An hour later she walked in the door of the noisy pub and straight away she heard Dikeledi’s voice: “Leila! We’re over here!”

Leila’s spirits dropped. Not only had she not missed them, she came late enough for them to be well on their way to being drunk. She knew both Alletta and Dikeledi got touchy and over-emotional when they were drinking. It always made Leila uncomfortable.

When she got near the table, Dikeledi jumped up and gave her a big hug and a kiss on the cheek. They were not that sort of friend, just work colleagues, but it was her birthday so Leila tried not to act as awkward as she felt.

“Sit!” Alletta ordered. “You arrived just in time; we just got a new pitcher of margarita.”

Leila didn’t normally drink, but took the glass that was offered anyway. She looked around the table. Her boss was there: Mr Babedi. And Alletta’s always-around boyfriend, Boxer, who once told Leila he’d never read a book in his life. Leila looked at him that day as if he had said he was a serial killer, and she had felt almost that way about him ever since.

Luckily Leila was sitting next to Mphoentle, who was her favourite co-worker. She was not as loud and boisterous as Alletta and Dikeledi, but not quite as reserved and quiet as Leila. So she was a good connection between her and all the others.

Mphoentle pushed a plate of nachos at Leila. “You better eat these. That margarita is strong and I know you don’t drink much.”

“Thanks,” Leila said. She ate some nachos and took a sip of her drink, which was much nicer than she had anticipated it would be.

Then she heard her phone beeping in her handbag. She knew it was Hardy and so wanted to check what he had messaged her. They only talked by messages, but they were lovely messages and Leila appreciated every one. Her heart always jumped a bit when she heard that tiny ding to indicate a message had arrived.

She noticed the others were busy listening to Dikeledi talking about her last birthday that she’d celebrated at Victoria Falls. Leila quickly took the opportunity to look in her handbag to check her phone.

Good evening, Lea. Are you
home from work yet?

Leila smiled. Hardy liked calling her Lea. She thought it was sweet. She liked that he paid attention to her day, cared that she got home from work alright. He was lovely like that. She quickly texted back.

Hi Hardy! I’m out with work friends
for someone’s birthday.
But I’m going to leave soon.
How was your day?

She looked up and saw Dikeledi was looking at her. Leila dropped her phone in her handbag and quickly zipped it shut.

“What are you up to, Leila? Are we boring you?” Dikeledi asked.

“No … I just … I needed to text my mum is all,” Leila lied.

Alletta looked at her. “You’re acting very sneaky, Leila. That’s quite unlike you. What is going on?”

“Sneaky? Me? No, I’m not acting sneaky. Why would you say that?”

Even Leila could hear the panic in her own voice; they surely heard it too. She needed to calm down. She was acting as suspicious as they were accusing her of acting, and that was not going to help anything.

Dikeledi looked at Alletta and back at Leila. “You’re hiding something from us. What is it?”

Leila didn’t know what to do. In a panic, she downed her drink and pushed the glass at Dikeledi. “This is great. Can I have some more?”

Dikeledi filled her glass and, for the moment, they were distracted when the cake arrived and everyone was singing happy birthday. Even with the singing, Leila heard the tiny tinkling of the bell of her phone. They weren’t looking. What would it hurt to just look at the message?

Lea, I finished Black Rabbit Summer.
It was great. Thanks for the recommendation.
You really are a connoisseur when it
comes to books. J Have fun with you friends.
We’ll talk later. XXOO


Tell us what you think: Why is Leila so secretive about her relationship? Should she be more open about it?