Amahle pushes the gate latch into its slot and padlocks it. She pulls the padlock to make sure it is locked before she turns and walks to school.

The whites of her eyes, though clearer than that of most people, cannot compete with the white of her neatly pressed shirt. The blue of her skirt is more intense than this Friday morning’s clear sky. Her grey matric tie flaps every now and then, less from her fast walking-pace and more from the warm winds passing through the township of Hammarsdale. And where most parents would advise their children that no outfit is complete without a smile, Amahle’s mother has repeatedly told her daughter to never forget to put on a frown.

A few moments after Amahle locks the gate and leaves, her mother, Ningi, steps out of a white Toyota Quantum taxi that has stopped at the same gate. She rubs her sleepy eyes and covers a yawn with her hand as she turns around to close the taxi door.

“Have a nice weekend, Ningi,” says a woman inside the taxi.

“There’s no nice weekend for me, Zodwa, I’m working overtime tonight and tomorrow night,” Ningi grumbles and slides the door shut.

“Oh, I’m sorry girl,” Zodwa calls as the taxi drives off.

Ningi looks down the road and sees Amahle walking to school. A bad memory lands in Ningi’s mind but she shakes it off like she would a fly on her face, and the memory is gone. Her eyes move from Amahle and scan the other children headed to school down the same street. Her gaze lands on a girl wearing the same school uniform as Amahle.

“Hi, my girl,” Ningi turns to face the girl. She notices that the girl is wearing earphones. She waves her hand at her. “How are you?”

The girl stops walking and takes out one of her earphones. “I’m okay, and you?”

“What’s your name?” Ningi unzips her handbag, pulls out a rose-gold iPhone and switches it on.

“Sthembile,” the girl answers. She takes a small step back and folds her arms.

“Relax, love, I just have one question for you,” Ningi turns the iPhone’s screen towards Sthembile. “Do you know this girl? She’s doing matric at your school.” She shows the girl a photo of Amahle.

Sthembile looks at the picture on the screen and nods. “I’ve seen her, she’s in class B, I’m in A.”

“Perfect,” Ningi reaches into her handbag again and pulls out a R50 note. “Can you do me a favour?”

Sthembile’s folded arms tighten against her chest and her shoulders rise.

“I’m sorry to bother you like this, Thenjiwe—”

“It’s Sthembile.”

“Sorry, Sthembile,” Ningi fakes a smile. “Uhm, to cut a long story short, I need you to be my spy. If you see this girl talking to a boy as if they are dating, I need you to take a video clip of them and send it to me,” she stretches out the hand with the R50 note to Sthembile. “This is just to start you off; I’ll give you more when you have something for me.”

Sthembile looks at the money, she looks at Ningi and shakes her head. “I … I can’t.”

“Please, my girl,” Ningi speaks these gentle words in a forceful tone. “I’m begging you. She’s my daughter and I’m worried she’s in trouble. You can’t tell her … if I find out that you have told her …”

Sthembile looks around the street, seeking a way out of the situation she’s in. Seeing no escape, she looks back at Ningi, sighs, and takes the money. “I’ll send you the clip via WhatsApp?”

Ningi nods with a real smile on her face this time. She exchanges contact details with Sthembile. Then the girl walks away and Ningi goes into the house to sleep after a long night at work.

Further down the road, Amahle has her ‘boy-repellent’ frown on, as her mother calls it. Musa, a boy who’s also doing matric in Amahle’s school and is also in class A, crosses the road when he sees her.

“Hi,” Musa says when he gets to Amahle. “I’m Musa. Your name is Amahle, right?”

Tell us: Why does Amahle’s mother act the way she does?