Nompilo was about to speak when she saw a shadow lurking in the darkness nearby. As the figure got closer, they saw it was a man in tattered clothes.
“Hello there friends,” he greeted.
Mfundo and Nompilo did not respond.
“I come in peace,” the man lifted his arms. He looked like rubbish torn off the streets with his shredded trousers and boots. He also looked like trouble.
“What do you want?” Mfundo asked, trying to make his voice deeper.
The man’s eyes scanned around under the bridge.
“I’m just a wanderer looking for anything I can use.” He showed them the plastic bag he was holding. There were a few scraps of metal and tins in it. “Just scavenging, that’s all. Night is the best time to hunt.” In the dim light they could see his teeth the colour of wood.
“Well there’s nothing here,” said Nompilo.
He moved slowly towards them. His eyes had an eerie gleam; there was something strange about them, Mfundo thought.
“Can I look around here?”
“I already told you, there is nothing here. We sell everything we find here.”
“Oh, I see.” His eyes fell on Nompilo. Her skin was the colour of a walnut underneath the grime. Her little arms were like burnt branches at her sides. The floral dress she wore, she had long outgrown.
“What’s your name little one?” He directed his question at Nompilo. “You are a cute little thing. Where are your mommy and daddy?”
“Hey! Voetsek!” Mfundo shrieked, his heart beginning to beat fast. He felt the panic rising inside him.
“Are you alone here? This is a nice place you have here. I wouldn’t mind resting a bit.”
“Our parents are around collecting fire wood. They should be on their way back now. My father is very protective of his family; he doesn’t want anyone around here.” Mfundo showed the man his blade. “He will do whatever to defend his family.”
The man smirked, “I see.” Then he turned and walked away. “Oh, you have a good night friends,” he called back as he disappeared into the dark.
They had just begun to feel safe under this bridge and now it didn’t feel safe anymore. They were again faced with danger; danger that had driven them away from the beach a few weeks ago.
“We must go before he comes back with trouble. Remember Thabiso?” said Mfundo.
Thabiso was a kid they had befriended some weeks back. He had one day promised to watch their belongings while they swam. He did so, and they trusted him. Thabiso had slept next to them that night. Morning came and Thabiso was gone – and so were their shoes. The ones they had just got from the church people going around town. From that day, besides Nompilo, Mfundo vowed to trust himself alone.
“I just told you: it’s not safe. Where the hell are you going now?” Mfundo asked harshly.
“I’m going to see if he’s gone,” said Nompilo, walking in the direction of where the man had disappeared.
She struggled up the slope where the bridge ended and the steep bank rose up to meet the highway, and peered over. On her way back down she stopped and squatted down at the edge of the concrete. She moved some bricks and retrieved an old calendar that was hidden beneath them. By the time she reached Mfundo he had spread out their sleeping cardboard.
The glow of the street lamp slanted across her squatting figure. He observed that she was running her finger through a patch of soil between two slabs of concrete. The calendar was open next to her. Probably one of her silly games, he thought.
Tell us: What do you think about Thabiso stealing from his new ‘friends’? Are you surprised?