It was nearly midnight by the time all the tourists had left, and Khosi was exhausted. Her legs ached from standing all day. Every time a new customer had come through the door, she had looked up quickly, thinking it was Sbu and his gang. Every time she had felt relief when it was just another couple come for a romantic dinner. But she hadn’t relaxed, not once.
She was clearing the last table when Bongani came out to join her. He had taken his apron off, and she wondered how he could look so cool and composed after such a busy shift standing over steaming pots.
“Okay,” said Bongani, sitting down. “What did you want to talk to me about?”
She had forgotten that she had told him that she needed to talk to him. Khosi sat down. The words seemed to jam in her throat. She wanted to tell him everything, but how to start?
And then he put his arm around her shoulders and tilted her face up to his. “What’s the matter?” he asked gently.
And with that she felt the tears coming. With his gentle concern he had opened the flood gates to her heart and the words came pouring out.
She didn’t stop until she had told Bongani everything.
She told him all about Sbu’s crazy plan. She even told him, her head hanging in shame, that for one crazy moment she had even considered helping Sbu. But one thing she couldn’t tell him was what she had seen in her dream: him slicing off Sbu’s head with his sharp steel knife.
“The thing is,” said Khosi when she had finished, “I don’t know what to do now. Sbu will still rob the restaurant, even without my help. I’m sure of it. But he knows that I know and…” Here Khosi ran out of words.
After a moment she added, “You said you are a solutions man…”
She felt shame as she looked at Bongani, pleadingly. Why should he get involved in this? It wasn’t fair. But he was the only person she could turn to now.
“I’d just like to stop it all from happening. I grew up with Sbu…” she hesitated. Would Bongani ever understand what she was about to say. “Well I grew up with him, and he’s not all bad. It’s just that he got in with a bad crowd and … I just don’t want to see him get into trouble either.”
She closed her eyes waiting for Bongani to get up and leave at these words. But instead she heard his soft voice as he leant close to her.
“I understand,” he said. Then he stood up. “I’ll be back in a minute.” She watched as he disappeared inside the restaurant. She watched as he walked towards where the owner of the restaurant was eating at his table. She watched them talking, with her heart in her throat.
Was he going to give Sbu away? And what about her? Would he tell the owner about her part in it? Would he come out to fire her?
But when Bongani came back he was alone. Khosi couldn’t look at him.
“It’s OK. I didn’t tell him about Sbu,” said Bongani. “I would never do that. I would never put you in any danger. I want you to know that.”
“But you were talking…?” Khosi looked up at him questioningly.
“I told him that when I came to work this morning I noticed a knife and a hammer near the toilet window. I told him I thought someone was going to try and break in, but had got scared off, and that he should think about increasing security. Now that it’s high season.”
“What did he say?”
“He said he knew of another restaurant that had been robbed recently. Maybe it was the same gang who had left their tools of the trade behind and been scared off.”
Khosi’s eyes widened and Bongani squeezed her hand. “Don’t worry,” said Bongani. “Just warn Sbu. Tell him that from tomorrow this will be the very worst place in town for him and his friends to try and rob.”
“Thank you,” said Khosi. She was so grateful. She felt something else as well. She couldn’t take her eyes off Bongani, and his soft brown eyes. Bongani moved closer to her, and Khosi closed her eyes. She felt Bongani’s lips gently brush hers, as they sat there in the dark.
After a moment Bongani sat back in his chair. He continued to hold her hand.
“Hey look, there it goes again.”
Khosi followed Bongani’s eyes. The furniture truck was passing slowly by, and Khosi could see, by the light of the yellow street lights, that they had begun to paint over her picture on the side of the van. Only half of her image remained.
“About time,” she said softly. “It really is about time.” But in another way she felt a sadness: this was the end of those hopes and dreams she had had since she was eight years old.
A sudden movement caught her eye. Someone moved out from behind a tree across the road. Khosi leant forward. The figure paused in the shadows and looked back at her from beneath his hoody. As she watched, the dark figure slid something long and shiny into the front of his jacket. It glinted brightly for a moment.
“Sbu?” said Khosi softly. Bongani followed her gaze and squeezed Khosi’s hand.
Sbu moved quickly, passing for a moment beneath a street light, and then he was gone.
Khosi looked at Bongani. At first Khosi thought that he hadn’t seen Sbu, but then Bongani suddenly stood up.
“I’m tired of Sbu skulking around in the shadows, Khosi,” he said, as he began to walk towards the road. “It’s not right that he is always spying on you.”
Khosi stood up. Suddenly she felt frightened.
“Just leave it Bongani,” she said urgently. “It doesn’t matter. It’s just the way Sbu is. He’s always been like that.”
“Well, it’s time he stopped,” Bongani called back, as he ran across the road. Before Khosi could stop him Bongani had disappeared around the corner, in the direction Sbu had gone.
Khosi looked around. Inside the restaurant the owner was still deep in conversation with his friends. Everyone else had left. Khosi sat down slowly. She considered running after Bongani, but she stopped herself. The dark, deserted street made her nervous. Khosi took out her cellphone and SMSed Bongani:
Then she waited. She sat alone and silent at the table, straining her eyes as she peered around her at the tree-lined street, waiting to see Bongani appear. But he didn’t come back.
“I’m locking up now, Khosi,” said the owner of the restaurant, coming over to where she was sitting. “The last taxi should come by any minute. Where is Bongani?”
Khosi was just about to answer when she heard the sound of running footsteps coming towards her. It was Bongani. Relief flooded through her.
“Come on,” he said. “We’d better move, or else we’ll miss our lift.”
Khosi stood up just as the taxi pulled up next to the kerb, and she followed Bongani as he climbed aboard.
“Well?” asked Khosi as she sat down beside Bongani.
“Nothing,” said Bongani with a light shrug of his shoulders. “I never found him.”
Khosi frowned. Was Bongani telling the truth? Why had he taken so long to come back? But then Bongani snuggled closer to her and her heart began to flutter like it always did when he was near.
“Now then,” he said softly, as he touched her cheek gently with his finger, “where were we again?”
Khosi closed her eyes and allowed Bongani to kiss her, only opening them again when the tired taxi driver shouted: “Hey you girl! This is your stop.”
Khosi looked back at Bongani as she climbed down from the taxi. “See you tomorrow.”
“See you tomorrow,” he said. He raised his hand to wave just before the door slid shut.
Khosi stood alone on the dark pavement as the taxi drove away.