I hear people laughing – Puleng and some others. Whatever is happening to me is such a strange feeling. Maybe it’s easier just to go along with Leleka.

“What the hell have you given her?” It’s Sizwe, pushing his way forward and grabbing my arm, pulling me away from Leleka. “As if I don’t know. Do you really think I’m going to stand here and watch history repeat itself?”

“Goes for me too.” Nomi Phala appears and grabs my other arm.

There’s a lot of muttering and hissing starting up, and I realise we might be in a dangerous situation, Sizwe, Nomi and me. The way I’m feeling, it doesn’t seem to matter much, because it doesn’t feel as if anything bad can happen, and even if it does, so what? I don’t care.

“Get her out of here,” Sizwe orders Nomi.

“Don’t be stupid, man,” Leleka protests. “The fun is just starting.”

“Shut up.” Sizwe’s voice is rocks and gravel.

“Come!” Nomi is dragging me away, and they’re letting us go. I have some disordered idea that this has something to do with Sizwe standing there looking like a boxer in the ring.

“Stupid girl.” Nomi is pushing and pulling me through the crowd. There are so many people, plenty of them drunk. I’m staggering and swaying, and every time I try to stop, she swears at me and forces me on.

“Wait,” I try to say, but the word sounds weird.

“Go on!” Her jagged glass voice scratches at me. “I can’t carry you. You’re not exactly small… Get lost, oupa!”

She hisses those last three words to some older dude offering to show us a good time if we’re nice to him. I see her foot shoot out and hear him howl.

Then we’re free, out in streets where the only people about have nothing to do with the ama-get-down. Footsteps approach behind us, even and sure.

“Where are you heading?” It’s Sizwe.

I see the knuckles of his right hand are oozing blood.

“Fight,” I slur, thinking he must have hit hard to break the skin.

He takes no notice of me, asking Nomi, “How’s she doing? Where will you take her?”

“Her place, I guess.”

“Can’t go home,” I mumble. “Don’t want my … them to see me drunk.”

“You’re not drunk, stupid!” Nomi shouts. “Someone put something in your drink.”

“The way they did to Nomi one time, and I didn’t do enough to stop what happened to her,” Sizwe says.

“No need for details,” Nomi snaps.

“That’s why I wasn’t going to let it happen to you. Why I warned you.” Sizwe’s voice is raw.

“She should have been watching out then.” Nomi is still angry. “Listen, I’ll make sure your family knows you’re not drunk. Now move!”

“I’ll show you where she lives,” Sizwe says.

He and Nomi have to do some hard talking, because of course Dad thinks I’m drunk. But he goes from angry to upset when he hears my drink was spiked, and he can’t stop thanking Sizwe and Nomi for not letting anything worse happen to me.

He wakes Ma and she puts me to bed. In the morning, the night seems like a scrapyard of broken memories. Shame boils up inside me, but I also feel anger – against Leleka and his crowd for what they did, but also against myself for how easily I let it happen.

I think about Sizwe and Nomi’s hints about what happened to Nomi. Maybe some day I can be a good friend to her the same as she has been to me, in her angry way. That hurting herself – she needs to stop. Maybe I can persuade her to talk to someone.

An SMS comes through as I get up.

Kis yr future gudbi

At school on Monday I see Leleka has a split lip and a swollen nose. There’s jeering when I arrive in class. I ignore it, but heat fills my face. They all saw me helpless on Saturday night.

Walking home in the afternoon, I see Sizwe up ahead, turning into the main road to the station.

“Wassup?” he says when I catch up. He’s so not into smiling, but something in the way he says it lets me know he’s pleased to see me.

“I wanted to see you,” I say, and now we’re walking together. “To … you know, thank you. For the other night.”

The crease appears between his eyebrows. “I didn’t do anything.”

“You spoke. You got in a fight.” Then I ask him the thing I really want to know. “You’ve been watching out for me. Just to make up for what happened to Nomi?”

“Started that way.” He sends me a quick look. “But then I started caring about you.”

“You and Nomi? Were you once…?”

“Not even friends. She was just someone I saw around.” Sizwe waits a moment before carrying on, “Hey Moya, I felt bad on Saturday. The way Leleka was saying stuff, like he was your owner and it’s traditional, with you being rural … all that. I heard how it sounded and I know I once talked to you the same way. I wish I hadn’t.”

“People say things.” I’m smiling, wondering what would happen if I let my hand brush against his. “So where are you going?”

“The station.”

“A job somewhere? An interview?” I’m excited for him.

“Staff-riding challenge.”

It’s like a cruel hand is suddenly squeezing my heart. “Right, because you like living dangerously. Why?” I demand.

“Maybe it makes me feel like a man.” Now he’s angry. “Maybe this useless thing called my life … not being able to get proper fulltime work and help my gogo feed my little cousins … Maybe that’s taken away my manhood, and doing something dangerous gives it back.”

“Risking your life to feel like a man!” I don’t try to hide my disgust. “How stupid is that? A real man would just keep on trying, never mind how desperate things are, how many disappointment–”

“You don’t get it. Maybe you should see us in action on the trains, Moya. You might even get a kick out of it.”

“Is that what Bonang sees in you?”

“I’m not interested in that girl. Only in you.” He’s not angry any more. “Hey Moya, I’m serious. Come see.”

My heart is banging away, and this huge warm feeling is growing inside me. He likes me.

“OK,” I say.

That’s how I end up standing on a bank a bit along from the station watching Sizwe running along the platform with four other young men. The running, and jumping in and out of the train, is bad enough, but now it picks up speed. I rush to the top of a steep slope with the other spectators, mostly boys and young men. There’s Sizwe hanging from the side of the train. Next he’s between carriages, swinging round an upright pole of some sort, like he’s dancing with it.

Now the train is travelling fast. Its sound fills my ears, and Sizwe is on the roof.

I can’t bear it. I see him stand up, swaying, finding his balance. I don’t want him to be doing this, dancing and ducking live power cables and other overhead bits that look like they’re made of steel and could take his head off.

I turn and walk home.

In the evening, Ma asks me what’s wrong. I say, “Nothing important, Ma. Just a stupid boy.”

She remembers that because when we hear someone at the door and she goes to answer, she comes back smiling and says, “I think it’s your stupid boy, Moya. He won’t come in.”

Sizwe is standing outside, frowning.

“Go away please, Sizwe,” I say. “I don’t need you in my life.”

It’s like a shadow moves over him. He hunches his shoulders.

“I get it.” Voice even rougher than usual. “I’m not good enough. Because I surf the trains. Because I’m a loser who can’t get work.”

“The work part is hardly your fault. But you said the l-word, Sizwe. Loser. Yes, because you’ve given up on yourself. Given up valuing your life. That’s what I don’t need. The fear I’d feel every time you were on a train. I hated seeing it today.”

It’s a weird feeling, being so angry and wanting to cry at the same time.

A big sigh from Sizwe, then, “I wouldn’t ask you to watch again.”

“But I’d see it in my head, Sizwe.”

“Fine. I get the message.”

He gives me a hard stare, not blinking. Then he’s turning away, walking out of my life. I don’t go inside yet. I have to watch Sizwe going away. Leaving me. I watch him to remember him.

I want to cry. My throat aches and there’s a raw, bruised feeling where my heart is.

I don’t bother looking at the message that comes through on my phone. Those girls can stop worrying.


Tell us: Do you agree with Moya rejecting Sizwe? Is there any chance that they can get back together?