“I don’t remember anything new.” Bebenya’s voice wobbles. “It’s still just the same things I’ve always tried not to remember – being frightened, and how cruel those first people were, the ones who took me.”

She doesn’t want to mention The Daddy any more. Not now she’s started to realise that his kindness was really just a way of controlling her and the other girls. He’s as guilty as anyone for the theft of her life.

“Maybe it’s not so important.” Gosiame is encouraging. “Maybe you don’t need to remember everything to – you know, to deal with things.”

“To start being normal, you mean?” Bebenya mocks.

He shakes his head. “No. To start feeling better.”

Bebenya shrugs and looks at Tsietsi as they turn away from the panelbeater’s to go back the way they’ve come.

“And you really don’t remember any of those other times when you came with me to the shop, Tsietsi?” she probes. “The sticky hand, sort-of memory I have?”

“No.” Tsietsi pauses, screwing up his face. “Not unless you once hit me? When I was little, I used to think I remembered a girl bigger than me grabbing me and shaking me, and then slapping my face. But Mama and Papa always said what a kind, gentle sister you’d been to me, so I must have imagined it, or dreamed it.”

“Yes, because it can’t have been me.” Bebenya thinks about it for a moment. “I know I’m not a violent person.”

She’s seen violence, of course. Some of the clients … she shudders and shuts down the thoughts. Those are memories she can do without.

“See, you’re not the only one with memory problems,” Tsietsi jokes.

“You’ve got more excuse than me, since you were so very little when I was still around.”

“Except that you have every excuse, girl,” Gosiame insists gently. “Because who wants to hold on to bad memories? Of course you needed to bury them.”

His words bring some warm emotion welling up inside her. It’s like a mix of things: gratitude and something that might be … well, liking? Affection? God, she can’t even remember what love feels like, yet she must have loved her family once, before they lost her … before she lost them.

What she felt towards The Daddy wasn’t love. She knows that now. It was just something he told her she felt.

Some boys on the other side of the street call out to Tsietsi, and he quickly lets go of Bebenya’s hand.

“Can’t be seen holding your sister’s hand, hey?” Gosiame teases him.

Bebenya listens to the two boys’ chirping and even joins in. She’s doing something normal; it feels good.

But when she and Tsietsi go into their house and she sees Estere’s anxious face, all the anger comes back. Her mother, the woman who let her in for those things, that life in Durban. She hates her for that.

She doesn’t answer Estere’s timid question about where they’ve been.

She goes to the bedroom Estere has done up for her, with new bedding she must think is a teenager’s taste, but is really more suitable for a little girl. Or – a flash of understanding – maybe she chose it for the little girl she wishes Bebenya still was, and for those little girl years they have both missed out on.


Tell us what you think: What will it take for Bebenya to forgive her mother?