I vividly remember that day. I was sitting with mama in the sitting room when she received the call. We were enjoying a homemade sandwich made with bread, lettuce, melted cheese and of course, our favorite ingredient, sizzling hot-grilled chicken patties.

As irresistible as my sandwich was the frown on my mum’s face a few minutes into the phone conversation compelled me to put it down in my lap. I recall how every sound in the room began to slowly fade away and suddenly, I could no longer hear the television. What had happened? What was wrong? That’s what I wanted to know.

Silence continued to fill the room and if a pin had dropped, we would have clearly heard it. My eyes were wide open as I stared at her but not as open as my ears were. The woman’s voice on the other side of line sounded very familiar but I could not quite figure out who it was. I realised someone had passed on when she asked when the funeral was to take place. Mama’s final sigh as she hang up the phone only left me more anxious. I held onto the couch, expecting bad news.

Mama’s head hanged low in sadness when she finally told me what had happened. A young man in our area was killed. The lad’s mother was my mum’s friend. We knew him, not personally, yet it still stung. My mouth and heart simultaneously dropped in despair. It was the first time I had heard of a young person in our area being killed.

Break-ins, theft and car crashes now and then were not out of the ordinary in light of the well-known high rate of crime in our country but this caught me off guard. He was stabbed in the chest and left in the cold, gasping for air. The thought of it all had me sick for days. Who would do such a thing? Killing someone for something as insignificant as a cellphone? Echoes of him screaming voiceless cries for help filled my ears. He died such a lonely death.

No one really knows what transpired that night but we were sure of two things. We had painfully lost a young man who was full of great potential. Bearing the stench of death, I firmly held his sister’s motionless hand in both our comfort. As I sat in his memorial service, paying my last respect to his memory, I faced the hard reality of the ache a community struggles through when a soul is lost to senseless crime. The pain is numbing. Endless visions of what the future of the young man could have looked like gushed in.

Also, we began feeling unsafe, especially as young women. The murder took place not so far away from the complex that we all once confidently walked to in order to get whatever we needed. Asking my friend to walk with me to the store only occurred occasionally, when I was dragging my feet or desperately needed company. After this it became an unpleasant practice. Gnashing of teeth and hesitation in merely walking a few kilometers to the store was the order of the day.

We miss the days when we could walk freely in our neighborhood without fear. The times we would forget to lock the door, only to wake up to giggles over our silly slip-up and the delightful moments of hardly worrying about young children playing on our streets because they are safe.