“Wait for me, Ntini!” I was heading to the cricket field with my teammates when Zanoxolo ran to catch up with us.
We had a big match that day. It was springtime and not too hot – good weather for playing cricket. We were playing against a rival school. Zanoxolo hadn’t been to watch me practise for quite some time. He was already busy studying for trial exams which were beginning the next month.
“Hey Zanoxolo, aren’t you supposed to be studying or something?” I asked him.
“Not today. Today I am watching my younger bro play. Now go and show those boys why you are called Ntini.” He patted me on my back and signalled me to follow my teammates to the field.
The match was as tough as our team expected, but we had also practised very hard for it. I was the last bowler for my team, and had one ball left. The other team only needed one more run to draw with us. The pressure was on me, as my school depended on me to keep our one-run lead and win the match. The crowd shouted, “Ntini! Ntini! Ntini!” I rubbed the ball on my pants and bowled it towards the wicket. The batman missed it. “Howzat!” I screamed along with my school as the ball hit the wicket, ending the other team’s chances.
Zanoxolo ran onto the pitch and lifted me up. He was so happy.
“Well played, Ntini! Mama is going to be very proud of you,” he said on our way home. Our friends were walking behind us.
“I don’t think so,” I said. “I am a disappointment to her. All she wishes is for me to be as brilliant as you in school. But cricket is the only thing I am good at.”
Suddenly our friends were sprinting past us. “Run! Run!” they shouted.
I looked back and saw a group of boys carrying pangas, pocket knives, and golf sticks chasing us. I knew immediately that this was serious. Zanoxolo and I dropped our schoolbags and ran for our lives. But Zanoxolo wasn’t as fit as I was and he struggled to keep up.
“Come on! Zanoxolo, run! Run faster!” I shouted.
The boys caught up with him, and one of them hit him on the side of the head with a golf stick. He lost his balance and fell down.
“Zanoxolo! Zanoxolo!” I cried. I tried to run to my brother, but my friend, Thulani, pulled me by the collar of my shirt. I tried to fight him off but he held me back.
Like something in a dream, I saw them hacking him with their deadly weapons. They all took a piece of him as he lay on the tar, helpless.
“You can’t do anything for Zanoxolo right now. Just save yourself. We have to go and find help – go straight home and get your mother,” Thulani shouted at me.
“Nqandani! Nqandani! Bayambulala!” I cried for help from the bystanders but they looked the other way.
The short distance home seemed to take forever. I was crying uncontrollably when we got there. My mother was off work that day, and heard me shouting from the door.
“What’s happened, Phumlani? Why are you crying?” my mother was shaking.
“It’s Za … Zanoxolo, Mama.”
“It’s Zanoxolo? What are you saying, Phumlani? Where is your brother?” My mother looked at my friend with eyes that demanded an immediate answer. “Tell me, where is Zanoxolo?”
“We … we were chased by gangsters on our way from the match. And we ran, but Zanoxolo couldn’t run fast enough. I … I think he’s dead,” Thulani stammered.
“Hayi! Hayi! My son! My son! Oh! Yhini umntwan’am, Bawo. Thixo onofefe.” Mother ran outside the house crying.
* * *
Tell us: People often “relive” terrible events. What questions about the attack on brother will haunt Phumlani, do you think?