“I don’t belong here,” Ntsiki mumbles, her eyes fixed on the dance floor.
“You belong at Akhona’s birthday party just like any other invited guest.”
“Look at him showing off,” she sighs, tears brimming in her eyes.
“Just ignore him. That hurts him more.”
Themba’s dancing close against Lilitha when he notices Ntsiki looking their way. He places a finger beneath Lilitha’s chin and kisses her.
“All week at school I had to face this nonsense. Every time he sees me, he kisses her.”
“Then stop looking at them.”
“I’m going home! I’m not in the mood for this,” Ntsiki says, getting to her feet.
“Stop torturing yourself like this. Your heart is broken but you’re not dead. So don’t become a watered down version of yourself and just exist.”
“I don’t want to hear one of your philosophical lectures, Tay.”
“Tough titties. I’m being a friend and I will tell you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear. Or should I rather fill your head with lies?”
Ntsiki shakes her head. “I’ll see you on Monday.”
Taylor slides off her chair, shaking her head. “Fine. Let me find someone to walk with us.”
“No, stay! Don’t spoil your evening because of me.”
“Don’t move, I’ll be right back,” Taylor orders as she prances off.
Ntsiki steps out into the cold air. Tay means well, but I won’t spoil her evening, she thinks. She’s almost at the gate when she hears someone calling her.
“Ntsiki! Hey, Ntsiki, wait up!”
Ntsiki looks over her shoulder and sees Jakes running toward her … and Themba standing in the doorway, staring daggers at her. She remembers Taylor’s advice: ‘Ignore him’.
“What’s up, Jakes?”
Jakes almost trips over his feet he is so surprised that she knows his name. He rubs the back of his neck. “I’ve … uhm … been sent to walk you home.”
“You don’t have to. I practically live around the corner.”
“Oh, but I want to.”
“I’m not good company.”
Ntsiki looks at the door and notices Themba still standing there, glaring at her. ‘Ignore him’.
“I have to walk you home, not talk you home. Shall we?” Jakes offers her his arm. “This is how they do it in the movies,” he says with a grin.
Ignoring Jakes’ arm, Ntsiki bursts out laughing. “It’s your funeral. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
They walk along in silence for a minute before Ntsiki speaks. “I’m sorry I was mean the other day.”
“It’s okay,” Jakes says, looking straight ahead. “No, actually it’s not okay, Ntsiki.” Jakes stops walking and faces her.
“Oh … I–”
“But I understand,” he finishes.
“Thanks,” Ntsiki whispers, and they resume their walk, with Jakes stealing sidelong glances at her.
“You did the right thing, you know,” Jakes says after a few seconds.
“Yeah, I didn’t want to be a party pooper.”
“I’m not talking about you leaving the party. I meant asking Themba to go for an HIV test. You did the right thing.”
Ntsiki stops dead in her tracks, her eyes wide open. “How do you … ugh … the whole school probably knows by now,” she says with a deep sigh.
“Don’t know ’bout that. I asked Taylor why you were crying.”
Ntsiki’s eyes burn with anger. “She had no business announcing it to the whole world!”
“Hey now, she didn’t do that. She only told me because I asked. And it’s nothing to be ashamed about.”
“It wasn’t her place to tell.”
Jakes rubs a hand over his head, unable to find the right words.
“Anyway, you can go back to the party – ndihlala khona.” Ntsiki points to a house with a red door a few meters away. “Thanks for walking with me.”
“Any time, Ntsiki. I’ll watch until you’re safely inside,” Jakes says, a smile etched on his face. “See you soon.”
Tell us what you think: Was Taylor wrong to tell Jakes the truth? Is he right that testing is something to be open about, not keep secret?