Ntando woke with a start. Hunger pains needled her belly, competing for attention with her bladder, which felt urgent and heavy. As she rubbed the sleep from her eyes, she spied her red shoes on top of her desk. Ntando got up and discovered a clear cellophane package nestled between the shoes. It was filled with chocolate eggs. The note attached said:

Ntando, I’m off to Kay’s. I hope you have a lekker Easter. Enjoy the chocolate. – Gerda xx

Ntando wanted to cry. Gerda, who hardly spoke to her, who never seem to care, had left a gift. Yet the woman who meant more to her than anyone in the world had not only abandoned her, but had taken her last cent.

“Guess Vuyisa is out with her real friends,” Ntando grumbled.

Popping a chocolate into her mouth, she grabbed her toiletries and headed for the showers. Ntando was determined to push Vuyisa from her mind. But scenes from the dream followed her with every step. The cries of, ‘Help me!’ rang in her ears, even under the shower’s spray.

“Only a dream,” Ntando said, shutting the water off.

On her way back to her room, Lwandisa came running down the hall. “Hey, Ntando, wait up.”

“Morning,” Ntando said.

“Morning,” Lwandisa said, coming to a halt. “Have you seen Vuyisa?”

Ntando shook her head, not wanting to explain the humiliating episode over the money.

“Damn,” Lwandisa said. “Her mother phoned me, worried. Said she hasn’t heard from Vuyisa in two days.”

Ntando shrugged. But inside her head she could still hear, “Help me!”

Lwandisa nodded. “I know, I know, two days isn’t long. But they’re freaking out. Especially with this weather and the traffic accidents–”

“If I hear anything, I’ll let you know,” Ntando cut in.

“Alright, thanks.”

Back inside her room, Ntando picked up her phone. There were four missed calls, all from Vuyisa’s relatives. She sucked in a breath. This was nuts.

Like Ntando, Vuyisa’s family lived in the Eastern Cape. The distance and lack of money meant they would only be going home for the longer breaks. But unlike Ntando, Vuyisa’s family lived in an area with decent cellphone reception. She was calling and WhatsApping them all the time.

“My phone is my family love line,” Vuyisa was fond of saying.

Ntando clicked on the first missed call. Her phone began to dial, then a rectangular screen flashed up: “Not enough funds to complete this call.”

Ntando swallowed a scream of frustration as she tossed her phone to the bed.

Rat-a-tat-tat came a sound – from the window.

Ntando turned. There, perched on the other side of the glass was a white-necked raven. The bird cocked its head, as if examining her through its eye. Ntando sighed and walked over to her phone. As she opened WhatsApp she heard the oddest sound from the window, like a diamond being dragged across glass.

“Shoo,” she yelled, as she tapped messages to Vuyisa’s family. But the raven stayed, scraping his beak against the icy crust that had formed over much of the window. The noise stopped as she was hitting ‘send’.

“Finally,” Ntando mumbled.

The raven tapped three times.

She opened her mouth to yell at the raven, but it was gone. It had, however, left a message, written into the icy crust: !ɘm plɘH

“Help me,” Ntando whispered.


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