Bebenya walks up and down the dimly lit room, hugging herself. She can feel that the other girls in the room share her anxiety. Like her, most are in their teens, but a few are younger. In their skimpy clothes and cheap jewellery, they sprawl on couches or chairs. One is painting her toenails; another whimpers like she’s in pain.
“Why is he so late?” Bebenya mutters.
He has never been this late before, the man they call ‘The Daddy’. She knows it’s childish to use such a name, but it makes her feel safe, because he’s the one who has kept her safe ever since … since Before. Some girls have come or gone over the years, the buildings and rooms have changed, but there has always been The Daddy.
“I’ve been good. He promised I’d be alright if I was good,” the whimpering girl is insisting.
“He needs to get here, like now,” Bebenya says, but sudden shouts outside stop her saying more.
There’s the sound of booted feet running, and then the door crashes open, the lock broken. Uniformed police swarm into the room, firearms ready.
“Girls! Many of them,” one officer yells. “The tip-off was good.”
“Girls stolen over the years,” another says, holstering his weapon.
“Where’s The Daddy?” Bebenya shouts, fright making her angry. “You can’t come in here.”
A woman officer steps forward. “It’s alright, girls. You’re safe now. You’re going home.”
“This is The Daddy’s place,” Bebenya protests. “What have you done with him?”
“Girls! Don’t you understand–” the policewoman begins, but her voice is lost in the rising cries of the girls. They scream and sob, and Bebenya’s voice rises above all the noise.
“The Daddy, The Daddy, where is he?”
* * * * *
In the humble Modisane home in Limpopo, Pitso has just answered his phone. The way he grows still, listening to the caller, alerts his wife. Their son pays no attention, slouched in a chair, busy with his own phone.
“Yes, I understand.” Pitso’s eyes rest on the low table that looks like an altar of sorts, with a framed photo of a girl child surrounded by artificial flowers, unlit candles, some soft toys, and a Barbie. “Thank you.”
“Pitso?” Estere questions as he thumbs off his phone.
“It’s Bebenya. They’ve found her. In Durban. Alive.”
“My child! Not dead?” In shock, Estere moves to the table and picks up the photo. “I can’t … We must fetch her, Pitso.”
“They are bringing her, they said.”
“Now?” Estere looks round the room.
“Not immediately. First they are … ‘debriefing’ her, the captain called it. And there will be counselling. It is not a good story, Estere. Some of the things we feared when we lost her … There may be problems. We need to prepare for difficulties. Drugs, disease … I don’t know.”
“But she’s our child,” Estere protests.
“No longer the eight-year-old who went missing that day. We must accept that. She will be changed. A teenager who has seen and done … things. And missed years of schooling.”
“But when she is here, in her home – then she will be alright,” Estere insists, and turns to her son. “Tsietsi, you hear? She’s coming home to us, your Ausi. That’s what you called her, you were such a little boy. You remember your Ausi, don’t you?”
Tsietsi looks up briefly. “No.”
Tell us what you think: What sort of problems will the family face when Bebenya comes home? Will she be glad to be home?