“Eat!” Dad says to Ma, Lungelo and me because we’re not keeping up.
He has brought us out to this greasy burger joint near our house. He chose it because you can sit down to eat, but the atmosphere isn’t exactly relaxing. Nomi Phala works here, clearing up and wiping tables, with her face never once breaking into a smile.
I can’t believe it when Bonang, Tumiso and their pack arrive. It’s the last place I’d expect to see them.
“So much jewellery,” Ma says after they’ve passed our table, leaving the air all sweet and flowery from their scent. Then, “They’re too thin.”
I’m curious about what they’ll order. Cold drinks and a plate of chips for some of them to share. Bonang and Tumiso don’t touch the chips.
I finish eating, but Ma is still busy and Lungelo is talking about something that happened in his Grade 10 class. I excuse myself and approach Nomi to ask where the toilet is.
“At the back.” She doesn’t even look at me.
I think she means an outside toilet, but I’m wrong. This place was an ordinary house before, and I have to go along a little passage. The bathroom light is bad, a flickering yellowish brown. I’m washing my hands and looking at myself in the ancient mirror when the door crashes open.
“Check her, Bonang girl!” Tumiso’s voice is high, full of hate. “Admiring herself. Hasn’t anyone told you there’s nothing to admire, rural?”
There are five of them. They come crowding into the bathroom. Dudu closes the door and stands with her back against it – like she’s expecting me to try and escape.
My heart is skipping from the fright I got. It’s too crowded in here, and their perfume is overpowering.
“What do you want?” I ask.
“To give you some advice,” Bonang says. “Hey, you should try sticking your fingers down your throat. That burger you ate will go straight to those hips. We saw you pigging out, you and the other pigs in your family.”
“Shame, it’s probably a treat for them,” Tumiso jokes. “See, Bonang, I told you how revolting this place would be, full of disgusting people, but you were on such a mission to track down your beloved thug–”
“Shut up, Tumiso.” Bonang looks at me. “That mother of yours, fototo? I’ve never seen such a sight.”
“I’m not listening to this.” My voice shakes. I’m in shock, even though I already knew they disliked me.
“What makes you think you’ve got a choice?” Bonang mocks. Except for Dudu at the door, they’re crowding round me, closing me in.
“You were seen, you know,” one of the girls says.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, and I don’t want to,” I say, looking for a gap, a way out of this circle of girls.
“Oh, no!” Tumiso pushes at my shoulder as I start forward. “You stay here and listen. We saw how you came on to Leleka at school. That’s not all. You were seen with Sizwe Sekota.”
“Let me guess who told you.” I look at Dudu.
“You’ve got a cheek, moegoe.” Now Bonang gives me a shove, harder than Tumiso did. “We’re here to warn you to back off. Stay away from Sizwe and Leleka.”
“That’s our advice.” Another push from Tumiso. “The bit about making yourself puke was a bonsela.”
“Try telling Sizwe and Leleka to stay away from me.” The words come flying out of me.
They don’t like it.
“Please! As if they’d look at you.”
“So what are you worried about, then?”
That makes them angry. They’re all at it now, these girls, giving me these pushes, pushes that get harder all the time. I’m being knocked around, swaying backwards and forwards between them, too off-balance to try and break free.
I’m getting really scared, wondering what will happen. Then someone bangs loudly on the door and it opens so hard and fast, it knocks Dudu’s breath out of her. Nomi stands there.
“One at a time in this bathroom!” Her voice is even sharper than before. “It’s the rules.”
Bonang and her gang mutter things under their breath and slink away past her.
“Thanks,” I say to Nomi.
She just looks at me, like I’m a cockroach or something. Then she walks away. It worries me to have my thanks rejected like that. That night and all next day, I keep thinking how I owe her, so when I see her walking in front of me in the evening, I hurry to catch up.
“On your way to work?” I say, but she just gives me another of her looks, and I start to feel embarrassed. Only, if I don’t make some effort to find a friend I might just die of loneliness right here in the middle of all these thousands of Soweto people. “Eish, why is everything so difficult? I don’t get this place. I don’t get you. Like, why give me advice, and then save me from those girls, if you think I’m such a loser? I don’t understand anyone here.”
“Those boys still giving you trouble?” She sends me a sharp look. “Leleka and the others?”
“After last night I’m more worried about his sister and her friends. Before you got there … it was like they think I’m … after Leleka and Sizwe Sekota.”
“No!” I don’t know why I turn so hot, denying it.
“Then why do they think you are?” she wants to know.
“I don’t know… Well, Dudu saw me walking with Sizwe… And that’s another thing I don’t get! Dudu is with Puleng, so how come she looks at Sizwe like the sun shines out of him?”
“Don’t be stupid.” Nomi’s voice is more like razors than broken glass now. “This is the way it is: Bonang is the pack leader, and she has chosen Sizwe for herself. Dudu just runs with the pack. Tumiso, now, she’s the chosen one. Chosen by Bonang for her precious brother–”
“Then you come along, an outsider,” Nomi carries on.
“Tell me about it. But I haven’t ‘come along’,” I protest. “Not the way you mean. Not as someone who’s after Sizwe.”
“Then why were you walking with him?”
“He was walking with me.”
“I’ll tell you this for free. Sizwe Sekota is bad news. You need to be careful there.”
I laugh. “Don’t worry. I find him … a bit scary. And difficult.”
“As in challenging?”
“No. I don’t know what the attraction is for Bonang.” This is turning into almost normal girl talk, so I get a bit carried away, and say, “Leleka now. I don’t like him, but he’s totally amazing, don’t you think? Sort of classy, sexy but elegant at the same ti–”
“You fool!” Nomi ends my stupid little dream about having a friend to confide in. “You deserve everything you get.”
Then she’s crossing the road fast, like she needs to get out of my company or be sick.
The sound of a train arriving at the station makes me think of Sizwe. I wonder if he feels fear when he surfs the trains.
My phone bleeps with a message. I see it’s from a strange number.
We wil get u moya ngomane
I can guess who it’s from. I can even guess how they got my number. When I get home I find Lungelo watching television.
“Has anyone asked you for my digits?” I ask him.
“How did you guess?” He’s impressed, I don’t know why. “A matric girl with a fringe. Thin and pretty.”
“Tumiso,” I realise.
Tell us what you think: Is Nomi right to warn Moya about both Sizwe and Leleka?