Ntsiki looks at Themba as though he’s a flying, striped cow, blinks, then blinks again. “Haaayi, uyageza wena! You won’t get another bite of the cherry.”
“What are you talking about? I didn’t ask to share your lunch.”
“I’m not talking about my lunch – it’s an expression. I can’t give you another chance.”
“Can’t, or won’t?” Themba edges closer to Ntsiki.
“Can’t … won’t … same difference. You won’t hurt and humiliate me like that again. Never ever!” Ntsiki puts down her sandwich and folds her arms across her chest.
“Uxolo, Ntsiki. I’m really very sorry,” Themba says, reaching out to touch her, but she pulls away. “I was a fool. You scared me with your AIDS talk.”
Ntsiki clicks her tongue. “What’s there to be scared about? Being HIV positive is no longer a death sentence – if you take your meds, and look after yourself,” she says. “I have an aunt who is positive, and she’s living a full and active life.”
“Ja, I know that now. I went for the test,” Themba says with a toothy grin.
“You did?” Ntsiki’s eyes widen. “That’s brilliant.”
“I have you to thank for that, and I want to show my appreciation. Please, give us another chance. I miss you.”
“I don’t know, Themba. I’m glad you got tested and you’re okay, but you hurt me.”
“I know. I was an idiot. Let me walk home with you after school. What do you say? An innocent walk?”
He lives across the street from me – there’s no dodging him, thinks Ntsiki. “I’ll think about it.”
* * * * *
During the final period of the day, Ntsiki’s phone vibrates in her blazer pocket. She rolls her eyes skyward.
Was looking 4 u during breaks. Please 4give me.
She reads the message from Taylor, but before she can respond, another comes through.
Let’s do sumthing afta school. My treat; I miss u.
Ntsiki smiles and starts typing a reply.
I miss …
But then she deletes it and types a different message.
Sorry I’m busy.
You disappointed me, Tay, she thinks.
Next tym. Not taking no for an answer.
* * * * *
After the bell peals, announcing the end of the school day, Ntsiki rummages in her bag for her house keys.
“Those keys still playing hide-and-seek with you?” Taylor leans against Ntsiki’s desk, smiling.
“Yeah. Anyway, see you around,” Ntsiki grunts as she fishes the keys from her bag. “I gotta get home.”
“I know you’re still upset with me, but I’m not giving up on our friendship.”
“Sure. But I gotta go. Bye.” Ntsiki turns away from Taylor and sprints from the classroom.
At the school gate, Themba straightens up when he sees her approaching.
“Hey.” He falls in step beside her.
Behind them, Taylor looks on and shakes her head. I hope you know what you’re doing, my friend, she thinks.
“So, I’m walking with you, right? You didn’t say no.”
“And if I said no?”
“I’d still walk with you. Your head might say no, but your heart says yes – and you have a big heart.”
Ntsiki smirks. “Oh! You’re a mind reader now?”
Themba takes Ntsiki’s hand in his. “Haibo!” She pulls her hand away. “You’re being forward.”
He chuckles. “It was worth a try. I won’t stop trying.”
“Oh really? What about Lilitha?”
“Well … uhm … it’s like … I was like … err … using her to make you jealous.”
Ntsiki shakes her head. “That’s not nice – using her like that. And I wasn’t jealous, you hurt–”
“I said I’m sorry, Ntsiki. I’ll say it a thousand times if that will make things better between us. Ndixolele.” Themba drops down onto his knees in front of her. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry…”
A group of girls passing by bursts out laughing. Ntsiki looks up and spots Lilitha hurrying to pass them – tears glistening in her eyes.
“Uxolo, Ntsiki. I made a mistake.”
“You can’t hurt people and just say you’re sorry. ‘I’m sorry’ isn’t a plaster, Themba.”
Tell us: Do you agree that Themba says ‘I’m sorry’ too easily after he has hurt someone, just to get his own way? Has he changed?