That night, when Nandi is asleep, Thando heads to Phumza’s Tavern. The sign outside says ‘No under 18s’ but kids not older than twelve come out carrying alcohol.

Thando is overwhelmed by the sound: the music’s volume is too loud. He nearly gags at the smell of alcohol and cigarettes. Phumza’s Tavern smells like the father who abandoned them long ago. The people are unnaturally joyous.

I can’t ask these overjoyed people anything, Thando thinks. Waitress, I need to find a waitress. His eyes scan around and stop at Zip. She has been watching him since he stepped in the door.

Thando walks towards her. Zip walks away to the smoking area at the back. When Thando gets there Zip is nowhere to be seen.

Then he hears a female voice behind him say, “What are you doing here?”

“I need to talk to you. I need your help. I’m Thando, and my sister was last see–”

“I can’t be seen talking to you,” Zip cuts him off.

“But I need–”

“Shut up and listen to me,” says Zip. “Get out of here right this moment.”

“But–”

“Shut up, Thando! Wait for me at the corner of Paradise and Heaven Road. I’ll be finished in an hour. Don’t say a word when I walk past you. Then follow me to my place, but do it from a distance. Understood?”

“What?”

“If you do as I say I’ll tell you everything I know about what happened to your beautiful sister. Just not here. It’s not safe for both of us.”

Thando does as told. He is usually afraid of the neighbourhood at night, but not now. Not when he is on a mission to find his sister’s killer. He waits for an hour and a half under a broken streetlight. Finally, Zip appears and walks past him.

“Like I said, follow from a distance,” she whispers.

Thando does as he is told. He follows her until they get to a shack section. He walks down a trail in the darkness. When he loses track of Zip she flashes the screen of her cellphone to show the way.

“Stop,” Zip says when he gets to the gate of her shack. “Wait here. Let me find my dog first before he rips you to shreds.”

“Razor! Razor come here boy,” Zip calls out softly, as she goes to the backyard of her shack. She calls again; the dog does not appear.

But when she comes back to Thando, she finds him rubbing her pit bull’s neck. “That’s strange. Razor likes no-one,” says Zip.

The crow perched on top of her shack dives down to Thando’s feet.

Zip is amazed. Her face breaks into a smile. “They both like you. Come in.”

The inside of her shack is bare – just a stove, TV and bed. There is a skipping rope on a chair by the stove.

“You live alone?” asks Thando.

“Yes. But that’s not what you wanted to ask, is it? So, ask what you wanted to ask.”

“Was my sister really at Phumza’s Tavern on that evening?”

“Yes she was.”

“I find it strange because she did not drink.”

“She certainly looked out of place.”

“Who was she with?”

“Spokes and the rest of his lowlifes.”

“What was she doing?”

“Listening to Spokes and taking down notes.”

“What time did they leave?”

“It was late. Spokes was coming on to me in the smoking area at the back, but I sorted him out. When I got back inside I saw him going back to the table. Your sister was looking at a phone. She was shocked by what she saw. When Spokes got to the table he was angry. I could see there was a misunderstanding. Your sister had looked at the wrong phone. They both had the same type of cellphone.”

Thando nods. “Then?”

“I think she may have seen something she was not supposed to see on his phone, because they left immediately. Spokes looked real mad.”

“This Spokes, where does he stay?”

“I don’t know.”

“Have you told the cops?”

“I called them, I even went to the police station. The detective wasn’t there so I left my number. They haven’t called me back.”

“I see.”

“Now when I think of it, she scribbled something in her diary while Spokes settled the tab.”

“Her diary is missing.”

“Come with me,” says Zip.

***

Tell us: What might Zikhona have seen on Spokes’ phone?