I glared at my reflection in the bathroom mirror of our RDP house in Umlazi. My heartbeat was loud and out of rhythm. It sounded like a gong banging inside my skull. I looked at my chest and saw my heart pulse wildly through the skin between my ribs, like it wanted to break free from my ribcage. I splashed cold water on my face.

My cellphone rang non-stop on top of the closed toilet seat. I didn’t have to look at it to know Mdu was calling. I knew what Mdu was going to say if I answered that call. He’d say, “It’s time to go, Spha! Time to get this money!”

Mdu had coerced me to join him and his friend, Padlock, in committing a robbery of a cigarette wholesaler in Port Shepstone. I didn’t want to go so I ignored his calls and messages. The air around me felt heavy, like it carried an invisible load. I sat down on the toilet lid. Sweat from my face, neck and shoulders drizzled down onto the bare concrete floor.

“Calm down,” I thought out loud. “Just tell Mdu you don’t want to go.”

My cellphone’s ring tone startled me. It was Mdu again. My finger zoomed to the off button but just then my daughter, Owethu, screamed. Her cry pierced through the door, stopping my finger mid-air. She was only six months. On that particular morning her screams were laden with so much sadness that it broke my heart into a thousand pieces.

“Spha! Spha!” my girlfriend, Linda, shouted over Owethu’s screams.

I put my head in my hands but it slipped right through my fingers and palms because I was sweating so much.

“Spha come out here!” Linda shouted. “Come out right now!”

A quick prayer for an instant miracle rolled off my tongue as a whisper: “Let this phone ring. Let this phone ring but don’t let it be Mdu. Let this phone ring but make it be someone offering to loan me some money to buy food for my baby.”

But Mdu’s name was on the cellphone screen as it illuminated.

“Spha!” Linda shouted again.

I opened the door. Linda had Owethu on her hip. Their faces glistened with sweat in the muggy heat. Linda’s expectant eyes brimmed with desperation.

“Who was that on the phone?” she said, her voice half hope, half dread. “Was it your friend? Is he giving you some money?”

“He has not called,” I said. “He is not answering my calls. And I ran out of airtime.”

“Maybe he’ll call later,” Linda rocked Owethu side to side. “But how will later help us when Owethu is hungry right now? Spha, I’m losing my mind! Our baby hasn’t eaten since last night. Go out and look for something!”

“I have already gone out, Linda. Musa won’t even speak to me. The shelves in his tuck shop are empty and we still owe him money from last month. He wants his money, Linda.”

“Try your friend again on the phone.”

“I just told you – I don’t have airtime,” I said.

“I’ll get airtime advance on my phone. I think I can get five rand,” she said.


Tell us: What would you advise Spha and Linda to do at this point?