The words hardly needed to be said. Bulelwa took it for granted that Mudira and her mother would come home with her.

Mudira’s mother had taken only her laptop, some warm clothes in a bag and her important documents. Mudira had fled with her laptop and passport and a few precious photographs snatched from a shelf in her room.

Over the next few days Mudira and her mother wandered back to the site of their burned down home a few times. They picked through the ashes. Bulelwa left them alone to do it. They came home with an assortment of things. A few twisted forks, found in the ash of the kitchen, together with a plate with a pretty pattern, found totally intact.

Mudira had hoped to find a little piece of singed lace, from the Matric Farewell dress her mother had so lovingly bought for her. But of course that was impossible; not even the wire hanger that it had hung upon remained, or indeed, even the cupboard.

Mudira and her mother were given the two beds in Lunga’s room. Lunga had not been back to the house since the fire and Bulelwa had not been able to find him, or receive any replies to her messages. Sipho and a couple of his other friends were also missing, and her gogo was worried about them all.

Eventually, on the fourth day after the fire, a police car pulled up outside Bulelwa’s house. She opened the door to the two policemen and they came inside. Gogo sat in the corner, wrapped in her blanket, and listened quietly to the tale the policemen had to tell them.

They told how, on the night of the fire, Lunga and some of his friends had gone into the neighbouring suburbs that were burning. As people fled, some on foot, some in cars, they had moved silently past them, risking the flames, going in the opposite direction.

At some of the houses they had moved through open gates and burned down doors to try and grab a computer or television screen left attached to a wall. Then, at one of the houses they had found a shiny red sports car, abandoned in the driveway. The owners had piled their precious family, dogs, cats and a few possessions into the family land cruiser before speeding away.

Lunga managed to get the car started and had made a getaway. Theirs was just one car amongst thousands, all heading down towards the lagoon, towards water, and nobody noticed them. That night there was nowhere else to go.

Both roads out of the town had been blocked by fire that night, but Lunga and his friends were patient. They sat in the car, down next to the water, and waited. Still no-one noticed them. Everyone was too busy worrying about the circle of huge, red flames that was engulfing their town.

As soon as they were able, Lunga drove the car out of town. But before he left, Sipho decided to stay and go off on his own. It was a small sports car, and there were five young men in it. He decided to get himself his very own car.

Later Bulelwa heard that at the first house that Sipho came upon, just off the main road, he found a lovely big car abandoned in the driveway. The house had already burned, but the car had escaped the flames. The dawn was just breaking when Sipho hot-wired the car and the engine roared into life. Smiling to himself he turned in the seat to look back, and began to reverse. As he did so he also looked into the faces of five very angry men.

Sipho, the police said, was in hospital, with a fractured skull and a few cracked ribs. Both his legs were broken and they thought he might have lost the sight in one eye. All he had been able to say up to now was that there were five of them. Five angry men.

“Fires make people mad,” said the police officer.

Lunga drove the sportscar through a section of road with fire on either side, which the traffic police had closed off. He ignored the signs and the red cones and revved the car up to an incredible speed and sped past all the other cars. The police were waiting on the other side of the fiery road, and they would have caught them. But the car never emerged.

“I suppose your brother thought he could handle that kind of speed,” said the police officer, shaking his head. “The truth is, hardly anyone can …”

Lunga, however, was alive, and when Bulelwa’s gogo began to wail it was not for him, but for his three friends, who had not been so lucky.

“He would never learn, that boy,” was all she said later, sighing and clicking her tongue.

She knew it would be a long time before she would see him again. He had walked away from the car wreck, straight into handcuffs, and no doubt a long prison sentence.

***

Tell us: Do you feel sorry for Lunga at all? Is stealing during a traumatic tragedy like this worse than stealing under ‘ordinary’ circumstances? Should looting be more heavily punished?