“Who do we know with a farm outside town?” Loyiso asked Vusi.
“For real, dude? How would we know anyone?” Vusi was scathing. “Most of the big places belong to companies, and the smaller places … I dunno.”
“Nelani told her mother she was with friends on a farm.” Loyiso frowned, wishing his brain would make some magical leap and give him the answer he was looking for.
“Still stressing about her, then?” Vusi asked.
“It’s so out of character for her, if you know what I mean?” Loyiso shook his head. “To stop coming to school, just like that. To take off. When she’s always been so into … you know? Doing the work, achieving, all that.”
“I hear you, bhuti, but what can you do? Let it go; write her off.”
But something obstinate inside Loyiso would not allow him to drop it. What if Nelani was in some sort of trouble?
“A change in behaviour is supposed to be a sign that something is not right,” he reminded his friend.
“Not always. Suppose she decided to change her life for the better?”
“What would be better?”
“Dropping out of school?”
“For some kids, maybe. Not for Nelani.” Loyiso was sure of that.
“So what are you going to do?”
“I don’t know.” Loyiso tried to remember if anything Nelani had said might be a clue. “That day she was late for Ms Khoza’s test, she said something …Vusi, my man! Is there a church around here that’s like One World Religion, something like that? She said this thing about no one religion being the answer.”
“You think she got religion? Sounds like it should be No Faiths if that’s what she said.”
“Or All Faiths,” Loyiso said. “I can’t think of any local churches with a name like that, not the old ones or the new, or any of the tent churches either. Anyway, they’re not farms.”
“What about those other people? I don’t know what they are; I don’t think they’re a church.” Vusi sucked his teeth, a habit he had when thinking. “But they’ve got a plot or a smallholding somewhere around. Soul Food, something like that, so maybe they’re farmers. I’ve seen a little sign, hand-painted.”
Something jumped in Loyiso’s mind, some sort of recognition. He had to let the idea settle before he could catch hold of it. A thought he’d had the day Nelani had been late – what was it?
“Soul … not Soul Side?” he asked. “Like that shop.”
“Could be.” Vusi clearly wasn’t sure.
It was something to start with anyway, Loyiso thought, his mood suddenly upbeat. He had a lead to follow.
He waited until after school, then walked quickly to the small, dark shop he had often passed, but never entered. He studied the outside of the place, reading a sign offering tattoos, haircuts and health foods. He pushed aside the fake leather strips hanging in the entrance, and stepped inside.
“Sawubona.” A woman got up from a low stool where she’d been sitting sorting through a box of products. “How can I help you?”
“Uh, I was wondering … maybe a tattoo,” Loyiso said, thinking a discussion about possible tatts would give him get-out time.
“That’s a sign that you’re looking to change your life, am I right? I can tell.” The woman’s smile was warmly welcoming. “You’ve come to the right place. I’m Sister Rebekah.”
Tell us: Will Rebekah lead Loyiso to Nelani, and should he trust her?