The next afternoon Jabu walked along the road towards MaLulu’s house. He wasn’t sure whether to be happy or sad. He’d been called to an interview for a job at the local supermarket. Although he really needed the job, he was upset that he had not even had a reply to his application to the Scorpions. He really wanted to be a policeman, really, really, with all his heart, but maybe boys from this part of town didn’t get to become what they wanted.
In the meantime, he’d go and get a drink to help him think. Stella had phoned in the morning to say she had seen MaChipa – the men were coming to see her and John at eight that evening. It sounded as if they would be meeting the men alone.
“I don’t think they should be alone with those men, but you’d better speak to John first,” Stella said to Jabu. “Are we still on for six?”
Jabu’s mind was racing. He’d just remembered that he’d double-booked himself the night before. “You know, if I’m going to manage to speak to John before his meeting with the tstotsis at seven, maybe we’d better meet later. I’ll come to you after I’ve seen John, how’s that?”
“Jabu, was I born yesterday?” Stella’s voice had been calm. “That Luleka and her mother, they’ve been after you for months. You think I haven’t seen it? I heard that girl telling you about amagwinya and stuff. You spend too much time at that shebeen, Jabu. Go and find yourself a job instead of mooning around there. MaLulu just thinks you can look after her business when she’s old – is that all you want in life? Do me a favour and don’t pretend you aren’t going there for amagwinya at five.”
As usual, Stella hadn’t missed a thing. Jabu sighed to himself and kicked a stone out of his way. He needed to think. Besides, MaLulu gave him credit and her house was near his room. He would just have to ignore Lulu and have only one drink. Well, two, because it was now just past four, and bra Zakes was coming to meet him at five.
He opened the gate to the yard and saw that he was one of the first arrivals. He sat on a stool at the gate and saw Rosa and Miriam, the supermarket tellers, walking down the street.
Just before they passed the gate, Miriam stopped and drew Rosa’s attention to something on the ground. Miriam picked it up and shook the dust off it.
“Hey, Jabu! Here is a jersey that must belong to somebody who comes to MaLulu’s Place. Please give it to her when you go inside.”
Jabu took the jersey from them and flung it over his shoulder. He had more pressing things to think about than a lost jersey. It wasn’t his fault that Lulu was nice to him, he told himself. How could he stop her? That’s just how she was. And he really hadn’t noticed that MaLulu had plans for him. Could Stella be right or was this just the talk of a jealous woman?
“Hey Jabu, you came!” Lulu was not in her usual home clothes and apron today. Jabu could see she’d made a real effort. Her hair was newly plaited and it framed her face and showed off her dainty features. She wore a tailored two-piece suit and fashionable slip-ons, and she wore small golden earrings and a fine gold necklace. Jabu stared and then tried to recover as he saw her quick smile of satisfaction.
“Um … yes, but I’m just passing through … got some work to do. Um … just my usual.”
“No amagwinya? They’re ready.”
“Um … no, ngiyabonga.”
“Not even one? They are crisp and hot.”
“Well, just one then, but …” Lulu was gone before he could change his mind again. Jabu sighed. He was beginning to sound like an old man, he thought to himself. He decided to stop thinking about the impossible and think about Zuki and Chipa.
All last night in his room he’d been piecing together the bits of information he’d gathered, writing down clues and ideas that came into his head. He had decided to come to MaLulu’s early because he was sure he would hear some more bits of information from his fellow patrons, especially TomTom, whom he knew was a bit of a crook himself. If the police were unable or unwilling to help, he didn’t think that he should just stand by and let things get out of hand. Anything could happen to those kids.
He was greeted by a couple of men who were early evening birds like himself. They ordered two bottles from Lulu who had just brought Jabu a sizzling hot ligwinya and a mound of achaar. The sight and smell of Jabu’s food was too much for them and they ordered four amagwinya each with their drinks.
“Kunjani, Mfo,” greeted one of the men, whom he knew lived on the other side of the street, near bra John’s shop.
“Hayi, akuna ngxaki,” replied Jabu.
“Reutlwile ka bana ba John le Lulu. Kanti ba etsang ma poyisa?” his companion was asking between hungry munches.
“Nothing so far buti. You haven’t heard anything, have you?”
“Well, we heard some funny noises last night at TomTom’s place. He had visitors late last night. You know mos, his room is near ours but in the opposite yard. These guys didn’t sound as if they were from around here – in fact mtshana here says he knows they come from out of town. He’s had dealings with them before.”
“Ja, Jabu, I know them,” the second man agreed.
“They like to frighten people into paying protection money and now they’ve got their big fish lana, bra John. All along he’s been saying no. But then he got scared and gave in and now these tsotsis are getting cheeky.”
“But the problem is, what have they done with the car and the boys? No one seems to think they have left the area, but no one has seen them either,” said Jabu, taking a swig from his glass.
“But there is a car parked in TomTom’s garage,” said the first man. “We also heard those guys say that they were ‘going to the gold’. I’m not sure what that means.”
Jabu sat very still, his mind racing. Of course! He should have thought of it! Bra John had actually given him the clue himself! There was no time to waste. As soon as bra Zakes came, they would have to rush off and talk to John about the tsotsis’ visit.
Jabu felt happy … happier than he had been for a long time. He could hardly sit down now, his excitement was growing. He bit the remaining piece of ligwinya, but his heart was elsewhere. He took it out of his mouth and drained his glass instead.
“Bra Zakes!” He saw him about to open the gate. “Don’t even come in, Bra, we must go straight to bra John’s. Jabu grabbed the jersey. “See you guys,” he said to the two men.
Lulu watched him go and then saw the half-eaten ligwinya and achaar with the empty bottle. She tossed the scraps crossly to the chicken and its chicks.
“Luleka!” MaLulu’s voice came from the kitchen.
“I’m going with Zakes and Jabu to Uncle John’s house. There are more customers at the back. Will you make more gravy?” Lulu dragged herself back to the stove and her bag of onions, biting back the tears of disappointment.