“I think Mahlatse has said something about my status,” I tell Gogo and Auntie Hlomisa when I get home. “To that Dzanga girl. And she has passed it on.”

“He has no right.” Gogo is in her dressing-gown and slippers, watching TV.

“I’m just not sure if he actually mentioned HIV, but she’s been going around warning people I could infect them with something.” I throw myself down beside her on the couch.

“That’s … ai! What will you do, Ritlatla?” Worry deepens the creases in Gogo’s face. “Maybe you should leave the athletics group? If it’s only them this bad girl is talking to? She doesn’t know your work colleagues and other friends.”

“No way.” I don’t even have to think about it.

“Ritlatla’s right, Mama.” Auntie looks up from where she’s marking her Grade 7 pupils’ assignments at the table. “She can’t let herself be pushed out just because certain people are stupid or spiteful, or whatever it is.”

“Exactly.” I’m boosted by her support. “I enjoy my running too much to quit. Anyway, look at all the hassle Caster Semenya had to endure, but did she ever cave in? Nope.”

They’re both smiling at me now; they know Caster is my hero and inspiration. And as the days pass I mostly I do manage to keep any negative or anxious thoughts out of my head.

It’s just that sometimes, usually when I’m alone, and mostly at night, this hurt creeps in when I remember what Mahlatse has done. It doesn’t matter how upset he was hearing that I have HIV. The one fact is – it’s mine to tell, to those people who need to know. And certainly not to be shared with random people like Dzanga.

But I’m feeling all right, good in fact, when I walk to the sports field for our next training session.

“Hey, Ritlatla.” Fumani has just parked his slightly battered Polo outside the gate as I arrive. “How are you doing? Maybe I can give you a lift to training another time?”

“Thanks.” I hope he can see from my eyes, or hear from my voice, that I’m smiling behind my mask. “I don’t know when I’ll ever save enough to get my own ride. Maybe I should learn to drive; that might send some positive vibes out into the universe for me, know what I mean?”

“I could teach you,” he offers, falling into step beside me. “Do you think Oom Leon is going to make an official announcement about Polokwane tonight? I’m not on duty that weekend, so it will be perfect if he decides we can go.”

“Oh yes, you work at Phalaborwa Gate, don’t you?” I remember. “But you don’t live inside the Kruger Park, do you?”

“No, here in town.” He slides me a look that’s serious but smiley at the same time. “Listen Ritlatla, I’ve got used to seeing you with Mahlatse, but then I noticed you didn’t go anywhere near each other last time. Does that mean what I think it does?”

“It’s over, him and me.” My voice sounds tight, saying it.

“Sorry,” Fumani says, but then he smiles. “And not sorry.”

I know what he’s saying, and in a way it gives me a lift. It’s too soon, I’m still too raw from Mahlatse, but I do like Fumani: his personality and his looks.

But what’s the point? I can’t risk letting another guy into my life. Ever.

***

Tell us: Why doesn’t Ritlatla want to let another guy into her life?