“So what did you think of that lesson? Mma Mogomotsi is my favourite teacher,” Monica said as they walked to the shade tree where they liked eating their lunch.
Tebogo walked with her. She’d been quiet all morning and Monica wondered what was bothering her friend. Monica walked slightly ahead, sat down on the bench and opened her lunch box. When she looked up she saw Tebogo standing, holding the tree, her eyes closed. She seemed to be swaying.
Monica put her lunch box down and jumped to her feet. “Are you okay? Tebby? Is something wrong?”
“I’m… I’m fine… I … just felt a bit dizzy for a minute,” Tebogo said.
Monica took her by the shoulders and guided her to the bench. “Sit down. Maybe it’s the heat. Let me go get you some water.”
Monica picked up her cup and ran to the tap and back. She gave Tebogo a drink. Then she thought it would be good to splash some water on Tebogo’s neck to help her cool down. It really was very hot and Tebogo had her school blouse buttoned all the way to the top button.
Monica pulled the collar away from Tebogo’s neck at the back and then she saw it. She gasped. Tebogo pulled the collar away from Monica and adjusted it back around her neck. “I’m okay now,” she said, pretending nothing had just happened. “The water helped, thanks. I’ll be fine.”
But Monica couldn’t ignore what she saw. “What was that? It looks like a bruise. What happened?”
“Nothing. It’s just stupid. I burnt myself… I …um… I ironed my shirt and put it on before it cooled off. It’s nothing. I’m fine.” Tebogo opened her lunch box carefully as she always did, so Monica couldn’t see inside. But Monica knew what was there, the same as always: two slices of plain bread. “Let’s eat. The bell will soon ring,” said Tebogo.
Monica knew she was lying about the burn. That was not a burn. It looked like a bruise – like someone had grabbed her hard or tried to strangle her. Monica always felt bad for Tebogo, but now she was really worried. What was going on? She watched Tebogo eat tiny bits of the bread. She ate like that as if to make the bread last as long as Monica’s lunch, which today was leftover chicken and rice from the night before.
Monica tried to share her food with Tebogo but Tebogo would always make excuses and give reasons why she couldn’t take it. Sometimes Monica won, sometimes she didn’t. Today she decided she would win.
“Eish! Chicken and rice again!” she said, looking down at her lunch box, disgusted. “When it’s my father’s night to cook that’s all he ever makes, and this entire week my mother’s on second shift. Chicken and rice, chicken and rice until it is coming out of my ears!” Monica pushed the container toward Tebogo. “Please, can we swap? I’ll be eating chicken and rice again tonight, I just know it.”
Tebogo handed Monica her bread and Monica tucked in. “What a relief!” she said, folding a slice of bread in half and taking a big bite.
Tebogo smiled and began eating the chicken and rice in her slow, methodical way.
Tell us what you think: What happened to Tebogo’s neck? What should Monica do?