People have different names for them: zombies, moegoes, dead-heads, jujus and bennies, but ‘morts’ is the most popular name in KwaZulu and Gauteng.

Mr Cele, my favourite teacher, says it’s the French word for ‘death’. He says this name caught on because when the Sarili Virus first spread, loads of people believed Congolese refugees, many of whom speak that language, were responsible for spreading it. Blaming it on the refugees was a dumbass thing to do of course. The virus didn’t care which country you were from. It didn’t care if you were rich or poor, black or white, if you were a politician who drove a big black Mercedes or a Somalian refugee living in an informal settlement. The Sarili Virus didn’t discriminate.

And now we had our very own mort standing in our yard.

Levi wasn’t going to give up. “I’ll look after him, Mama,” he begged. “I’ll train him, just like I trained Zizu.” At the sound of her name, Zizu looked up at him and whined.

Mama sighed. “You cannot train it, Levi. It is not a dog. It cannot stay here.”

“Why not? He’s very thin, Mama. He will not cost much to feed. I will give him half of my food.”

“Duh, Levi,” I said. “Morts don’t need to eat, everyone knows that.”

Mama glared at me, and I jumped back to avoid another one of her smacks.

“It is not that,” she said to Levi, softening her voice. “Our neighbours, they will not understand.” She glanced at our gate as if she was expecting an angry mob to appear at any moment.

I was glad night was falling – we were lucky no one had seen Levi’s gross new friend following him home. Mama knows everyone in Gamalakhe – she’s a nurse at the clinic – and the last thing she wanted was a scandal.

Before the government started showing those adverts on SABC to convince everyone that the morts couldn’t hurt or infect us, many people believed they were possessed by evil spirits. Mr Cele says this is just superstition. He says that the morts are simply the unlucky ones. Unfortunates who are little more than walking corpses, who can no longer feel pain, speak, age, eat or even breathe properly anymore. But this didn’t stop people believing what they wanted to believe.

Mama scowled and picked up the broom again. “Nyameka,” she said to me. “Open the gate, I will push it out onto the street.”

“Please, Mama,” Levi sobbed. “He’s lonely. He’s scared.”

Before Mama could stop him, he threw his arms around the thing’s legs, almost sending it toppling.

“Sies! Don’t touch it, Levi!” Mama yelled. “It’s filthy!”

“But… but… he’s my friend!”

Despite my disgust, I felt a stab of pity for him. Levi didn’t have any friends at school. The other children avoided him as if his strange behaviour was catching. And he was only four when the Sarili Virus spread through the country two years ago. He just didn’t understand what morts were.

Mama sighed and shook her head. “Nyameka, do you have airtime on your phone?”

“Uh-uh,” I lied. I had a twenty rand top-up but I was saving it. My best friend Zanele was staying with her grandmother in Umlazi over the July holidays and if I didn’t SMS her everyday I’d go crazy with boredom.

She pulled a fifty rand note out of her purse. “Go get some airtime for me. I need to phone the Collectors.”

Levi used his sleeve to wipe his nose. “Who’re the Collectors?”

“They are people whose job it is to take… things like your friend here to a place where they will be safe.”

“But he’s safe here, Mama.”

“It needs to go where it belongs, Levi,” Mama said. “It does not belong here.”


“Listen to Mama, Levi,” I snapped.

He slumped.

I hurried out into the street. I always feel guilty when I snap at Levi. But, sheesh, who could blame me? A mort was hardly the same as a stray dog, was it?

Zizu padded at my heels as I made my way to the spaza, the night air heady with the scent of braaing meat. I bought the airtime and turned for home, pausing when I heard the sound of raised voices.

A crowd was gathering outside the clinic, which was strange for this late in the day. I moved closer to it. A few people shifted their position and when I caught a glimpse of what they were looking at, I almost screamed.


Why do you think a crowd is gathering? What are they doing?