Pholisa sat in the taxi. She was freezing. It was the middle of winter and it had been raining mercilessly. She wished she had knitted a pair of gloves for herself but she had been busy knitting scarves and hats.
“Don’t be nervous, it won’t be so bad,” Lazola said putting his arm around her. She was so grateful he was coming with her, otherwise she didn’t think she could go through with it. She leaned and put her head on his shoulder. She always felt better whenever she did that. She didn’t know what she would do if Lazola wasn’t around. He had taken away the terrible loneliness she had felt during the trial.
They climbed out of the taxi and had to walk a few minutes to reach the gates of Pollsmoor prison. Thank God it wasn’t raining, otherwise they would be soaked.
Pholisa had been putting off this journey for a while now. There wasn’t an excuse she didn’t have: it’s winter and I don’t have any clothes, I have no gift to bring and you never visit without a gift, I have exams coming up, I’m not ready, I hate him and don’t want to see him.
But all her reasons turned into mere excuses in the face of the counsellor at the trauma centre. And as if the counsellor wasn’t bad enough, she had Lazola to deal with too.
“Masi is family and he needs you,” he would say. “Family is important and he’s the only one you have right now,” or even his most favourite, “Gogo has forgiven him and she wants you to do the same.” As if he could tell her that! But the funny thing was that she knew Lazola was probably right.
So she had finally said yes. After everything had been put into perspective by everyone she cared about, Pholisa had given in. But now she wasn’t so sure she had made the right decision … Standing in front of the big prison gates, shaking in the cold winter air, she wasn’t sure she should have come.
“What will I say to him?” she whispered to Lazola as they walked in.
“Molo,” he said simply.
“All male visitors please follow the line to your left, and female visitors to your right,” the guard said.
They were separated and searched in separate rooms. Prisoners weren’t allowed a lot of things and Pholisa didn’t know what was allowed and what wasn’t. She didn’t know if Masi would be allowed to have what she had brought him.
The visitors were made to go and sit in the waiting area until visiting time started.
Finally they were called and told to go through to the visiting room.
No touching, was one of the rules. Pholisa didn’t have to worry about that rule; she wasn’t planning to hug Masi at all.
She and Lazola sat at one end of a table, holding hands, as the prisoners started walking in. Pholisa searched the room but couldn’t see Masixole. Maybe he couldn’t face her and had decided not to come?
But then she saw him. He was standing in the doorway smiling at her. She would never forget that smile. It was the smile of the Masixole she had lost. The young man who was warm and fun and affectionate and looked out for her. She had thought she would never see that again.
He walked over and took a seat in the chair opposite them. He looked so thin and dark that Pholisa wondered if he were sick.
“Molo,” Pholisa greeted, breaking the silence.
Pholisa just sat there and looked at him. Lazola put out his hand to shake Masi’s, but then he saw the cold stare the guard gave him and gave his fist instead. Prison rules were stupid anyway.
It was when Masi and Lazola started talking about the weather and laughing about your hands freezing to a point that you just wish you could sit on them all day that Pholisa snapped.
“How could you?” she asked, loud enough for the people at the tables next to theirs to turn.
“Uxolo mntase,” he said.
“Don’t give me that!”
Lazola didn’t say anything; he lowered his head at the same time Masi did. He felt sorry for Masi and Masi felt guilty.
“I was drunk and high on drugs … I am sorry,” said Masi finally. “I feel sorry every day I wake up. I think of …” His voice broke, “I think of your friend often. I hope she’s okay.”
Pholisa said nothing.
“Pholisa, I don’t expect you to forgive me or ever see me after today. I am just grateful you came, I have been hoping. I’m sorry for what I did … I can’t take it back or undo it however much I long to be able to wind back the clock. I will have to live with it for the rest of my life.” He looked down at his hands. “I am glad Gogo isn’t here to see what has become of me.”
Pholisa noticed that he was not just avoiding her eyes; he was crying. Tears kept falling onto his hands and he was getting rid of them by rubbing his hands together. He was really sorry. And then Masi stood up, still looking everywhere but at Pholisa.
“You don’t have to ever forgive me. But I am still family and I always will be. I am sorry and I will make amends,” he said and turned to walk away.
Lazola nudged Pholisa and shook her back to life. He handed her the plastic bag he was carrying.
“Bhut’Masi!” Pholisa called out.
He turned and looked over at her, but he could not look her in the eye.
“I made you something,” she said, handing him the plastic bag.
Masi walked back and sat down. He opened it and took the contents out. It was knitted scarves and hats, four pairs of matching colours. His face transformed again with his old loveable smile.
“Enkosi, Pholisa,” he said, trying a hat on. It was a perfect fit.
“I may not love you always, but we’re tied by blood. I’ll always be there,” she managed to whisper.
And then he hugged her – despite the prison rules, despite the guards – and held her close for a moment. And in that moment she felt the ice in her heart beginning to melt and forgiveness flowing in.
Tell us: Would you start forgiving Masi, if you were Pholisa? How do you think Lelethu may feel about it?