Airtime looked sideways. The noisy security guards weren’t paying any attention. They were walking away down the other side of the street, laughing at a joke. They weren’t going to be of any help.

The door of the house that was being robbed rattled and opened. The kid stuck his head out and quietly waved at the big guy, who nodded back, and turned to Airtime.

“Are you going to cause us trouble?” he asked.

Airtime looked up. The man was at least a foot taller than him, and a lot wider. He loomed over Airtime like an overhanging cliff.

“You’re robbing a house,” said Airtime. It was a stupid thing to say, but his brain wasn’t working.

He looked around again for help. There was a guy wearing a peaked cap under a hoodie on the street corner a few houses down, watching them. Airtime was going to call out to him when he realised there was another guy watching them, in the alley between two of the houses. And another one on the corner at the other end of the street.

They were lookouts. A whole gang of robbers.

The man kept his eyes on Airtime as he slowly reached into his coat.

“Please don’t stab me!” said Airtime.

The big man raised an eyebrow in amusement, and took out his wallet. He pulled out a R100 note. Airtime couldn’t help seeing that there were a lot more notes in there.

“You saw nothing,” said the man, handing Airtime the note.

The kid robbing the house was still looking around the edge of the door, glaring at Airtime suspiciously. “Ssssst!” he said, trying to get the big man’s attention.

“Wait!” called the big man.

Airtime stared down at the money in his hands.

“What?” he said. “Why… ? “

“We’re always looking out for skinny guys like you.” The big man winked. “Think about it.”

The man put his wallet back into his inner pocket. As his coat opened, Airtime caught a glimpse of something metal hidden underneath. It could only have been a knife or a gun and Airtime didn’t like the idea of either.

“Vaya,” said the big man. “We’re busy here. Go!”

Airtime started walking. He could feel the man’s eyes on him. And all the lookouts, too. Watching him, ready to attack if he said anything.

“Kawuleza!” said the man.

Airtime started running.

Guilt burned inside him. Sbu would have said something, he thought to himself. Sbu always fights. But Sbu’s a lot stronger than me. And he doesn’t get mugged all the time.

Airtime didn’t stop running until he was back at the backpackers’, inside, and hiding behind the reception desk.

Image: Sam Wilson, CC-BY

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Do you think Airtime was cowardly, or was it sensible to get out of there? What would you have done?