In the morning Mihlali carefully took her new school uniform out of her cupboard. The uniform came with a choice of a green skirt with a white shirt, or grey trousers with a white shirt. She supposed that the grey trousers were meant for winter, but the girls were allowed to wear them in the summer terms too.
Mihlali chose the grey trousers, even though she could feel that it was going to probably be over thirty degrees outside. She ran her hands over the crisp cotton of her new shirt, her fingers lingering over the buttons. She stood for a moment and closed her eyes.
Again, in her mind, it felt like Abram was in the room with her, with his hand over her hand. She remembered one Friday on the farm when he had come with her mother’s wages. That day, her mother should have been at work to receive the money from the farmers’ wife, but Mihlali’s gogo had become ill in the night, and her mother had gone with her in the ambulance, in the middle of the night.
Mihlali had spent the morning alone and worried. With her mother and her gogo gone, Mihlali had to cook her father’s pap for him before he left the house. She could not begin to imagine what life on the farm would be like if Gogo never came home from the hospital.
Mihlali knew that her mother had promised to take her shopping for her new uniform that Saturday, and that her mother was due to be paid that day. But Mama had so much else on her mind that it just didn’t matter anymore.
Mihlali had just received the call from her mother that Gogo was going to be alright and that she would be home later. She had just reassured Mihlali that the farmer would still pay her, and someone would bring the money round, when Mihlali had become aware that she was no longer alone.
And so, it was Abram who had brought the money to Mihlali, from the farmer. He had brought it to an empty house, with her father far off on the land.
There was never anything Mihlali could do to stop Abram. Not that time, or any other. But that had been the first and only time he had found her home alone.
It was like the wages that he clutched in one hand made him brave. Or mad. With an open front door and an open back door he had forced Mihlali’s legs open right there on her neatly made childhood bed.
And no-one had walked in. Not even her younger cousin Senazo. And Senazo always came home straight after school. But that day Senazo had only come later, when the roll of money, meant for her new school uniform, lay on Mihlali’s pillow, with a few notes fallen on the floor.
Senazo saw the money, and she saw Mihlali clutching the rumpled quilt around her, her hair messed, the tears streaking her face. Senazo didn’t say anything. She understood exactly what had happened. Most of all Senazo felt pain for her cousin, but there was another feeling. A feeling of relief that this time it had not been her, Senazo, again.
Mihlali looked at herself self-consciously in the hostel passage mirror. The girls in the hostel had all made their green skirts very short so that some barely covered their panties. Mihlali smoothed down her hair with her hand and went to breakfast.
All the students chatted together as they ate. Mihlali missed Senazo so much and thought for a moment about her. She was no doubt getting ready to jump on the farm bus that would take her to the nearby school. The girls were cousins, and had been born only two months apart. They had grown up like sisters, but it was their mothers who were the sisters.
Mihlali’s mother had become like a mother to Senazo when her own mother had gone to work in the city years before, and had never came back. The two girls shared Gogo, whom they both adored. Senazo stayed with Gogo and her father and his new wife and their children. Mihlali and Senazo had always lived next door to each other. Senazo did just as well as Mihlali at school.
“Maybe one day the farmer will sponsor you as well,” Mihlali had said to Senazo as she had left to come to the hostel, and both girls had cried many tears when they said goodbye.
After breakfast Mihlali left the hostel, and followed the other students through the gate that led to the school. Soon she was surrounded by hundreds of laughing, running, shouting teenagers.
A bell rang and Mihlali filed into the hall with the others. Teachers were sitting in rows on the stage. Mihlali ran her eyes over them.
Then her gaze froze. She leaned forward in the seat where she was sitting. She gasped so loudly that the girl next to her glanced at her and frowned.
It can’t be, thought Mihlali. Not him! What is he doing here?
Tell us what you think: Who has Mihlali seen? Why does she choose to wear the grey trousers instead of the short green skirt as her school uniform?