Lettie, Asanda and Busi came barging through the door, singing one of the audition songs. They looked tired, and still had make-up on, smudged from the party. But they looked happy. “Hey chommie. How’s the head this morning? Where did you disappear to last night? We were looking for you. Lettie said Mzi was taking you home?” They all spoke at once as they grouped around Ntombi in the kitchen.
“Ssh!” Ntombi tried to get them to shut up.
“Come on then,” they said, as they dragged her outside. “We want to hear all about it.” Outside, the light hurt Ntombi’s eyes and she was still feeling fragile. What was in that drink Mzi had given her?
“So…?” Lettie handed Ntombi a cooldrink she had bought at the spaza shop. “Did he kiss you?”
“And was it the stars and more…” they all sang together. Ntombi had never been good at lying, and now her confusion must have showed all over her face because Lettie and Asanda were suddenly frowning.
“What? Did he do something to you? You have to tell us, Ntombi.” They moved closer around her, protectively.
“No, it’s just … you know, love. It’s confusing.” Ntombi knew she sounded lame.
“You’re not sure about Mzi? I told you to be careful of him,” said Lettie.
“I think there was a lot on his mind,” Ntombi said quickly.
“Sounds like you’re making excuses for him,” said Lettie. “It’s simple. Either he treated you right or he didn’t.”
“He’s having a hard time at home,” Ntombi said, not looking into Lettie’s eyes.
“Well, has he called you to thank you for the date?” said Asanda. “I always think politeness is underrated.”
“And kindness,” said Lettie.
“Yes,” said Ntombi. “He SMSed me this morning.” It was the second lie she had told her friends. But she couldn’t face their pity. She couldn’t face admitting that she had heard nothing from Mzi since he dropped her off. She knew that if she told them what he had done after the party, they would make it impossible for her to see him again, and she wasn’t sure she was ready for that yet.
“Come on, let’s go rehearse,” she said, trying to change the subject. “Mr Masondo said he’d be at the hall at twelve, and there are only five more days until the audition.”
“Now that sounds like a good idea,” said Busi. “I really want to see Unathi again. You know he danced with me last night.” The others rolled their eyes at her.
Live your own life, Ntombi told herself as they walked arm in arm down the road. But then she added to her thoughts: if he hasn’t called by this evening you can SMS him.
The rehearsal went really well, and by the time the girls left the hall they all felt on top of the world. They sang their way back along the street until they were breathless and laughing. Then Asanda pointed to a newspaper banner: HIJACKED AND LEFT FOR DEAD.
“Did you hear about Abongile’s brother?” she asked. “You know, the one who dropped out of school. Got involved in stealing cars. This older guy, he promised him fast cars, money and everything. Then he was arrested. And the older guy said that he’d be killed if he said anything about him.”
Ntombi remembered the brother. He had always been laughing and joking. Now he would be stuck in jail. Busi nudged her. “Stop looking so serious, chommie. Life happens.”
But when she was back alone in her house, after the others had left, the good feeling of being together with the girls, doing something she loved, had worn off. Her moods swung like a yo-yo today. Suddenly she felt really down. Mzi still hadn’t SMSed her. Why didn’t he call? Had something bad happened to him? Had he been involved in an accident? She thought of Zakes. Was he like the man Abongile’s brother had worked for? Maybe he had trapped Mzi into working for him. Hadn’t she seen his car down by the sports shed? Mzi drove an identical BMW and she had heard that familiar laugh at Mama’s Tavern. Perhaps Mzi had got into something with Zakes that he couldn’t get out of.
Ten minutes later Ntombi couldn’t bear it. She needed to do something. She couldn’t just sit waiting; she would end up doing something she would regret, like calling him. She put on her jacket and went outside to clear her head. Before she knew it she found her feet taking her to Olwethu’s house. She was looking for some distraction and comfort and she knew she would find it there. At his door, she hesitated. Was it fair to go to him for sympathy when she hadn’t gone to the party with him? Wouldn’t it be rubbing salt in a wound? And what would his sister Linkie think of her? But she couldn’t go back to her house alone, so she knocked.
Linkie answered the door with a huge grin and Ntombi felt immediately better. “You have to tell me all about the party,” Linkie said. “Was it great? Did you dance all night?”
“It was great but…” Ntombi hesitated, scanning the room for Olwethu, but he wasn’t there. His granny, who was sitting in the corner knitting, looked up. Her eyes were kind and Ntombi felt that she saw everything.
“It wasn’t all you hoped for?” she suggested gently.
“No Gogo. It’s just… well… I’m confused,” blurted out Ntombi, and found she was trying hard not to start crying.
“Is it your first love?” the granny asked kindly. Ntombi nodded.
“Love can be very confusing – and exhausting,” she laughed. “Always trying to guess what the boy’s feeling or thinking. What does this mean? What did he mean when he said that?”
“Yes,” said Ntombi. “One minute he’s really sweet, the other he’s so hard and angry.” The granny looked up quickly.
“Well, that doesn’t sound right,” she said. Ntombi found herself telling the granny everything, and when she finished there were tears in her eyes but she felt much better. It was like a huge weight had been lifted off her. Granny was holding her hand and stroking it gently. “Sounds like this boy doesn’t respect you,” she said. “I know it’s old fashioned, but kindness and respect are very important. It also sounds like you need a cup of tea. Linkie, put the kettle on.”
Just then the door opened and Olwethu came in. Ntombi tried to wipe away her tears, but he saw that she had been crying. His look of excitement at seeing her quickly changed to worry.
“What did he do?” he asked and his voice was rough with concern. Ntombi shook her head.
“It doesn’t matter. I’m just tired. Your gogo has been very kind.”
“Did Mzi hurt you?” Olwethu sat down next to her, and when she didn’t answer he said: “I knew he was no good.”
“It’s not like that,” Ntombi said, but it was like Olwethu didn’t hear her. He stood up and started pacing around the small room. “He’s going through a difficult time,” Ntombi said. “There’s a reason why…”
“Difficult time? Is that what he called it?” Olwethu spat the words out. He was looking stressed.
“What is it?” said Ntombi, knowing there was something more.
“Zakes brought another car in to be sprayed. He told my uncle there were four more on their way. My uncle said he didn’t want to do any more spraying for Zakes, but then they went into the office and when they came out Zakes left saying he would collect the BMW the next day. When I asked my uncle what had happened he just told me not to ask questions – just to start spraying the car. I knew he was protecting me. He looked frightened. Then today, who comes by but the police. Told my uncle that they are after the leader of a gang of car thieves. Five new BMWs had been stolen in one week. They were going around all the panel shops, to see if the cars had been brought in.”
Ntombi thought of Zakes’ laugh. Had he been talking to Mzi at the tavern? Had he been promising him money and cars if he worked for him? It couldn’t have been a coincidence that he happened to overtake them on the way to the party.