Back under the bridge no words were spoken. Nompilo sat with pursed lips. She sniffled and she rubbed her arm as Mfundo took out the remains of the food from the little bag.

“Listen,” Mfundo began solemnly. “I don’t want you wasting any more time at that place. We have enough problems as it is.”

A wave of rage ran over Nompilo. “You are not the boss of me! You can’t tell me what to do.”

“You saw what almost happened today.”

“I’ll go without your permission.”

Mfundo felt his blood surge. He walked up to her and screamed: “Dammit! You are not like those children, can’t you see? You only have poverty and me. Me and …”

He regained control of himself, then took a deep breath, and spoke softly. “We must think of our lives. We must survive.”

“What life are you talking about?” Nompilo shrieked in anger. “Living like this under a bridge? So just leave me alone – you! You – crawling around selling newspapers you can’t read; selling fruit you can’t eat.”

Mfundo was stuffed with rage. He could feel his temperature spike. “Don’t make fun of me! I don’t want you at that damn school again.”

“Just try and stop me,” she replied and folded her arms across her chest.

Mfundo laughed sarcastically. “Look at you,” he did an impression of Nompilo looking through the glass of shop windows: ‘Look at that dress Mfundo, it’s so pretty. Wow, look at those people on the TV, Mfundo, they are so pretty. Oh my god, Mfundo look. Look, Mfundo. Look, look, look.’ It’s all a lie. You think you can be normal? Get real. Where do you think you’ll end up, reading all these stupid papers and scribbling all day? Huh? I’ll tell you. Nowhere.”

The heaviness in his chest was gone. He had said all that was on his mind … but not all that was in his heart. The heaviness was replaced by a deep, dark hole. He looked at Nompilo’s face and quickly dropped his eyes. Nompilo stood up and grabbed the remaining food.

“There’s your life.”

Mfundo watched in disbelief as Nompilo threw the food in the air and it fell apart, then onto the ground. He lost all control; the rage in his blood returned. His arms reached for Nompilo’s neck, threatening to squeeze all her breath away.

“Shut up!” He pressed harder on her neck. “What have you done?”

She stopped struggling and stared blankly into his eyes before her own eyes closed and she lost consciousness.

Mfundo stopped, shocked by what he had done. There were welts on her neck. He fell back on the ground, panting heavily.

Nompilo lay still on the ground for a long time. Her body had no sign of any life. Mfundo shook her frame. Nothing. He saw dried tears that had drawn paths down her face. Then Nompilo’s eyelids flickered and her eyes opened.

“Why didn’t you kill me?” she asked, and her voice, thought soft, was full of rage. “Answer me!”

Tears of relief fell off Mfundo’s face when he saw her move.

“I don’t know what happened to me. Sorry Mpilo,” he said, as he ran his fingers across her cheek gently. She stiffened at his touch and recoiled coldly.

I want you to kill me,” she said with venom. Mfundo was petrified. He stared blankly at her. “Do you hear me? Or I am going to kill myself,” she said again.

She limped off, like an injured dog, to the far end of the bridge. Mfundo stood frozen, then he regained his senses and followed her. He took off his jacket and tried to wrap it around Nompilo.

She threw it aside. He tried to get her to come and lie on their cardboard bed, but she refused to move. His pride – or guilt – wouldn’t let him take his jacket back, and he crept back under the bridge and curled up on their cardboard alone.

The icy night breeze felt like whips on Mfundo’s skin. He slept with his blade locked tightly between his fingers.

***

Tell us what you think: Will their friendship survive this mental and physical fight?