“I am telling you the two can be blocked by an ace.”
I wake up to Simon and Bonga bickering about the game of cards again. I don’t know when I fell asleep, but I know that the fire died down at some point and the darkness fell upon our little spot.
Some mornings I wake up and miss my old life so much, even school. I miss being worried about whether or not my tunic is too long or too short. I miss being too lazy to iron my school clothes and the days when it was just me and Nozi and the biggest worries were what colour to wear to a party.
“Why don’t you just quit this game?” I ask Bonga, but he and Simon ignore me.
Fetta walks in with Luntu. They each have a plastic bag. Fetta looks like he is in a good mood and the smell of food fills the room. I don’t remember the last time I smelt food that good here. I only smell food like this when I walk past the shops in the street.
“Bozza!” Simon praises Fetta as he sits down in his corner, waving for us to come close. Luntu takes a seat beside him, dropping her plastic bag on the floor next to Fetta’s.
“Hi,” I greet her with a smile.
“Where you get all this food?” Bonga asks, gesturing to the plastic that Fetta is now opening, causing the aroma to fill the room. My stomach growls loudly. Simon laughs. Honestly, I don’t care where Fetta got the food. I’m too hungry. Being pregnant doesn’t make it any easier.
“We helped this man who seemed lost,” Fetta explains. “I don’t think he is from around here. I showed him around since I know this city like the back of my hand,” he adds proudly, taking out three takeaway boxes from his bag. Luntu takes out two boxes from her plastic.
“So he bought you food?” Simon chirps excitedly. Luntu nods.
“Who doesn’t eat beef?” Fetta asks, holding one of the boxes out.
“I think I would even eat dog meat right now,” I say and they all laugh.
“Let’s start with you, Popi,” Fetta says, passing the takeaway box to me. Fetta seems to have a new nickname for me every day. I think it’s because he often forgets my name. I argue with him on most days, but today I don’t fight him.
Simon helps Luntu hand out the remaining boxes to the others. We are all happy.
“Enjoy this now,” says Fetta, “because we have to move today. I hear the police are coming again tonight.”
“Hurry!” Fetta grabs me as we fly up the creaky flight of stairs. The police are evacuating the building again. They fire warning shots. I want to pee my pants. Other kids from upper corners of the building fly into the busy streets too.
“I have a plan,” Fetta promises as we disappear down our familiar routes. He always has a plan. I don’t know how we would survive without Fetta.
Simon whistles as we follow Fetta, turning left then right down a maze of streets. We end up in the park.
Fetta leads us to some huge concrete pipes in the corner. A boy hops out from one of the pipes and shoves his fists into his jacket as Fetta speaks to him.
“Nkele,” Fetta pushes him to one side so that their conversation is barely audible from where we are standing. I shiver. Bonga wraps an arm protectively around me and Simon stares disapprovingly at us. Bonga shrugs but doesn’t remove his arm.
I see Fetta shove something into Nkele’s hand. Nkele quickly hides whatever it is, glancing around nervously like a thief in the night. I don’t see what Fetta gives him, but it makes him nod a thousand times.
“You can sleep here tonight,” Nkele tells us as he returns with Fetta. I wonder how we are going to sleep and if we can all fit inside the pipes. They don’t look small but they aren’t big enough to swallow us all either.
“I’ll share with him,” Simon points at Fetta who quickly shakes his head, no.
“I won’t share with anyone.”
“I’ll see you in the morning then,” Simon says as he follows Nkele into the first pipe.
I squeeze into a pipe with Luntu and Bonga.
My stomach, which is getting bigger every day, is pressed against my breasts as I lie squashed up. The doctor said the baby should start kicking soon. Soon it will be obvious to everyone that I’m pregnant and, although Luntu has kept my secret well, I will have to tell the boys soon and I don’t know how they will react.
I feel Luntu moving restlessly next to me. Neither of us can possibly sleep.
“Sometimes I can’t sleep because I wonder if she’s out there, you know … my mom, searching for me,” Luntu says. “I wonder if she regrets giving me up. Does she ever search for me like I do every day in my mind? I would love to know her. I would love to love her, to be loved by her.”
“Maybe she’s still out there.” I don’t know how to make her feel better. Nothing about this place can make us feel better. Bonga’s feet stink above my neck, so I move closer to Luntu.
“I think my dad must have left her. Maybe that’s why she couldn’t keep me. You know, Aunty Rita was the closest I came to a mother. She sometimes brought me sweets. I would hide them from the others. What was your dad like?”
“He was tall,” I start. “He shaved his head.”
I hesitate. I don’t know what to tell her about my father. Then I remember a birthday that I will never forget.
“It was my birthday … I was turning eight. Father had come home like he did once a year. Mother had made a big deal out of the whole thing. He was supposed to come back with a cake. He had promised gifts too. We were done with decorating in the evening and even though I didn’t have friends to call, it was still going to be a party. Nozi was visiting her grandparents in Thembalethu. She couldn’t come to my party either. Mother went through all the trouble of buying paper hats and paper plates. It was fun, decorating with her; she was happy too.
“The evening wore off and we were running out of things to do. We were waiting for the cake. We had already finished all the snacks when Father came back. It was a little close to midnight. He smelled of an entire pub. It was the first time I’d seen him drunk. He didn’t have the cake. Mother didn’t say anything. Her eyes were full of tears as she tried to make excuses for him. Each year I hoped for a different birthday, but it was always the same – he wouldn’t show up.”
Luntu is silent but she squeezes my hand. “Goodnight,” she says.
“Stop!” Bonga cries out as I begin to drift asleep. His legs jerk, but he is still asleep. “Don’t do it! Please don’t do it!” he begs the intruder in his dreams.
“Bonga!” I shake him. His eyes don’t open.
“Please forgive us. We’ll leave.”
I shake him again. His eyes shoot open, staring wildly at me. I help him out of the pipe.
“It was just a dream, Bonga,” I try to reassure him as I hold his shaking body against mine. “Are you okay?”
He shakes his head. His jersey is soaked with sweat.
“They’re not here?” he asks, his eyes still searching around as though he is being chased.
“Who?” I look around too, uncertain.
“They’re not gonna hurt me any more, right?”
I don’t know what he is talking about. I don’t know anyone who might be after us, after him. Fetta is here – we should be safe.
I hold Bonga’s arm. I think of the burn on his legs. Is that what his fear is, fire? Is that what plagues his dreams? Did he burn himself when he was young?
“They …” he begins but stops and goes back to the pipe. He curls up inside it again and closes his eyes.
* * * * *
Tell us: What do you think happened to Bonga?