“What do you mean? What’s a ‘normal’ life?” Tsietsi asks.

Bebenya feels bad. They were … well, starting to get along, sharing scraps of memory, but her angry question has alarmed him. She’s sorry. Nothing is his fault.

“She … our mother? She keeps going on about getting back to normal. I believed my other life was normal. Or I came to think it was, I suppose, after … after I don’t know how much time. I don’t think it happened suddenly. It was a way of thinking that I drifted into. The longer I was with The Daddy in Durban, the more I forgot from before. I can remember trying to make myself forget at first, because remembering … it made me ache and cry. Later it was easier. I saw the same thing with all the new girls who came in when some of the others got sick or too old.”

“What do you mean, got too old?” Tsietsi asks.

“Not kids anymore.” Bebenya is angry with him for asking, because she hates thinking about it.

“So when you would have got too old–”

“Shut up! You know nothing about it. I was The Daddy’s special girl. He was going to keep me with him for always.”

“You think.” Tsietsi’s expression is complicated, full of trouble. “How many of the others believed the same?”

“I said shut–”

Bebenya breaks off as two trendily dressed girls about her own age come walking down the street towards her and Tsietsi. Bebenya cringes. Why are they staring at her and then glancing at each other?

“Bebenya?” one of them asks. “Is it you?”

“Course it’s her, Zeni, you fool. What older girl except family would be hanging out with a wannabe Ben 10 like Tsietsi Modisane? Hey Bebenya, remember us? Dibote and Zeni?”

Tsietsi gives them a disgusted look. “I’m outta here,” he says, and stomps away.

Bebenya feels frightened, wanting to call him back. He’s supposed to be looking after her.

“We heard you were back,” Zeni says.

“You’re still so pretty,” Dibote adds. “I remember that about you. Damn girl, you need to get some clothes. Those you’re wearing, they can’t be what you wore for when you … you know?”

“They got them for me, the people who brought me here.” Bebenya feels awkward, trying to make conversation with these girls who were supposedly once her friends. “And she, my mother, bought me this top.”

“Ja, mothers!” Zeni pulls a face. “Mine would buy me the same if I let her.”

“It must be so weird for you,” Dibote says. “Coming back. How are you finding it?”

Bebenya is beginning to feel hostile. Why can’t they leave her alone? “Weird,” she snaps.

“What was it like down there in Durbs? Terrible? It must have been, especially at first.”

“If the stories are true?” Zeni adds eagerly. “Is it true? That you were put to work–”

“It’s none of your business.” Bebenya can’t take any more. “I don’t want to talk about it. Let me be.”

“Fine.” Zeni is offended. “Jeez, we’re trying to be friendly and welcome you back. But maybe you don’t want to be back. Maybe you liked what you were doing. Come Dibs, we’ve got better things to do than waste time on a professional slut.”


Tell us what you think: Were Zeni and Dibote genuinely trying to be friendly, or was their curiosity insensitive and out of place?