Tat’ uLudwe comes singing from a distance:
Amaqhosha ebhatyi yaaaam
(I am spending my money, my money. I am not getting drunk, I am just warm under the influence.)
Tat’uLudwe lifts his walking stick in the air from time to time. He has a terrible limp but I can see that when push comes to shove he will use his stick as a weapon.
“Psss! Down, down,” whispers Lwando. “Come closer,” he adds.
My body stretches just above the grass, my palms open on the ground. I move silently.
“Mfundo, go for his pockets; hold them tight. Don’t give him a chance to pull out his Okapi.”
“OK,” responds Mfundo.
“Sabelo, go from behind and grab the stick.”
“Ndik’bambile, I got that.”
“And I…I will be up in his face…”
Like a pack of hyenas waiting to attack, we lie flat on the ground. When Tat’uLudwe is a few metres from us, even less, vumbululu, quickly we get up.
“Yintoni na, what is this!? Where are your faces?” Tat’uLudwe cries, staring wildly at us. He can’t make out who is who behind our stocking masks.
Like a flash of lightning I feel the whip and pain as he hooks my arm with his walking stick. Mfundo has buried his hands deep in Tat’ uLudwe’s pockets.
“Ssshhh,” Lwando warns Tat’uLudwe.
“Kwekhu madoda, zizithunzela ezivelaphi ezi, where do these ghosts come from?” Tat’uLudwe cries.
Lwando hisses like a snake next to the old man’s face.
“Oh please, don’t kill me,” Tat’uLudwe begs.
“Then respect me, hey wena, ungazong’hlanyisa, don’t make me mad,” Lwando raises his voice.
Where did that come from? I ask myself when I see in the dark shadows the shape of a butcher’s knife. Lwando waves it about in front of Tat’uLudwe’s face.
“Let go of the stick. Voetsek! Let go.”
I feel Tat’uLudwe’s arm release, becoming softer. Only now I realise that I have not disguised my voice.
“Turn his pockets inside out,” Lwando says.
We freeze for a moment. I can’t believe this is happening.
“Hurry up!” Lwando screams at us.
I throw Tat’uLudwe’s stick on the ground. I take both his arms and lock them behind him.
“Oh yini, why? Imali yabantwana bam, my kid’s money,” cries Tat’uLudwe when Mfundo goes for the pockets inside the jacket.
“Sakwenyusa amafu, we will send you past the clouds. Shut up old man!” Lwando shouts at him.
“All pockets emptied to me,” says Mfundo.
“Good job ndoda,” says Lwando. He waves the knife again, in front of Tat’uLudwe’s eyes.
“Now, you listen to me very carefully, old man,” says Lwando. “Uyandiva! Do you hear me? Kneel down. Lie with your face down. Don’t move. Hey!” Lwando raises his hand with the knife. Tat’uLudwe staggers backwards. He leans on me. He feels heavy now.
“Lala phantsi, xhego, lay down old man, flat on your stomach,” I whisper into his ear. My voice is hoarse. He goes down on his knees with both his hands on the ground. He places his face on the grass. A soft cry escapes his lips.
When he is on the ground Lwando turns and runs. We follow, down towards the river. In the long grass there we count out the money. Then we head back to the old house to change back into our normal clothes. We split up the money and head to our homes. Our night’s business done, I hope.
As I walk up the path to my house I see a figure standing in the shadows next to the new electricity poles. It is Sihle. He must be waiting for Nonyaniso. I pass him, but I don’t say anything to him. I walk in through the gate and take the dogs off the leash. If he comes to Nonyaniso’s window, the dogs will get him.
I go into the house and lock the door behind me then strike a match. A yellow flame bursts into the darkness.
“Mhhm, you smell like a burning farm of dagga. I think it is time I reported you to Mama.” It is Nonyaniso. She is standing in the dark waiting for me. Did she see Sihle outside? I hope not. I won’t tell her that he is waiting by the pole.
“I think it is time you shut your mouth and go to sleep. It’s not like Mama cares about me anyway,” I reply to her, quickly.
“You are you, Sabelo. My lovely brother. You should not be messing around with dagga.”
“And you should be out of my business.”
“Ahm, sokhe sibone, we will see.”
“Are you going to your Nosiviwe’s party?” I ask her.
“I will only be there during the day. In the evening I will be with…”
“Sihle, let me guess. I don’t want to see him near our home Nonyaniso. That is disrespectful to me and Mama, you know.”
Still, I don’t tell her that Sihle is outside. I won’t do that. No, I won’t.
In my room I lie on my bed listening for the sound of stones on the zinc sheets. Sihle had done this once, trying to get Nonyaniso’s attention by throwing small stones on the roof in her room. But everything is quiet.
* * *
Tell us what you think: Why do you think Sabelo dislikes Sihle so much?