My father ran next door to borrow the car of our neighbour, Rre Chilume. When he came back with the keys, we all got in and headed to the police station.

“Everything will be fine,” my father said as we headed for the police station. I could tell from his voice he didn’t believe his own words.

At the police station we found all sorts of excitement. The police were bringing in people, sometimes one, sometimes two or three. It was a constant stream of people. They were people we knew, most of them anyway. One of them was the son to a lady who used to teach at Sunday school. The man who ran the taxi was there among the arrested people. There was a girl about Masego’s age, who looked familiar. Was she one of his friends? I decided she must have been.

All of them were being booked by the police and taken to cells. We couldn’t see Masego anywhere. My father stopped a passing police officer: “I’m sorry. I’m looking for my son.”

“Was he taken in over the incidents last night?” she asked.

“Maybe … I don’t know.” My father suddenly looked so old and so scared.

What had Masego done? Why was he taken by the police? Where had they taken him? The unknown answers made my imagination go to the very worst places.

“If he was brought in with the people from last night, you’ll have to be patient. You can see it’s a madhouse. We need to get all of these booked and sorted and then we’ll know who we have and where they are. You can take a seat in the waiting area and I’ll come and find you when I know something. Write his name here for me.”

She handed my father a pen and a small pad. I could see his hand shaking as he wrote. He handed it back and we made our way through the crowd to the waiting room, already half-filled with other people, all anxious to find out what happened to their loved ones.

My mother spotted a woman she knew from her matshelo. She went to her. “MmaWilly, what is going on? The police came and took Masego, and we don’t know what has happened.”

MmaWilly sat shaking her head. I could tell she’d been crying. “It all started from that meeting. I told Willy not to go. I told him, but these young people can’t listen. They think we’re fools. Old stupid fools.”

“What happened at the meeting?”

“Not at it, after. After it broke up. People walking home all excited about what was said.”

She was an old lady and spoke in a slow, old lady way. My father was growing impatient. “And then?” he said. “And then what happened? What happened after the meeting?”

“They started. They went to the shops first. Broke the windows, stole what they could, burnt some. They made a mess of everything. Our children did all that.”

“Shops? Which shops?” my father asked.

“Those owned by the foreigners. But then I guess they decided that wasn’t good enough, and they moved on to Little Harare.”

My heart jumped when I heard that. Little Harare. But then I thought of José’s strong brick house. He’d be safe in there. The people in the weak shacks would be most at risk. The crowd would have gone after those people first. I calmed myself knowing that in his tidy, strong cement and brick house, locked in away from the crowd, José would be safe. At least that was something.

My mother asked again. “And then what happened, MmaWilly? Tell us please.”

“They beat them. They pulled the people from the houses. Sleeping people. Innocent people doing nothing. Men and women and children. Old people. They say our children were like wild animals. They beat them and kicked them. They were all excited by the meeting, you see?” She shook her head and began to cry. “They’re people just like us, aren’t they? Just people trying to live. But our children did this to them. Our children did all of this.”

* * *

Tell us: What’s your opinion of what the meeting people did? Do you think being in an excited crowd could make you do something similar?