The next morning I watched at the school gate to see when Mr Phaladi arrived. When he did I followed him to the English classroom.
“Kagiso! How lovely to see you so early in the morning,” he said, coming toward me to take me in his arms. I stepped back. “What’s wrong?”
“I’m not doing this.” I kept my voice firm.
“Doing what?” he asked.
“This. I’m not going to sleep with you. I’m not doing any of it.”
He understood and his face hardened. “I don’t think you understand. I could make your life difficult.”
I didn’t understand but I didn’t care. “I’m not doing this so don’t mention it again.” I dropped the book he gave me on the table. “I don’t care what you can do to me. I’m not going to do this.”
I walked out of the door, but behind me I heard him say, “You’ll regret this.”
Time passed and Mr Phaladi seemed to have got the message. He didn’t approach me again. Exams were coming up and I was trying my best to study. My mother kicked Reena out of the house. I hadn’t seen her for a week. Fiona said she saw her in a combi in town. She looked high, and dirty, like she might be sleeping outside somewhere. I was worried about my sister. I loved her and didn’t want anything to happen to her.
But I tried my best to focus on the mock exams, the practice exams before the finals. Fiona and I studied together at her house. Sometimes I slept there − anything to keep away from home.
I was in English class waiting for Mr Phaladi to hand back the mock English exam. I’d studied hard and was sure I’d get something above 90%. He moved around the class passing out the papers until there was only one left in his hand.
“I want to read something to the class.”
Everyone became quiet and listened. He read my essay out. After each paragraph he stopped to explain everything that was wrong with it. Everyone knew it was my paper because I was the only one who hadn’t received theirs. When he was finished he dropped the paper on my desk. Scrawled across the top of the exam was “37% FAIL” in big, red letters.
“You really must try harder if you intend to pass, Kagiso,” Mr Phaladi said, smiling.
I smiled back. I would not let him get me down. I would not let him win.
I told Fiona about what happened. “It doesn’t matter. He won’t be marking your final exam. He thinks he has power over you, but he doesn’t,” she said.
“But he’s doing his best to make my life terrible in the meanwhile.”
“Ignore him. Or turn him in. He could lose his job.”
“It would be my word against his. I don’t have any evidence.”
“Unless you talk to Pearl. You could both approach the headmistress. That’s two against one.”
I thought about it, but was it worth it? Final exams were in a month and then I’d be gone. Why would I want to make all of that hassle for myself? “I don’t think so Fiona. I’m just going to wait it out.”
But Fiona wasn’t listening. She was looking across the school to where Mr Phaladi was walking. He had his arm around a girl. I knew her; she lived in Fiona’s neighbourhood. She was younger than us, in grade nine I thought. “Is that Belinda?”
“Yes,” Fiona snapped. Then she turned to me, her eyes angry. “So, what do you think he wants with her now?”
“Now I’m to be blamed if he goes after someone else? Is that even fair?”
“Maybe not fair, but right. You could do something. You could stop him.”
She walked away. I stood there and watched Mr Phaladi guide Belinda into his classroom, his arm still around her tiny shoulders.
Tell us what you think: Should Kagiso turn Mr Phaladi in? What would you do?