It was pitch dark as Mandi and Thembisa walked quickly along the muddy footpaths of the Ezinyoka squatter camp with their heads down, dressed in dark tracksuits.
Because it was late and raining the only voices they heard were those of a few people talking inside their own zinc shacks. Their path was clear.
What if this bastard remembers me as soon as he sees me? Mandi thought. She had broken into a sweat, despite the cold.
As they approached Sango’s house, she grabbed Thembisa by the hand. “I’m sorry to have involved you in this.”
Something in Mandi’s eyes had changed. Her expression was no longer just exhaustion; there seemed to be a certain freedom about her. It seemed that a decision had been made on a deeper level and now there was no way but forward.
“Mandi, you didn’t force me into anything. There’s no place I’d rather be,” Thembisa responded with a wink, then she knocked on Sango’s door.
They heard the sounds of a chair moving and shuffling of feet, and then the door opened cautiously. The disgusting stench of marijuana smoke engulfed them.
Sango peered at them through the gloom, then, recognising Thembisa, he smiled broadly. “Hey there, baby, how nice to see you! I knew you’d come back sooner or later. Come on in, ladies.”
They entered. Mandi tried as best she could to compose herself.
“Come in, come on in ladies!” Sango was tall, dark and loud. He wore boxer shorts and a tight T-shirt with a logo that read ‘Top Champion’.
“Oh, Sango, this is my cousin Wendi. Wendi, Sango,” Thembisa introduced.
“Good to meet you, baby,” Sango said and leered at them.
“Likewise,” Mandi responded, playing Wendi.
Inside his house, sleeping on the couch, was a dirty old man. Thembisa figured it must’ve been one of his clients as she pointed to him. “And that?”
“No worries, love. Just some bum from around here. Let me sort it out.” Sango grabbed the hobo by his collar and dragged him towards the door. By the time the old man awoke, he’d already been thrown out.
“OK, I’ll see you another time, buddy, shap,” Sango said.
He turned back to chat to Thembisa and Mandi. “You ladies can take a seat anywhere.”
His couches were ancient, on the verge of collapse. They were dirty, stained, and covered with cigarette burns. He sat down, rubbing his hands together, smirking at them.
“You’re so scarce, Thembi. You know, when you called me earlier I thought you were just pulling my leg about visiting. I knew you’d return to me sometime, though. We had such a good thing going, baby. And then you just disappeared on me,” he smiled.
“The nerve, ‘you knew I’d come back’! I wouldn’t have. It’s that my cousin’s from Cape Town, and she hasn’t tasted Port Elizabeth weed before and was wondering…”
“Oh, why didn’t you say?” Sango interrupted in excitement. “I sell the best stuff, top quality ganja from Malawi, love.”
He looked at Mandi, who was still wearing a cap low, to hide a portion of her face.
The girls looked at each other.
“So where’s your housemate this evening?” Thembi enquired.
“Doesn’t stay here anymore. Found out the fool was snitching.” He lit up and handed the joint to Mandi. Chills went up Mandi’s spine as his thumb brushed her hand.
Thembisa probed, “So where is he now?”
“You’re still as inquisitive as ever, aren’t you? What’s with all the questions? Did you come to see him or me?” he asked with a twisted smile. “Let’s just say I can guarantee he’s not snitching anymore,” he added, a dangerous light in his eyes.
There was suddenly a blinding flash of lightning, followed by a huge clap of thunder. The rain came pelting down so that it was difficult to hear one another speak. This was Sango’s cue to move nearer to Thembisa.
“I see you’ve still kept that figure, baby.” He looked across at Mandi. “And your cousin’s pretty cute, too.” He flashed a smile and Mandi felt her insides cringe. “I’ve been meaning to call you, sweetheart. It’s just that …”
“Yeah, right,” Thembisa responded.
“I’m serious. Just that I lost all my numbers when I lost my cellphone,” he said, passing the joint to her.
“I see nothing’s changed. You’re still a bad liar,” Thembisa said as he giggled. The ex-lovebirds continued to chat as though nobody else was in the room.
