“Please don’t take this the wrong way, Ritlatla,” Fumani says, the next time he offers me a lift home. And I accept, because damn, it’s difficult to resist him.
He’s so warm and interesting, funny at times, but serious about the right things. Plus, he’s interested in me, and that makes me feel good.
I’m instantly on edge. What’s he going to say to me?
“It’s just that you come across … hot and cold.” Fumani is frowning, choosing his words carefully. “I’m not saying you’re a tease, nothing like that, but … You let me in, tell me things and show an interest in me and my life – and then you back off. You get this thing in your voice, like you’re trying to turn me off.”
Heat fills my face. He’s right, I have been blowing hot and cold, and it’s not fair to him. I don’t want to be one of those people who do that sort of flirting, keeping someone dangling and unsure.
“I’m sorry.” I look at him. “I have … like, issues.”
God, how lame is that? My face gets even hotter.
“I sort of guessed.” He’s concentrating on driving, so he doesn’t look at me.
“Serious issues? The kind you don’t like to talk about? Let me be your therapist, girl.”
That makes me laugh. “You’re qualified?”
“I can be a good listener.”
I already know that. It’s one of the things I like about him.
“Thanks, but this is something I need to deal with on my own.”
“That sounds so … lonely.” He’s thoughtful.
There’s a tightness in my throat. Yes, it is lonely in a way, facing up to things on my own. I’ve got Gogo and Auntie Hlomisa, but there are some things I can’t share with them. Not only because they’ve been so good to me and I don’t want them worrying, but because my fears and sadness feel private.
“I’ll be all right,” I say.
I have to be. Keeping my story to myself means I need to learn to be alone – live alone.
So what am I doing, letting Fumani into my life?
“I would never judge you, you know, Ritlatla,” he says, as we turn into my road.
His words scare me. I swallow, my throat dry. “What have you heard?”
“Rumours? Gossip? About me?”
“I try not to listen to gossip.” Fumani brakes outside my house. “But I’d guess some people might be talking about how you were with Mahlatse and then suddenly you weren’t any more. I mean, if I noticed, then others probably noticed too.”
Relief relaxes me. As for Fumani, maybe I shouldn’t encourage him, but that doesn’t mean I need to be rude, or cold, as he called it.
So when he asks teasingly if I’m inviting him in, I just say, “Another time maybe, when I’ve had a chance to warn them inside. My grandmother is usually in her sleep clothes when I get home from training, and she’d be embarrassed if you saw her.”
“Another time,” Fumani repeats, and he makes it sound like a promise.
Tell us: Should Ritlatla just tell Fumani the truth about herself, even if he reacts in the same way as Mahlatse?