The next afternoon Thabi and Motso caught a taxi through to the hospital.
“Thanks for coming with me,” Thabi said, as they stopped to buy some oranges from a vendor. “You’re a good friend.”
“Eish, babe, you’re having a hard time – losing your job, and then the old man falling like that. I’m here for you, Thabi.”
“What if Mrs Ram calls the police?” Thabi’s voice was trembling as she handed over the ten rand for the bag of fruit.
“She won’t. She’d have done it straight away if she was going to.”
“You don’t know her. She’s mean. She likes to make people unhappy.”
“You’re her best waitress. You know her: she’s got a terrible temper, but it never lasts for long. Remember she fired Joyce last month, and then she went back after the weekend and apologised, and Joyce got her job back?”
“I don’t want to go back. I don’t want to ever see her again.” They were nearly at the hospital doors. “Which way is reception?”
“It’s the door on the right. Maybe she will retire – or sell the business. She’s getting old.”
Thabi pushed open the heavy glass door. “That would be nice. It’s a good job – you get really good tips, especially at the end of the month. If only she wasn’t there.”
“Didn’t you tell me she’s trying to sell the coffee shop?”
“That’s what Joyce said. She heard her on the phone to someone.”
“Maybe you’ll get a nice boss next time…”
“Can I help you?” the man at the information desk asked as they approached.
“I’m here to see Mr Ben Katz,” Thabi said. “He’s an old man. They brought him in yesterday. He had a fall. I found him…”
The man typed into his keyboard and ran his finger down the screen. “Kani, Karolus, Klein… there’s no Katz here.” He typed again. “Ah.” After a long pause he lifted his head from the screen and looked at them. “Are you family?”
“No. I’m his friend. Please tell me how he is. I brought him some fruit.”
“I’m very sorry to inform you, but Mr Katz passed away last night,” the man said.
Thabi felt the world start spinning.
“Sit down quick,” Motso said, grabbing her as she fell. She sat her on one of the plastic chairs. “Put your head between your knees.”
As the dizziness eased, Thabi started to cry. “Poor old Mr Katz,” she wailed.
“Come now,” Motso said. “Let’s get out of here. Everyone is staring. Look at that man there in the suit watching us. I hate this place. Come to my house. My mom will make you some of her special tea.”
“Okay,” Thabi sniffed.
As they stood up Thabi caught sight of a tall man standing at reception. He was holding a pile of papers and staring at her.
“Oh no,” she whispered to Motso. “He must be a policeman. He must have followed us here. Mrs Ram must have sent him.”
“Don’t be silly,” Motso said firmly. “You’re overwrought. Come on babe. We’re going home.”
Thabi let her friend hurry her out of the hospital. When she looked back the man was still standing at reception. And he was still staring after her like he was trying to file her away in his memory.
Tell us what you think: Who is the strange man watching her?