After a few days I help my mother get into a taxi outside Bara. She’s still sore. We drive to Alex and she is very scared. I am too.
We get out of the taxi. We walk all the way down Fourth Street. People come out of their houses to stare at us and whisper. We walk through Stjwetla. People come out of those shacks and watch us too. They are the foreigners who can’t find anywhere else to live. Now they run for their lives when the Jukskei swells and bursts its banks some summers. They are the people, who the bona fides in Alex look down on, forgetting that they once lived there too, as shack dwellers.
My mother is weak. She sleeps a lot. Her boss gives her a week off but there is not much money for food. I walk to the shops and once I see Beno. He avoids me. I feel like a dying star. The flames on the surface of my sun burn softer and softer until all the light goes out. A dead star collapses from the inside. I stir the soup for my mother and I feel like I’ve collapsed inside.
I go to school, but I wait until S’bu’s gets on to the taxi. Then I catch the next one. Alison laughs at my bruises at first. I tell her I was in a fight. She may not say so, but I reckon that impresses her.
When I arrive home one day, I walk through my mother’s spinach and her weird red lettuce and I see her green beans are growing. My mother is so excited that they’re growing. I have to help her outside so she can look at them. She makes me take the hose and I have to water them. Mrs Malinga stares at us from her toilet window. I wait for her to say something. Then I’ll have an excuse to turn the hose on her. But she doesn’t say a word.
Now I go to school, do the shopping and water the garden. I pick the spinach and the red lettuce and the beans and we eat a good meal. I tell my mother she’s the only person in Alex that grows red lettuce. She tells me my father used to eat it.
There’s a knock on the door. It’s S’bu with some meat from his mother. Mbali asks me if I want to speak to him, but I say no. S’bu gives my mother a pamphlet and leaves.
“Dudu, you can’t be angry with that boy forever.”
“He made a mistake.”
“He made a choice, Ma. And it was the wrong one.”
She hands me the pamphlet. “Get ready, we’re going.”
I read it. I begin to feel cold inside. “No, Ma. No!”
“Yes, Dudu. That calls for all residents of Alex to gather together. We are bona fides. We belong in Alex. We have every right to be here.”
I refuse. We fight. I begin to cry. My mother grabs me and takes me to the veg garden. “Look at that red lettuce. Why’s it different?”
“It’s a plant. It tastes like spinach. It grows in soil. It needs water. Just because it’s red doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a right to be in the soil. Now put on your jacket.”
“Tonight we die, Ma. Serious. If we go there we die.”
My mother smiles like a warrior.
Do you think Mbali is doing the right thing by going back to meet the people who may have been involved in her beating?