Zakes walked into the bar. Ntombi quickly bent over her drink and tried to disappear. Luckily a couple had come up to the bar next to her, screening her from Zakes, who was ordering a beer from the bartender.
“Make it two,” he said, holding up his fat fingers, and Ntombi turned to see Mzi come in through the door. So it was true. Suddenly she felt sick. She shouldn’t be here, it was really dangerous.What was she thinking, dressing up and coming on her own to this place? Mzi had gone to sit at a table in the corner, but he was staring at her from a distance. She looked down at her drink and turned her back to him. Then something terrible happened. The couple next to her moved and Zakes was speaking to her.
“I need a light,” said Zakes. “Have you got a light?” He was tapping her on the shoulder. She couldn’t ignore him.
“Hey, girl,” he was saying.
Ntombi held her breath, hoping that the wig would be enough.“I don’t smoke,” she said quickly, turning her head away.
“Pity,” said Zakes, and then took the two beers and headed over to where Mzi was sitting. Ntombi walked as quickly as she could towards the door. Zakes and Mzi were sitting in front of a screen that divided the bar into two sections. If she could get on the other side of the screen, close to their table, but unseen, she might be able to hear them. As she slipped behind the screen they were already halfway through their beers.
She was in luck. There was an empty table on the other side. She sat down and listened. Her heart was beating fast, and she was ready to run if anything happened.“So you’re on for tonight?” Zakes asked Mzi. “And Ntombi? She knows nothing?”
“Nothing,” said Mzi. “She doesn’t suspect anything.” Then Mzi actually laughed. “I never thought she’d be fun, when you asked me to keep her busy. I can’t imagine her giving you a hard time.”
“She was just getting in the way, cramping my style with her sour looks when I was with her beautiful mother. I know she suspected me of something – I could feel it, the way she looked at me like I was a criminal. The more she’s out with you, the less she’s at home, snooping around. A guy like you, I knew she’d fall for you. Not that she deserves your good looks. She’s never managed to get a boyfriend.”
“Well, she’s got one now. A good looking one – and she’s head over heels. I can get her to do anything. You know girls. They are really stupid when they fall in love. And she’s fallen in love with me.” Mzi threw back his head as he took another gulp of beer.
Ntombi couldn’t believe what she was hearing. Zakes had asked Mzi to go out with her? To get her out of the way? She wanted to run away and stay in her house forever. But she needed to hear more.
“Well good luck to you,” said Zakes. “But I tell you, women are difficult. Try being married and having an affair! God, you know how many times I’ve almost called my wife the name of my girlfriend and vice versa. Ntombi’s mother was fun at first but now she’s getting way too demanding. She wants to see me more often. It’s all, ‘Where are you going? Where have you been?’ And my wife’s always trying to get hold of my cellphone to check my messages.”
Ntombi felt the anger welling up inside her. This cheating bastard had a wife whom her mother knew nothing about – who he went home to after taking her mother out, and telling her lies. And Mzi? He didn’t love her. He had been playing her all along.
“But Ntombi’s mother doesn’t suspect anything?” It was Mzi again.
“Not a thing. She thinks I’m at a car rep conference.”
“You could say that – in a manner of speaking,” laughed Mzi.
“I told the wife I was at a church meeting.”
“And she believed you?”
“So where’s the next hit?”
“There’s a parking lot behind the Checkers at that Westend Mall. It’s dark, no lights, and Siya’s got a job there now as a guard. Says there’s a guy who parks his BMW there every day. The guy leaves work late, at ten, like clockwork. Only this time I’ll be waiting for him. We go there, collect the car and drive it straight out to the panel shop. That guy who owns it will never squeal to the cops. He knows what will happen to him and his family if he does.”
“You got the guns?”
“In the boot.”
“So, what we waiting for?”
“To finish my drink,” said Zakes.
Ntombi had heard enough. They were about to leave. She took off her high-heeled shoes and started to run. She must have run four blocks before she stopped, out of breath, and took a taxi back to her neighbourhood.
It was all true. She felt ill, and cheap, with that stupid wig and her shoes in her hand, her stockings ripped. She pulled off the wig that was falling over her eyes, now blurry with tears. She had seen Mzi’s true colours and they were dark and dangerous. Zakes wasn’t forcing him to work for him. He wanted to. Hadn’t he laughed when Zakes had joked about her and her mother? There was no going back to how things had been. This was the harsh truth and she would have to deal with it. But what was more important now was finding Olwethu before he left. They had to go to the police now – not wait until tomorrow. She knew where the hit was going to happen – tonight. That was all that mattered now.
Ntombi wiped the tears away and walked the last few metres to Olwethu’s house in her ripped stockings. It was getting late and she suddenly felt terribly cold. She knocked on the door and waited. “Please be here,” she prayed. “Please!” She couldn’t go back home, not looking like this. What if Zakes was there on his way to his late night assignment? What if her mother found out she’d been to Mama’s by herself, looking like this? Then she heard footsteps and the door opened. Olwethu looked at her in disbelief.
“I can explain,” Ntombi said quickly. “Something’s happened. We need to call the police now.”
“What did he do to you?” Olwethu said quietly, but with an edge to his voice. “Tell me where Mzi is.” He was already half way out the door. And Ntombi could see that he wouldn’t stop until he found him.
“No,” said Ntombi. “He did nothing. Can I come in? I need to talk to you.” And then she was crying again and Olwethu had his arms around her. He pulled her against his chest. “Ssh!” he whispered into her hair. “It’s going to be okay. You’re going to be okay. You’re with me now. I won’t let anybody hurt you.”
“It’s not me they are going to hurt,” she sobbed. He led her to a chair in the corner.
“Sit down here. I’ll make you some sweet tea.” She nodded. Suddenly she felt safe. Safe and warm – like she’d come home. After a few sips of tea she started to tell Olwethu about Zakes and Mzi, the cellphone, her plan and her trip to Mama’s.
“Do you know how dangerous what you did was?” Olwethu’s face looked horror-struck. But she ignored that.
“It’s going to happen tonight. We have to tell the police.”
“And you’ll have to tell your mother,” said Olwethu. “She has to know now.” Ntombi got up to go.
“How are you feeling now?” he asked her.
“I’m fine,” said Ntombi. “Really, I’m okay.”
Olwethu walked her home and she gave him a hug by the door. “Stay inside. Don’t go out,” he told her. “And when your mother comes home, tell her what has happened. I’ll come when it’s all over.”
“Okay,” said Ntombi.
“I got you this.” Olwethu handed her a small can that fitted into the palm of her hand.”
“What is it?”
“It’s pepper spray. I got it in town. One spray in the eyes will buy you time, if you are ever in trouble.”
“Thanks,” said Ntombi, slipping the can into her pocket.
“And remember, if Mzi calls, act normal. Promise me you won’t leave the house?” She nodded. He leant over, kissed her on the cheek, and then was gone.
Ntombi went in and locked the door. It was nearly eight o’clock and her mother still wasn’t home. Zinzi was watching TV. “You look a mess,” she said to Ntombi. “Where have you been? Out with your new boyfriend again?”
“None of your business,” said Ntombi quickly, disappearing into the bedroom.
“Hey, I’m just going out to the spaza to get some milk,” Zinzi called after her.
“Don’t be long. It’s getting dark,” Ntombi warned as she heard the front door slam.
She was wiping the last traces of make-up off her face when her cellphone lit up with a message. Her heart thudded in her chest – it was Mzi.
I nid 2 tlk 2 u.
The letters glared at her in green on the screen. Ntombi felt cold. What did he know? Had he found out? Then another message came through: