When I get to the school sports field where Oom Leon has arranged for us to train, I can’t stop my eyes searching for Mahlatse. It’s become a habit, that’s all. Because when I see him with Dzanga, over by the rickety seating stand, all I feel is impatience with myself for having wasted so much time and emotion on him.
“Hi Xongisa,” I greet one of the other girls who is doing stretching exercises beside the track.
She sort of ducks her head, not exactly ignoring me, but looking uncomfortable … or maybe guilty. It’s most likely because she isn’t wearing a Covid mask. I smile to myself behind my own shweshwe mask.
“Chill,” I call over to her. “I know I was a pain in the ass about people not wearing masks when we first came back to training. But I’m not so uptight about it now I’ve seen how Oom makes us stay so far apart from each other.”
She doesn’t answer me, just gives me this feeble smile, like she’s still embarrassed. I shrug and start my own warm-ups, thinking about how much stricter we need to be at work about masks and sanitising. Doing people’s nails brings you in close contact.
“It’s anti-romance, all this distancing,” Fumani jokes, jogging on the spot a few metres away from me, lifting his knees high in front of him.
I laugh. “Love will find a way, don’t they say?”
I think about how I’d let Mahlatse get close, while still being careful. Only, it wasn’t love, was it? How could it have been?
“Believe it,” Fumani agrees, his smile putting grooves in his cheeks.
“Still wearing your chin-guard, I see,” I tease, because I had a go at him about the way he lowers his mask, when we were first allowed to start training again.
“I promise to raise it if we get any closer,” he says.
My private thought is that it would be a shame in a way, as it would hide the generous curve of his mouth.
With Xongisa acting strange, I’m relieved to have this back-and-forth with Fumani during this warm-up stage – while we still have breath to spare. It distracts me from Mahlatse, and the anger I feel every time I look at him.
The anger – and the uncertainty, because what if he’s one of many, seeing me as someone to avoid?
Oom Leon makes us work hard, but it feels good, a natural high, to be out here, pushing myself.
“Good time, Ritlatla,” Oom booms after he’s let me on to the track following the fitness routine. “Looking good for Polokwane.”
I get a sour look from Dzanga, although her time has been very close to mine. She mutters something to our pacemaker.
Warming down beside the track, I watch Fumani, Mahlatse, and two other guys doing very short sprints. They’re so fast over that small distance, and they all look so fit. Their leg muscles are actually something beautiful, although people have laughed at me when I’ve said that.
As I do up my tracksuit top, I notice a little group of girls nearby: Xongisa, Judith, and Pahlazi. They’re not exactly social distancing, standing close together and talking in low voices. But the thing that makes me uneasy is the way they keep looking at me.
Then Judith and Pahlazi come over to me.
“Ritlatla?” Pahlazi gives me a nervous smile. “We … think you should know. Dzanga is saying things about you.”
Tell us: Is Dzanga going to make trouble for Ritlatla? If so, what sort of trouble?