The bell rang for break, and the class erupted into noise and movement as all the students dashed for the door. Mihlali stood alone and still.
“Do you want to come and sit with me at break?”
Mihlali turned and saw one of her roommates from the hostel, Angelique, standing next to her. She was smiling. Mihlali smiled back.
“Yes I do … I will…” she said, her voice trailing off. “I just have to do something first…”
“Suit yourself,” she said and quickly moved away, instantly disappearing into the crowd.
“Wait…” Mihlali called softly, putting out her hand. “Where do you…?”
But Angelique was gone.
I’ll never find her now, thought Mihlali to herself as she turned reluctantly towards Mr Casa’s classroom.
“Ah, there you are,” said Mr Casa as she appeared in the doorway. “Come in girl. Come in.” Mihlali moved hesitantly forward.
“Close the door behind you. And turn the key.”
Mihlali did as she was told.
“Come here,” said Mr Casa, smiling at her. “Don’t be frightened. I am just going to help you. You know that this is a wonderful opportunity for you. I am going to help you to succeed. I want to help you to better yourself, that’s all.”
Mihlali moved her feet, and looked down to watch the light from the high windows slide over Mr Casa’s smooth, shiny, black leather shoes.
“You are going to need extra lessons here at this new school. Just until you catch up. This school has a very high standard. Do you know that? Maths will be the hardest subject. It always is.”
Mihlali looked up for a second. Mr Casa was reaching out for her. “Get out your Maths book and come and stand here at the desk next to me.”
Mihlali moved closer and opened her bag. Trying not to tremble, she took out her Maths book and laid it on the table. Mr Casa pulled the book closer and flipped it open without even looking at the smooth front page. He was looking at her.
“Closer, closer,” he said, smiling up at her from where he remained seated on his chair. “Come, come, there’s work to be done.”
Mihlali moved next to his chair. As she stood next to him she felt his hand begin to move firmly up her leg and come to rest on her bum. She looked down, and together with Mr Casa she saw that a bright red tick now danced gaily next to every single completed sum on the first white page of her new school book.
But Mr Casa did not seem to have noticed. Instead he was saying: “It’s too hot for these grey trousers. You need to be cool to study well. Wear a skirt from now on. OK? Do you hear me Mihlali?”
But Mihlali didn’t hear.
In her mind she had gone to that place that she went to when Abram found her alone on one of the farm roads, or outside, away from the workers’ cottages on a Saturday afternoon, when everyone was drunk.
Abram often found her on those afternoons, when she didn’t want to sit with the other boys and girls sipping on plastic bottles of stinking yellow wine. She would be behind Gogo’s house, or watching endless TV with Senazo.
In her mind she had gone to that place where everything was green and blue, like in a deep forest under a still, clear sky. The same place that she went to in her mind every time Abram touched her. A place that appeared over Abram’s right shoulder, when she lay in silence until Abram’s frantic, painful thrustings into her body between her legs subsided, and he, at last, moved off her, stood and did up his trousers.
“Remember what will happen if you don’t keep quiet,” Abram always said. “Remember that I am in charge here, even if you are the farmer’s favourite clever little girl. I’ll get your whole stinking family kicked off this farm.”
And then he always walked away and never looked back. Not once, in the last three years.
Mihlali moved in her mind, out from the blackboard and the desks, out into the same cool green forest. She knew that somewhere far away Mr Casa’s hand had slipped between the legs of her grey trousers, and had pulled down her zip, and that one large hairy finger was pushing under the elastic of her panties. His jagged nail was scratching her, then the bell rang.
Tell us what you think: What does Mr Casa plan to do with Mihlali? Is there anything she can do to stop him? What would Mr Casa do if Mihlali protested in any way?