In case Mongezi hasn’t got the message, Okuhle and Irwin promise they’ll keep him away from me.
Inside The Pit, there’s the usual buzz. It’s weird, but I don’t feel even a moment’s sadness that Mongezi and I are over. Relief is all there is, and that makes me realise how much he stifled and scared me. I should have walked long ago.
We find Chuma and Francine, and Wandisa tells them what happened.
“God, you should have dumped him the moment he stole your song,” Chuma says.
“Or even before.” I give her a weak smile. “But he … I don’t know how he did it, but he was always making me doubt myself, so that I thought he must be right about everything. He even nearly had me believing I don’t want to sing in front of people.”
“Isn’t that sort of like what they call ‘gaslighting’?” Francine asks.
“That’s it! That’s one of the words I’ve been looking for, for what I want to do tonight.” I hug her.
“You’re okay to sing? Your head?” Wandisa asks.
“Yes, it’s throbbing, but hey, I can’t let him steal this from me as well,” I tell them. “My big chance. Let’s get closer to the stage.”
We push our way through the crowd. Close to the stage, I see the other finalists have done the same; the talented schoolboy and two older artists. Only Mongezi is missing.
Banzi appears, checking names on his phone, talking to each of us in turn.
“Khali-L, you’ll go fourth tonight–” His smile dies as he sees my face. “Are you okay? What happened?”
“My boyfriend just became my ex-boyfriend,” I tell him.
His usually relaxed face tightens as he understands what I’m saying.
“As happy as I am to hear that, I’m so sorry this happened to you, Khali-L,” he says. “I hope you know you were way too good for him.”
“How come everyone else knew that before I did?” I ask.
“Maybe you did know it in some deep down way,” Banzi suggests, and his gentleness catches at my heart.
“Yes. Yes, I did. It’s just … I let him convince me that he knew better than me, about everything.” I lift up my aching head and smile at him. “I won’t make that mistake again. I won’t let anyone brainwash me. What I know – I know.”
He smiles back. “This is the real you talking, full of sass and spirit.”
“And song,” I add. “Not that I care, but is Mongezi on before or after me tonight, Banzi?”
“After. He’s last up tonight.”
“Maybe he’ll pull out after he hears me.” Laughter comes rushing up, still mostly to do with the relief of being free of Mongezi.
“And we’ll be keeping an eye on him if he comes anywhere near you.” The glint in the eyes behind his glasses makes me feel good. “We’re not supposed to have favourites, but Die-Mond and I are sort of hoping you’ll win tonight.”
“It’s all down to audience response again, isn’t it?”
“Right, so you go and be awesome again and make them love you, Khali-L.”
Tell us: Which will be more important when Khaliso performs: the support of her friends and Banzi, or her belief in herself?