During their first break, Cebisa and Khanyiswa overhear talking around the corner from the girls’ toilet.
“I bet she was looking for a sugar-daddy and got rejected.”
“Yeah! Now we’re minus a physics teacher.”
“Some girls are just cheap – always on special.”
Tears form in Khanyiswa’s eyes and she pulls Cebisa by the hand to turn back. But her friend pushes away her hand and confronts the gossip-mongers.
“Hey, Sushi! Don’t you have anything better to do than talk about others behind their back?” she says, stopping in front Mika – a tall, blonde-haired Grade 11 girl – Miss Popularity. “Talking rubbish non-stop.”
“Who are you calling Sushi, little girl?” Mika asks, laughing. “I bet you don’t even know what sushi is.”
“I’m calling you Sushi,” Cebisa responds, waving her finger in front of Mika’s face. “You think you’re so cool, but you’re just a cold fish!”
“You know, Mika,” Smiley’s voice drawls from behind the gossipers, “I’m shocked you made it to Grade 11. The way you open your mouth and spew lies and rumours, instead of open your mind.”
“Who do you think you–”
“Shut up, Mika,” Smiley sneers, coming to a standstill between Mika and her group, and Cebisa and Khanyiswa. “The dirt under Khanyiswa’s shoes have more class than you! Take care of the rubbish on your own doorstep before you point a finger at others.”
“You’re just a loser, Smiley,” Mika responds.
“I’d rather be a loser than get involved with you, Mika. Not that you haven’t tried,” he says, smiling. “Come, Khanyiswa, Cebisa. Let’s get away from the rubbish dump,” he says, taking Khanyiswa’s hand.
“Wow, thanks you guys,” Khanyiswa says as the trio walk away. “You really had my back!”
“She’s lucky Portia wasn’t with us or she’d be looking like a Kung-fu Panda,” Cebisa says, punching the air in front of her. “Pow pow!”
“Sorry you had to see that, but Mika had no business bad-mouthing you,” Smiley says, shaking his head.
He lets go of Khanyiswa’s hand only when they reach Miss Lisa’s class after the bell rings.
At the end of the lesson, Khanyiswa lingers at her desk.
I need Miss Lisa to buy into my poetry assignment, she thinks.
* * * * *
A week later, before classes commence, a special assembly is announced by Principal Hector. He’s apologised to Khanyiswa for assuming Mr Hill was innocent, and she guilty of lying. “I have done some soul-searching since then, Khanyiswa,” he had said to her.
“In view of recent events,” Principal Hector says, and clears his throat, looking out over the multitude of faces, “one of your peers will speak to you and share a poem.”
Everyone looks around for the speaker – there are only teachers on the stage.
A rush of whispering echoes as Khanyiswa makes her way up the stairs to take her place in front of the microphone.
“Hi, everyone,” she greets, waving a hand.
Muffled giggles follow but she ignores the negative energy.
“I’m not here to preach to you – I’ll leave that to the Pastors, but there’s something you need to know.”
She pauses and looks at the faces, some looking back at her while others are engaged with their phones or chatting with their friends.
“Rape doesn’t care about your age, skin colour, family status … or even if you’re a boy or girl,” she continues. “The thought that I could be raped never crossed my mind. I mean, look around you. We live in a great neighbourhood and attend one of the best schools around. I didn’t ask to be raped, but it happened to me. Before it happens to you, speak up if you feel someone is behaving in any way that makes you uncomfortable. Whether that someone is a friend, another student, adult … or even a teacher. Perhaps if I had, I wouldn’t be standing here talking to you about rape. But this is what I have to say to my rapist and to you, with my poem, Hero Within.”
Though you were heartless,
I still believe in love.
Though you inflicted pain,
I will not hate.
Though your actions left a bitter taste in my mouth,
I will not let that rob me of my sweet nature.
Though you made me feel less than, at the time,
I will not be defined by your weakness.
Though you thought money could heal the emotional wounds,
I did not salve my hurt with it.
Though you defiled my body,
You never reached my soul.
Though you sullied that day,
I still think the world is a beautiful place.
Though some people whispered unkind words,
I still walk with my head held high.
Though you said to tell no-one – ‘it’s our little secret’,
I will not be silenced.
Though you are a sexual opportunist,
I am not your victim.
Though you don’t deserve it,
I forgive you.
I am Khanyiswa Sibewu, and
Though I was raped,
I am not broken.
I look at myself in the mirror and see …
I, the victor.
A hero within.
Tell us: Looking back over the whole story, do you think Khanyiswa is a true hero? Why or why not? Who else in the story is heroic?