I’m jittery on Wednesday morning. We all are. There’s virtually no conversation at the breakfast table. I’m half-expecting Sophie to comment on our silence, but she nibbles her way serenely through her fruit and says nothing. If anything, she seems to be in an exceptionally good mood today.
As nerves churn around in my stomach, I can only be glad that she’s apparently happy and unsuspicious. I can’t help wishing it was a normal day for me too. A normal Wednesday, with nothing more terrifying to look forward to than a History test after second break.
I keep reminding myself that we’re not doing anything we could get into serious trouble for. Yet.
Yes, strictly speaking we’re not allowed to wander around Gumede House in the middle of the morning. Or at any other time, come to think of it. But since we won’t be doing the actual shield-pinching today, getting caught won’t be too serious. The only thing that worries me is that they might tighten up security if they do catch us, which would make it that much harder to take the shield for real.
I give myself a mental headslap. Nothing is going to go wrong. The most trouble we’ll get into is for returning from break late.
But even as it all churns around in my head, I know that today’s adventure isn’t what’s worrying me the most. My biggest fear is not that I will get caught and expelled from Brentwood, but that I will finally do or
say something bad enough to make Zach to break up with me.
It was touch and go last night. I’ve never seen him so angry. And with good reason too. Because let’s face it – I was lying to him, and have been since we first started dating. You can’t be in a relationship with someone you don’t trust, and I didn’t trust Zach enough to tell him about our plan. My only defence is that I didn’t think of it like that. Lael asked us all to keep it a secret, so I did.
Anyway I think I smoothed everything over, so with luck Zach and I can get back on an even keel now.
Just when I think we’re okay, I seem to do or say something to annoy him all over again. I’m lucky he’s put up with me for this long. I’ll have to be extra careful from now on because Zach is the best thing that’s ever happened to me. I can’t allow anything to mess that up.
By the time break comes around, we are all psyched and ready for our mission. James told me that Dr Hussein’s secretary, Mrs Anderssen, usually starts her filing at about 10am, and takes a tea-break at about 10.30. Our break ends at 10.35, so that basically guarantees that we’re going to get back to class late. Fortunately we all have different classes at that time of day, so it won’t be too noticeable when we all arrive late. It’s just Yasmin and Priya who are in the same French class, and they’ve agreed to stagger their return, with Yasmin hanging out in the girls’ bathroom for a minute or two to let Priya get back before her.
We make our way to Gumede House separately towards the end of break. By the time I get there, I
spot Yasmin keeping watch at the front door and Priya guarding the side door. Those are the only two entrances to the building. If anyone walks in while we’re inside, they will alert Nosipho who is standing at the top of the first staircase, and she will alert Lael at the top of the second staircase.
Since none of us knows the hoot of the Brown Owl, or even how to whistle through our teeth, our agreed method of alerting each other will be through BBM. And if BBM fails – and let’s face it, it’s been known to – we’ll just run up the stairs and whisper in each other’s ears.
James will be patrolling the fourth floor, which is where Dr Hussein’s office is. Dr Hussein is teaching matric English straight after break so he definitely won’t be around. In fact, the only people who should be in Gumede House right now are Mrs Anderssen, a couple of cleaners, and possibly the school secretary, Mrs Pieterse. Any boys who are off sick are more likely to be in the sanatorium than in their dormitories.
I’ve been elected as the person who will actually go into Dr Hussein’s office, mainly because James refuses to deal with anyone except me.
“I’m not keeping watch for those black or Indian girls, or for the Jewish girl either, so don’t expect me to,” was the exact way he put it. Needless to say, I didn’t repeat that to my friends. Of course I pointed out to him, for approximately the millionth time, that I’m black too, but I might as well have saved my breath. “Yes, but I know you,” he replied with one of his charming smiles.
I was left wondering what I was doing trusting a guy like that. And, more importantly, how I knew, somehow, that he wouldn’t let me down.
“Nobody has come in or out for the last five minutes,” Yasmin reports as I head in through the side entrance. I see Priya giving me a thumbs-up from the main entrance, so I gather all is quiet on that side too. I walk up one flight of stairs and Nosipho greets me with a tense smile.
“Lael just came down to tell me that Mrs Anderssen and Mrs Pieterse are definitely both up there. And she says she can hear other voices too, so be careful.”
“Other voices like who?” I hiss back. Other voices were most definitely not part of the plan.
“She didn’t know.”
“Okay, well maybe it’s a good thing,” I whisper. “If Mrs Anderssen has company, she might spend longer at her tea break.”
“If there are too many people wandering around, you’re likely to get caught.”
“Thanks for pointing that out. Very comforting”
“I don’t know about this, Trinity. Something doesn’t feel right. I think we should cut our losses and come back another day.”
“We can’t. If we’re going to get it done this term, we can’t waste any more time. We have to do the practice run today.”
“Well, like I say, be careful.”
“I will,” I promise, and head past her up the stairs to where Lael is waiting.
