Sinethemba fell down in the dark room, crying out in pain as the rough concrete floor grazed the skin on her knees. She heard the door slam and lock behind her, and she heard Frank’s horrible laugh echoing through the wall. She wanted to scream but knew it would be no use. Her knees were scraped. Her palms were bleeding. But she could not focus on the physical pain – she had to think; figure out a way to escape. Sinethemba took a few deep breaths and tried to remember what her teacher had taught her in LO about dealing with a crisis situation.
“Hey, are you alright?”
Sinethemba nearly jumped out of her skin when she heard the voice, soft and sweet like an angel’s.
“Don’t worry – it’s me, Zinhle, from school. They got me too, Sinethemba.” Zinhle’s voice broke and it sounded like she was going to cry.
“Oh, Zinhle,” Sinethemba sobbed, unable to hold back tears at the sound of a kind voice. She crawled on the floor to Zinhle and hugged her. “D’you know what they’re going to do to us? Turn us into, I can hardly even say it: prostitutes, whores. We’ve got to get out of here. Sam is trying to find you … I spoke to him … but then…” She started to cry even harder.
“He loves you so much,” Zinhle said, putting her arms around Sinethemba. “He will find us. I know it. How did Frank find you?”
“He was working with Mam’Gqwashu. They are in this thing together. Now I know where the girls went who disappeared from Mam’Gqwashu when I was living there. She would never tell us. One day they were there, the next day they were gone. It was always the older ones. There were terrible rumours of where they went … and now I know it’s true. Oh, Zinhle. It’s going to happen to us too.”
“No, Sinethemba. I won’t let it happen. Now it’s up to us, girl. No way will I let them sell us like slaves.”
Suddenly they heard the door being unlocked. The girls gripped each other in fear – was it Frank, coming to show them what tonight would be like? They breathed a sigh of relief as Sipho switched on the light and came through the door, carrying plates of hot chips with salt.
Zinhle knew somehow that Sipho was still her only hope – she remembered how he used to be at school: the Golden Boy, going places. If she could just make him see her as a human being, then maybe he’d switch sides and help them. She had to try.
“D’you have a sister?” she asked, as Sipho put the steaming plates down in front of them and Sinethemba started to devour the food.
He hesitated, and there was a long pause. But then he said softly, “Yes, I’ve got two. They’re younger than me.”
“How would you feel if something like this happened to them?”
“Of course I wouldn’t like it. I know it’s wrong, Zinhle. But you don’t understand. Frank owns me.” Sipho sounded panicked and frustrated, and Zinhle noticed that his face had the lines of a much older man.
“How can anyone own another person? Isn’t it time you stood up for yourself?”
“When you’re in a gang, you don’t leave. The only way to leave is to die. Now eat, before it gets cold.”
Zinhle saw that her plan was not working. Sipho was a good guy, but Frank had too much control over him. She knew she had to try a different tactic.
Bit by bit Zinhle pulled her dress down until it just covered her bra. Then she edged over and put her arms around Sipho and said, “Baby, I have been attracted to you since school days. Come let’s have a little fun.” Surprised at her unexpected move, and overcome by lust Sipho turned towards her. Zinhle motioned frantically with her eyes for Sinethemba to run. Sinethemba tried to sneak past him, but Sipho heard her.
He pushed Zinhle to the ground, kicked her, and dragged Sinethemba back into the room, writhing and screaming. “You don’t learn, do you Zinhle? You’re going nowhere.”
“What the hell is going on here?” said Frank, storming in to the room.
“Frank,” said Sipho, panting, “everything is under control. They not gonna pull any crazy stunts. I’m watching them.”
“It’s time to teach them a lesson. One they’ll never forget,” Frank said, his voice shaking with anger. He started to unstrap his thick leather belt, the metal studs gleaming.
“Hey, Frank,” said Sipho impatiently. “Not now, hey. We have to collect the booze for the club remember?”
Frank narrowed his eyes and glared at Sipho suspiciously. He walked out of the door and muttered under his breath: “Just you wait till I get back.”
Frank was gone. Sipho sighed deeply, relieved, and Zinhle could see that his hands were shaking in fear. He fished in his trouser pocket then slipped a cellphone into the pocket of her dress.
“Take this and use it to get help. If he finds out he’ll kill me, so keep your mouth shut no matter what, OK?”
“You doing this for us?”
“Yes, I don’t want you to get hurt. I need a way out of the gang life, so I’m doing it for myself too. The cell is prepaid. It can’t be traced to me. Good luck.”
Sipho left the room and Zinhle stared at the cellphone in wonder. She heard the muffled voices of Frank, Mam’Gqwashu and Sipho plotting on the stoep and wondered whether she’d ever see Sipho again…
Tell us what you think: Can someone like Sipho go back to how they were before they joined the gang?