It’s been twenty years since the South African government made what has come to be known as, ‘The Deal’ in 2024. Our nation became the first on the continent to make trade agreements with the marauders.

The marauders, we called them.

Atypical beings from a distant planet, possessing the ability to make your truest desire come to fruition when summoned. The Deal, was joyfully welcomed by an overwhelming majority. Inequality had been overcome and poverty was almost non-existent. But it all came at a price.

Marauders needed neither wealth nor food to live. They needed memories of exuberant enjoyment of life – joie de vivre, as the French say. Memories most cherished. A considerable price to pay in exchange for your utmost desire…

“I heard they turn to stone if you don’t smash them before turning eighteen. Is that true?” Ndoda suddenly asked L.J, with more mockery than curiosity. Blondie and Thapelo sniggered as they stood with their heads sticking out of the doors, feeling the wind rush past. L.J’s eyes left his book, a book called, The Deal: Salvation or Doom? He looked at Ndoda, who arrogantly stood, balancing on the pole in the middle of the train aisle, frowning.

“Excuse me?” L.J said. Not sure if he heard him correctly as the train made a chugging sound that got louder and faster.

“Your balls!” Ndoda said out loud.

“I bet you’ve got a pair of marbles in your pants,” Blondie and Thapelo broke out laughing.

L.J saw a few passengers suppressing giggles. He made a sound, sucking air through his teeth, wishing the book was large enough to cover his embarrassment. The only passenger who was not laughing, sat gloomily next to him. It was unmistakeable that he had just been dispirited by a marauder. L.J made up his mind – he was getting off at the next station.

Jimmy Vokwana Jr., popularly known as Little Jimmy or L.J by his peers, wasn’t the most attractive of gents and never had much luck with girls. Still a virgin at nineteen, he was so ugly as a baby that his mother left him at the hospital, sixteen hours after giving birth to him. She was never seen or heard from again. His father took him in and raised him, but, Jimmy Vokwana Sr. had never hated anyone more than he loathed L.J. He lost the love of his life because of Jimmy.

L.J never knew the love of a family, the only family he recognised were his three friends.

L.J folded the page he was reading and closed his book. He got up to get off as the train slowly halted.

“Come on man,” Thapelo tried preventing his exit, “Ndoda was just teasing, right Ndoda?” Ndoda, still hysterical, mouthed the word, ‘virgin’ in L.J’s direction.

L.J shoved Thapelo’s hand out of the way and bumped a lady who was getting on, as he stormed out. The book fell at her feet. She picked it up and smiled as she looked at it. L.J got on again and walked up to her. Her scent was almost as beautiful as she was. Her caramel skin glowed under the sunlight. And her smile – that captivating smile – melted his defences as soon as she directed it towards him. Her eyes, her lips, and her spirit all smiled at him, and everyone had vanished. The train doors closed.

“You must be one brave guy reading such books in public,” she said, with a silvery voice. She handed him his book back. She sat down where L.J was sitting before.

“We’re all…uhm…entitled to…to… to…our… opinions, aren’t we?” he stammered and sat beside her, feeling butterflies flapping their wings vigorously in the pit of his stomach. He was careful not to bump the dispirited man. Everyone knows never to mess with a recently dispirited person, as the volume of hate in them is unprecedented.

“Indeed we are. It’s lovely to know that there are still people against The Deal. There’s still hope yet, for the human race,” her smile bore into his soul.

As she spoke, all L.J saw was darkness around him; with her, being the only thing worthy of his attention. Her name was Sharon. Before getting off, Sharon asked for Jimmy’s phone number.

Tell us: Do you think Jimmy will give his phone number to Sharon?