I stay there in the shadows for a few minutes, needing the safe space before I make the walk home in the dark and face my aunt’s wrath for taking so long with her booze.

From where I’m standing I can see Gugu and Lindiwe sitting on
the bonnet of a flashy car, flirting with the two sugar daddies they left the
pub with earlier. I know a sugar daddy when I see one now. I can spot the type
a mile off.  I look closer and realize that these are not the same two
sugar daddies I saw the girls kissing last night. 

As I scan the area, trying to work out how I can leave the
shadows without anyone spotting me, I notice a group of older women with
scarves on their heads sitting at the long table outside the pub, chatting. I
get a lump in my throat as I watch them talking and giggling together, like my
mother used to do with her good friends. 

I feel that old ache in my chest as I hide alone in the
shadows, watching people who love each other and belong to each other. That
hollow feeling of having nobody who really loves me threatens to swamp me.

I pinch my arm. I need to get home safely! This is no time
for grief.

I realize I can use the happy group of women as cover. If I
tip toe out behind them, then neither the Minister, nor the girls will notice
me leave. I’m about to make a move when the two sugar daddies walk over to the entrance
of the alley where I’m hiding, and light up a joint. 

Their faces look darkly ominous in the dim light. They’re
drunk and loud. I shrink back into the shadows and can’t help overhear their
conversation.

“So I bought this girl drinks all night last night, and she
didn’t give me any!” the one guy protests. “I mean, what a user?” 

His voice changes from irate to gloating. “So I taught her a
lesson. I said I’d take her home – but instead I dropped her on the N2 in the
middle of the night. Left her there by herself. She was crying like a baby,
begging me not to leave her. Sweet revenge!”

My blood runs cold as I think of the escape I’ve just made
from the Minister of Finance. I could
have been that girl.

The hair on my arm stands on end as his friend roars with laughter. 

“That’ll give her something to think about, hey brother?
Teach her not to mess with someone like me.” 

They high five.

Horror bubbles up in my chest and the overpoweringly sweet
smell of dope nearly makes me retch. 

There’s a sudden uproar from one of the older women nearby.

“Hayibo!” she shouts, outraged, “I heard what you said you
awful man! You’re disgusting to treat a woman like that! You can’t get away
with that, it’s criminal behavior!”

One of the guys steps towards her, raising his arm. “Shut
your mouth old woman,” he growls menacingly.

There’s a flurry as her friends leap up and angrily crowd
around the two guys, shouting in angry protest. The two men stand awkwardly –
trapped and outnumbered by the united force.

“You think you’re somebody so important with your car, your
clothes, your money and your macho talk about treating women badly,” the woman
carries on shouting, waving her hands in the air as bystanders start to gather
round and listen with interest. “But you are worse than nobody if you choose to act like that. If anything happened to that
girl you have blood on your hands!”

The guy glares at her, not bothering to hide the contempt in
his eyes. 

“I don’t care what you think,” he says, with a disdainful
smile on his face.

She stares right back at him, sizing him up. Flashes of blue
light illuminate the street side as an SAP police van rounds the corner on its
standard township patrol. 

“We’ve got 10 witnesses who heard what you
said,” she says, gesturing to her friends. “Maybe you’ll care a little more
when we report you to the police.” 

The awful guy swears, his face instantly transformed by fear
as the police van stops next to the crowd. I can see the panic in his face as
he stupidly tries to make a run for it.

The woman neatly sticks her foot out and trips him up,
sending him sprawling with a crunching thud onto the potholed tar road. Her
friends all leap on top of him, and then they sit on him, pinning him down.

Gugu and Lindiwe are still perched on the bonnet of the car,
their mouths hanging open as they watch the women animatedly explaining to the
cops. The policemen cuff the sugar daddy, while the women are still sitting on
him. Only then do they haul him to his feet and load him into the back of their
van. 

The girls’ eyes get even wider as the van door slams shut
with an ominous bang.

Gugu and Lindiwe jump in surprise as the outspoken women unexpectedly
rounds on them.

“And you two girls must learn to use your brains! What kind
of guys are you choosing to hang out with?! I’ll tell you since you don’t
seemed to have figured it out for yourselves! The type that will buy you drinks
and drop you on the side of the highway to be raped or murdered if you don’t
sleep with them in exchange for buying you drinks and giving you stuff! If you
carry on this way you’re likely to end up being a dead nobody on the side of a
highway. And while your body is chilling in the morgue these guys will be
smoking a joint and laughing about it while they pick up the next two girls.
And that’s not the kind of guy who’s going to lovingly stand by a girl if he
gets you pregnant or gives you HIV. Think about it. Think hard. You can do so
much better for yourselves.”

Gugu looks at Lindiwe and blinks. They both look
like they’re in shock. And as I look closer I realize that Gugu is blinking
back tears.

I feel her pain at hearing the woman’s words. It’s like
having salt poured into a wound you didn’t even know you had. In public. And
that’s sore. Trust me, I know.

As I stand there in the safety of the shadows my thoughts
are strong and clear. I know what I need to do.

I think of my mother and this time it’s such a
relief that I can clearly hear her voice in my head saying, “You’re someone
special, Buhle. Hold on to your dreams and your hope.”

I wrap her words around me like a warm blanket, before I
step out from my hiding place and into the street. The Minister of Finance is
in the crowd that has spontaneously gathered to watch the street side drama
that has just rolled out. 

I walk over to him, look him straight in the face and say in
a voice loud enough for everyone to hear.

“’You’re as much of a loser as these guys. You
should be ashamed of yourself for thinking you had the right to expect
something from me just because you bought me drinks and I flirted a little.
You’re wrong to think that gives you the right to try and force yourself on me.
You’re way out of line.”

A murmur runs through the crowd. I’m not sure if that’s a
good thing or a bad thing, but either way it doesn’t really matter. What they
do or don’t think doesn’t matter right now.  Even though my heart is still fluttering with
fear, beneath that I really know what feels right and wrong for me.

I stand defiant, staring at the Minister of Finance, ready
to argue if I need to, but he’s just looking down at the ground. His face is in
shadow, so I can’t read his expression.

My back is straight and strong as I turn away
and walk over to Gugu and Lindiwe

“Hey my friends. I think it’s time we called it a night,
don’t you? Do you want to walk home together?”

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Do you think this is a
turning point for Buhle? Why?
    

***We’re publishing a chapter a day. Look out for Chapter 11 tomorrow.***