“What’s wrong with you?” said Zinzi in the morning, as Ntombi re-did her hair for the tenth time. “Is the audition today?”
“Yes,” lied Ntombi. The last thing she wanted was her nosy little sister pestering her about Mzi. She wouldn’t leave them alone. It was bad enough they had to take the same taxi. But luckily, before they got to the taxi Zinzi was swooped along by a crowd of girls from her class. They were all giggling and looking at something one of them had written on Mxit. Zinzi didn’t notice Ntombi getting onto the taxi.
Mzi said something to the guys on either side of him, and they moved to make room. She couldn’t believe they were moving out the way for her, Ntombi, who had never drawn the attention of any of them before. Now she felt really proud to be sitting next to Mzi – so this is what it felt like to be someone’s girl. She thought she liked it.
“I missed you,” he whispered to her. She was very conscious of his thigh pressing against hers. It was warm and muscular. He was strong. He would protect her. “Did you have sweet dreams?” he asked. She smiled at him. Suddenly she couldn’t speak. It was like the words caught in her throat. She knew what she wanted to say, but she worried that she would sound uncool. So she smiled instead.
“Hey, have you decided about Thabiso’s?” he asked.
“Not yet. I’m still thinking about it. ” She smiled. She was pleased with herself, for playing hard-to-get. She didn’t want him to think that she was too easy.
“Did you hear that?” He turned to his friends. “She’ll ‘think about it’. You’d better,” he said. “You see, nobody else will do. It has to be you.”
He gave her hand a squeeze. As they got off the taxi he pulled her close to him. “I’ll pick you up at six.”
“You don’t know where I live…” she called out.
“Yes I do,” he laughed, and was gone.
Ntombi didn’t know how long she had stood in the quad before Asanda and Lettie found her. “You look like you’ve been taking drugs,” laughed Asanda. “You look like a zombie. What’s up?” She looked at Ntombi closely, then she let out a huge whoop. “Oh my God. You’re in love!” She turned to Lettie: “Ntombi’s in love.” They danced around her, teasing her. “Who is the lucky guy? Come on, tell us, we’re your best friends.”
Perhaps it would be okay, telling them, Ntombi thought. Wouldn’t they be happy for her? If they got to know him, they’d see what a sweet guy he was. She didn’t stop to think that she hadn’t got to know him yet. It felt like she had known him forever, although they had only spoken a few sentences really. “It’s Mzi,” she said looking Asanda in the eye. “And before you say anything, he’s not who you think,” she added.
“Can a leopard change his spots?” muttered Lettie.
“He’s not his brother, chommies. He didn’t do anything to Tilly – that was his brother.”
“I suppose so,” said Asanda, sounding unsure. “Lettie, maybe Ntombi’s right. We should give him a chance to prove himself.” Lettie didn’t look happy.
“I suppose he’s invited you to the party at Thabiso’s on Saturday?”
“Yes, he has.” Ntombi was so relieved that she had told them. They would all spend some time together, and then they’d see what Mzi was really like.
“Why don’t you come and have your hair braided with us? We’re going after rehearsal,” said Asanda. “You are coming to rehearsal today?”
“Yes” said Ntombi, “I promise. I’d be crazy to miss it. I mean, the audition’s next week.”
“How are the lyrics going?” It was Mr Ntlanti. He stopped in front of Ntombi on the way to his Grade 8 English class.
“I’ve got some ideas,” Ntombi lied.
“That’s good. I told Selwyn you would come up with something good.” Ntombi had a free period in second, as their Life Sciences teacher was absent, as usual. This was a stroke of luck today, because she could write down a rough draft of the lyrics. At least she’d be able to show Selwyn and the team something at their first meeting. She opened her book. There was the blank white page with lines just waiting for the words. But she couldn’t think of anything, except Mzi’s smile. It was like her brain had turned to jelly. She had never felt out of control before and it was quite frightening.
Love! Surely she could write about love? Wasn’t it what she was feeling after all?”
He winked at me….
He held my hand, he held my heart
I knew we couldn’t be apart…
I loved the way he
Surely she could do better than that? By the time the bell went she had only written four lines, and she had crossed all of them out. She would have to tell the team that she needed more time, and she’d have to work on it after school.
At break time Ntombi couldn’t help it. She found herself walking down to the sports shed where she had met Mzi the day before. She could hear voices as she approached and she heard a shout. On the street outside the school grounds a car pulled away from the curb and sped off – a silver BMW. As she rounded the shed she saw three guys with their backs to her. They were smoking, and one was counting hundred rand notes. She stood frozen. She should have turned and run, then they wouldn’t have seen her. But she couldn’t. Mzi turned and saw her first.
She raised her fingers in a small wave. He walked towards her fast, gripped her by the arm and practically pushed her back across the tarmac. It happened so quickly it took her breath away. “What were you thinking?” he hissed at her, and when she didn’t reply, he shook her. “What were you thinking? Why are you here?”
“I… just…” she stammered. “Yesterday…”
“Yesterday I asked you to be here. Did I ask you today? Did I?”
“No.” She felt tears pricking her eyes. She couldn’t cry. She wouldn’t cry. All she could whisper was, “I’ll see you tomorrow then?”
“Yes.” His voice went soft suddenly. He shook his head. “It’s just – you gave me a fright. If those guys had caught you there…I was worried for you.”
“What were you doing?” The words came out before she could stop them.
“Some business … old stuff … something I needed to finish. It’s over now.”
Then he was gone, leaving Ntombi alone. She walked back to her girlfriends who were walking back to class. “What happened?” Asanda asked Ntombi, seeing that her friend was upset. “And what’s this?” she pointed to the marks on Ntombi’s arm that were already bruising purple.
“I fell on the stairs,” said Ntombi, then felt cold inside. It was the first time she had ever lied to her friend.
Later Ntombi was in the taxi, sandwiched between the warmth and comfort of her best friends. The incident by the sports shed was fading as they chatted. She shouldn’t have surprised Mzi like that, she told herself. He was only protecting her from the other guys. What was she thinking, stalking him like that? And there were lots of silver BMWs – it might not have been Zakes hanging around outside Harmony High.