He stood there for a moment looking at the mirror. He was wearing a beautiful smile matched with his tailored suit of happiness and pair of handcrafted excitement. He couldn’t believe it and neither did his family; that the day had finally arrived. This was the day that had showered Lentswe Mafoko’s family with sheer joy. He was the first in his family to graduate at a university level. The Lord and the ancestors have really blessed this day, he thought.

Lentswe was no ordinary 22-year-old. He was an ambassador of change in his community and a keen basketball enthusiast. These were some of the traits which he inherited from both his parents. Though Lentswe came top of his class, he wondered how his life would have turned out if he had given into peer pressure.

“Come on man try it, all the cool kids are doing it,” Thabo had insisted.

“Isn’t this bad for one’s health? And besides, it seems like a bad idea,” Lentswe had been unsure. This was his first encounter with what most children his age go through in some stage of their lives. He thought about how bad he really wanted to be part of the crew. They were a group of rich misfits who called themselves Rosimoda – an expensive Italian shoe brand – which all of them owned.

“Just inhale a few puffs, I promise you won’t feel a thing,” Kgomza, the leader of the crew, had declared. With his new found fame, Lentswe had received an invitation to a party not far from his neighbourhood. “Trust me, we are going to be the life of that party,” quipped Kgomza.

Envy eclipsed his rational that he should take the cigarette which will gain him a membership into the crew.

“Really, are you sure? Because since I started hanging out with you guys, people are looking at me differently,” Lentswe had asked.

It was then that Thabo assured him that it was because their crew was the inspiration of all the guys in the neighbourhood. At the party he was told that in order to be a fully-fledged member, he had to have DNA (Drugs and Alcohol) in his system. This was a statement which came as a surprised to Lentswe. He thought he had already made it to the induction phrase.

“If these things were bad for you, doctors wouldn’t recommend alcohol induced cough mixtures or prescribe drugs when you are sick,” Thabo had emphasised. Kgomza added that if adults were honest enough they would admit that one needs DNA in their body.

Time had passed and he wasn’t going to school or participating in sports. But he rather opted to smoke at one of his friend’s house, a place which they referred to as their headquarters. Without realising it, the protégé, as most of his teachers and basketball coach called him, had been swallowed by the life his parents had long warned him about.

“Drugs and alcohol are destruction to one’s life. Please promise me that in whatever you do, you won’t touch them. They lead to a road to nowhere,” his mother pleaded with him. The words that he once considered as his mantra were now a faded whisper.

The Mafoko’s were a typical Soweto family. They had done everything in their ability to ensure that their only child wouldn’t succumb to these pressures. Following a series of events which had assured his new found friends that he was ready, one of them suggested that they should go break-in at one of their neighbour’s house. The crew successfully broke into that house and stole valuables. They didn’t realise that another neighbour saw them leaving.

After they had sold the stolen good, the police pounced on them following a tip-off. All other crew members were released after their parents paid bail, except for Lentswe. His parents thought spending time inside a prison cell would serve as a lesson. He wondered how his life had taken a dramatic turn and led him into a prison cell.

Phumani! Phumani Mabantiti! (get out, you bandits),” shouted one prison warder.

“Holla Ntwana! Are you new here,” asked one prisoner who called himself Mavotja.

“Yes, I arrived here yesterday after my parents couldn’t afford bail,” answered Lentswe.

“So what’s a young boy doing here, aren’t you supposed to be in school?” Mavotja continued.

An emotional Lentswe explained what had happened to him to end up there. Mavotja could smell the fear on Lentswe; he would exploit his naivety and vulnerability.

“Don’t worry my man, I know the ins and outs of these place,” he added.

As the sun drew closer to its curfew, the prisoners were led back to their cells.

“My man, I have spoken to one of the warders and he has agreed to move you to our cell,” said Mavotja, “so that I will be able to take care of you,” he had added.

“Wow! That would be great since I’m new here,” an excited Lentswe said.

Inside the cell, Mavotja made sure that Lentswe was well taken care of and felt welcomed without being intimidated. Night disappeared under the veil of time and morning was born.

“I want to make a call to my parents; will they allow me such here?” Lentswe asked.

“As I said my man, with me anything is possible, but the call will cost you a favour,” Mavotja indicated.

“What will it cost?” an amazed Lentswe asked.

“Don’t worry, I will tell you when the time comes.”

As promised, Lentswe’s wish was granted and he managed to speak to his mother. She said they would be visiting in two weeks. After a few days had passed, Mavotja made the long awaited request. This made Lentswe realise that he was part of a dangerous and elaborate plan; he was a victim.

“Surely by now you are accustomed to the daily routine of this hell hole. So what’s required of you is to distract the warder after he had made his morning call,” instructed Mavotja.

According to Mavotja this was going to enable some of his prison gang members to deal with a rival gang member that had disrespected their leader. While trying to make sense of everything, he felt a drop on his cheek. With an amazed glare he thought of how was it possible for it to rain while there wasn’t a single cloud in the sky.

“Lentswe, why are you crying my boy?” his mother asked, bringing him back to the present.

“It’s just tears of joy,” he answered. “I was wondering how things would have turned out if I had chosen the wrong path,” he responded.

“You make me a very proud mother my son, I couldn’t have asked for more,”

For the past hour Lentswe had been lost in thought about the life that never was. His life would’ve turned up that way had he taken that drag and went to that party. But he had chosen not to.

“Hurry up Lentswe! Everybody is waiting for you to give your speech,” his mother instructed.

When he came out, he heard voices echoing in unison: SURPRISE! His parents walked toward him to present him with the keys of a second hand car, which most community members had assisted to buy for him.


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