Five men had to pull the man from the dance contestant, and by then she wasn’t moving, but someone checked her pulse and they called the paramedics. Another person, swaying and holding a beer can, cracked a joke. A friend sat with the injured woman as they waited for help. The man who had done the beating was led away, spitting. “I’ll see you at home,” he was saying, and spitting, as he staggered off.
“It’s the same thing you know,” Leanne said to Nomthi.
“What are you talking about, Leanne?’ Nomthi was still shocked, her face in agitation. Campus life was leafy clean and it was quiet. She and Leanne had been right up front, they’d seen the whole thing like a movie.
“This. It’s the same thing as the chickens,” Leanne said.
“I don’t understand you. What are you talking about?”
“I just think there’s too much killing and violence in the world.”
Nomthi’s face settled. The shock had passed and she was now listening to her friend. Around them people still spoke in loud voices about the incident, and the staff of the grand hall were cleaning up, ushering people out apologising that the contest was over. No-one had won.
“I just think we’re no good anymore. Us people, that’s all I’ve been trying to say. And that maybe we should have some kind of a code to live by.”
“A code?” Nomthi furrowed her brow.
“Look at history. Look at all the violence of our history. Look at how we live. And the way we eat. The pig factory and the chicken factory. Look at how we kill.”
“Are you a vegetarian, Leanne? No more KFC?” Nomthi smirked.
“It’s not funny, Nomthi.”
The girls were quiet, the last to leave the grand hall, walk into the cold and begin the short stroll homewards.
“I’m just saying,” Leanne wasn’t going to give in. “What if I was like a hunter. With a code by which I operate, that I honour.”
“People already do that in the village, Leanne.”
“Well, we must do it here too.”
“Maybe we buy chicken from Mama Thando instead of Bright Star.”
“Those ones scratching in the yard? But then it’s more money.”
“So then I eat less chicken.”
“People will laugh at you, Leanne.”
“Maybe in the beginning. But I think one day they’ll get it. We need our dignity back, Nomthi.”
Nomthi thought a bit. She’d been studying and a friend had given her a quotation. She remembered it was Gandhi or someone important like that and he’d said, ‘The measure of a great people was judged by how it treated the weak and the vulnerable’. She slipped her hand around her friend’s shoulders – happy to be home.
“Maybe you’re right Leanne,” she said and smiled.
* * * * *
After the university break Nomthi went back to school, but switched to law instead of medicine. She wanted to defend people, like the woman from that night of the dancing competition, the one whose boyfriend had beaten her.
Deirdre had the abortion and spent a week away recovering and thinking. She stopped drinking and chose to rewrite her matric. She wanted to get a better result and maybe get into university.
Leanne continued her talks at Bright Star. The management got wind of it and fired her. She searched the internet. At first she volunteered and was eventually hired by an NGO working on how to farm animals without cruelty. Her family thought she was strange, but over the years she won them over. They slowly began to see her argument. Every Thursday is a meat-free day in their household.