They walked in silence for a moment, the two women, him. Between the ugly amber pools of light they waded through, their shadows trailing them like ripples on the tar road, Abongile realised how old both women were. Not wrinkled, their bodies slowly-decaying-old, but big, solid tree old. Old trees that have been big and solid for so long that it’s hard to think of them ever falling, even when they creak in the wind.

When they reached their house, his mother tried to convince the older woman to let her walk her the rest of the way home. But Siphenathi’s mother refused, arguing that it was so close by that she would just shout if anything happened to her.

Abongile’s mother resigned herself to watching the other woman disappear, standing at the edge of their yard near the road, with the twins. They had been so relieved to have their mother and Abongile back that they had rushed outside as soon as they heard their voices.

Abongile stood closer to the door, a metre or two behind them, not wanting to be there, but almost afraid to be alone, even inside the house. His friend’s mother parted with, “Be strong Abongile, you hear?”

He murmured an almost inaudible, “Okay Ma.”

They waited a few more moments before going inside the house.

“Mama when is Tata coming back?”

“Tomorrow.”

“Is bhut’ Phumlani dead Mama?”

“He’s in the hospital.”

“Ma, will they charge everyone who beat him up? I know some of them. Like, Ta Fix was there.”

His mother was silent for a moment. She had been dishing food from the pot into Tupperware to be kept in the fridge. The twins also paused for a moment from asking their questions.

“I don’t know,” she sighed

“But they were going to kill him!” he said, surprising himself by raising his voice. The last syllable of his words echoed harshly inside the house. For the first time since he saw Phumlani that day, Abongile felt something besides just fear and a deep sadness.

“They were angry as you are now,” said his mother. “Remember they also fear for their loved ones, for themselves. This is what happens when people, a community, must live in fear for their lives every day. They react violently themselves.”

“But I told them that I know Phumlani; that he was my family!”

“Listen, Abongile, you are old now. You can understand that things aren’t so simple.”

“Ta Fix pushed me to the ground.”

He raised his bloody elbow, showing it to her. He was sick of crying but tears started blurring his vision again. His mother walked and stood in front of him, pulling his head into her belly. They stood like that for a while.

The twins stood watching, blinking rapidly, trying to call on a storm of tears themselves.

By the time Abongile was ready to break away from his mother’s embrace Thando was attempting a little wail, but it came out so dry and obviously forced that his mother smiled wryly as she hugged her. Then Sisipho, also jealous, put on a cry of her own, so obviously false.

Abongile’s mother caught his eye and winked at him. Abongile winked back and with that wink he began to feel that things were going to be Ok.

*****

Tell us: Do you think charges will be laid against the people in the crowd? If so, for what? What did you think of this story?