The next morning she woke with a heavy heart. For a moment she couldn’t remember why she felt so bad, and then the memories of the night rushed back to her. She wanted to stay in bed and not see anyone. Reluctantly she got up, dressed and made her way downstairs for breakfast.
As soon as she walked into the dining room she saw Alex, and quickly went to the other side of the table. She saw Mahlodi look at her, and then at Alex, and lift her eyebrows in concern. Ntombi just put her head down to eat. She wasn’t ready to talk to Mahlodi about it all. It would be too embarrassing, too horrible. No, she would have to deal with this by herself.
The twins seemed to have recovered from the night before. They were their noisy selves, wearing bright white stretchy tops and short yellow skirts. Their nails were yellow, and so were their high-heeled shoes. It must be hard work to keep that up, thought Ntombi. Was it really worth all the hours of preening? It was fun every now and then, like when she had dressed up for the night before. She winced suddenly at the memory of what it had all led to.
As she got up from the table Dirk came up behind her. “Walk behind the twins,” he said. “Next to me. Act casual, like you’re talking to me.” Ntombi wondered what on earth was going on in his mind, but she did as he’d said and they made their way out of the dining room together. It confused her that he wasn’t even talking to her. He was being rude, dialling a number on his cellphone, waiting for a reply. She was about to pull away from him when she heard a phone ringing ahead of her.
“It’s Daddy’s spare phone,” said one. “You’ve got it, Lindi, haven’t you? I wonder what he wants now?” The other twin fished it out of her shiny little yellow bag. She took one look at it and cut it dead.
“Lindi,” said the other. “Why did you cut off Daddy?”
“It wasn’t Daddy!” the twin snapped.
“But only Daddy has that number,” said Sindi.
“So it was you!” roared Dirk, next to Ntombi. The twins spun around.
“What are you talking about?” asked Sindi. But Lindi said nothing.
“Those threatening SMSs that Ntombi got? They came from this number,” said Dirk triumphantly. “Give me your phone, Ntombi.”
She handed him the phone and he held it close to Lindi’s face so that she could see. She looked away.
“What a s’gedlembe,” laughed Sindi. “You should get yourself the latest one, like ours.” Ntombi looked at Sindi in disbelief. But she saw that Lindi didn’t look her in the eye.
“You know nothing, you can prove nothing!” Lindi spat, and then turned and walked away quickly. Sindi tried to follow, but Ntombi grabbed her arm.
“You can’t just walk away. I have proof – I still have all the messages.”
“We can take you to the police,” shouted Dirk.
Sindi burst into tears. “You don’t know what it’s like,” she cried. “Daddy will kill us if we don’t win the competition. And he can’t help us like last time.” She shook Ntombi’s hand off her arm. “I don’t know exactly what Lindi did. But she was doing it only because we have to win. And you have to let us win – you have no idea what will happen to us if we don’t!” and she started wailing loudly.
Lindi came back. “Shut up, baby!” she cursed her sister. “Stop talking.”
“Listen,” said Ntombi. “I will tell your father about these SMSs. And the police.”
Both girls’ heads whipped around in shock. “No!” shrieked Sindi, while Lindi started walking towards Ntombi as if she was going to hit her.
“Go ahead,” said Ntombi bravely. “Hit me like you hit your sister. You will only get into more trouble with the police. And with your father.”
Lindi shrank back. She looked down at the floor. “Please don’t tell him.”
Dirk and Ntombi looked at each other. “We’ll think about it,” said Dirk. “We’ll decide after the competition. Maybe you’ll be lucky, maybe you won’t. And if you do anything else – well then, you’ll be the ones going down, girls.”
The twins walked off, hissing at one another. Ntombi couldn’t believe she was feeling sorry for them. She remembered that field of roses from their father. They carried a high price, she realised. “Thank you, Dirk,” she said quietly.
“No big deal,” he said.
Mahlodi came up behind them. “What was all that noise?” she asked. Ntombi told her a quick version of the story as they got ready for the first practice. Mahlodi was shocked.
“I can’t believe they could do such a thing,” she kept saying. “They’re witches.”
In the flurry Ntombi had nearly forgotten about Alex. But there he was, waiting with everyone else for one of the final rehearsals. He looked down as she walked in, avoiding her eyes.
“Why don’t you tell me anything?” Mahlodi begged. “What else has gone down? Last night you were romancing, today you and Alex won’t speak to each other? Tell me, girlfriend?”
“Quiet!” shouted one of the coaches. “Ntombi, please start with your solo.”
Ntombi had to gather her strength to get through the morning. Back in her room at lunch time she found herself telling Mahlodi everything, laughing and crying all at once.
“Ah, girlfriend,” said Mahlodi, “I’m sorry. What a guy. And I even gave you those condoms.”
“Don’t remind me,” said Ntombi. “By the way, I threw the condoms at him,” she added. “You should have seen his face.” She couldn’t help giggling, with tears still in her eyes. Mahlodi joined her, and for a few minutes the girls fell about the bed shrieking with laughter.
Suddenly Mahlodi stopped laughing. “I can’t believe he is such a player. Well, maybe it will work out better with your boyfriend.”
Ntombi remembered the deleted SMS. “I don’t know. What if my sister was right?”
“And what if she was wrong?” asked Mahlodi. “What then?”
Ntombi remembered how Alex had answered her phone. What had Zinzi told Olwethu? Was Zinzi trying to spoil it all for her, because she was jealous? Surely she could not be so mean?
“Oh no,” she said to Mahlodi. “Maybe I’ve messed up. I need to get hold of him.”
She thought of Olwethu. How could she have believed what Zinzi had said without checking with him? Maybe she had chosen to believe it, so she could feel free to do whatever she wanted with Alex. Maybe Olwethu was waiting for her, loving her still. Or was it too late?