The next day Yongama was there, waiting for her. He put his arm around her protectively. How often had she dreamed of his touch? And now, how she wished that he would keep it there, that he would be there always to look after her, to look after Kwezi.

But the reality was that once Liyabona walked out of the Principal’s office, she would be on her own.

“I can’t do this,” she said to Yongama.

He dropped his arm. “What?”

“I can’t do this. Yongama, listen, you must understand. I can’t–”

But his face was angry. “I am disappointed, Liyabona. You of all people. I thought you could stand up for yourself.”

“It’s not me. It’s just that–”

But Yongama wasn’t listening. “I can’t believe you aren’t supporting me on this. This was my one chance, I was there, I saw him! At least if I just tell the Principal then will you come if he calls you to confirm my story?”

But he saw the fear in her eyes, the doubt in her whole body as she leaned away from him, looking around nervously.

“Dammit!” He punched a fist into his hand. “I can’t believe you’re letting me down like this. After … after…”

She knew what he was going to say. After he had rescued her. But he didn’t finish the sentence. He just strode away.

“Yongama!” she called after him, though she didn’t know what she would say. She felt a burning shame at what he thought of her, and how she had repaid his deed with betrayal.

But then she saw Dumile. He had been watching them. He came up to her.

“You did the right thing, girlie. Let’s meet in the toilets again hey? Get to know each other properly.”

She wanted to be sick as she half walked, half ran into the school to get away from him. There was no way she was going near any public toilets again soon. She remembered late one afternoon passing a girl crying, coming away from the toilet block, as she came from choir practice. At the time she had thought it was about something else. Now she wondered if it was anything that had happened inside the toilets.

In the first class there was no teacher. It was not a subject she shared with Akhona and Nosi. So she sat and did what she knew would sooth her the most. She wrote a poem.

You know so clearly what is good, what is bad,

What is the right thing, how to speak the truth.

To you it’s as clear as black and white

What is the wrong thing to do, and what is right.

But in my world, you have to see

There is a grey, a grey that I have to be.

For when I speak out, for all to hear,

Then maybe some could be hurt,

Some I love, and hold dear.

I saw the anger in your eyes

I wanted to change my mind.

But you didn’t stay to hear my words

You left me far, far behind.

And sometimes a path splits in two

And yes, the one is the way that the signpost shows

But that path can still lead to a dead end

And I … I want to stay alive.

She tore the page out of her book, folded it carefully and put it in her bag. Her body slowly regained a sense of calm, and at the end of the lesson she went to find Akhona. The day started to feel almost normal.

And the next day, and the day after that. The only difference was that she tried to avoid the toilets. She still hated going to the girls’ toilets because they were in worse and worse condition. She wasn’t the only one. One hot day a Grade 8 girl collapsed because she was dehydrated. She hadn’t drunk any water that day so that she would not have to use the toilets.

“Eish, those toilets,” said Akhona, one break time. “I’m going to the boys’ toilet. They’re just as disgusting, but at least you get out quick.”

Liyabona gripped her. “Promise me you never will!”

“Why?” Akhona was surprised at her intensity.

“I heard boys are doing bad things in there.”

“Where did you hear that from?” Akhona asked. She was usually the main source of news, not Liyabona.

Liyabona shrugged. “One of the Grade 8s.”

Then a few days later, a terrible day, Liyabona felt that burning shame all over again. Her words were proved right. The rumours sped through the school like a viral video. A Grade 9 girl had been assaulted in the toilet.

“I heard screaming and screaming,” one girl told Akhona and Liyabona. “I was in the class nearby. The teacher went to see what was going on. And while we were sitting there we saw Dumile running past the window. He was laughing.”

Later that day Liyabona saw Yongama, at the Principal’s office, comforting the young girl. And she hid so he didn’t see her. Because she knew what his gaze would say: if she had come forward, then this would not have happened.

The girls’ parents came in. Her father was a driver, her mother was a nurse, and they were furious. They wanted to lay charges. Dumile stopped coming to school.

Then the rumours went around. Dumile was in prison. No, the case had been dropped, there were no witnesses. No, the girl had said she wouldn’t testify. But Dumile had been arrested for something else.

Liyabona tried to close her ears to all of this. She wanted to cry every time she saw the Grade 9 girl in the corridor. She wanted to go to her, apologise. It seemed to her that this girl looked so sad now, never smiling. Apparently Dumile had had enough time to really hurt and assault her – he had covered her mouth and only as he left did she start screaming.

And it was all Liyabona’s fault.

But then she would see her brother in the afternoon, and she would know that she couldn’t have done anything else.

She felt anger at Yongama, anger at the world, anger at the dirty toilets. She wrote a poem about that too.


“Hey, chommie, you and your poetry writing. Enter this competition.”

Nosi was pointing to an advert. A local magazine was holding a competition for poetry in different age categories. Liyabona came over. The poster was colourful, friendly. The prizes were substantial.

The next day she sent her poem in. She sent it via her cellphone, to the email address given on the poster. But she didn’t send in the toilet poem, she sent the one about being grey. Who on earth would be interested in a poem about toilets!?

Yongama no longer looked for her at school any more. She saw him with Babalwa, a serious girl in Matric, who studied hard and hardly smiled. Her heart ached. But she was too proud to ever approach him, to talk to him about what happened. And she deleted his number off her phone. He was only a reminder now of her shame, her guilt, of what might have been…


Tell us: Are the toilets at your school or college disgusting places, and to be feared?