At home, after the hugs, tears, and sympathy, Cebisa and Portia dig out notes on the lessons Khanyiswa has missed.
“We knew you wouldn’t want to fall behind,” says Portia, plopping Khanyiswa’s school bag on a stool.
“And, you don’t have to be scared about coming back to school,” says Cebisa. “Giiirlfriend! The police took Mr Hill away in handcuffs!”
“That’s good to know,” Khanyiswa says, sticking her knuckles against her mouth to stop a yawn from escaping her lips.
“You should rest,” says Cebisa. “We’ll see you again tomorrow.”
“With tons of homework!” Portia chimes in.
They hug and kiss each other – four times! – before finally separating.
Snuggling deeper under the covers, Khanyiswa’s mind settles on an idea.
That’s what I’ll do she decides, as she drifts off to sleep.
* * * * *
Seated at the foot of her bed, Mr Sibewu blinks back his tears as he stares at Khanyiswa. She looks so peaceful. So innocent. That monster dared to lay his hands on my daughter, he thinks, grinding his teeth.
Khanyiswa’s eyes fly open.
“Hello, my baby girl,” he says.
Khanyiswa notices his red eyes, and his usually smiling face set in a grimace.
“I’m sorry, Tata. It’s partly my fault. I–”
“Don’t ever blame yourself for someone else’s actions, Khanyiswa,” he says, scooting closer and enveloping her in his arms. “I’m sorry I couldn’t protect you. You’re a good girl. Don’t stop being yourself and doing great things.”
“Enkosi, Tata. I will make you proud of me,” she says, gulping back her tears.
“I’ve always been proud of you,” her father responds, before kissing her on the forehead. “That will never change!”
“Knock! Knock!” Fezile announces, leaning against the frame of Khanyiswa’s bedroom door, his hands behind his back. “I come bearing gifts,” he says, bringing out a picnic basket from behind his back.
“Yintonileyo?” asks Khanyiswa.
“Supper, picnic style,” Fezile says. “Make space on the bed – Mama is bringing the drinks.”
Mrs Sibewu enters the room, smiling. “I thought you might enjoy something casual. How does pizza sound?” she asks, winking at Khanyiswa.
“Yhu, Mama. You’re the best!” Khanyiswa says as she tries to get up from her bed to give her mother a hug. “Ouch!” she exclaims, falling back against the pillows.
“Don’t move, girlie. Just sit back and eat,” says Mrs Sibewu.
“Ewe, Mama. Enkosikakhulu.”
“Wamkelekile. Let’s eat!” Mrs Sibewu orders.
There’s no talking, making Khanyiswa feel self-conscious. She looks at each of her family members.
“I’m not dead, you know,” she says.
Three heads jolt up – eyes wide open, mouths frozen in various stages of chewing.
“I never thought–”
“Of course not.”
“It’s a difficult situa–”
They all speak at the same time.
Mr Sibewu holds up a hand.
“I don’t think we mean to make you feel that way, Khanyiswa,” he says.
“Please, just treat me like you always have. I can’t get over this ordeal without your support. But I need you to … what if ndipreg?” she blurts out.
Mrs Sibewu pulls her into a tight hug. “That’s why you’re on medication, baby girl. But whatever happens – we will deal with it as a family.”
“And like it or not – I’m walking you to school on Monday morning, little one,” Fezile says, tossing his crumpled napkin at her.
“That’s much better,” she says, a hesitant smile sneaking its way onto her lips.
Tell us: Would you find it easy to just ‘treat me as you always have’ if something so terrible happened to a relative or friend?