“Avile?” Thandi tried to get up, but fell back down on the sand. When she opened her eyes she saw Nomsa’s face streaked black from soot, and tears. And then she heard a cry. And for once the sound of Avile’s crying was a blessing because it meant he was alive.
“I’m so sorry,” said Thandi. “I’m so sorry.”
“You are lucky your sister is so brave.” It was Pinky. She had brought them water to drink and a bottle for Avile. The air was still thick from smoke. Thandi tried to move, but winced with pain.
“Mr Yola is coming in his taxi to take you to hospital,” said Pinky.
“I called her. She will meet you there.”
Thandi saw the shack was just a pile of rubble. The men in the street were still beating the flames with blankets. She remembered the flames. She remembered Avile crying and Themba? Themba crawling towards the door…
“Themba?” she whispered, looking at Nomsa.
There was silence. And Thandi looked back at the rubble and smoke. She was filled with mixed up emotions. Horror that he was burned to death. Relief that he was gone. Anger at what he had done.
“Themba is gone,” said Nomsa.
“Gone for good I hope.” said Pinky, “He ran off down the road. His jacket was on fire. Coward. Probably gone to his other girlfriend down by the spaza. One of many.”
“What girlfriend?” Nomsa looked up through her tears.
“You didn’t know?” said Pinky. “I thought everybody knew. He’s been sleeping around.”
Then Nomsa shook her head. “You know what. I don’t care. He can rot in hell. I hope that jacket burned a scar to make him remember this forever. What kind of father doesn’t even try to save his own baby, before himself!”
Thandi hugged Nomsa to her. And Avile between them.
“My forms!” Suddenly she remembered the precious scholarship essay she had taken so long to write. But what could she do? The papers would be ashes by now. Her dreams burned up in the fire.
“We can get more forms,” said Nomsa. “I am staying home with Avile until I find someone who can look after him while I am at work in the afternoons. I want you to do well.” And Thandi could see that her sister meant it this time.
“You can write the essay again. They say to write about your life, to write a real story. This is your life. Write about all of this. It will be the best essay they ever read. You will pass with flying colours. They will be lucky to have you in that rich school.”
Thandi looked at her sister and her nephew. Her leg was aching. Her head was still thick with smoke. They had lost everything in the fire. But they had gained something back too. They were together again as a family. And they would build their life back together. Without fear. Themba was gone. And he wouldn’t be coming back.
Tell us what you think: Did you enjoy this story? Did you like the ending? Do you want to find out what happens to Thandi next?
If you do want to find out what happens to Thandi and Nomsa, read After the Fire.