Mihlali lay on her back and stared up at the dark ceiling. All the lights in the hostel had just been turned off. She found the darkness to be soft and comforting, just like the soft duvet with its new, crisp, cotton cover that she was sleeping under.
Across the room three other girls stirred in their beds. They had all been in the school hostel for years, and knew each other well. Mihlali was the new girl, and apart from a brief word to her, the other girls had more or less ignored her since she arrived late that afternoon.
Mihlali did not mind. She was simply content to be there, at the school that she had always dreamed about attending. The hostel was an old one, and the paint was peeling in places, but it was clean, and the water in the showers earlier had been abundant and really hot.
“So I see that Sol is back this year, Angelique,” whispered one of the girls into the darkness. She giggled.
“I really thought he was going to fail,” said another girl, and Mihlali heard her shift position in her bed.
“He wouldn’t fail,” said a voice that Mihlali recognised as belonging to Angelique. “He never fails at anything.”
“Ja,” replied another girl with a laugh, “especially not at escaping out of hostel.”
“Or getting you to have sex with him down on the sports field, hey Angelique?”
“Shut up!” hissed Angelique’s voice in the dark, but she had also started giggling. “Just shut up man!”
The girls now began to whisper very softly amongst themselves. Mihlali knew it was so that she couldn’t hear them. She didn’t care. She didn’t even want to know about the things they did with boys.
But Mihlali caught a word of the girls’ whispering every now and then, and she felt herself blushing. She shut her eyes tightly. Her body was tense under her new duvet.
An image of Abram, the farm manager on the farm where she lived, formed behind her shut eyelids. Reaching up, she pushed the heels of her hands against her eyelids. He was the last person she wanted to think about. And yet she couldn’t help it. She squirmed in her bed, feeling suddenly pinned down, the duvet weighing heavily over her, like the weight of his body on top of her.
Mihlali stifled a groan as she told herself that, at last, she was far away from Abram. He was not here. She would not, could not, bump into him in the showers, in the hostel passages or in the corridors of the school. She breathed deeply. She was safe here.
Here she was, in a room filled with girls, upstairs, behind a security gate. Here, there was a large, stern woman in charge, who seemed strict, but had kind eyes. She had been kind when she had shown Mihlali to her dorm when she had arrived.
The farm where Mihlali lived with her parents seemed very far away now. Behind her eyelids the face of Mihlali’s mother formed, smiling down at her. Mihlali relaxed as she remembered her mother’s voice.
“I am so proud of you, my daughter,” Mihlali remembered her saying. “All the years of hard work here have been worth it for this. This is your opportunity to make something more of your life than we have. Your father has given this farmer his best since he was a young boy, and I have done all I could in his home. Now the farmer has done this for us – for you. He has sponsored you to go to this good school. It is a blessing my daughter. God has truly blessed you.”
From his chair at the kitchen table Mihlali remembered seeing her father turning his still-warm tea cup around in his hand. She saw his nod – his slow and considered nod.
Tomorrow was the beginning of her new life at the school.
“Quiet now girls,” came the stern voice of the matron in the passage. The dorm door was pushed open a little, so that the dim light from the passage slanted in, a lemon rectangle on the floor.
“Yes ma’am,” said Angelique.
Mihlali listened to the heavy footsteps of the matron retreating. She lay for a moment and stared into the darkness. The girls must have fallen asleep because it was silent.
Then Mihlali turned over and fell asleep.
Tell us what you think: Mihlali is starting a new stage in her life. What did Abram do to her on the farm? Is she safe at her new school?