“Trust me, Khaliso.” Mongezi is stroking my body, and his voice pours over me like streams of soft, warm water, as we have our Saturday talk. “You need me. I know what’s best for you.”

“Best for me? Letting you have my words and get all the credit that should be mine?” I want to agree with him, but I can’t hold back the questions.

“You’re not remembering properly.” He kisses me between my eyebrows. “When you were rehearsing Eyes, I was getting these signals from you. You didn’t want to do it; you were making excuses about how you couldn’t create a new song in time.”

“I didn’t want a new song. I was going to do My Lyin’ Eyes.

“No, you didn’t want to. You need to listen to me, angel. I’ve got your best interests at heart. I’ll take care of you, get your songs out there, without you having to get out there yourself. You’re not tough enough, Khaliso.”

“I might be,” I argue, but I don’t sound sure … maybe just because he does sound so very sure he’s right. “I could be. Tough enough.”

“No, it’s those friends of yours making you believe that, because they are tough, Chuma and those others.”

“What if it’s you making me believe I’m not tough enough?”

“Why would I need to make you believe something you already know is true?” Mongezi’s hands have stopped being gentle. “I understand you, Khaliso. I can tell how scared you are of next Friday. You don’t want to get up on that stage, but you need me to give you a reason to pull out … don’t you, sweet baby girl?”

“I thought it was okay to be scared?” Only now I’m starting to doubt so much, things I thought I knew and believed. “Because of the adrenalin and all that?”

“That’s crap. Listen, you need to drop those girls. They’re a negative influence. They’re using you, using your popularity, because it makes them popular too.”

“My popularity! Yes.” For a moment I feel surer of myself. “People liked me, Mongezi. They liked what I did, even if it was crass, and last-minute.”

“They felt sorry for you.”

My face burns, my whole body burns, but I say, “I don’t think Die-Mond and The Pit crowd do pity.”

We’re on the couch in his family’s house, and it’s a relief to me when his mother and sister arrive back from Saturday afternoon shopping. I make an excuse to leave.

“I need to think,” I admit to Mongezi when he walks outside with me.

“Yes, you need to think about what you’re doing, Khaliso.” Hardness in his voice, the same in his eyes. “A girl doing rap? You know how I feel about that. How your parents feel.”

“Yes,” I agree, and all the misery I feel is blocking my throat, stinging my eyes. “You and my parents. But what about me?”

I start to walk home, thinking about what Ma and Pops will think when they hear what I did. I haven’t told them anything except that I’m through to the next round of the contest. They think it’s the Eyes song that has got me through.

As I turn into my street, I stop. Banzi Magagula is walking towards me.

 ***

Tell us: Is Khaliso letting other people’s opinions matter too much, or should she care more about how Mongezi and her parents feel about rap?