“She’s with the doctor, but she’ll be fine,” Lazola told Lelethu’s aunt, who had arrived at the hospital with Bontle as soon as she could once she had heard the news. Lazola had phoned her on the way to the hospital.
“She must be sick with worry for where Lelethu is,” Lazola had told Pholisa.
“I want to see her,” Lelethu’s aunt said.
“We’ll have to wait until the doctor is finished.” Lazola led her to the chairs in the waiting room where Pholisa was sitting, drained and tired. Lelethu’s aunt put her arm around Pholisa and gave her a squeeze.
After a few minutes sitting in silence, Lelethu’s aunt said quietly, “Can you tell me exactly what happened?”
After Lazola and Pholisa explained, she shook her head slowly. “It’s all my fault … I should have paid closer attention to what she was doing.”
No, it’s mine, Pholisa thought to herself. It’s my fault. I should’ve been a better friend. I should have known that she was getting herself in trouble. The image of Masi’s face reared in her mind and she pushed it aside.
When Lelethu came out, she looked better. The doctor had been kind, she said. He had given her medicine. They had talked about reporting the rape. “I just want to go home now,” she said. “Please, let’s go home.”
Back at Lelethu’s house, Lazola and Pholisa stayed with her until she was sleeping soundly, helped by the painkillers.
“I’ll come back to check on you later,” Pholisa whispered to her sleeping friend and kissed her softly on her cheek. Then, quietly, she left with Lazola, holding his hand.
The word had soon spread in the neighbourhood. The whole community was abuzz with rumours. She didn’t look up at the neighbours, who she knew wanted to ask her a million questions. At the crossroads she stopped.
“I’ll walk you home,” Lazola said. “You shouldn’t be alone now.”
But alone is exactly what Pholisa needed right now. She needed time to think. Think of the thing that was too terrible for words, that she could never tell Lazola.
“I just need … I need some time …” she said quietly.
“Okay, but I will come around later.”
“That’d be nice.” She gave him a quick hug before she turned and walked quickly in the direction of her house.
Her heart was in turmoil. How could he? Her flesh and blood? How could she face Masi after what he had done? He would go to jail. Then what would happen to her?
She had always been a little afraid of Masi when he was in one of his bad moods, but what she felt now was something different. Anger, yes, rage even, but it was mixed with something else that Pholisa didn’t understand. Not yet.
She pushed the door open slowly, dreading to find Masi inside. What would she say? But Masixole wasn’t home. And relief flooded her. She had a little time to breathe. She warmed up water and washed herself. Then she climbed into bed. She hadn’t realised how tired she was. But even though she was exhausted to her bones, it took a long time before she could drift off. She was restless. Her head was full of dread for the morning, for what would happen – had to happen – next.
She was woken from a nightmare by the sound of sobbing. Had she woken herself with her own crying? But her face was dry. There were no tears. And the sobbing continued. And then she knew that Masi had come back. He was out there on the couch and she would have to face him.
She watched him from the doorway. He was lying hunched up. His clothes were dirty. He looked broken, she thought. But how could she feel any kind of sympathy for a man she didn’t know any more? A rapist. But when he lifted his head for a moment and looked at her through his tears, she didn’t see a rapist, she saw only her Masi. And it shocked her.
Suddenly his phone rang. It rang and rang, but he didn’t answer it. He just buried his head in his hands.
“Masixole,” she said. Her voice sounded strange to her, like it was a different person speaking. “Masixole.”
But he couldn’t look at her this time. He hid from her, from his shame.
“How could you? I believed in you, I trusted in you. Gogo believed in you.” Now the words came, but her voice was breaking with every one. He didn’t speak. “Tell me you didn’t rape my friend.” But she already knew the answer.
“I didn’t want to do it,” he whispered. “I didn’t want to do it.”
The fury raged inside her. Suddenly, he seemed pathetic. Did he have no choice? This was the man she had once respected, loved like a brother.
Then Masi jumped up from the chair. In one move he was standing in front of her. She could smell the sweat on him. His eyes looked wild. But she didn’t back away like she used to do. No. What was he going to do? Hit her?
“Uxolo, Pholisa. Ndicel’uxolo mntaka-mama,” he said, and broke into sobs again.
“You are not my brother,” she said calmly. It felt like someone else was speaking, someone detached from her heart and body.
She watched him cry. She had only seen him cry once, the day of Gogo’s burial. He had been subtle then, wiping the tears away quickly so that no one would see. But now he was sobbing in front of her.
“Uxolo, Pholisa,” he kept saying.
“We are going to the police tomorrow,” Pholisa said firmly.
Then she turned and walked out of the house, closing the door behind her without taking another glance at him.
She walked, unaware of where she was going. She was in shock. But something was pushing up inside her, making her feel again – something she wanted to ignore, push away, but she couldn’t. It was pity. Pity for the pathetic, sobbing wreck begging her forgiveness. But how could she forgive him? Ever.
She didn’t notice that people were staring at her, pointing and whispering about her as she walked, her eyes blurred from tears.
She didn’t notice the car with the fiery dragon emblazoned on the black paint that cruised past her. She didn’t know that when it turned the corner it pulled up outside her house.
The world didn’t exist in her eyes. All she saw was the cruelty of a man she once thought of as a brother.
She found herself at Lazola’s door. He opened it without her knocking.
“I hate him, but I want to save him,” she sobbed as Lazola took her in his arms.
Tell us: Do you feel any sympathy for Masi? Why/why not?