It was the day of the march and the school was gathered in the hall for assembly. Kele was standing with the teachers and the Principal on the stage, but she was staring down, directly at Odwa. She had found him in the mass of learners, and she was sending him all the rage she felt towards him.
“We will not attend the first three periods because we will be marching against school rapes and gender-based violence. We will start at the school and then join the march in town, before coming back here,” the Principal said.
As he mapped out the plan of action, Odwa’s heart was pounding.
Please, don’t let this be about me, he said to himself.
He began to sweat as the day replayed itself …
He had dated Masedi from Grade 8 and they been to the same primary school together. He had wanted their first time to be special, but his friends kept putting pressure on him. All of his male friends had slept with someone, and it was only he who had to ‘prove himself’ to the guys.
“You have to invite Masedi to the party, bru,” the guys had said.
“When girls are drunk, bru, the ‘yes’ is easy,” they continued, trying to convince Odwa.
He knew she wasn’t ready. They had talked about making love and she had said she wanted to wait until she was 18. But maybe the guys were right: after a few drinks she would change her mind.
At the party Odwa had four beers in quick succession to calm his nerves, and then he started on the Jack Daniels. He made sure Masedi kept up, ordering them both double shots.
By midnight she was barely able to stand. He took her by the hand to a back room, pretending that he was going to lay her down safely. But his friend Zakes followed and gave him a condom. “This is your chance, bru,” he said, and walked away.
Odwa began fondling Masedi. He found the side zip for her mini skirt and unzipped it.
“No!” said Masedi, pushing away his hand.
He hesitated for a second, then took hold of her skirt and began to pull it .
“Stop! Stop!” shouted Masedi drunkenly, as he took it off and threw it on the floor.
She was now wearing only her crop top and panties and she began to flail around, trying to find her skirt, still shouting at him to stop.
“Come on, Masedi, it’s me, your boyfriend,” Odwa said, trying to pull down her panties. He could hear giggles in the background as he managed to get her panties off. Then he pushed her legs apart and started unzipping his jeans.
At that moment, the giggles made him look behind, and there was his arch-enemy TK, in the doorway, filming everything with his phone.
“What the–? Get out of here, man! What do you think you’re doing?”
He jumped up and tried to grab the phone.
“It’s gonna go viral, bru,” said TK with a smirk.
The rest of that evening was a blur. The next morning there was a message from Masedi. She had seen the video.
I never want to see you again.
* * * * *
After the Principal had told them the order of events he turned to Kele and she stepped forward. The Principal told them that, bravely, Kele had decided to share her story with the school. He shook Kele’s hand. Then she took a deep breath and began to speak.
As she told her story, she kept looking at Odwa. It felt to him like the whole hall was staring at him. When she was finished everyone applauded. He turned to see Masego and Malebo clapping just behind him.
He pushed his way out of the line of learners and ran to the boys’ toilet and wept.
The learners sang and waved their banners as they marched out of the school grounds, led by the teachers, who spoke from the megaphone. Some people watched curiously as they passed, others joined in. Some men swore at them. They joined the main march in the centre of town. The crowd swelled as they marched down the streets.
When they arrived back at school, the organising team and their parents were invited by the Principal to the staff room, where there was tea and biscuits.
Masego’s parents were there and, when her father saw her, he smiled. She knew her mother had brought him round and that he supported her now.
The Kurara FM team was waiting to interview some pupils. Masego and Malebo and Kele stood right in front of them. One of the interviewers held the mic up to Kele.
“Kele, I hear that you went to the Principal with the idea of joining the march. And that you bravely told your story,” the presenter said. “Why did you decide to speak out?”
“Because of boys like me,” Odwa said, bursting through the open door, where he had stood, unnoticed, waiting for the right time to speak.
“We are joined here by a young man by the name of?” the presenter said, looking at Odwa with a puzzled expression.
“Odwa. Odwa Nkosi,” Odwa said quietly.
“Come up here, Odwa, so that everyone can hear you. You said the march is because of boys like you. Can you say more about that?” the presenter asked.
Odwa looked at Masego.
“A few months ago, I did … a terrible thing,” Odwa started hesitantly. “I’m filled with regret. I shouldn’t have done what I did. It haunts me every day,” he said and then ran out of the room.
The Principal ran after him, followed by his wife.
“Odwa!” the Principal called out.
But he kept on running. Finally, he slowed, stopped, and they caught up with him.
“There is no need to run away. You were very brave in there,” the Principal reassured him.
“Am I going to jail? I’m so sorry for what I did. I was drunk, and I got my ex-girlfriend, Masedi, drunk and I took advantage of her. I am so sorry,” he said, sobbing. “But I didn’t rape her. I didn’t go all the way, I promise!”
“You and your parents will need to talk to Masedi and her mother and father about this,” the Principal said. “They will decide how to take the matter further. You will also need to attend regular counselling. What your friends did was very wrong, urging you to do this to Masedi. What you did was wrong in going along with it and giving into the pressure. There is too much of this…boys and men thinking this behaviour is okay and people thinking it is normal and not holding them to account. There is too much violence against girls and women in this country. It has to stop.”
His wife nodded. “Even if what you say is true, there will be suspicion that if somebody had not been filming you, you would have committed rape.”
Odwa looked down. “How can I ever make up for what I did? I’ve never told Masedi how sorry I am,” he said, “I was a coward, but I have changed… believe me…”
He knew what he had to do. He had to go back to Kimberley and speak to Masedi. He had to ask for her forgiveness and he had to listen. He had to face her parents too. And he had to face the consequences, whatever they might be, head on.
Only after that could he face Masego. But in his heart he sensed that he had probably lost her for ever.
* * * * *
That weekend, Malebo went around to Masego’s house. Her parents were much more welcoming than usual, greeting her with a hug. The girls closed the bedroom door behind them and sat holding hands on the bed.
“The march has made me feel better, stronger,” Masego said. “But it still hurts, Malebo.”
“You’ve been through a tough time and you must allow yourself to feel the pain,” Malebo said, squeezing her friend’s hand.
“The Principal told me that Odwa is going back to speak to Masedi and her family,” said Masego. “He said Odwa spoke openly and he felt he was telling the truth about not going all the way.”
Masego thought of how she was the one to persuade him to have sex. He had known what he did to Masedi was abuse and he was remorseful and had promised himself, perhaps, that he would never have sex again unless he was convinced the girl wanted it too. But it didn’t change the fact of what he had done… come so close to committing rape.
“It’s just as well your relationship didn’t get really serious, Zee,” said Malebo. “Look on the positive side.”
“You’re right. Maybe the butterflies will come back to dance for another boy, somebody I can take time to trust.”
“You see, you’re going to get over this,” Malebo said.
Later, as they walked down the street and the sun was beginning to set, Malebo broke the silence.
“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” she said.
Masego knew it was true. And, whatever happened, she could always count on her best friend.
* * * * *
Tell us: Do you think Odwa can be called a rapist because he only stopped the act when he found out he was being filmed? Is he in fact lucky about the filming, and now a changed person, who might not go to jail?