I stare at Sizwe. He has one of those faces that is somehow both ugly and attractive at the same time.
“You want to walk with me?” I feel stupid asking.
“I don’t want to. I just said I would. If you want me to?”
“Like, hey, that’s really smooth,” I mock.
He frowns at my sarcasm. “What’s wrong with being honest?”
I don’t even know why I’m so offended by what he said. It’s not as if he’s Leleka Ndlaphu. I don’t care if he wants to walk with me or not. But he could at least pretend he wants to. Except that I have a feeling he never pretends.
“Then what are you so uptight about?” he wants to know.
“I’m not.” I’m less honest than him.
“All this fuss over my offer to walk with you.” He’s disgusted.
“Yes, well, you don’t need to,” I say, and I’m thinking there could be so many different reasons for his offer: good, bad or even kinky. “I don’t want you to.”
“Thanks,” he says sarcastically.
“I mean, I don’t know you. What am I thinking, standing here talking to a stranger?”
I say it in a jokey way, but I’m serious.
“Living dangerously?” he suggests, and he makes it sound like that’s a good thing.
“You said it,” I agree. “Only, living dangerously is so not me. So thanks for the offer, but no thanks. I’m out of here.”
I walk off and he lets me, not saying a word to try and stop me. It’s in my mind that he might just walk with me anyway, but he doesn’t. I want to look back, but I don’t. If he saw me, he might think I care – if he’s still hanging around to watch me. Which I doubt.
I want to hurry, get Dads spyzozo and head home. I think about finding another way back, but it’s dark and this place scares me. What if I got lost? Anyway, I’d miss any chance of seeing Leleka, always supposing he has come out of his house.
As it turns out, he must have come out and gone off with his crew by the time I walk back, because there’s no-one around. That’s the way it stays all weekend, with me thinking about Monday all the time, wanting to see Leleka, but also afraid of seeing him.
And then Monday lives up to its bad blues reputation. The worst is in LO when we have to do our presentations on sports and other activities to help us stay physically and mentally fit after we leave school and are working.
My talk about morabaraba is a disaster. The moment I say the words ‘cultural’ and ‘traditional’, the class starts to laugh.
“And what did you say the stone tokens are meant to represent?” Tumiso’s shrill voice rises over the laughter. “Cows? Cows!”
“What else do you expect, girlfriend?” Bonang says. “She’s so rural. I can just see her, going around with bare feet, counting cows and sitting down to a game of whatzit – moraba-whatever?”
My face is hot. I say, “Around Umjindi isn’t really cattle country.” I mean it to sound like a sophisticated adult dealing with children’s silliness, but it doesn’t work like that.
“It’s not?” Leleka joins in now. “Never knew you came from such a deprived background, baby girl.”
“Enough!” the teacher is shouting, but no-one takes any notice.
They don’t listen to me either as I finish my presentation. I’m sweating.
When we leave the classroom, all I can think about is getting away from them. I jump and try to jerk away when someone’s arm comes round my shoulders. It’s Leleka. The arm tightens, pulling me in close to him.
I go even hotter than before, all over, and not just because he’s so in my space. Why does he have to be so good-looking? He’s tall and slim, but it’s his head and face that make you want to keep on looking at him. His head is so beautifully shaped, and his face is perfection. He smells good too, classy and expensive, except for a faint hint of cigarette smoke.
“So how many cows does your father want for you, babe?” He laughs loudly, as if he’s said the wittiest thing ever. His teeth are so white and even, they don’t look real. Maybe they’re not.
“He’ll accept an internet transfer, thanks,” I snap, knowing that I shouldn’t say anything. “And it’s Moya, not babe.”
I try to walk away, but he just walks with me, keeping his arm round me. I’m uncomfortable with my body bumping against his as I attempt to walk faster; getting away from him is the only thing in my head.
“Come on, really? When you’re so traditional?” he mocks. “And so … cultural, right? Hey, don’t you Swazis also have the reed dance, same as our friends in KZN? I’d like to see you doing the reed dance for your king.”
“I’m not from Swaziland,” I say. “I’m South African. Why do people here keep making that mistake? Just ’cos my home language is SiSwati!” I’m on fire with self-consciousness and anger.
“Yes, I’d really like to see you doing the reed dance,” Leleka repeats, as if he hasn’t heard me.
At least I’m free of his arm around me now, because he’s using both hands to show what he means.
I pretend not to notice, but a whole crowd of boys is near enough to see and start howling with laughter.
“Leave me alone, Leleka.”
To myself I sound fierce, but I think that to everyone else I must sound childish. There’s an ache in my throat. I hate Leleka, but at the same time I’m noticing how gorgeously thick his eyelashes are, long and curly.
“Hey Leleka, are you drunk? What are you doing with her?”
It’s his twin, Bonang, and she’s got Tumiso with her. They’re wearing their school skirts rolled over several times at the waist, so they’re very short. Their long nails shimmer. Against school rules, they’re wearing make-up.
They are both so very beautiful, but the way they’re looking at me is ugly.
“Kwaa! I was just passing the time, waiting for Tumiso to show up. What else?” Leleka says.
It’s as if I don’t exist. He’s walking away from me, towards Tumiso and Bonang. I should have known. He was bored, amusing himself with me. Of course he’s not really interested. I shouldn’t let it hurt. I try not to, but I’m still thinking about it while I’m walking home after school. I wonder what sort of advice Nomi Phala would give me about handling Leleka.
I feel nervous as I turn into the road that takes me past the Ndlaphu house. I see there’s someone outside. Just one person. Sizwe Sekota.
One isn’t so bad. Yes, but when the one is that one?
I cross to the other side of the road, trying to look casual about it. I don’t know if he notices because I’m carefully not looking at him.
“Wassup, baby? Why do you look so woes?”
Not looking, big mistake. He has crossed over too, and I’m so not ready for it.
“Moya,” I say, and my voice comes out uneven, with little breaths between the words. “My name is Moya.”
“What’s the big deal with your name?”
Tell us: What do you think of Leleka’s behaviour towards Moya? Why is it so important to Moya that people use her name instead of calling her ‘babe’ or ‘baby girl’?