I ran into the village and found Ledimo, Tebatšo’s adopted brother, busy cutting the lawn, singing. A group of taxi drivers were playing a card game under the corrugated zinc shade. Ledimo switched off the lawn mower and hurried towards me as I greeted him.

“You?” he glared at me with a frown.

“I want to speak to Mr Lamola. I have a message for him,” I forced a smile.

He swivelled around, ready to leave. “Madala doesn’t hire drivers. He doesn’t have time for stupid complaints from silly employees like you. He is sick and needs peace of mind. Just go, mfo,” he said, sauntering away. “Via!”

“It’s about Tebatšo! I know where she is,” I called out.

He stopped mid-stride, then swung around. “Which Tebatšo?”

“His daughter. The missing one,” I explained.

“Are you crazy, mfo? I can’t believe how desperate you are,” he was annoyed.

“I’m not. It’s true.”

I didn’t see the punch coming until I was on the ground and Ledimo was standing over me. He kicked me and blood spurted from my nose. I screamed. Taxi drivers came running.

“What’s going on here?” they shouted.

“He tried to con us out of the R20 000 ransom money to find Tebatšo,” Ledimo kicked me hard on my legs. Then the other taxi drivers joined in. They started kicking me like a stray dog. I screamed, begging for mercy. No-one listened. Ledimo kicked my mouth with his safety boots every time I tried to speak.

It was obvious that they had only one intention – to kill me before the police got their hands on me.

“Hey! What’s going on? Why are you killing the poor man?” Tebatšo’s mother cried, approaching. They all stopped and looked at her.

She knelt in front of me, her arms spread wide to try to shield me from them. In that moment of distraction I got up and ran for my life but they chased me with sticks. Young people on the street joined in, shouting, “Vimba!”

I dashed back to the bushes. Maybe if they could see her with their own eyes, they would listen to my story. Some threw stones at me. My head was bleeding. I started feeling dizzy. The pain was unbearable, but I couldn’t let it stop me. I dashed like a mad man and they kept on coming, shouting.

Finally, I arrived at the hut. The old lady was still outside, busy with the wood. She never turned, even when I screamed for help. I turned back. The drivers were nowhere to be seen, but their voices filled the air. I ran into the hut and closed the door, my heart pounding.

“Where did he go?” I heard them asking with frustration, just outside the entrance.

I felt my way to the bed in the dim light and sat down next to Tebatšo, who was sitting just as she had done before. Her arms were still clutched around her long thin legs and she was shaking.

Then, suddenly, the door creaked open and I saw Ledimo peering inside, his hat low over his eyes. My guts tightened as our eyes locked.

“Is he there?” somebody from the mob shouted. “What’s he doing in these evil mountains anyway?”

Ledimo glared at me with a frown. “No … There’s nothing here,” he said, staring at me with glowing eyes.

I sighed deeply as he turned and left. Their voices disappeared in the bushes.

“What happened?” Tebatšo asked, stroking my head, her hand as soft as a baby’s. The pain disappeared with her touch.

“They didn’t believe me,” I said, panting like a dog.

“What about my parents? Did you see them?” she squeezed my hand.

“Only your mother. She is the one who distracted them and gave me a chance to escape. But I didn’t get a chance to speak to her. Ledimo …”

Tebatšo jumped away from me as if that name terrified her. I decided to keep quiet.

Suddenly the voices came back. We both listened as the mob passed on their way back home, complaining about how uncomfortable the mountains made them feel.

Finally, the voices were replaced by the sound of footsteps. Then my heart nearly stopped as the door opened and Ledimo blocked the light.


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