Pholisa woke up before her alarm went off at 6 a.m. It had been difficult to fall asleep as she half waited for Masixole to knock on the door. He hadn’t and now it was morning. Where was he spending his nights?

It was pouring rain outside. She got up and prepared for school. She took her time and even made porridge. I’ll take a taxi today, she thought as she dug in the jam jar where Nana used to keep money, and now her money spot. She found a coin right at the bottom.

She searched in her school bag for more money. All she needed was R1. She emptied everything, regretting the packets of Nik Naks they had bought yesterday. Who knew R1 would be so hard to find when you really needed it, she thought, cursing under her breath.

She packed her books furiously and then ran to the taxi rank, praying that the dogs may be hiding from the rain and would not chase her. At the taxi rank she waited for the Quantum taxis the Harmony High kids loved to take – the ones with space and pumping music. In the midst of all of them, the driver wouldn’t miss R1.

In the taxi everybody was chattering. The main subject, she heard, the voices almost shouting above the loud music, was of a girl who had been gang raped and beaten last night.

“She was half-dead, choma,” one girl said.

“I saw her, she was beaten up so badly you could hardly tell who she was,” her friend said.

Mxm! What was she doing dating igintsa, a gangster?” the first girl sneered. “Worst of all u-Matchsticks.”

OoThandie bathand’izinto – girls like Thandie like things. Serves her right,” her friend answered.

Pholisa sat and listened to the horrible things the girls were saying about this poor Thandie. If they had heard her screams last night, they wouldn’t be saying any of this, Pholisa thought.

At school everyone was talking about Thandie and Matchsticks. Some said she was trying to break up with him and he wouldn’t hear of it. Others said she was caught cheating with some other guy. Some girls knew for a fact that she had lost some drugs she was meant to deliver for him. Everyone had an opinion – everyone except Pholisa.

In her mind it didn’t matter what the issue might have been – to beat up a woman like that and to have your friends gang rape her as punishment was too cruel. She thought of Masi and shuddered. But he couldn’t have taken part; Masi was not evil, Pholisa thought to herself. Still, she felt deeply troubled and could hardly concentrate.

She was relieved when the end-of-school bell rang. She couldn’t take hearing all those stories about Thandie and Matchsticks. Especially when she suspected that Masi might be involved.

She was walking out of her class when Lelethu called to her. “Hey, I didn’t see you all day,” Lelethu said, giving her a hug.

“Yeah, things are crazy,” Pholisa said. “Speaking of crazy, uyivile lento ka Matchsticks ne cherrie yakhe – you hear about Matchsticks and his girlfriend?”

Suka, I don’t waste my time talking about stupid people,” Lelethu said walking away.

Haibo, what d’you mean?” Pholisa asked.

“That girl knew what Matchsticks was when she dated him. She knew what he did and what he is capable of,” Lelethu went on.

“What you trying to say, choma?” Pholisa did not want to misunderstand her friend.

“The man’s reputation speaks for itself,” Lelethu said with an annoyed look on her face. “It serves her right,” she added.

Pholisa stopped in her tracks. How could Lelethu have said that? Didn’t she sympathise with a fellow woman, no matter the situation? Pholisa just stood there. When Lelethu saw she was no longer walking with her, she stopped. She could see the horror on Pholisa’s face.

“These things happen all the time,” Lelethu said. “Come, let’s go to drama club so you can laugh and forget all about Matchsticks and his gory life.” She pulled Pholisa along with her.

When they got to the hall, just as Pholisa had expected, everyone was talking about Matchsticks, debating what the true story was.

“All right, since you’re all so interested in the matter,” said William, the volunteer teacher, in his funny accent. “How ’bout we do a role-play and act out what happened.”

Pholisa couldn’t help chuckle at his accent and how he pronounced words. William’s words sounded like they were half-done, the middle bit left out of the word. Like the word ‘matter’, he made it sound like ‘ma-er’.

“We need a guy to be our leading man, Matchsticks, and a lady to be Thandie,” he said. “Any volunteers?”

Pholisa was not surprised when Lelethu jumped for the lead role. She knew how ambitious her friend was. But there were no guys standing up to play Matchsticks.

“C’mon, mates, ’tis only role-play. None of it’s real,” William urged them.

Lazola stood up and went to stand next to Lelethu. The class sang aah and ooh as the two stood next to each other. William had to hush them to silence so he could speak. Then he instructed his actors to act out some dialogue before the actual physical altercation.

“And … action!” he called.

Pholisa watched her best friend in action. She was sassy and ditsy, like those girls they always laughed at. They had chosen the scenario where Thandie was breaking up with Matchsticks and he wouldn’t hear of it.

Pholisa held her breath throughout the piece. Lazola was scary – as if he was really a mad thug. But it was the last part that made Pholisa’s blood run cold. Lazola had smacked Lelethu, so loud that she screamed. Only he didn’t really hit her; they were shown how to make clapping sounds and how to move their bodies convincingly.

Pholisa had jumped to stop Lazola – but only in her mind. Instead she sat frozen on the chair, eyes wild and wide, almost in tears. The class erupted in applause when the scene was over. The actors took a bow and went to take their seats.

“What’s going on here?” Mr Wacha, a Grade 8 teacher, shouted as he burst through the doors of the classroom.

“We’re just doing some role-playing,” William said in his thick accent.

“This is a dangerous thing to do. May I have a word with you outside?” Mr Wacha beckoned him outside, his face angry. As William followed he made a face at Mr Wacha’s back and everyone laughed, except Pholisa.

Lelethu went to sit next to Pholisa, who was still shaking from the shock of hearing the screams.

“We are only acting, choma,” Lelethu said.

Then William walked back in and called everyone to attention.

“That will be all for today,” he said. “Mr Wacha feels that this was not appropriate, and could have upset some of you. I didn’t mean to do that.” William looked uncomfortable.

“No, it was fun,” lots of people shouted. But Pholisa walked out feeling sick. Mr Wacha was right. The role-play had brought back the terror of her night. She felt like she never wanted to be alone again.

***

Tell us: What do you think about Lelethu’s attitude to the woman who was raped – that she knew what she was getting herself into?