Jeremy listened, nodding, as I told him my childhood woes. He didn’t seem to think I was silly and ungrateful.

“You understand? All my childhood I felt like they were the winners. And I was always the loser. Always second best.”

Jeremy sat stroking my hands with his stubby fingers. “How could you ever be second best? How could you ever be a loser? You are lovely. Your skin is so soft. It smells like rose petals.”

That was nice to hear – even if I really smelled more like the chip oil from the take-away where I worked.

There was just one time – one single time – when I felt like the winner. I was seventeen back then with a boyfriend called Tsheps. Those Seboni sisters were so envious!

What a cool boyfriend he was! He was five years older than me. He wore designer clothes and a thick gold chain. He drove a red sports car at top speed, with the music pumping.

I was in heaven. The Seboni sisters stared me in wonder. Boineelo and Keletso didn’t even have boyfriends. Not proper ones. Farai had a boyfriend but he was skinny and boring. He came to visit her on a bicycle.

A bicycle!

I smiled a lot that summer. I didn’t even mind about the stand-pipe tap and living in their backyard.

Farai tried to pretend she wasn’t jealous. She said, “Well, my boyfriend is studying to be a doctor. That’s why he doesn’t have money. And your boyfriend, Neo? What job does he do?”

I didn’t know how Tsheps made his money at first. I found out later though. He was arrested, charged and jailed for drug dealing. And that was the end of my time speeding around in the passenger seat of a red sports car. And being a winner.

“Shame, poor Neo!” said Boineelo. She squeezed a few tears out of her beautiful eyes. She was quite an actress.

“So sorry,” said Keletso. “Better luck next time.”

“What a pity, Neo,” said Farai. She held on tight to her boring student-doctor boyfriend. They had just got engaged.

There at the lake, Jeremy kept hold of my hand while I spoke. He looked deeply into my eyes. I tried not to think about how fishy they looked. How creepy and unpleasant. He said, “Beautiful Neo, listen to me carefully. I haven’t told you about the rest of my secret gift.”

“What’s that?”

“Well, bad things also happen to people who hurt the ones I love. And I’m definitely falling in love with you.”

I shook my head. I didn’t even want to think about this ugly little man falling in love with me.

“Yes, kiddo. You stick with me! You might find those Seboni sisters suffering one of these days. Getting their payback.”

The rain had begun to fall, plopping onto the surface of the lake.

“I really must go now,” I said.

“Give me your cellphone number, kiddo. I’ll phone you in the week and we can arrange a date.”


Tell us what you think: Is Neo going to date Jeremy?