Mzi had turned off the road and they were bumping down the dirt track between the trees. “I didn’t want us to miss the sunset,” he said. Ntombi looked at the red ball sinking below the horizon, and all she could think of was that it would be dark soon. She would be alone with Mzi in the dark and there was no way she could text Olwethu now. Mzi parked the car and they got out. “Here, come sit with me.” He took her hand and helped her up onto the bonnet. He was acting like nothing was wrong. “Cheers.” She took the bottle and clinked it against his. “To your photo shoot,” he said. ”I thought you would have told me about such a big thing in your life? Why so secretive?” he asked. So he had read Asanda’s SMS.
“You know how it is,” said Ntombi slowly. She had to stay calm, and think fast. “I don’t know what will happen yet. The music producers might not like the photos. I didn’t want to jump the gun.”
“And you wore a black wig?” His hand was stroking her hair.
“They wanted different looks. Like natural, and then something different, so I borrowed Asanda’s wig.” She took a sip of beer. She needed to get him off the subject fast. He was on his second beer, and she wasn’t sure how many he had had earlier. Suddenly he pulled her towards him and started kissing her. She tried to respond, but her body was tense.
“What is it this time?” he asked. “I thought we’d got through that? I’m only trying to kiss you – am I that bad? Or is it your music producer you’ve got eyes for now? Am I not good enough for you?”
“No,” Ntombi shook her head. “I’m sorry, I just – it’s just nerves. You know, waiting to hear whether they like the photos or not. It’s put me all on edge.”
“Well, I’m glad that’s all. I thought it was me.” Mzi laughed, but Ntombi knew the laugh was false. She leant into him. It took all her strength to kiss him on the cheek. He was staring ahead of him. The sun had gone down and it was dusk. Soon it would be pitch black.
“You know, a funny thing happened to me early this evening…and then when I read your message from Asanda, well, it made me think. Before I came to your house I was at Mama’s. There was a woman there. She had long black hair and was wearing a red dress and stilettos – she wasn’t very friendly. In fact she didn’t give my friend, Zakes, the time of day when he asked for a light. I wondered why she looked so familiar.”
Ntombi waited, holding her breath. She put her hand in her pocket and felt the pepper spray she had brought with her. But would it be enough? Would it just make him angrier? And there was nowhere she could run to out here. Then she saw his car keys lying on the bonnet between them, and she knew what she had to do. She slid her hand over and made a tight fist around the keys.
“I don’t know what you are talking about,” she said, trying to sound light-hearted as she slipped the keys in her pocket. Her hands were shaking. “Anyway, you said you didn’t know Zakes.”
Mzi gave a laugh. “Thought I’d get to know your family,” he said. “But back to that girl,” he said threateningly. Ntombi’s mind was racing. She needed to get him away from the car.
“Oh, stop talking. Let’s go down to the river,” she whispered, trying not to let the fear in her voice show.
His face changed as he gave a big leering smile. “I know just the spot.” He led her quickly across the dirt to a place under one of the trees.
Ntombi wondered how many girls he had taken to this place and had sex with under the trees. He started kissing her. They were on the rough ground now and the weight of his body was pushing her into the stones. He started pulling at her clothes.
“You’re hurting me,” she said, trying to push him off, hoping she could beat him to the car and lock herself in. But in response he just grabbed her arm and pinned it above her head. His face was angry, there was no love there.
With her other arm, Ntombi felt for the pepper spray in her pocket, next to the keys. She clutched it in her hand, not even sure which way the nozzle was facing. It was her only chance, now before it was too late. She pushed it between them and sprayed the pepper spray in his eyes. He cried out and rolled off her, tearing at his eyes. She got up, her own eyes burning, and started running to the car.
“Shit! You bitch!” He got up and lunged towards her, but she was faster as he stumbled blindly, trying to wipe his eyes, shouting out at her. She reached the car, jumped in and locked the doors, just as he came across the grass in the dark. She had never driven before, but she would have to now. She turned the key and the engine sprang to life. The gears ground as the car jerked forward, nearly hitting Mzi, who was still coming towards her. The car lurched forward over the bumps. It was out of control. She had only gone a hundred metres when she slammed on the brake by mistake and the car stalled. There were tears in her eyes. She reached for her phone and pressed the button: “The person you are trying to contact is unavailable please try again later.”
Ntombi looked in the rear view mirror. She couldn’t see anything. It was pitch black outside. Just then her phone rang. It was Olwethu. “Where are you?” he said. “What’s happened?”
“I’m at the river,” she choked.
“He’s here. I sprayed him with the pepper spray. I’m in his car, but it’s stalled.”
“Just lock the doors. We’re coming now,” said Olwethu.
They were the longest minutes of Ntombi’s life as she waited. By now the spray might be wearing off, and Mzi was probably nearby, coming towards her. Her heart pounded as she kept peering anxiously around, expecting to see Mzi emerge from the gloom. She felt for the spray, but she must have dropped it after she had sprayed him, because she couldn’t find it.
Then, terrified, she saw a figure looming out of the dark and she could make out it was Mzi. He had a rock in his hand – he was going to smash the window. His face was ugly now, his eyes red and mad.
Suddenly a car’s headlights blinded him. There was a skidding sound and a cloud of dust as a police van came to halt right next to him. Mzi turned, dazed, to see Olwethu and a policeman coming towards him fast. He started to run and the policeman chased after him. Olwethu rushed to the car. She couldn’t move. “Open the door,” Olwethu was saying. She managed to pull the doorknob up and he wrenched the door open and then she was in his arms, sobbing. The police put Mzi in the back of the van.
Ntombi told Olwethu that she couldn’t drive in the police van, not with Mzi in the back. Olwethu said he would drive them in Mzi’s car back to her house. He needed to warn her mother that the police were about to intercept Zakes in the Checker’s car park. They would catch him red-handed. It was time to tell Ntombi’s mother the truth.