Abongile felt like he was dreaming; or rather, in a nightmare. In a second he had gone from being weirdly fascinated to feeling pure horror!

Most of the crowd’s attention now turned towards his cousin. Phumlani was surrounded by a group of men of varying ages, amongst whom he recognised Siphenathi’s father. He could see Ta Fix and other faces he didn’t necessarily know the names of, but had seen plenty of times before. Faces he had grown up with. Abongile knew that the faces recognised him as well, that they knew he was part of their community.

But they didn’t know Phumlani, though his and the boy’s parents often visited each other. Phumlani’s family lived in a different township and they saw each other on most Sundays, when they imbibed stories of God and Jesus religiously.

Most of the time after church the twins, Abongile and their parents would eat a late Sunday lunch prepared by his father’s older sister, assisted by Abongile’s mother and Phumlani. They ate at their aunt’s home because she was closest to the church. But sometimes, at his mother’s and father’s insistence, they asked their sister and her son to visit their home.

The sun was now slowly being swallowed by the horizon. Without thinking – not really having time to think – Abongile sprang forward.

“Please! Can you leave him alone!? He’s my cousin,” Abongile pleaded.

It felt like everyone turned towards him at the same time. He tried to jump between his cousin and everyone else but someone pushed him, sending him sprawling to the ground, tearing the flesh off his elbows.

“Voetsek! Get away from here, kid!” he heard one of the older men say.

“Please, he’s my brother! He’s my father’s nephew!’’

The buzzing became a lot more animated. He could feel the circle of people honing in and tightening around them.

“Isn’t that MaNkwali’s boy? Abongile? Voetsek. Get away from here!”

“Ta Fix, I know him. That’s my cousin!”

“Your cousin killed a man. Get away from here!”

Ta Fix moved threateningly towards him. Abongile scrambled up, retreated just a little, trying to see what was happening to Phumlani.

“Please, please!”

He wanted to cry; he pushed hard for the tears to come out, but he was dry. He could sense too much of disbelief in himself, a part of him that didn’t, couldn’t, believe what was happening.

He was seeing Phumlani getting beaten up. He knew that he would also eventually lie barely alive, with hardly enough energy to wipe the blood from his face.

Abongile could hear the crowd of people talking around him. He heard his friends call his name, surrounding him, trying to get him to acknowledge them. He tried pushing through towards where Phumlani was.

But he saw now that some people were blocking him, realising too that they didn’t have control over what the men were doing in their name, and sensing that things were likely to spill over into even more tragic proportions.

Some people felt for him; others were annoyed more than anything. To them he was standing in the way of justice.

Abongile was pacing about, thinking about what to do next, when suddenly a big hand yanked his arm.

“Abongile what are you doing here? Siphenathi and your friends, get away from here now!”

Abongile looked up and saw Siphenathi’s mother.

“Ma, Abongile’s cousin is getting beaten up!”

“The police have been called. All four of you go home now,” she said, pushing Abongile towards the direction of his street.

“Let’s go Abongile,” Lutho said, trying to drag him with. Abongile shrugged him off but Siphenathi was already blocking his path and pushing him along.

“Let’s go tell your mother. She’ll know what to do,” Siphenathi said.

“Yes, let’s go tell your mother.”

They were all ganging up on him, already pushing him away from the scene. Still the tears wouldn’t come.

All at once Abongile realised he couldn’t bear to stay there anyway; that indeed, he was powerless in the situation. He had to get away from it.

***

Tell us: How would you feel if you were Abongile – stay or leave?