Weed smoke filled the small house. Mandi stared at Sango, thinking, he looks just like any person in the street.
She closed her eyes and remembered the flight through the forest – the panic, the fear, the screams of all three girls. Her anger returned, growing slowly as she sat and brooded.
Half an hour later, the mood had changed. Everyone spoke slowly and softly. On the surface, there was a calm and relaxed atmosphere as a result of the marijuana. The rain had ceased, and the music Sango had been listening to was now audible. It was a steady rap.
Thembisa took her jacket off, an action that excited Sango. She grabbed him by the ear seductively and whispered, “Play softer music, baby, then come back and sit close to me.”
“Anything for you, love,” he replied, visibly excited. He scratched around for discs next to his outdated hi-fi system and opted for Bob Marley. He selected the track, ‘Everything’s Gonna be All Right’.
Thembisa stood up, a thin-bladed knife now pulled out of her bag and gripped in her fist. As Sango turned around to sit back down, she plunged the blade hard into his neck. Blood squirted out of him like a tap; his eyes opened very wide, almost protruding from their sockets.
She tried to stab him a second time, but he grabbed her arm and managed enough strength to punch her in the face. She fell immediately, dropping the knife as she went down.
Mandi’s fright and shock had immobilised her; she’d expected him to drop after that first vicious knife thrust.
He was bleeding profusely, but the animal in him had taken over. He wasn’t going to go out alone, and he reckoned this cousin of Thembisa’s must be behind this attack. He was gasping for breath through his torn airways, gargling on his own blood in desperation. He stumbled over a coffee table and reached Mandi, and got his hands around her throat, strangling her with what little strength he had left.
For a few moments, they stared into one another’s eyes. She could smell the bad breath from his mouth, and the awful metallic odour of warm blood was in her nostrils.
But Mandi wasn’t there. She was back many years into her past. She remembered how Lungelo, Sango and the other man had hovered over her, slapping her, ripping her clothes off and beating her. The images were as vivid as if they had occurred an hour ago. She was back in that forest, crying and screaming for forgiveness though she hadn’t done anything wrong.
She pictured three vultures gnawing away at her fourteen-year-old corpse, feasting on her after Sango and his friends had just zipped up and left.
Mandisa raised the gun and fired a shot into Sango’s stomach.
He staggered around like a toddler taking his first steps, trying to find his balance. He was still staring at Mandi with a look of confusion, wondering where he knew her from. He dropped suddenly, falling on top of Thembisa.
The sound of the gunshot brought Mandi back to reality very quickly. She pushed his body off Thembisa.
“Get up. Let’s go. Let’s go, man. Hurry!” she whispered frantically. “Someone will have heard that.”
Thembisa was still dazed from the punch, wondering if it was his, or her own, blood on her T-shirt. Mandi took a box of matches from her pocket and set fire to the curtains and rugs inside, and Sango’s clothes. She took one last look at the dead animal, and they fled before the whole shack burst into flame. Soon there would be not much left of Sango.
They avoided using the route that they’d used to get there, walking quickly through a muddy squatter camp, trying their hardest to remain inconspicuous.
Mandi took the lead, adrenalin still carrying her forward. Thembisa was still nursing and adjusting her neck from the blow she’d received. All Mandi could think of was the dreadful possibility of their getting arrested and going to prison. She had thought shooting Sango would do something inside her, release her, avenge her, set her free at last – but she felt nothing, no elation, no remorse.
Mandi saw someone approaching. “Someone’s coming. Watch out,” she warned Thembisa. Both girls dropped their heads as a man with a child hurried past them, not noticing them. They walked on, fast, in silence until they reached their hood; it was finally safe to slow down.
Thembisa stole a gaze at Mandi. “You’re OK?” she asked.
“Yup, I’m good,” was Mandi’s response. “Better than before. You?”
“Cool. My jaw and neck hurt though.”
They hugged, tightly sealing a bond that hadn’t been there before.
Tell us: Are you shocked the women actually went through with the savage revenge murder?