Mihlali laid out her school uniform on her bed after lunch, and pulled on a pair of shorts and a clean cotton shirt. She moved out into the passage in order to look at herself in the long mirror.
Her brown legs were smooth, long and slender. Her eyes stared back at her and she smiled shyly for a moment. Her hair was combed neatly back from her forehead. Slowly her hand moved to the top button of her shirt and lingered there before unbuttoning it.
Mihlali knew that the boys playing table tennis downstairs would look at her. Boys always did. The hostel boys had already begun to move closer to her around the lunch table.
At home on the farm Samkelo from next door had always liked her. He told her so, nearly every day. But Mihlali had always resisted him. And there were others. Boys were always moving in next to her on the school bus, or sliding into her desk next to her at school. Boys, it seemed to Mihlali, were always trying to touch her.
Sometimes, it seemed to Mihlali, that the world was full of hands, young and old, hairy, smooth, strong, slender, fat and bony. All hands belonging to males, all reaching out to touch her, or diving down beneath her shirt, or sliding up her legs under her skirt, or slipping snakelike, around her waist.
There was one boy in the hostel who Mihlali had already begun to notice. And she knew that he had already noticed her. In the dining hall she had felt his eyes on her, and she knew he had walked behind her into school, watching her move, running his eyes over every part of her.
He had found her in second break, when Mr Casa had not called her. Mr Casa had stayed in to drink from the bottle of brandy rattling around the drawer of his desk. He had pulled it out as Mihlali had left his room at first break. She had not looked back, but she had heard the glass clinking against his teeth as he took a deep swig and swallowed, hard.
The boy was tall and strong and someone had mentioned that he was a star rugby player. Mihlali had taken the can of Coke he had offered her when, unable to find Angelique to take up her offer of company, this boy had found her instead.
Mihlali imagined him, a strong young rugby player, standing between her and short, chubby Mr Casa. Mr Casa would have a hard time getting past him, thought Mihlali, smiling just a little at the thought. Mihlali undid another button of her shirt, and left her hostel room.
As she walked down the stairs her cellphone beeped. It was from Senazo.
Guess wot? i’m gonna b cumin 2 ur school
Can’t wait 2 b 2gether again
Mihlali froze. Not Senazo. Not sweet Senazo. “Don’t be frightened. I am just going to help you.” That’s what Mr Casa had said. And now he would want to ‘help’ Senazo too.
Mihlali ran back upstairs, turned back to her room and lay down on her bed, on top of her recently smoothed and laid out clothes.
She heard the bell go for study time but she never stood up. She lay quite still. Only her tears moved, welling up and running over her eyelids and onto her cheeks.
Angelique appeared. She had been sent by a teacher on duty to find out where Mihlali was. But Mihlali would not get up.
A little later the matron of the hostel, the woman with the kind eyes, appeared. She came quietly and sat on the edge of Mihlali’s bed. She put her hand on Mihlali’s shoulder and softly asked her what was wrong.
And Mihlali spoke.
She spoke about everything. For the first time ever Mihlali spoke, and as she did so she felt as if everything began to move away from her.
It felt like her family, and the little square cottage, and the rows of Gogo’s cabbages and beans all disappeared. Everything was lost.
Mihlali saw herself standing, as she had seen herself that morning in the passage mirror. She was standing in her brand new shoes and her clean ironed shirt, but as she watched, her reflection moved away from her in the mirror, further and further until she had totally vanished.
And then Mihlali saw, in her mind, all her school books flying away in a strong wind, up, up, up into the sky. Pages were blowing every which way, and on them all her rows of sums and long neat sentences, and the big red ticks were flying off the pages like large, strong, red birds.
Maybe for me everything is over, thought Mihlali to herself, but I won’t let this happen to Senazo. Not Mr Casa. Not him with his brandy-filled mouth and his fat, rough, sharp-nailed finger. Not for Senazo. And no more Abram either, lying in wait for her around every shady corner. No more.
In her mind Mihlali suddenly saw Senazo standing in her place in the mirror, in her spotless school uniform.
Tell us what you think: Would the young rugby player have been able to protect Mihlali from Mr Casa? Will Mihlali be able to protect Senazo from Mr Casa? What do you think the matron will do?