“Aaahhh, Mama, yizo bona, come see.”
Nonyaniso shouts across the yard. My mother is working in her vegetable garden a distance from the house. Nonyaniso is standing in the doorway to the wooden shack that we use to store wood. I can see Mama. She is just filling the last watering can from the drum of rain water. Every late afternoon her small vegetable garden has to be watered. She trusts no-one else to do the job, but her.
I stride over to where Nonyaniso is standing waving her hands in front of her nose. Green flies swarm around a yellow plastic bag at her feet. As I come close I want to vomit because the smell is so bad. Inside the bag is a rotting leg of lamb crawling with worms and maggots. It has been there for two weeks. I was high on dagga when I hid it and I forgot about it soon after.
“No, no, no, just you wait.”
“What do you mean Sabelo? Mama has to see this.”
Nonyaniso starts to walk across the yard towards Mama. I push her back. My hands grip the old dress she likes to wear when she is cleaning. I hear the sound of it ripping in my hands.
“Don’t tell Mama about this. She will kill me.”
“No, she will just put you right.”
“No, she’ll kill me. You don’t want that, do you?”
“What is that in the shed?”
“That is a leg of lamb. From a friend.”
“Sabelo, how could you? Let go of my dress. Did you steal that sheep? Why is it hidden?”
“Hayi, hayikhona my sister.”
“It better not be stolen. Before you know it, you will be in a gang and put all our lives in danger.”
“Trust me. No gang,” I lie.
“OK then, I won’t tell mother. Just don’t do it again.”
That evening I run to the old dilapidated house where our gang always meets.
“Guys, guess who I just saw drinking at MaDlamini’s?” I say to the boys.
“Wait, your dad. Or wait, no, he is dead, it won’t be him,” Lwando says sarcastically and bursts out laughing.
“That’s not funny, Lwando.” I did not like his joke about my father.
“Ja, sorry mfethu. This one is high. Ubone bani, who did you see?” Mfundo asks.
“Who? Oh yeah, he must have got paid by the Lwana’s. He just finished making a shit load of mud bricks for them.”
“Yabona ke Sabelo, now you are talking,” Lwando says passing the zol to me.
Every time I touch the zol something feels like it is rising in my throat. It’s like my body is resisting it in some way.
When I was younger umama used to do isikhungo, the evening prayer, every night before we went to bed. I used to join her. Now, instead of praying I am out smoking zol. She still does the prayer; I am just not there. Mama believes in nothing else but her God. I sometimes don’t know what God she prays to. She treats me like dirt. Nonyaniso gets all the nice things.
“Hey, hey, Sabelo. Stop dreaming. Puff, puff and pass that zol,” Lwando complains.
“Oh yeah, sorry,” I say and lean back against the mud wall of the ruined old house.
“Makazilelwe, let us wear our black stockings over our heads when we steal tonight in memory of Sabelo’s father,” says Lwando. We always wear stockings over our heads so that no-one can recognise us. I don’t know why Lwando keeps bringing up my father’s name now.
“Hayi, no Lwando. Don’t say such a thing,” Mfundo says, before I get a chance to say something to Lwando.
“Relax pantyhose gents, you stress too much. Did Sabelo not complain about his father always hitting him when he was still alive? OK, let us put on our black tights for Ludwe,” Lwando changes his tune.
“That sounds like a plan,” I agree, relieved that the gang’s attention is now off my kraal and my family sheep.
Mfundo nods. He leans back against the wall.
Lwando’s deep drag on the zol makes it go raa trr trr nqa nqa, nqaa nqa. I let him enjoy it without asking him to pass. Ashes fall on his left thigh. His eyes almost close as he drags the last bit of ganja. He smokes it until it burns his fingers then he throws what is left onto the newspaper at his side. Dazed, he stares at the wall. Slowly he gets up and dusts the ashes off his pants. He keeps dusting, even when the ash is gone. I feel his pain as he hits his thighs again and again.
“Aarg… pthaaa!” He spits right onto the wall – close range – then turns around. Some of his phlegm is still stuck to his chin.
“Sis maan, Lwando, sula isilevu, wipe your chin,” I say to him, turning to look away.
“Where is your black stocking?” he demands of Mfundo. “Why aren’t you ready for tonight’s mission?”
Mfundo sits up, “About tonight…I don’t understand…”
“What don’t you understand about putting on black tights over your head?” Lwando asks.
“Imission yanamhlanje mfethu, today’s mission…” Mfundo continues. But then he stops. Lwando’s eyes are fixed on his. He drops his head.
“Speak!” shouts Lwando. “Are you scared to rob one old man now? Robbing one man is nothing. My aunt tells me that gangs in Cape Town do the craziest things. I am talking gang rapes, stealing cars, drive-by shootings, crazy shit like that. Now that is hard core gangster. That way you get money, earn respect. And some gangster-loving by your gang.”
I shake my head when Lwando says this.
“I just don’t get why we should rob an old man…twice…” continues Mfundo, looking back up at Lwando now.
“Mfundo, Mfundo, I don’t have a cent in my pocket. Is that fair?” demands Lwando. “No, no, no, we said it was OK to steal sheep. Ja, we said we are hungry so we will help ourselves kulemihlambi, to these herds. It is time to take over this whole village,” Lwando declares, looking at me and then turning to face Mfundo. “We need to work together as a solid group. I am beginning to think you are weak mfethu.”
In that moment I wish I could leave the Black Tights. Things have changed. I don’t like how things are going, or what Lwando is saying now.
“OK, OK, OK, stop! I am putting on the tights,” says Mfundo as Lwando threatens him.
We pull the tights over our faces to mask them, and run outside. Dogs bark and howl.
Near Tat’uLudwe’s kraal we wail like wild dogs in the grass, on all fours. On our toes and palms we move forward near the footpath. No words. We wait.
* * *
Tell us what you think: What do you think Sabelo should do?