For the fourteen days that followed, we began executing our plan. Thembi started ‘borrowing’ money from her parent’s safe. I helped around the house more – I cooked dinner and took the twins to the shops or to watch the trains without complaining. In return my mother gave me more money for my efforts.

By the end of those two weeks we had saved over five hundred rands, enough, we reasoned, to last us a few days in Golding. We devised a simple plan: we would get a lift to Golding and once there, look for my father. We reckoned it wouldn’t take more than a day to find someone.

“I’m scared about tomorrow,” I said, pulling myself to a sitting position, facing my cousin, “Aren’t you?”

Thembi did not change her position. Her eyes remained fixed on the blue, cloudless sky. Her expression showed nothing. It was a Wednesday afternoon; we planned to leave the following morning. We were sitting on top of a hill, a favourite place of ours. The hill sat between the village and the railways tracks. From the hilltop, one could see the surrounding farmlands that seemed to continue to eternity, and the main road – the only tarred road – that cut through Sibaya, leading to Edison.

My house was a one-story, white-washed colonial structure with a glowing red tin roof, painted so as to discourage lighting from striking – a belief widely held in Sibaya. It sat only a few hundred metres from the shops. Sibaya was once a farming community, but the railway took most of the land, forcing the white farmers to move inland where land was still abundant. The black railway workers began inhabiting the deserted houses. Early residents, like my grandmother, were able to buy the big houses vacated by the farmers, and in fact took pride in owning such fine dwellings. Over time the village grew, and the few fine houses found themselves shadowed by hundreds of tiny four-roomed, mud and corrugated iron structures.

The twins and Jabu were giggling at the bottom of the hill after rolling down for the umpteenth time. Rex chased the rabbits and was plainly frustrated at having spent the entire afternoon without catching one.

“You’re not thinking of backing out now – or are you?” Thembi asked.

“What if things don’t go as planned? What if Golding is really a horrible place? What if something happens to us? This is a dangerous trip Thembi.”

My cousin took my hand into hers. “Relax. Everything will be fine. Go home and get a good night’s sleep. We have a long day tomorrow.”

* * * * *

I couldn’t sleep at all that night. I locked myself in my bedroom and packed my school backpack with a jacket, book, chewing gum, two packs of cheese-flavoured potato chips, two apples and two tubs of yoghurt. Then I went to the kitchen and joined my family for dinner. I managed a few spoonfuls of food. I excused myself, pretending I had a headache, and went back to my bedroom. I lay on my bed, my heart beating like a drum, my head heavy in thoughts.

By ten in the evening I was still awake. The house was silent except for Rex’s snoring in the hallway. I changed position, again, and squeezed my eyes shut. At ten thirty-five I decided I couldn’t take it anymore.

I got up and put on my sneakers. I opened my window and quietly jumped out. Outside, the moon shone so bright I could see people moving around at the shops. I sprinted towards my cousin’s house. I went around to her bedroom, and as I was about to tap on the window, it opened and Thembi poked her head out and whispered my name.

“I knew you would come,” she said, once I had climbed inside. She looked at me without registering surprise. I couldn’t tell what she was thinking.

“I can’t,” I said burying my face with my hands, embarrassed. I berated myself for being a coward. Why wasn’t I as brave as my cousin? “I’m sorry, but I can’t.” I started to cry.

“I understand,” Thembi said, moving towards me. She pulled me to her. “We don’t have to go tomorrow. We’ll find Joe some other day, when you’re ready.”

“Promise?” I asked her.

“I promise,” she said.

My cousin and I remained hugging for a long time.


Tell us what you think: Did you enjoy this story? Do you think that she should have made a different decision about finding Joe?