“I won’t announce the team yet, but we’re definitely taking part in the Polokwane meeting,” Oom Leon announces at the end of the evening’s training. “I hope that motivates you all to bring your best performance to our next few training sessions. It’s a two-day event, so we’ll be away overnight.”
“Where will we be staying, Oom?” Fumani asks.
“A school hostel will be available to us.”
“And how will we get there?” Dzanga wants to know.
“I’m organising a bus.”
“Hostel and bus.” Dzanga gives me a look. “Rather close quarters to be sharing with anyone … unhealthy.”
I flinch, seeing the way Xongisa is nodding in agreement.
“I’m not taking any unhealthy athletes to Polokwane,” Oom snaps. “Any sort of symptoms, even just a cold, I want to know about. We’ve talked about this before. Sport when you’re unwell can be dangerous.”
“Then why–” Dzanga starts to say something, again looking at me, but she falls silent when Mahlatse nudges her with his arm.
“When did you become so health conscious, Dzanga?” Fumani jokes.
“Since I discovered there are some among us who aren’t being exactly honest about their … health.” Dzanga’s smile is smooth.
My head is buzzing with confused thoughts, and I’m boiling with a whole lot of different emotions.
Everyone starts to move off. I pass Dzanga and she steps back and pulls her mask up in a hurry. I know it’s meant as mockery, this exaggerated display of fear. My hands curl into fists, but I control myself.
“No need to worry about me, Dzanga,” I tell her. “I’m extremely healthy, but thank you for helping to keep me that way by wearing your mask. You do know masks are more to protect others than yourself?”
I stop myself saying anything about my CD4 count and viral load. I still don’t know for sure if Mahlatse has told her everything, or just dropped hints.
I suppose I could ask him, but I don’t feel like talking to him. Anyway, he’d likely run away in panic if I went near him.
“You’ll be in the team for the 800 metres for sure, Ritlatla.” Once again, Fumani is walking beside me. “I just asked Oom if he’s entering a 4×100 men’s relay team, and he said yes, so that means Mahlatse, Ndjombo, Wesley, and me. I love the relay, being part of a team. Man, it’s gonna be fun, don’t you think?”
The smile-dents in his cheeks and his sparkling eyes make me melt. I laugh.
“Looks like it.”
And it could be, would be, if only I didn’t have to worry about Mahlatse and Dzanga spreading rumours about me.
And if only I didn’t have to remember not to give Fumani any encouragement now that he’s showing so much interest in me.
It’s like a stone inside me. I’ve always imagined myself in a relationship with a man, maybe getting married. Now I know I can never let myself fall in love with another man, because what if he reacts to my status exactly as Mahlatse did? I can’t bear that to happen again.
“Can I give you a lift home, Ritlatla?” Fumani asks.
“No, thanks,” I answer him, trying to put coldness in my voice, trying not to see his disappointment.
From now on, I have to live my life alone. No more boyfriends.
Tell us: Can Ritlatla continue to resist Fumani?