I don’t know what to say. I can feel my mouth opening and closing, trying to formulate words, but I have nothing. What do you even say in response to something like that?
“Jazz,” Cheryl says, her voice just above a whisper. “Please believe me. I never wanted anyone to get hurt. I just wanted to help Ben.”
My blood boils at the sound of that pervert’s name. “So, you’re pushing drugs for Langley. He’s just using you, Cheryl!” How can she not see that?
“It’s not like that! He’s got these nasty loan sharks after him. They threatened to kill him, Jazz! Once he’s paid them off, he’ll resign, and we’ll move in together.”
There’s a sort of desperate hopefulness in Cheryl’s eyes that breaks my heart. On the one hand, I’m angry at her for being so naïve, so trusting, but on the other …
Langley’s smart, charismatic, and by far the most attractive teacher we’ve ever had. If he’s been saying all the right things at a time when Cheryl is at her most vulnerable, she’s going to believe him.
“How have you and Langley been pulling this off without getting caught?” I ask.
Cheryl slinks down the wall and sits down, staring at her feet for some time, as if she hasn’t heard me.
“We use the library books,” she finally says.
I gasp as it hits me. Wuthering Heights. The plastic I saw jutting out from it. That was no bookmark.
“But,” I say trying to wrap my mind around the logistics. “The payment. How–”
“Students text their order to Ben. He gives them a bank account number. When the money is in the account he tells them where and when they can pick up the package.”
Cheryl says all of this robotically, in a single breath. Her gaze hasn’t lifted from her toes.
I spot her cellphone on the floor by her feet. And I feel anger begin to surge again.
“And you’re all too happy to do his dirty work,” I say, moving to stand directly in front of her, forcing her to pull her eyes away from the cellphone.
“What do you want me to say, Jazz?” She shoots up and drags her hands through her hair, untangling her plait. “Yes! I did something stupid to help the man I love.”
“Something stupid? You committed a crime, Cheryl. A crime!” I don’t mention that the man she loves is 15 years older than her and probably has a wife at home.
I want her to say something, to give me an answer I can accept, but the silence ticks on, feeling like half an eternity has passed by. My sigh, long and frustrated, echoes in the deserted girls’ toilets.
Then I hear it, the familiar ringtone that slashes through the silence and propels me into motion. I kick the phone away from Cheryl’s scrambling hands and pick it up.
“Mr Langley,” I say with as much false cheeriness I can muster. Cheryl grabs hold of my arms and pulls, but I’ve got a death hold on her iPhone not even God can break.
“Oh, Cheryl’s right here. But I believe she’s on her way to speak to Ms Ngema about the bubble you made her peddle.”
I end the call just as Cheryl launches herself at me.
Tell us: Has Jazz done something stupid? Or brave?