In the end, it’s like taking candy from a baby.
Gumede House is dead quiet. Practically everyone is having lunch in the dining-hall. The two boarding houses turn into ghost towns on the weekends anyway, as most of the students are weekly boarders who go home on Friday evenings.
James leads me confidently up the stairs. My heart is banging away in my chest and I’m wincing at every creak of the stairs. I wish I could master the art of climbing stairs silently, like James has.
When we get to the fourth floor, he tells me to wait and slips noiselessly down the passage to check whether Mrs Anderssen is still drinking her tea. In less than a minute, he’s back and giving me the thumbs-up.
My heartbeat kicks up to a roar as I tiptoe to Mrs Anderssen’s office and peep inside. Empty. Thank goodness. But the door between her office and Dr Hussein’s office is shut.
“She must have locked up before she went to tea,” I whisper, feeling disappointment crash over me.
“No, it’s unlocked,” James whispers back. “Try it.”
I turn the handle of the inter-leading door and smile broadly as it opens smoothly and silently. The key to the display cabinet is hanging exactly where James said it would be.
“It’s the small gold key,” he tells me.
I reach for the right key, and almost leap out of my skin as I hear a sound in the passage outside.
“What the heck is that?” I demand in a whispered scream.
“Nothing. Just a creak. Hurry! Get that cabinet open. She’s not going to be drinking her tea forever.”
My hands shaking, I slide the key into the lock and turn it. The glass doors open squeakily, and there it is – the Gumede Shield.
“Wait!” James says urgently as I reach for the shield. “The alarm, remember?”
“Oh, right.” I pull my hand back as though I’ve been stung. I was about to grab the shield and just yank it out of the cabinet. The alarm would have gone off, and the whole place would be crawling with security guards in minutes. I rest my forehead against the door for a moment as my pulse slows to heart-attack speed.
“What am I going to put in its place?” I whisper. “Pass me one of those books, won’t you?” I point to Dr Hussein’s bookcase.
But James steps back. “You must get it yourself. This must be all your doing. I can’t have any hand in it.”
I ease back from the cabinet and reach out to grab one of the books in Dr Hussein’s bookcase. Then I slide it carefully into place next to the Gumede Shield. Now that I look closely, I can see the two eyes of the infra-red security beam built in on either side of the cabinet. As long as the beam stays interrupted I’m okay, I remind myself. The alarm will only go off if they meet. The book I chose stands sturdily next to the shield.
I take a deep breath and slide the shield out of its former home. I feel a little glow of delight as I realise I’m holding it in my hands at last, and no alarms have gone off.
“You are a total and utter genius person and the best co-conspirator ever!” I whisper to James – almost drunk on the joy of the moment.
“Ja, you say that now, but you’ll be back to calling me a racist, sexist pig soon.” But I can hear in his voice that he’s just as excited as I am. “Now let’s get out of here.”
“I can’t just waltz out of here with the shield all on my own. It has to be a joint effort. I need to call in the other girls.”
“Trinity! There isn’t time. Mrs Whatshername is going to finish her tea break in about three minutes. You really don’t want to be caught with that thing in your hand.”
“Just … hang on a minute.”
I hold the shield out to James, but he just shakes his head and doesn’t take it, so I shove it down on Dr Hussein’s desk and scrabble for my phone in my pocket.
“What are you doing?” he demands.
“Calling the others.”
I type a message into the BBM group we set up to coordinate our shield-pinching efforts. It will deliver the message instantly to everyone.
I’m at Gumede House. Holding Shield in my hand. Come and help.
Move, girls, MOVE!
There. If that doesn’t get them here fast, nothing will.
“All right, let’s go,” I say, and start down the passage towards the stairs.
We’ve barely made it down two flights of stairs when I hear the thundering of Converse trainers approaching.
“Ha!” I say, shooting a triumphant glance at James. “I knew that would bring them running.”
He stops in his tracks. “Listen, this is your moment. You and the other girls. I’m going to split now.”
“No, please stay!” I say. “It’s all thanks to you that we’ve got the shield. You should be in on it.”
But he shakes his head and runs silently back up the stairs.
“Oh my gosh, I don’t believe it!” Lael says as she comes panting up to me, with Priya, Nosipho and Yasmin hot on her heels. “You’ve got it! You’ve really got it!”
“Let me hold it! Let me look at it!” Nosipho stretches her fingers out reverently to touch the scarred wood.
“Ooh, me too,” says Yasmin. “It’s much bigger than I thought it would be.”
“We haven’t got time for this, girls,” I tell them. “We need to get out of here quickly. I’ve done my part by taking it out of Dr Hussein’s office. Now one of you needs to carry it out of here, someone else must take it into Sisulu House, and then someone else needs to smuggle it into the display cabinet. That way it’ll be a proper group effort. I think that the last person should be you, Lael, because this whole thing was your idea. It’s only right that you should be the one to put it into its new home.”
Lael’s face breaks into a smile. “I can do that. Oh, yes, I can definitely do that.”
“Then let’s get moving.”