Someone grabs my arm as I put one foot on the first step up to the stage. Mongezi.
“What the hell are you doing, Khaliso?” he demands, sounding shocked. “You can’t go on. You can’t do the Eyes song again. Let’s get out of here, and I’ll explain everything to you.”
I look at him. I see my handsome boyfriend, I see the man who stole my song, I see the man I’m in love with, I see a thief. That’s how I waver for a moment.
Then I see something else. Me, and my future.
“Newsflash, Mongezi,” I say. “There’s more to me than just one song. Let go.”
As I try to wrench my arm away from him, Die-Mond’s assistant steps forward, his eyes flashing behind his glasses.
“Ja dude, let go. You’re delaying her.”
His lips curl and draw back as he looks at Mongezi, like he’s smelling something bad. Then he gives Mongezi a light push, no more than a tap, on the chest. But somehow it makes Mongezi let go.
I move up to the second step. “Thanks … um?” Realising I don’t know his name.
“Banzi,” he tells me, smiling. “Banzi Magagula. You’ve got this, Khaliso. Go up there and be awesome.”
And he sounds like he truly believes I can be awesome. It gives me something, a shot of self-confidence I think, so that I race up the next two steps.
“Last up tonight, number 10, Khaliso Laurel Zitha,” Die-Mond is announcing, as I hit the stage.
He gives me the mic and I face the crowd.
“Not Khaliso. I’m Khali-L, and don’t forget it!” I have no idea where this comes from; I haven’t planned it, that’s for sure, but it feels so right. “And the L is for Lyrical.”
Because ‘Laurel’ says nothing. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a laurel bush … tree, flower?
I send my girls a look, and they start up a rhythm with their hands, soft and speedy at first, then louder, as they add sounds with their lips and tongues–
And I’m rapping: all I’ve ever wanted to do. It’s rough and raw, it’s probably not much good, but it’s real, and I’m feeling it.
You with your solo, stoopin’ so low
Stealin’ my song, you got it wrong
You got me wrong …
Wrong, wrong, so freakin’ wrong
Cos I’m standing strong.
I spit the words, hard and fast, Die-Mond style. I look out at a blur of faces, and I’m hearing something, feeling something. They’re paying attention, starting to listen.
The blur clears into faces I know. Excitement brightens Chuma’s face, anger hardens Mongezi’s. Banzi Magagula is smiling, like he’s proud of me, and Die-Mond is looking … interested.
Ain’t choosing losing, I’m refusing,
Diss me, piss me, you gonna miss me …
Miss me, miss me, don’t get to kiss me.
It’s not enough words, I didn’t have time for that, so I repeat phrases, but the crowd likes it. For some reason, they like my anger, I can tell.
I hope Mongezi is getting the message.
Tell us: What do you think made Khaliso change her name at the last minute?