Masi walked the streets without hope. He couldn’t stop Matchsticks from going after Pholisa. He couldn’t do the only thing that Gogo had asked of him, to protect Pholisa with his life and keep her safe. Gogo had thought he was the shining boy, but he was useless. A pathetic excuse for a man. He kicked at some loose stones.
He couldn’t control where his mind went – back to the village now. In his mind he saw Lelethu and Pholisa as girls, laughing and running down the path in front of him. He saw Lelethu growing up in front of him, a pretty girl and one he liked. And she liked him. Or she thought she did. He thought of that day she had appeared after school with Pholisa all excited and he had invited her to lunch. He was going to ask her out.
He shook his head as if to rid himself of her face. It was too much. The pretty face that he had battered.
He needed a smoke to help him forget. He stopped at the spaza and bought two loose cigarettes. He lit one and continued walking. This time with more purpose. He knew where he was going now. There would be no stopping him.
No, he didn’t have enough time to warn Pholisa about Matchsticks. And his phone was dead – for real this time – so he couldn’t call or text her. He wasn’t even sure if Pholisa would take his call; maybe she didn’t want to see him again. No, there was only one way now to stop Matchsticks.
The street was alive and buzzing, but his eyes were not on the activity of the day. As he was about to toss his cigarette butt to the ground, his saw Pholisa and Lelethu walking out of the police station. So they had got there before him.
Pholisa was holding Lelethu and Lelethu was wearing dark glasses and a big blue hat. Masi knew she must have been hiding her face because of what they had done to her. The girls crossed the street and walked along the pavement on the other side. They must have gone to lay charges, just as Pholisa had warned. It was only a matter of time before the police came looking for him and the others. But he would give himself up before that happened. He would talk – tell them all they wanted to know in order to bust Matchsticks and his crew.
He watched the girls until they turned a corner and were out of sight. Then he took out the other cigarette and lit it. It may be his last one as a free man.
Masi finished his smoke and stepped on the butt to put it out. He walked down the street towards the police station. Of course, he could turn just back and not go through with his crazy plan … But, no, this was the only way to protect Pholisa from Matchsticks.
“I’m here to report a rape,” he said to the officer at the desk.
“All right,” the officer sighed, pulling out an empty docket to take Masi’s statement. It was his second rape statement that day. One was just moments ago when two young girls came to report it.
“What’s your name?” he asked.
“Okay, and tell me what happened.”
“My friends and I beat up and gang raped a girl,” Masixole said.
The officer looked up at him, shocked. It wasn’t every day that someone handed themselves over to the police – especially on a rape charge. Usually, the criminals made their jobs difficult and hid from the law. But this one … this one was either stupid or just a kid who got caught up with the wrong crowd.
The officer took his statement and Masixole was arrested.
“I am making eggs. How many d’you want?” Pholisa asked when they arrived back at Lelethu’s house.
“I’m not hungry,” Lelethu said, walking straight to the room she shared with Bontle.
“You haven’t eaten, chommie, and you need to keep up your strength.”
“What good would that do? I couldn’t fight them off with the strength I had,” Lelethu said slipping in under the blankets with her clothes on. Pholisa stood at the door and watched. She couldn’t say anything.
She reached under the blankets and pulled Lelethu’s shoes off and then climbed into bed next to her.
She thought of Masi. Where was he now? Had he gone running back to Matchsticks? She had warned him that they were going to the police. Would Matchsticks protect him from the law? He had brought this on himself, her head was telling her – this was justice. But her heart ached with betrayal. How could she do this to her own family? But then how could he ever have done what he did?
Pholisa woke up just as it was getting dark. Lelethu was still asleep. Pholisa walked through to find Lelethu’s aunt making tea in the kitchen. Pholisa was staying with them. She didn’t want to go home – to Masi, to Matchsticks.
“Here,” Lelethu’s aunt handed her a steaming cup, “this will wake you up. I have some news for you. You will need to be strong.”
Pholisa knew what it was. She sat down and took a sip of the sweet tea.
“They have him. The police officer called. They arrested Matchsticks at his home, with his crew …”
And what of Masi?
“Masi …” Lelethu’s aunt’s eyes brimmed with tears. “He confessed. He told the police where to find Matchsticks … He told them everything. Pholisa. He confessed to being part of the … They arrested him.”
Pholisa stood up. She needed to get out. She needed to go home. To be alone. To …
“If you want to go home, Bontle will go with you.” Lelethu’s aunt stood up and hugged Pholisa.
MaDlamini was standing outside by the gate talking to a friend when Bontle and Pholisa passed by.
“These girls, always out, drinking and partying, chasing boys. They know the streets are crawling with these crooks,” she commented nastily.
“Bayaphapha – they are forward,” the neighbour said. “Next thing they cry when they get what they wanted.”
Pholisa couldn’t believe what they were saying: that Lelethu had ‘asked for it’.
“If it were one of your girls, you wouldn’t be saying that,” said Bontle’s mother who had come outside, and had heard what the women were saying. “Nobody deserves to be raped, MaDlamini. They rape even the old people who don’t go partying and drinking – you see it on the news every day.”
MaDlamini didn’t answer. She sucked her teeth and turned back into her yard.
When she got home, Pholisa assured Bontle that she would be all right, that she just needed some time and that she would see her at school the next day. Life had to continue. It couldn’t just stop … could it?
Tell us: Earlier Lelethu was like the neighbours and also blamed the victim of a rape. What is the danger of this kind of attitude?