Morning arrived. Mfundo jumped up from under their cardboard and into a bath in one of the city’s flooded gutters. They had slept in front of a shop, barefoot and outcast. Mfundo in his good shirt and Nompilo in her floral rags.
“I don’t like sleeping here,” Nompilo told him.
“I’m going in to get us something,” he told her, eyeing out a shop down the street.
“Look at that store. There’s a lot of security there. How will you get out?” Nompilo said.
Mfundo felt his hand shake lightly. “Don’t worry, I got this,” he feigned.
“What are you going to do?”
“It’s a surprise. You just stay here,” he said as he smiled at her. “I’ll be back now, now.”
Mfundo had been watching the security guard for hours. He steadied himself then ran forward. His moment had come. It was now or never.
Nompilo quickly grabbed his hand and then kissed him on the lips. His face burned. He looked away, trying to hide his embarrassment, then made an effort to steady himself.
A crowd of people walked into the store at the same time. Mfundo had found his chance. He slipped in, hiding among them.
There were few people inside the store. It was brightly lit, with long aisles and shelves filled with books. He quickly went into an empty aisle, then skimmed through the hundreds of covers with a reverent sense of longing, as he tried to make his choice.
On the far end of the aisle, he saw a set with a pen and journal encased in a velvet cover. He bit his lip and proceeded slowly towards it. He picked up the set as if it were a precious jewel. He calculated that it could possibly fit into his pocket but without his jacket, it would show – surely.
He looked swiftly from side to side then pulled up his shirt and was about to stuff the book into his pants when a woman screamed and pointed at him.
He panicked and bolted towards the door. Alarms were ringing inside his head. A strong arm lifted him in the air. He turned and saw the security guard. He dragged Mfundo out the back, where he was shut in an empty room.
He waited there for what seemed like forever until a policeman came in and handcuffed him. As he was shepherded outside, the patrons sneered, “Sies,” under their breath. They pinched their noses in disgust as he passed. Others simply took photos and updated their social media statuses.
“Apologies for the disruption,” a man in a suit announced to the shoppers in the store. “Please enjoy your shopping. The matter has been dealt with.”
Nompilo watched Mfundo being led out of the store in handcuffs. She sprang towards him. But he shook his head. She stopped dead in her tracks. The policeman whacked Mfundo with his baton on the back then sent him crashing inside the back of the police van.
“Good riddance,” the people standing outside said when the steel doors slammed shut and the van drove off.
Nompilo trembled with fear and anger. Her world spun in confusion. She turned and ran – ran not knowing where, wherever her feet took her. She was a nobody going nowhere. Her dirty floral dress disappeared like a ghost between the careless figures. She kept running.
Mfundo had disappeared and part of Nompilo felt like it had disappeared too; there was a huge lonely hole where he had been. She counted the days since he had been taken, it was a week now, and she couldn’t bear to think what he was suffering. The only thing that brought her comfort was to listen to the teacher’s voice talking to the children at the school. So, here she was on her toes on top of the bricks, peering in the classroom when she felt a tap on her shoulder. She hadn’t heard the footsteps behind her, she was so intently listening to the story the teacher was reading. And now, the security had come for her, she knew it. Her heart was racing and she was ready to run again. She quickly turned to face her fate.
“I knew you’d be here,” Mfundo said.
Nompilo jumped off the bricks and into his arms, holding him tightly against her body. She was so relieved and so happy he was OK.
After the longest embrace, Mfundo sat her down. His legs were jelly from the weight he’d been carrying this whole time, worrying about her. He told her he had gone back under the bridge first and then he knew where she would be, nowhere else.
They stepped back onto the bricks together and peered through the window again.
“Why don’t we go in, right now?” he said.
“What about the security?” Nompilo asked, her face lighting up with joy.
“After what I’ve been through, I know this will be worth it. Let’s just do it. We need to take a chance. What’s the worst that could happen?” he said, and his eyes were lit up with a new joy and expectation.
They waited till the security had left his patrol post and ran towards the classroom. They knocked on the door.
As they walked in, the lady furrowed her brows. The children’s eyes dropped to the ground, but Nompilo stood firm with Mfundo by his side. “We want to learn,” they said.
The lady’s expression softened. “Come in,” she said as she walked towards them.
Tell us: What do you think will happen to Mfundo and Nompilo now?