“Boys, please have a seat,” Bra Frank said, and nodded at Sam and Xolani. He was sitting by himself in the middle of the shebeen with just a big glass of beer in front of him. The shebeen was dark and dingy and house music pumped in the background. Sam knew the song very well as he had heard it in the taxi many times – Black Coffee Remix – Falling. Some young girls were dancing for a drunk old man in order to get money from him.
Sam hesitated. His whole body was telling him to turn back now, and never return to the shebeen. But his sister was in such pain. He sat down.
“What can I do for you makwedini, boys?” Frank took a sip from his cold beer and called on one of his boys to light a cigarette for himself and to order drinks for the boys.
When Frank passed Sam a bottle of cola he couldn’t refuse. Frank was not a person who took no for an answer. As he took the bottle, Sam saw the number ‘27’ tattooed in green ink on Frank’s knuckles. Sam knew exactly what a tattoo like that said about the kind of person the bearer was. He thought of what his mother would say if she saw her son in such a place meeting a true gangster. He felt ashamed but he couldn’t back out now. Xolani had helped him – if he walked now, his friend would never help him again.
“He needs a loan,” Xolani said quickly.
Sam looked at this short, old man sitting in front of him, his hat tilted to the side and with so many rings on his fingers. He looked around. There were also so many preying eyes – eyes staring back at him. Now he was sure he couldn’t just walk out of the shebeen even if he wanted to.
“How much do you need?” Frank looked directly at Sam.
“I need R10 000.” Sam’s voice sounded like he was choking. He had spent the last few days estimating how much he would need on top of his small support grant if he was to rescue his sister. This amount would have to be enough for him to pay off Mam’Gqwashu. He knew money was the only thing she cared about. It would have to be enough for both of them to live on in their own place, at least until he found a better paying job.
“Kwedini, this is not child’s play. That is a lot of money for a boy,” Frank responded. He didn’t look happy.
“Will you give me the money or not?” Sam burst out.
Frank looked at him and then grinned. “I see you have guts,” he laughed. “Maybe we could use someone like you.” He turned to the guys around him and they laughed too. “I like you. You remind me of me at that age. Yes I’ll give you the money, but I will also give you six months to pay me back, with interest of course. In my line of work you can’t trust anyone; people will lend money then disappear. So I give them a short time to pay up then all is good. You look like a smart young man, so I think six months is good for you.” He raised his almost empty glass and one of his boys came running with a bottle to top him up.
“Come and see me tomorrow. I’ll have your money.”
Six months, that’s not long, but I can do it, Sam thought to himself as they left the shebeen.
* * * * *
With Bra Frank’s money in his pocket Sam went to a distant relative to ask if he could rent the shack in his back yard. He could move in at the end of the month, the man said as Sam handed over the deposit. The end of the month was one week away. He dreaded telling Mr Sotshononda, but he would think of a way. He was turning eighteen soon anyway. He couldn’t stay in the home forever.
Mr Sotshononda was alarmed, but went with Sam to see the room. He talked to Social Services. As Sam’s eighteenth birthday was coming up they agreed, after meeting his relative, that Sam could stay there. They needed to do the paperwork but it would be in order. Sam assured Mr Sotshononda that he would stay at school. There was a waiting list at The Children’s Haven. He felt it was right that a younger child could take his place. He couldn’t tell Mr Sotshononda about his sister though. Not yet. What if the Social Services didn’t agree to let her stay with him? They would protest that he did not have the money to be his sister’s guardian. What if they didn’t believe the stories about Mam’Gqwashu? No, that had to stay a secret.
The following weekend Sam went to get his sister from Mam’Gqwashu’s home.
“You can’t have her.” Mam’Gqwashu blocked her doorway and then continued: “Unless you give me something.” She smiled then, a horrible, insincere smile, and nodded to his school satchel. “You must have somewhere to stay if you come asking for that useless girl. How did you pay for that?”
Reluctantly he took out R500 and held it out to her. She grabbed at it. He noticed her fingers with their bright red nail polish that was chipping off. “Fetch Sinethemba!” she shouted at one of the small children who had come out from behind the house. Mam’Gqwashu slapped the child as she ran inside, yelling, “Khawuleza!” Then she turned back to Sam. “It will be good to be rid of that ungrateful child. All she does is cause trouble for me.” She walked back inside, not stopping to say goodbye to Sinethemba, who came running down the passage.
Sinethemba was overjoyed by her brother’s bravery and how he had kept his promise to rescue her from Mam’Gqwashu. She flew into his arms and clung onto him. Sam was shocked by how thin she was. And she coughed all the time.
Sam took Sinethemba to the room he had rented. He had come every afternoon after school with some item to try to make it look welcoming for his sister. He had managed to get some cheap furniture from the local second hand store and had even put up a beautiful butterfly poster that he knew his sister would like.
That night they talked and talked. Sam had done it: they were a family again. A family of two.
* * * * *
That Friday Sam decided he could leave Sinethemba alone so that he could take Zinhle out on the promised date. His relative was around to keep an eye on her. Sinethemba urged him to go and had made him promise to let her meet Zinhle soon.
Sam took Zinhle to buy some fish and chips. They sat in the local park under a tree. It was a beautiful warm evening. Sam had even brought a small blanket for them to sit on.
“Mmm, this is just what I felt like, thanks,” Zinhle said, and gave Sam a hug.
Finally they were alone without the prying eyes of Thando or Xolani.
“You’re so beautiful,” Sam said, admiring Zinhle’s figure in her floral summer dress. “You look especially beautiful without the school uniform,” he said, winking at her.
She couldn’t help but blush. She felt shy and yet didn’t want him to stop telling her how beautiful she was. She had spent all morning trying on clothes and when her mother pointed at that dress and told her how gorgeous it was, she knew she had to wear it.
Sam opened a bag he had brought and handed her a cooldrink.
“How is your sister doing? Have you spoken to her lately?” Zinhle said as she leaned to the side to open her cooldrink without it spilling on her dress.
“She wants to meet you.”
“But I thought…”
“I did it Zinhle!” He was grinning. “I rescued her from Mam’Gqwashu’s. We have a place now. When I’ve fixed it up a bit more we will invite you for supper.”
“Wow,” said Zinhle. “That’s great.”
* * * * *
She was happy for Sam that his sister was safe. But she was also worried. She couldn’t help wondering how Sam had got the money for a place of his own. Rent wasn’t cheap and he would need to provide for everything. She felt sure that Xolani had had a hand in it – and that was dangerous for Sam. Still she kept quiet. She could tell that he did not want to talk about it. But she felt scared for him. She felt cold suddenly and wrapped her jacket around her.
Tell us what you think: How will Sam be able to pay Bra Frank back?