I stare at Pahlazi.
“Dzanga is talking about me?” I think of how nearly every time I’ve looked Mahlatse’s way this evening, he has had Dzanga with him. “Something to do with Mahlatse?”
“No.” Pahlazi shakes her head. “She’s saying … she says you’re sick.”
“And that everyone should keep away from you, so we don’t get infected,” Judith adds.
Sick. It’s like my head empties itself out, going all light. Am I going to faint?
“What sort of sick?” My voice sounds far away.
Judith lifts her shoulders. “I thought she was talking about Covid-19, but she said maybe even worse than that. It’s stupid. I mean, we all know how careful you are, but some people … like Xongisa? She’s being totally silly.”
So has Mahlatse only dropped hints to Dzanga, without actually mentioning HIV? Would he do that? Someone has clearly said something to her, and the only other person here who knows about my status is Oom Leon. No, he’s out of this. Oom doesn’t gossip with, or about, his athletes; he’s too much of a pro. I remember how he said it was my private business, after thanking me for telling him.
So, Mahlatse then. There’s this sore, twisting sensation around my heart, and an ache in my throat. Even if he’s only hinted to Dzanga, it feels like such a betrayal.
I have my mask on, so no need to try and smile at Judith and Pahlazi.
“Thanks for letting me know,” I say. “I can promise you, there’s nothing for Xongisa – or any of you – to worry about. You’re quite safe from me.”
I don’t wait for their reaction. I have to turn away because my eyes are suddenly wet. Mahlatse! We’re over, but we thought we had something special for a while.
Doesn’t that count for something? Not if he’s done this.
Through the dazzle of my tears, I see him up ahead of me, leaving the sports field. For once, Dzanga isn’t anywhere near him. My first impulse is to run after him and … shout? Cry? Demand to know how he could have hinted to Dzanga about my status?
I don’t know why I don’t. Something stops me. Maybe just the thought of how I’d be throwing away my dignity, making an exhibition of myself, when there is no longer anything between us.
Better just to let it go, and hope that others are as sensible as Pahlazi and Judith.
“Hey Ritlatla, you all right?” It’s Fumani, catching up with me, the other two short-distance runners, Ndjombo and Wesley, walking with him. “You look upset – the little I can see of your face above your mask. I’d expect you to be over the moon, the way you ran tonight.”
It makes me feel so much better, that I don’t even mind that he and the other two are wearing their masks as chin-guards again.
“For sure,” he says. “Polokwane, here we come, right?”
“Don’t you know, girl? Fumani always notices you.” Ndjombo is mischievous.
“Something wrong with me if I didn’t.” Fumani isn’t fazed, smiling at me. “Girl like you.”
I suppose I’ve been so taken up with Mahlatse, I haven’t noticed other guys noticing me. I’m not sure how I feel about this, except that I’ve always liked Fumani for his friendliness.
I only know that after Mahlatse’s fear and anger, and learning what Dzanga is saying about me, it makes me feel a whole lot better.
Tell us: Is Ritlatla right not to confront Mahlatse about what he has said to Dzanga?