The next morning Khosi left home early and made her way to the offices of the Hammonds Furniture Emporium in town. She introduced herself at reception, and was shown into a large office, where a grey-haired man was sitting behind a shiny wooden desk.
He stood up when he saw her, moved out from behind his desk and crossed the thick pile carpet to shake her hand.
“My, my,” said the man with a friendly smile, “but you have grown up.” He indicated a chair, “Please sit down.”
Khosi sat down, and the man sat down opposite her.
“I’m sure you don’t remember me,” he said, “but I am the same man who you saw last time you were here, with your mother, ten years ago. After you won the competition. Do you remember?”
Khosi looked closely at the man, and blinked. She gently shook her head.
“Not a problem,” said the man, laughing slightly. “But I see that my information was correct. You have grown into an exceptionally beautiful young lady.”
“Thank you,” said Khosi, looking down.
“Well,” continued the man, “I have a proposition for you. We want to launch an advertising campaign, using you, again, as our model. Our advert will run along the lines of ‘Ten years later, and we’re looking even better than before!’ ”
The rest of the conversation passed like a dream. She heard something about a photo shoot, and money, and something else about Hammonds Furniture Emporium being thrilled that she was still in town, and available, and beautiful.
A time and date were set for her to return.
The last thing that Khosi remembered was her hand being shaken very firmly. Some other people were called into the office, and they all looked at her, and everyone smiled a lot.
Khosi eventually stepped out onto the sunny pavement a couple of hours later. She felt like she was walking on air. Her feet felt like they were hardly touching the ground.
Khosi couldn’t stop smiling, and she walked faster and faster, until she was running, towards the restaurant. Towards Bongani. She had forgotten all about Sbu!
* * * * *
The afternoon shift passed for Khosi in a kind of daze. Bongani had been thrilled when he heard her news.
“Of course they will love you,” he had said, embracing her in a big hug. “You’re the most beautiful girl in town. Everyone has always known that.”
But the restaurant was busy, and getting busier for the night, so Khosi and Bongani did not have much time to talk.
As the night fell, the sea wind died down and the baking hot day cooled into a perfect, balmy summer evening. Khosi felt a bubble of happiness that even waitressing couldn’t pop right now. Even Sbu couldn’t ruin things for her now. This would be her escape. She didn’t need him to get her out of this town, to fulfil her dream anymore.
Khosi lit some candles on the patio tables, and the restaurant patrons began arriving in their light, floral dresses and strappy coloured sandals. Everyone was in a bright and cheerful mood.
Khosi was very busy, moving between the tables, taking orders. She had just finished serving a large table of tourists, and was moving to the door, in order to catch a breath of fresh evening air, when she stopped in her tracks.
Sbu and two other friends stood, hovering in the doorway, all dressed in their very best designer clothing.
Sbu raised his hand to Khosi. “Howzit, Khosi,” he said to her with a wide, happy smile.
Khosi moved towards them slowly. She didn’t trust the smile on his face. She looked to see if she could see Bongani but he was at the back in the kitchen. She would have to handle this alone. Perhaps it was better that way. Perhaps she could persuade Sbu to leave before anyone got hurt. Had he not seen the security guard? He had a nerve!
“We’d like a table,” said Sbu.
“We’re going to get a real treat tonight,” said one of his friends with a sneer. “A four course meal…and more…”
The restaurant was full, and she was about to tell them so, but just then a table of three stood up, and moved away from their table, having finished their meal. Sbu and his friends moved towards it, and sat down. Khosi followed them.
“Why so serious, Khosi?” asked Sbu, as she approached. “Haven’t you got time any more for your old boyfriend Sbu?”
Sbu laughed, and his two friends joined in. Khosi stood quite still, and said softly: “What are you doing here Sbu?”
“Doing here?” said Sbu, raising his voice so that the people at the next table looked over at him. “What do you think I’m doing here? I want food. Of course. That’s what I’m doing here.”
Khosi saw his glazed, bloodshot eyes, and realised, with a start, that Sbu was either drunk or stoned.
“Okay,” she said, as she moved away. “I’ll get some menus.”
Instead, Khosi moved quickly into the kitchen.
Bongani was wiping the sweat off his brow. She moved up behind him and hissed into his ear, “Sbu is here. With friends.”
Then she grabbed a couple of menus, and returned to Sbu’s table. She bent down and said under her breath, “Don’t try anything Sbu. I warned you. Remember.”
Sbu stood up so fast that he knocked his chair over. It clattered to the ground. Everyone looked up. Everyone stopped talking. Suddenly Khosi was aware of hearing music playing softly in the background.
Sbu grabbed Khosi and pulled her roughly against him. She screamed in fright. Out of the corner of her eye she saw something silver flash in his hand. Then she felt it, cold and sharp, as Sbu pushed the knife against her throat.
Sbu’s two friends jumped up. Someone else screamed.
“Okay!” shouted Sbu. “Just give us all your valuables and this girl” − Sbu squeezed Khosi tighter against his body − “won’t get hurt.”
“Sbu! No!” Khosi managed to say, turning her head a little.
“Shut up!” hissed Sbu in her ear. “You didn’t want to help me the way I asked you to. Now you’re gonna help me anyway!”
