Lesego glared across at Mpho and helped Khosi to her feet.

Mpho hissed. “Do you want to catch it as well, goody two shoes?” She looked directly at Lesego as she spoke.

Without realizing what she was doing, Lesego removed her hand from Khosi’s arm. Before she could even open her mouth Khosi looked sadly at her and began to walk away.

Lesego wished the ground would open up and swallow her. She hadn’t removed her hand because of Mpho’s cruel taunts. She had just been shocked at how Mpho was behaving.

Lesego gave Mpho a dirty look and ran to catch up with Khosi. She very deliberately put her arms around Khosi and whispered in her ear. “We’ll talk later. I’m sorry – I should have spoken to you before but I’ve been so worried about my sister.”

Khosi nodded her head. “I understand.”

Lesego noticed some of the other kids smiling at her. A few of them gave her the thumbs up sign. Some turned their back on her and walked up to Mpho. But Lesego didn’t care. At least now she knew some people cared about others. They were not willing to just ‘follow the leader’.

Zanele and Lesego walked home from school that afternoon with Khosi – it turned out that she lived further up the same road as Lesego.

When they arrived at Lesego’s house she was delighted to find that her mom was still at work.

“Come inside and say hello to Nomsa,” Lesego said to both girls. “She’ll be thrilled to see you.” In her mind, she pushed aside her mother’s warning to not get Nomsa too excited.

Nomsa was sitting under a tree in the front yard, paging through a fashion magazine. They dropped their school bags, and ran across the grass to greet her.

“Is this a new friend?” Nomsa smiled at her sister.

“Yes. Her name is Khosi.”

Lesego smiled when she saw that her sister was looking a little better. She was wearing a scarf on her head and her face was glowing and happy.

“Hello,” the two girls kissed and hugged her. Khosi stood watching them closely.

“Would you like some orange juice, girls? Mom squeezed it freshly this morning.”

Lesego poured a glass each for the four of them.

“You’re looking much better,” Lesego said. “Did you have a good rest today?”

“Mom hovers over me all the time,” Nomsa said, and pulled a face. “Otherwise everything is fine. After all, what would I do without my family to look after me?”

Zanele and Lesego nodded their heads in unison.

“Khosi’s mom died recently,” Lesego said, linking arms with her new friend.

“I’m really sorry to hear that,” Nomsa said. She looked taken back for a moment.

For a few seconds nobody spoke.

“How is all your family?” Nomsa asked Zanele.

While Zanele was talking, Lesego looked at her sister. It was true that Nomsa looked better than she was when she first arrived. But her sister had lost so much weight. Her shoulder blades were jutting through the cotton of her blouse.

Suddenly – without warning – Nomsa put her hand up to her mouth and started vomiting. Once she started it looked like she wasn’t going to stop.

In their dismay, nobody heard Mrs Seoke arrive until she spoke.

“What is going on here?” She glared at Lesego.

“It’s OK, Mom,” Nomsa said, after she had wiped her mouth with a tissue she had with her. “I must have drunk the orange juice too fast.”

Her mom shook her head. “Girls can you go now, please. I’d like to be on my own with my family.”

“Sure,” Zanele said and tried to smile, but Lesego knew she was just as scared of her mother as she was when Mrs Seoke was like this.

“Bye,” Khosi said softly and both she and Zanele rushed away.

“Help me lift your sister up,” mom said crossly to Lesego.

“It’s not Lesego’s fault,” Nomsa said. “We were only sitting down chatting when I felt ill.”

“Well what’s done is done,” her mother said. “You need to come inside the house.”

After Nomsa lay down, she had fallen asleep almost instantly.

Mrs Seoke told Lesego to get the groceries out of the boot of her car. When Lesego walked outside she saw the magazine that Nomsa had been reading fluttering in the breeze. She picked it up.

When Lesego brought the groceries into the kitchen, mom was standing by the sink.

“Do you think I need to tell a certain person in this house to have their ears tested?”

“I’m sorry,” Zanele said, and put the groceries down.

“If you ever bring Zanele here again, or any other friend, without my permission there will be serious consequences. I told you many times: Nomsa must not get excited. Now you have made her vomit up all the food I got her to eat today. Go to your room. I’ll call you when dinner is ready.”

It was later that same evening. Lesego had finished her homework. Her mother had prepared and early dinner but Nomsa would not eat anything. She refused to even get out of bed.

“I’m too tired,” she said when her mother tried to coax her to eat. Finally her mother made some soup and forced Nomsa to eat just a few spoonsful.

A while later both Lesego and her mother heard Nomsa throwing up in the bathroom.

“You!” said Mrs Seoke, poking Lesego in the chest. “You have undone everything I had achieved with Nomsa. She was starting to feel better until you brought your friends here. This is not a bloody freak show!”

Lesego gasped. She had never heard her mother swear before now. She had never seen her this angry either.

Lesego was sure she was going to hit her. As if reading her thoughts her mom said, “I feel like giving you a good hiding. Get out of my sight now before you tempt me further, young lady.”

Lesego grabbed the magazine and ran out into the garden in the last light. She sat under the tree where Nomsa had sat earlier.

She sat for a long time, deep in thought. Then she began paging through the magazine. She blinked in surprise. Nomsa had put red crosses through all the pictures of the models.

Then she gasped and looked up when a shadow loomed over her.

“Sorry I startled you,” Khosi said. “I was just out for a walk when I saw you sitting here. I walk a lot since my mom died.”

“It must be hard for you, Khosi,” Lesego said. “Come sit down and keep me company.”

“It’s like nothing you can explain,” Khosi said tearfully. “Mom and I were very close. A friend of my dad’s raped her and infected her with HIV. It was terrible watching her get weaker and weaker, fading away in front of us.

Lesego was speechless.

***

Tell us what you think: Has Nomsa definitely been infected with HIV and Aids?