“Yes, the school has been concerned about Nelani’s absence,” Ms Khoza said when Loyiso explained why he was approaching her. “I know Mr Moyane has spoken to the family, but they couldn’t tell him much. I do hope she hasn’t dropped out. She’s such a promising student.”

“And the Soul Side thing?” Loyiso urged.

He was grateful that she was taking him seriously. This was why she was such a popular teacher – she listened to the learners.

“It’s just a suspicion you have, isn’t it?” Ms Khoza sounded regretful. “You don’t have any real evidence that Nelani is with these people.”

“It’s stronger than suspicion, ma’am,” he insisted. “It’s like I know, in my blood and my bones, especially after talking to the lady in the Soul Side shop. It’s … instinct, you know?”

She smiled slightly. “And your instinct may be on point. There have been rumours over the years, to the effect that Soul Side is recruiting young people for dodgy purposes. To work as slaves on the farm, and worse, in the case of girls.”

Loyiso went cold. “We have to get Nelani back, ma’am.”

“I’m afraid it’s a bit of an uncertain situation.” Ms Khoza shook her head. “If Nelani has gone of her own free will, and if her family hasn’t reported her missing, it makes it difficult to take action.”

“Ma’am, can you … can’t someone from the school persuade her parents to make a missing person report?” He swallowed, trying to keep his emotions in check.

“It was terrible when I went to Nelani’s house. Her mother just didn’t seem to care where she was … And when I said what a star Nelani is at school, she was like – ‘but Nelani’s brother is the star’. Only, I saw she looked a bit surprised to hear about Nelani being such an achiever. What if Nelani’s teachers made them see that she’s as valuable as her brother, and that they need to get her back? Maybe then they’d go to the police.”

Ms Khoza looked thoughtful. “We can try. I’d need to get Mr Moyane’s permission, but he’s away attending a conference today and tomorrow.”

Loyiso’s hopes came crashing down. “What if a delay puts Nelani in danger? I feel we should act fast, ma’am.”

She sighed. “Protocols, Loyiso. They have to be observed. Let’s just hope Nelani’s intelligence, together with some good luck, will keep her safe for now.”

He had to accept it, but his thoughts and feelings were bubbling up in rebellion.

“It’s not good enough,” he told Vusi later, walking home with him. “We need to go out there to the Soul Side place.”

“We?” Vusi waggled his thick eyebrows.

“Friends support friends, right?” Loyiso challenged. “But if you don’t want to, I’ll go on my own.”

“Bit of a long walk out there.”

“Why I need you, you being older and having your driver’s licence.”

“Five years in Grade 7,” Vusi joked, exaggerating, because it had only been two years.

“And my cousin from the Mnisi side is staying with us, so I can get him to lend us his car.”

“And you think these Soul Siders will just let you walk in there?”

That was worrying Loyiso too. “I’ll think of something when we get there and see what the situation is. Maybe I can use that Rebekah woman’s name, pass myself off as a new convert, since she was so busy trying to win me over. Until I started asking about Nelani.”

Nelani. He couldn’t stop worrying about her, especially after Ms Khoza had mentioned the ugly rumours about Soul Side.

What if they were too late?


Tell us: Has Loyiso made the right decision, or should he wait for the school to persuade Nelani’s family to report her missing?