Sbu looked up at the shocked restaurant patrons, and shouted again:
Khosi squirmed in Sbu’s arms.
“You’re hurting me Sbu,” she said, feeling tears beginning to escape from the corners of her eyes.
“Not as much as you have hurt me,” said Sbu angrily. “Or do you think that that doesn’t matter?”
“I never did anything to you…”
“Shut up,” said Sbu harshly, through gritted teeth. “We had plans Khosi. You and I always had plans…”
Khosi closed her eyes. She could feel the cold steel of Sbu’s knife pressed up against her throat. She saw the frightened restaurant patrons take off their watches and hand over their wallets to Sbu’s friends.
“Sbu,” she said again.
“One more word and I’ll cut you,” said Sbu. “And no funny business!” he shouted to the restaurant. “If I see a policeman I’ll kill this girl!”
Khosi could smell his sweat and feel his hard arm gripping her. How could she ever get away? It felt like he wanted to hurt her.
She opened her eyes. Something made her turn her head slightly. There in the corner she saw someone moving in the dim light.
It was Bongani. He had come quietly out of the kitchen. Khosi knew, without seeing him properly, that he was edging his way around the wall behind Sbu’s back. He was making his way towards her.
Khosi held her breath, hoping that neither Sbu, nor one of his friends, would notice him.
Soon he moved completely out of sight, behind them.
A moment later she felt Sbu’s arm being pulled away from her, and she heard the metallic clatter as Sbu’s knife flew from his hand and fell to the ground.
Khosi dived away from Sbu’s body, throwing herself away from him, and taking cover behind the closest table.
Looking up from between the forest of chair legs and table legs, and the frozen bodies of the restaurant goers, Khosi watched with horror as Bongani grabbed Sbu in a vice-like grip from behind.
Then, as Khosi held her breath, and watched, Bongani moved his arm around. In his hand he was gripping a very large, very long, very sharp, silver, stainless-steel knife.
The restaurant was completely silent as everyone watched Bongani.
Moving like lightning, Bongani brought the knife around Sbu’s body.
In a flash, Bongani’s hand, gripping the huge knife, swiftly moved up from Sbu’s belt.
Khosi watched, transfixed, as the deadly sharp knife neatly sliced off every single button from Sbu’s expensive designer shirt, as it made its way up towards Sbu’s smooth, brown throat.
Khosi blinked as the knife gleamed in the candlelight, and the buttons fell, one after the other, to the floor, and rolled off into the darkness beneath the tables.
Then, as if awaking from a dream, the whole restaurant suddenly moved into action. Two large men grabbed Sbu’s two friends, and forced them, spread-eagled, on to the restaurant floor.
By the time the security guard stormed into the restaurant, it was all over. He swiftly took over and called for backup.
Khosi crawled up from behind the table and flew into Bongani’s arms, just as soon as he had handed Sbu over to the waiting security guards.
* * * * *
Bongani accompanied Khosi to her photo shoot a couple of days later.
There was a wardrobe of different clothes for Khosi to change into, as well as a hairdresser, and a make-up artist. Bongani sat and watched as she was photographed. She moved in front of the camera, responding to every suggestion from the photographer.
“You’re a natural, my girl,” said Bongani to Khosi, when she took a break.
“She sure is,” said the photographer, overhearing Bongani’s comment. “These photographs are stunning!”
A few weeks later a new billboard appeared on the highway with Khosi’s beautiful face, a metre wide. In the corner of the huge poster was another inset picture, of the eight-year-old Khosi, also smiling, with a dreamy look in her eyes.
“Ten Years Later” – said the slogan advertising Hammonds Furniture Emporium on the gigantic billboard – “And We’re Looking Even Better Than Before.”
And soon Khosi had a lot of plans to make. Plans that the photographer had asked her to make. Her photographs had been so well received by the modelling agency that the photographer worked for, that they had offered Khosi a modelling contract.
In order to fulfil that contract, Khosi was going to have to move to the city. Soon. Nhlanhla hadn’t spoken to Khosi for weeks. Not since Khosi had got the news from the modelling agency.
“That’s my daughter Khosi on the big poster,” was all her mother could say these days, to anyone who would listen. “I always said she would be famous one day.”
Khosi wandered if Nhlanhla would even ever say goodbye to her, when she finally left for the city.
The terrible thing was leaving Bongani. But then he told her his news: that the restaurant was sponsoring him to study in the city under one of the most famous chefs in the country.
“I can’t believe we’ll be together,” Khosi said as she kissed him goodbye on her last afternoon at the restaurant.
As she walked to the taxi, smiling to herself, she didn’t notice the prison van as it came speeding past her.
One of the prisoners looking out through the grid noticed Khosi, slowly walking. He called out her name, but the wind blew his words away on the wind.
The prisoner, Sbu, gripped the grid tightly between his fingers, as he looked up at the clear, blue sky.
Then, out of nowhere, the sky was suddenly blocked by a huge, colourful billboard. It was covered with an image of the most beautiful girl Sbu had ever seen.
Sbu gasped, as he recognised the girl, and he strained for a better look. But it was gone.
The girl’s smiling face was left behind, next to the freeway, as the speeding prison van moved on, beginning the long journey to the prison, in the city.