It was the day of the interview and Mandisa hadn’t slept for days; she had lain awake, too scared of the nightmares. All she saw, when she shut her eyes, were the Pastor’s eyes boring into her.
She arrived at Sutherland and Son dressed in a silver-grey, pinstriped suit that Sarah Sutherland had loaned her. Tired to her bones.
She sat in the foyer opposite the reception desk, trying to look calm. “All should go smoothly,” she constantly reassured herself, breathing in and out deeply.
“Ms Mandisa Sebe, you can go in now,” the receptionist finally said, pointing to the room in which Mandi was to be interviewed.
Mandi stood. “Thank you,” she responded politely. Walking down the long passage she tried to recite everything Sarah had advised her to say.
A million things ran through her mind. She tried all she could not to think of that cold forest. “Come on now, wake up,” she whispered to herself. She continued to walk down the passage, her chin up and chest out.
The office felt like a foreign world to her. She stood outside the interview room door and took deep breath before pushing it open.
“I’m ready for this. I’ll be fine,” she told herself.
She went in. Sarah Sutherland sat beside two of her colleagues, a tall white man, who looked irritable, and a young black woman, bony and fashionable.
Mandi greeted the panel. They asked her to sit. She stood, staring at her boss.
“You can take a seat, Mandi,” Sarah said.
“Hello, Mandisa,” the skinny girl said. “My name is Phumeza and this is my colleague, Gordon.” Gordon nodded. “And you probably don’t know, but that pretty-looking lady sitting there is Sarah Sutherland.”
Mandi got the impression that it would be the first and only joke told in the interrogation chamber.
Phumeza shot at her first. “So, Mandi, tell us about yourself. Where are you from? Your background and where you plan to be, say, in five years from now?”
“OK, my name is Mandisa Sebe, and I’m working in Ms Sarah’s home. I’m the help, and my duties range from being there for her children to washing–”
“Yes, we know that, my dear,” Gordon snapped. “Let’s rewind for a second. Tell us where you’re from first.”
Mandi took a deep breath and tried again. Her throat was dry; she yearned for a glass of water but didn’t dare to ask.
“I’m from Kwazakhele, that’s Kwazakhele township just outside of Port Elizabeth. It’s a poor location about twenty kilometres away, when you are driving towards–”
Gordon interrupted again, “Listen, we want to know about you. We all know where Kwazakhele is. Tell us about your background. Who is Mandi? What is she passionate about? What makes her tick?”
Mandi dropped her head. All she could see was the trees, dark and threatening in the wood. All she could hear was the sound of feet pounding behind her, catching up.
I can’t do this, she thought.
“I grew up in a …” She paused and briefly glanced at Sarah.
Gordon rolled his eyes a third time as Mandi continued, “I’m so sorry, Sarah. Forgive me.”
Sarah’s jaw dropped as she saw Mandi get up.
“I’m very sorry,” Mandi said. “I don’t think I’m ready to work here at the moment. I am really sorry for wasting your time…”
She turned and fled.
The distance between Sarah’s workplace and her home was twelve kilometres.
Each step felt as if she was moving closer and closer towards failure. Tears of anger rolled down her face. Her heart was filled with pain and resentment.
All that rang in her mind was, ‘no freedom, no future, no forgiveness’.
Eventually she reached the Sutherland’s mansion. Her feet were painfully blistered.
She packed a bag, and left for her home in the township. She had to do something. It had been too long. She had to find them all and end this. Only then would she be free, she told herself.
Tell us: Why is Mandi going home? Do you agree she should?