in the Pearl of Africa Photo Shoot contest for Divine Magazine. We regret to inform you that you were not among the Top Ten applicants chosen. Your portfolio was beautiful, however, and we would like to invite you to come to Los Angeles as an alternate model for the upcoming lingerie feature.Your entry provided us with a phone number that has been disconnected; we are hoping that you will call us when you are in receipt of this letter. Kindly phone our offices in Sandton at 011-456-0809 at your earliest convenience. We would like to discuss the possibility of bringing you to Los Angeles as soon as possible.
With Warm Regards,
Executive Director, Lingerie Department
New York, Los Angeles
New York, Los Angeles
Belita read the letter three times before going back into the 3-in-1 to ask Janet, the clerk at the counter to read it as well. Both ladies agreed that the letter was not a hoax and that a phone call should be made.
Janet allowed Belita to use the landline behind the counter since her boss was ill and therefore not around. As soon as the phone was answered, the woman directed Belita’s call to her supervisor. The next voice Belita heard was deep, professional, and sincere.
“Miss Belita Mbantwa!” he said. Belita could tell he was smiling. “Good day to you! You are a very hard woman to find!”
Belita looked up at Janet, and the two ladies smiled at each other. They both knew that Belita would be soon bound to Los Angeles for the trip of a lifetime.