“I heard about the other voices,” I say as I get to her. By now I’m basically just mouthing the words.
“Don’t freak out,” she mouths back. “It’s just Mrs Pieterse and one other person. Or two at the most. But James will definitely be keeping watch, won’t he?”
“Okay, then you’re good to go. It’s all quiet at the moment.”
Walking on tip-toe and clutching onto the banister for dear life, I creep slowly up the stairs. Gumede House is the oldest building in the whole school. Its wooden staircases are even older than ours in Sisulu House. And, as I’m just discovering, they have a nasty habit of creaking.
When I get to the fourth floor, I pause on the top step and very slowly poke my head around the corner to look left and right. To the right are the Grade 11 dormitories, and to the left are Dr Hussein and Mrs Anderssen’s side-by-side offices. Mrs Anderssen’s door is standing open. Score one for James.
Now she is either sitting in her office and about to ask me what I think I’m doing creeping around the boys’ boarding house at this time of day, or she’s safely in the teachers’ lounge enjoying a cup of tea. I really need to know which it is.
With my heart thundering in my chest, I step into the corridor. Where the heck is James? He must be around here somewhere.
“James?” I whisper as loudly as I dare. “James, are you here? It’s Trinity.”
I wait a moment, trying to hear over the roaring in my ears. Nothing.
“James?” I say again, a little desperately.
A murmur of conversation and a little ripple of laughter reach me from somewhere on the floor, galvanising me into action. I’m just going to have to stick my head into Mrs Anderssen’s office and hope she’s not in there. I need some kind of alibi in case I get
caught. I’ll say I’m bringing her a message from … uh … someone. I’ll figure something out.
I tiptoe along the passage towards her door, feeling like I’m about to detonate a landmine or something. Just as I’m about to peer into her office, something makes me look up. There’s a door diagonally opposite me. The top half is glass and the bottom half is wood. James is standing behind it, waving his hands wildly at me and mouthing something.
“What?” I mouth back, lifting my hands up in a frantic questioning gesture. “What’s wrong?”
Suddenly, I figure out what he’s saying – almost as if I’m hearing the words in my head.
“Go back! Go back!” he’s yelling. “It’s a trap. They know you’re coming. Run! All of you!”
Without hesitation, I spin on my heel and sprint back down the corridor. As I turn down the stairs, skidding like a cartoon character, I hear a woman’s voice behind me.
“Oh my God, Ronel!” she screeches. “You were right. There is someone here. Call the security company!”
At the words “security company”, I practically fly down the stairs, taking them four at a time.
“What the…?” Lael just stares at me open-mouthed as I barrel down the steps towards her.
“It’s a trap. Quick! Let’s get out of here.” I grab her wrist and yank her down the next flight of stairs with me. Now Nosipho is staring up at us, her eyes like saucers. I grab her wrist in my other hand and the three of us hurtle down the last flight of stairs together. Behind us, I can hear what sounds like a herd of Sumo
wrestlers chasing us down the wooden stairs. Very unfit Sumo wrestlers, by the sound of it.
Both Ronel Pieterse, the school secretary, and Mrs Anderssen are rather large ladies. If it’s only them after us, we should make it.
“Go straight back to class!” I hiss at Yasmin as we hurtle past the front entrance. “If anyone asks, you weren’t here and you know nothing.” I feel a small sense of relief that she doesn’t stop to ask questions, but takes off like a rabbit up the hill towards the school. Lael snags Priya, and the four of us dash back to the relative safety of Sisulu House.
“What? How? Why?” Lael gasps as we all finally collapse against the wall behind the laundry room.
I’m bent over with my hands on my knees, dragging air into my lungs in great, painful sucks. I’m so unfit it’s not even funny.
“You’re so unfit it’s not even funny,” says Lael.
“Well, excuse me!” I pant. “It’s adrenalin, actually. And you’re not the one who almost walked into a trap.”
“A trap?” Nosipho says sharply. “Are you serious?”
“Apparently. I got up to the fourth floor and there was no sign of James. Nothing. Nada. Zip. So I’m all like, ‘what the heck?’ Then I reckon I have to go ahead without him. So I’m creeping along to Mrs Anderssen’s office, praying I don’t find her sitting in it, when I spot James hiding behind this door. He tells me it’s a trap. They know all about us. And he was right, because then I hear Mrs Anderssen and Mrs Pieterse shouting at each
other to call security. I swear every hair on my head has just turned white.”
“I can’t understand it.” Priya shakes her head.
“That took years off my life,” I puff, slowly getting my breath back. “Years, I tell you.”
“Did anyone see you?”
“I don’t think so.” I try to replay the scene in my head. “They were behind us. I don’t think they actually saw any of us.”
“Listen, we’ll talk about this later,” Lael says. “Right now we have to get back to class. Remember what Trinity said to Yasmin – denial, denial, denial. Total ignorance and denial. If they can’t prove it was us, they can’t punish us.”