The grass looked green and lush – the start of new things, a promise of great things on the journey ahead. At least that’s what Pholisa told herself as she sat by the window and watched the mountains float by. The engine noise of the Intercape bus was soothing and relaxing.

Utsho ke xa ulambile – you must tell me when you’re hungry.” The familiar voice made her jump. She looked over and saw Masixole settling in next to her, trying to get comfortable. For a moment she had forgotten all about him.

Ewe, bhuti, nzok’xelela – yes, I’ll tell you,” she said, hoping he would fall asleep quickly, before she did.

She stole one more look at him as he sat back with his eyes closed. He looked so gentle. If it were not for that one small scar on his forehead, he could be mistaken for a blemish-free angel. You could hardly see the scar now. But Pholisa remembered when he had got it.

It had been a huge cut, and blood had gushed out as if a tap had been left open. He had been in many fights with other boys in the village, but this was the first time they had hurt him so badly. Pholisa had never seen so much blood; she was convinced he was bleeding to death. But Masi had laughed at her worry. He was a rebel, a die-hard; he never stepped down from a fight. That was seen as a sign of cowardice, and Masixole was no coward.

You would never guess any of that when you see him, she thought, looking at him again. If only he could stay like this. She turned back to the window, returning to her magnificent view.

Masixole was her uncle by blood. He was her grandfather’s son, but because their ages were not that far apart, she took him as a brother. His mother was one of Grandpa’s mistresses, and when she got pregnant, she dumped him at Grandpa’s and they had not seen her since. Gogo had raised him as one of her own. “A woman must always cover for her husband and keep him from being shamed, it’s the way of things,” she would say.

Now she was gone, resting peacefully, and Masi was Pholisa’s closest living relative. They were both making a new start, coming to study in Cape Town in her other granny’s shack, her Cape Town granny, Nana, who had also died the year before. So much death. Gogo had done her part in raising them and now it was up to her and Masi to make the best of their lives.

Ufunde, Pholisa, kwelaKapa – you must study hard in Cape Town.” She closed her eyes to the sound of her gogo’s voice in her head.

She had promised to work hard at her studies. Even though Gogo wasn’t educated, she valued education and wanted Pholisa to get the best. Gogo believed in two things: education and family. “Usapho luma kunye noba kutheni – a family stands together no matter what,” she had always said. “You make sure Masi stays clean. He is not a bad boy but he can be wild.”

Holding her hand on her deathbed, Pholisa could not argue with the frail woman. You don’t argue with your elders. Masi had also made some private promise to Gogo. Pholisa guessed it was probably to do with looking after her in Cape Town, while he looked for work.

Pholisa’s memories were interrupted by her phone beeping. She quickly turned the sound off. Masi would be mad if she woke him up. He was a sweet man, so long as you didn’t make him angry.

She looked at her phone.

Tshomi how far r u now? Cn’t w8 2 c u. Mwaa

It was from Lelethu, her best friend. Lelethu had been in Cape Town for two years now, at Harmony High, and was no longer the village girl Pholisa had known. She had come for the December holidays, and had looked like a supermodel. Her jeans were tighter, showing off her round butt and long legs. Her hair was not braided any more; she had a black, shiny weave and she even wore make-up, like a real city girl.

Lelethu had always been good at getting into trouble. One night that holiday she dragged Pholisa to the tavern in the village.

“Come on, it’ll be fun,” she had begged. Pholisa did not have the heart to say no to her friend. And the night was great! They spent over R20 on the jukebox, repeating Beyoncé’s ‘Love on Top’ and dancing.

But then some drunk, noisy boys in the corner started making trouble with them. “Ujayiva njenges’febe – you dance like a bitch. Come give me a lap dance,” one of the boys called out to Lelethu.

Lelethu was tipsy from cider. “Voetsek, go herd some cattle,” she shouted back. The boy’s friends started laughing, and the boy looked furious. He stood up and grabbed Lelethu violently by the arm, pulling her towards him.

Kwedini, yek’abantwana – leave them alone!” a voice roared from behind the them. The boy swung round, and saw it was Masixole. Pholisa could see how the boy quickly swallowed the insult he was about to spit. Instead he dropped Lelethu’s arm and walked away mumbling. Masixole had a reputation as a skilled stick fighter, the best in the village, and the neighbouring villages knew it. You didn’t mess with him and not pay for it.

Masixole then ordered the girls to go home, escorted by two of his friends. It was good to have such protection, Pholisa thought, smiling at the memory. She had noticed how Lelethu had blushed when Masi had looked at her, how she had given him a hug and a peck on the cheek to thank him for saving them. Pholisa remembered how Lelethu had talked about Masi the whole way home, going on about how strong and sweet he was. Pholisa had laughed at her bestie and joked about Lelethu being her ‘sister-in-law’.

She wondered how things would be now that they would also be in Cape Town. Would Lelethu still like Masi? She had never really seen his angry side. Perhaps she had found a Cape Town boy. Lelethu liked her boys hot and hot, as she always said.

She typed a reply to Lelethu.

Will arrive soon. Miss u 2 my F. Luv u.

“Cape Town, here I come,” she whispered as she positioned herself more comfortably in her seat. She closed her eyes and emptied her mind. She wanted to be fresh and alive when she arrived. A great, new life awaited her.


Tell us: What do you think of Gogo’s values – do you agree with her? Why/why not?