Zinzi and Babalwa got close to Olwethu’s house.
“You wait here,” said Zinzi. “This is private.”
“Your sister sent a private message via you?” said Babalwa. “You, who can’t keep one secret? Ntombi isn’t as clever as I thought she was!”
“Very funny,” said Zinzi. “Just wait. I’ll be quick.”
Babalwa leaned against the neighbour’s wall. “Hurry up!” she called after her.
Zinzi knocked on Olwethu’s door and his little sister, Linkie, came out. “Zinzi! I haven’t seen you for so long! How’s Ntombi doing in the competition?”
Zinzi gave a false smile. “Is your brother home?”
“Yes, but he’s just gone to fetch something from a neighbour. Come in.”
This was just what Zinzi didn’t want, but she felt she couldn’t refuse. Linkie held the rickety door of the shack open and in she went, politely greeting Olwethu’s granny, who was sitting knitting in the corner. The TV was blaring and bright, cheerful posters lined the walls.
“Hello, my child,” the old lady said, putting down her knitting.
“It’s Ntombi’s sister,” said Linkie.
“I know who it is,” said the granny, “And she has a name of her own, Linkie. Hello, Zinzi.”
Zinzi felt that the granny’s wise, old eyes could see right through her. For a moment she wanted to run away, but it was too late. Olwethu had come in.
“Hey, Zinzi,” he said. “What are you doing here?” His face looked worried. “Has anything happened to Ntombi?”
“She is coming to visit,” said the granny. “Make her some tea.”
“No, thank you, Gogo. I have a friend waiting. I must go,” said Zinzi.
Olwethu followed her out of the room. “How is Ntombi? I haven’t managed to speak to her lately. And now my phone charger’s not working.”
“Well, it’s just that a funny thing happened. I’m sure it’s nothing,” she said.
“What?” She could hear the anxiety in Olwethu’s voice.
“No, it’s really nothing.”
“You can tell me,” he said.
“Well … it’s just that when I phoned Ntombi the other evening she didn’t answer the phone.”
“She’s been very busy …”
“No, I mean she didn’t answer the phone, but someone else did. A guy. Then he passed it to her. I couldn’t really hear very clearly. There was music playing in the background – sounded like they were in a club.”
“Maybe they were just practising together,” said Olwethu. But Zinzi could see the doubt in his eyes.
His face closed. “Is that really all you came for?”
She nodded. Suddenly she felt dirty inside. He closed the door, hardly saying goodbye – polite Olwethu who was always kind, even to little sisters. For a moment she wanted to re-wind, to wipe out what she had done. She had seen pain in Olwethu’s eyes. But she told herself that he ought to know the truth, however much it hurt.
“Looked like you gave him bad news,” said Babalwa. “I could tell he was upset from here.”
“Oh, shut up, I don’t want to talk about it,” Zinzi snapped angrily, and the girls walked home in silence.
Later, when she got home, she told her mother she was desperate to phone her sister.
This time Ntombi answered the phone. “Hey, I’m glad you phoned,” said Ntombi. “I’ve run out of airtime and I have news you won’t believe! I want you to tell Olwethu to phone me … and the giraffes too. Uyaqonda?”
“What is it?” asked Zinzi, already jealous.
“Loyiso is coaching us tomorrow.”
“The one and only …”
Zinzi couldn’t contain her jealousy. “How’s your new boyfriend?” she said meanly.
“Alex isn’t my boyfriend. He’s just one of the contestants,” said Ntombi. “How many times do I have to tell you? Are you stupid or what?”
“That’s not what it sounded like to me,” said Zinzi.
“Zinzi, please ask Olwethu to phone me,” begged Ntombi.
“What girlfriend has to tell her boyfriend to phone her? Only one who’s lost him. Well, sista, don’t say I didn’t warn you. You’re not the only one who’s moved on.” Ntombi sat, stunned.
Then Zinzi spoke again. “You know that saying, ‘When the cat’s away, the mice will play’…?”
Ntombi switched off her phone.