Fumani’s arms are warm and strong holding me, but not so tight that I feel trapped. We look into each other’s eyes.
“So I’m guessing Mahlatse told Dzanga about you?” he says, and I nod. “That was a crap thing to do.”
“He said something about needing to share the burden of knowing, but I don’t believe him. I think he was just angry with me; maybe he thought he’d wasted time on me, and he wanted to punish me.”
“All that nonsense Dzanga was spouting?” Fumani shakes his head. “I’m not an expert on HIV, but I’m not that ignorant. You’ll have to help me understand. Good is high CD4 count and low viral load, right?”
“That’s a start. I can bore you for hours with the history and facts about HIV – if you’re going to be around to listen, and tonight isn’t the last I’ll see of you?”
I just need to be doubly sure, after Mahlatse, but in a way my doubts have already melted into nothingness. Like Fumani said, he’s not Mahlatse.
“You bet I’m going to be around.”
His enthusiasm makes me feel so light I could float away, like I’m filled with thousands of air bubbles.
“What?” I see that a tiny crease has appeared between his silky-looking eyebrows.
“Your grandmother and aunt didn’t seem too sure about me.”
“They were upset for me, because of what happened.” I slide my arms around him and squeeze. “Don’t worry, I’ll make sure they know you’re one of the good guys.”
“What I’d like to do to the bad guy! I can’t believe Mahlatse did that to you.”
“Let it go,” I say. “That’s what I’m going to do now. Yes, he and Dzanga have messed up the athletics thing for me, but here you are, still around, and that’s bigger and better than anything.”
“Messed it up how?” Fumani shakes his head. “I hope you don’t mean what I think you mean, Ritlatla? We’ve got Polokwane this weekend, and I want us to share that.”
“I … no, Fumani. Everyone will be watching me, worrying and wondering, even if they’re not as disgusting as Dzanga was.”
Thinking about what I’m losing, my new happiness dips slightly.
“No. Listen to me, girl. There was a big row after you took off, people telling Dzanga and those other crass ones how stupid and unfair they were. My guys Ndjombo and Wesley, and those two 1500 metres girls, and others, once they got over their surprise. Please don’t quit.”
“I’m … not sure.”
“And I have a message from Oom Leon, not that he knew I was coming to see you,” Fumani continues. “He told us he wasn’t dropping anyone from the team, but that they were free to drop out if they wanted, only if they did, he’d be disappointed in them. So then someone said ‘What if Ritlatla drops out?’ And he said then he’d be even more disappointed.”
Hearing that makes me feel good, but I say, “I don’t know, Fumani. I … maybe my aunt is right, and it’s too soon to make a decision.”
“Well, the weekend is nearly here, so you can’t take too long about it.”
Tell us: What should Ritlatla do?