The wind whistles through the naked branches of the trees. It stings my face. I join Luntu on one of the swing sets in the park. I hardly slept all night in the pipe. We swing side by side without talking. It reminds me of Nozi in the park in Weide.
“It’s so cold.” I squeeze my hands together, rubbing my palms against each other for warmth. Luntu nods and continues studying the people who pour mindlessly into the streets. Nkele’s group is playing with a plastic ball and screaming as they chase each other. Street vendors shout for customers in front of the park; some leave their stands to roam around in the streets, trusting their children to stay on guard. One of the children looks so young, and I wonder whether he shouldn’t be at school. But then again, so should I.
“Catch!” Fetta yells at Simon, tossing a leather wallet in the air. Simon dives for it, just catching it before he shoots down the street and turns the corner past the park. An old man shouts curses as he runs after Fetta and Simon who are obviously faster than he is.
“Help!” He holds his hands against his head. Nobody comes.
“What are they doing stealing from an old man?” I ask Luntu
“It’s called survival,” she says, jumping out of her swing. “We need to do that too.” She stretches a hand to me as Nkele appears behind us. Bonga has disappeared.
“Fetta re u lokela ho kopana le bona nakong letheba kamehla u,” Nkele passes on the message. Luntu nods. She dusts the back of her pants as she explains to me what Nkele has just said. “Fetta wants us to meet them back at the crib. It’s safe now.” I am relieved that we will be going back. I don’t think I could spend another night in the pipes.
The boys are gathered on our corner. The police are no longer guarding the place and I hope that this time we will be free to stay in peace. I sit down besides Bonga on the floor of the basement. Luntu drops down beside me.
“Here,” Fetta shoves a half-eaten takeaway at us as they continue to chatter about what happened this morning.
“You see that left turn?” Simon chuckles and Bonga shakes his head at them. He wasn’t there. His eyes stare guiltily at me. I wonder if he’s ashamed by what happened last night. I have been wanting to confront him about his nightmares and his terrible burn scar but he seems to be avoiding me. Luntu steals glances at us.
“That old man would have never have caught us.”
They are proud of themselves but I feel guilty to be a part of someone’s misfortune.
“What are you thinking?” Fetta looks at me like he can read my thoughts. I can’t tell him that I am ashamed at us. They will think I am acting better than them. I know they are doing this for all of us. It’s time to tell them, I think, and take a deep breath.
“I have something to tell you guys.” My palms sweat. Luntu nudges my arm as if to say, go on.
“I left home because I’m pregnant.”
Nobody says anything.
“I’m five months’ pregnant.”
They all just stare.
“I found out when I was in George, before I came here …”
I explain and the silence hugs my words.
“It’s the entire reason I ran away. I wasn’t going to tell anyone. I wasn’t planning to tell you guys either.”
“Why you telling us now, then?” Simon asks as though he couldn’t wait to say something.
“I don’t think I was going to,” I say honestly.
“Then why now?” Fetta asks, but it is not in his interrogating tone I’ve come to know. There is genuine sympathy laced over his tone and it gives me freedom to say all my truth.
“I wanted to do an abortion. When I went to the clinic with Luntu is when I found out it was too late. I can only abort in the first three months.”
“And you’re five months now,” Simon says softly. I can see that he is still trying to process the whole thing in his head.
I nod. I can’t bring myself to say anything further. The silence almost judges me, but I keep my eyes trained on my broken nails.
Luntu squeezes my hand. I wonder how Mother would have reacted if I had told her the news myself. I had imagined a million possibilities in my head when my first choice was to tell the truth. I imagine her eyes squinting behind her black-rimmed glasses, regarding me incredulously. My head plays out scenarios in which she cries and I can’t stand it. I spared us both from all of that. I got scared. I ran.
Fetta, Simon and Bonga don’t judge me. They don’t say anything further and Bonga says nothing at all. I don’t know which is worse.
“What do we have here?” A booming voice catches us off guard and we scramble to our feet, panicked, thinking it’s the cops. But it’s a tall boy dressed in black with lots of piercings.
I can see that the others recognise him, and their eyes spell a fear I have never seen them have for anyone before.
“Steve,” Fetta says stepping forward.
There are other guys with him. They move close to Steve like they are guarding him. Their clothes are black too. Steve sneers as he closes the gap between him and Fetta. They stare at each other unflinchingly, angry, neither about to back down.
The rest of us are quiet as we stand trapped in our corner. Nobody will come to help us, we all know this.
“I told you I’d be back,” Steve barks threateningly at Fetta and I can feel the vendetta that dances between the two of them.
Steve’s locks fall over the red bandana around his forehead. He takes time to stare at each of us, one by one. I look at his big black boots that could kick us to pieces.
“I told you to leave me alone.” I pick up the unfamiliar fear in Fetta’s voice.
“I will not rest until you pay for what you did. I lost everything because of you,” Steve’s voice breaks with emotion.
Fetta’s jaws clench visibly. He gives Steve an unwavering stare, his hands curled into tight fists. “You know it wasn’t my fault Steve!”
“Leave him.” Simon moves forward, his fists tight balls too. Steve shifts his attention to him.
“Or what?” Steve spits.
Bonga pulls Simon back to where Luntu and I are huddled.
“I had dreams too, you know,” Steve’s voice breaks as Fetta looks at him like someone he once knew, but who has changed beyond recognition.
“And you,” Steve eyes flash to me and he comes over to where I am standing, dizzy with fear. He pulls a knife out of his back pocket and flicks it open, swiping the blade in front of my face. Bonga moves forward but stops as Steve flashes him a warning look.
I want to scream.
“Leave her out of this,” Fetta warns. Steve’s minions step forward preparing to fight. I feel a splintering pain in my lower abdomen.
“Please just let me go.” My voice is desperate as Fetta starts to reason with Steve.
“If you have a problem, just deal with me!” Fetta’s voice shakes with fury.
“Deal with you?” Steve snarls, “Isn’t that what you did? You and your family tortured people who were so close to me. You hurt me by hurting the only people I cared about. She’s innocent, right?” His knife slides against my chin drawing blood. I squeal as he wipes the blood with his finger.
Steve turns to face Fetta and watches as his boys start to jibe punches at the boy who used to be his friend. Fetta tries to fend them off, but they are winning. The others don’t do anything. They are too scared. They shrink into the corner and try to meld themselves into the dirty wall.
Then Luntu screams and in a flash Steve turns and I see him coming towards me with his knife. I close my eyes and wait for the pain. It doesn’t come. I think I am dead when I open my eyes to a pool of blood. It takes me a few more seconds to see Fetta lying in a heap on the floor.
“I’ll be back to finish you off!” Steve calls threateningly as he and his boys leap up the stairs.
Bonga hurries to Fetta’s side, lifting him up as Simon holds Fetta by the shoulders. Fetta dived in front of the knife that could have killed me. He saved my life.
“Help!” Luntu’s voice is earth shattering. Simon and Bonga are carrying a limp Fetta between them up the stairs and onto the street. No one comes. I run after Luntu.
The strangers on the street stare at us like we are demented. Cars pass as Fetta bleeds out of consciousness.