“Promise me you won’t leave the house,” Olwethu had said to Ntombi. And now Mzi was outside in his car, and she hadn’t stopped Zinzi from going out. If she didn’t go out to Mzi he would try to come in, and Zinzi was out in the street somewhere. What was the best thing to do? She felt in her pocket for the pepper spray.

The decision was made for her, because at that moment Zinzi bounced in, saying, “Your boyfriend is in the car outside. You better not keep him waiting. I told him you’d be right out.”

Ntombi took a deep breath. She would soon be performing in the Teen Voice auditions. But tonight she would have to give another kind of performance – and it would have to be the best performance of her life. Mzi could not suspect anything was wrong.

She checked that she had her cellphone in her pocket before she went out to greet him. The cellphone was the only connection she had now between her and Olwethu, and she would need it. She just prayed that her battery wouldn’t die, and that Olwethu had his phone switched on. They hadn’t thought that this would happen: that Mzi would come to her house first. They were both counting on the police catching Mzi and Zakes red-handed later that night.

“Hey babe.” Mzi stepped out of the car and gave her a hug and kiss. Ntombi felt sick because she was still attracted to Mzi, despite everything that had happened. How pathetic that was, she thought. She made herself think about the “other Mzi” – the cold, rough, cruel Mzi who had grabbed her by the arm, who was helping Zakes to rob innocent people.

“Come and sit in the car with me for a minute,” he said. Ntombi opened the car door and got in. She shut her eyes. This was a “beautiful nightmare” she thought, as he rested his hand lightly on her thigh. “Hey, I wanted to take you to a smart restaurant. Something classy,” he said, “but I’ve got to work later and I’m a bit broke.”

Lucky Mzi couldn’t read her thoughts right now. He seemed to think nothing was wrong. In fact he laughed. “I need the money, if I’m going to treat my girl right. But,” he turned to look at her, “I’ve got a surprise for you. I thought I’d take you somewhere else instead. I’ve got a couple of hours to kill, and I can’t think of anyone I’d rather be with right now.”

She could smell the beer on his breath, the beer that he had drunk at Mama’s while she sat at the next table, listening to their plans. She had been so close.

“Where are we going?” she asked, and her voice sounded shaky to her ears. She needed to keep calm.

“How’s your mother?” he asked, instead of replying, as he weaved between two taxis, hooting.

“She’s fine – Zakes is out of town for work.” She turned to face him, to watch his expression. “He’s gone to a sales rep conference. Evidently he’s doing really well at work, and they are thinking of promoting him to management.”

Then Mzi snorted, “Are they? That’s interesting. So your mother’s home alone tonight?”

“I guess so,” said Ntombi. Where was this going? Mzi had pulled up outside a shebeen. Ntombi had to think fast. If she could find somewhere private out of earshot, she could text Olwethu and tell him she was with Mzi and was in trouble. She guessed that Mzi might take her down to the river, once he had got beers. But she couldn’t be sure. What if he had decided to take her somewhere else? She needed to talk to Olwethu and see if he had told the police. But as she stepped out the car saying, “I need the toilet, I won’t be long,” Mzi caught her hand.

“Can I use your phone, babe?” he asked. “I’ve run out of airtime and I need to send a message.” She hesitated, but then she saw the look on Mzi’s face. “My own girlfriend won’t lend me her cellphone,” he said angrily.

Oh God, thought Ntombi, then said, “Of course. Here it is.”

“Thanks, babe. I mean your girlfriends aren’t going to call in the next five minutes, are they? And if they do I’ll tell them you are unavailable for gossip right now. But you’ll have lots to tell them later.” He smiled.

She had to go; Mzi was already asking the shebeen owner if his girl could use the toilet, and the owner handed her a key. “I’m afraid it’s a walk,” he said. “It’s round the corner at the far end of the yard.”

“Hurry back,” called Mzi. “We don’t want to miss the sunset.”

Ntombi was all alone. She crossed the yard and opened the door to a shabby-looking toilet. It was dirty inside and there was no toilet paper. What was she going to do? She prayed that no message would flash up on her screen when Mzi had her phone, or worse, that Olwethu would phone. When she got back, she handed the owner the key. Mzi was already waiting in the car, and he had opened two beers, and was drinking his. As she sat down next to him, she could sense something had happened.

“You got a message,” he said as he started the car and swung out into the road. They were definitely heading for the river. Ntombi recognised the trees they were approaching. She put the phone in her pocket.

“Aren’t you going to read it?” he asked – his voice had gone cold. Reluctantly she took the phone out. Please don’t let it be Olwethu, she thought. But it was from Asanda.

Hw wz da foto shut? I bet u lukd cool in da long black wig, ur mom’s red dress and stilettos – wats it lyk 2 b a movie star?

Mzi had read it, she knew by his voice. But would he make the connection to the girl in Mama’s Tavern?