Lelethu lay on her side, on Lazola’s bed, crouched in the foetal position, trembling and sobbing. After Lazola had picked her up off the ground and carried her back out of the alley to his brother’s car, they had tried to take her to the hospital. But she had refused,even opening the door and threatening to jump out of the moving car if they did.
And so they had taken her back to Lazola’s house.
“We need to calm her down first,” he told the others. “But she needs medical care.”
Pholisa had no words. She simply walked over to the bed and sank to her knees next to it. Tears were streaming from Lelethu’s eyes. She held the blanket up to her nose, covering most of her face. But Pholisa could still see the bruises.
Lelethu’s right eye was swollen shut. Her left eye kept blinking away tears. Pholisa wanted to wipe them away but she feared that she would be hurting Lelethu more than helping. So she just knelt there, her own tears falling unnoticed and unattended. She had no words to comfort her friend. So she just sat there and cried.
“We have to do something,” Lazola said from behind Pholisa. He knelt down and put his hand on her shoulder. “We have to take her to the hospital,” he whispered in Pholisa’s ear as he held her. He wasn’t sure if she was nodding in agreement or just shaking from the sobs.
“Eish, Joe, I’ll take you,” Lwandile, said from the one-seater couch. Pholisa had forgotten about him until he spoke. She raised her head to look at him.
“These bastards must pay,” he said getting up from the couch.
Lwandile was right, they had to do something. Someone had be held accountable; someone had to pay.
“I won’t go to the hospital,” Lelethu winced as she spoke.
“Lethu, you have to,” Pholisa said sitting on the bed. “I’ll come with you. You won’t be alone. We will go to the hospital and then we will lay a charge. Lwandile is right. The person who did this to you must pay.”
Lelethu shook her head. It was too painful to talk. How could she tell them why she could never lay a charge?
“I won’t go,” Lelethu said, turning to face the wall.
“We should have locked the car door. We should have insisted she go to the hospital,” Pholisa told Lazola in the kitchen. “If she won’t go to hospital then I’ll go to the police,” Pholisa said, feeling helpless.
“I’ll take you,” Lwandile said again.
The brothers’ parents were away at a wedding in Joburg. Pholisa thought of them celebrating, light and joyful, while Lelethu sunk deeper and deeper into a dark place of pain.
They drove to the police station in silence, neither knowing what to say. Pholisa’s mind was filled with thoughts she would rather not have. Who had hurt her friend? What was Lelethu even doing there? And why hadn’t she told anyone about it?
The charge office at the police station was lit by a harsh fluorescent light. One of the policemen behind the counter was talking on his walkie-talkie to another out in his van somewhere. Another was writing at a desk. Neither of them looked at Pholisa when she walked in. The station felt desolate at this time of night.
She waited for five minutes before the man who had been filling in a report looked up briefly.
“What can I do for you?” he asked, looking back down at his report and continuing to write.
“I’m here to report a rape,” she said with a shaky voice.
The police officer didn’t look at her and continued to write.
“Sit there. We’ll take your statement when I’m finished,” he said, still not looking up.
“Intoni?” Pholisa asked.
The policeman looked up at her and rolled his eyes. “Statement,” he repeated. “You have to give us a statement and then you have to get checked at the hospital.”
Pholisa stared at him as if he was speaking a foreign language.
He clicked his tongue in irritation.
“Wee ntombazana – you need to wake up if you want to do this thing. You don’t look hurt … Did he hurt you?” Pholisa couldn’t believe his words. How could he treat girls like this? No wonder people didn’t report rapes.
Lwandile spoke up now. “It wasn’t her who was raped. It was her friend.”
“Well, then, why isn’t she here?” he asked.
“She can’t move. We found her …” Pholisa tried to make the policeman understand. “She was beaten up badly, she …” her voice betrayed her. Then the tears followed. When she closed her eyes all she could see was Lelethu’s beaten face and broken body, lying there alone in the dark alley.
“Officer, is there someone she could talk to?” Lwandile said. “She’s refusing to go to hospital.”
“Please …” Pholisa whispered.
“She has to come here,” the officer said.
Lwandile and Pholisa looked at each other. What could they do now?
“Tell your friend that she must come here. We can call a counsellor,” said the other policeman, who had been listening to them. “And then she must go to the hospital to get medicine so she doesn’t get HIV,” he added. “But you must do all of this soon.”
So the two of them returned to the house. Pholisa found Lelethu still on the bed, in Lazola’s room.
“You need to go to the police, Lelethu. And to the hospital. Please, please, my friend. Please do this. The policeman said you need medicine.”
Lelethu looked at her. “I will go to hospital then. But I will not go to the police.”
“You need to lay a charge, Lelethu,” pleaded Pholisa, angered again at how anyone could have done this to her friend. “The person who raped you must pay. It was one man … or more?”
Lelethu gripped Pholisa’s arm. “I can’t. You don’t understand …” She whispered. “I will go to the hospital, but I won’t lay a charge. He will kill me.”
“Who, Lelethu? Who will kill you? Do you know who did this to you?” Pholisa asked.
“Matchsticks and his gang,” Lelethu finally said.
“What? Let’s make those bastards pay,” Pholisa felt the fury rise inside her. “Don’t you see, you can put them away. In jail,” said Pholisa. “You must make them pay. They are dogs. All of them.”
Lelethu shook her head.
“Why? Why would you protect them from what they deserve?”
Lelethu looked at Pholisa for a long time – right into her soul, it felt – and then she spoke.
“Because one of them was Masixole.”
Even though it was barely a whisper, Pholisa knew what she had heard.
Tell us: Who do you think Pholisa will support – Masi or Lelethu? Why?