Working at the gym, I can forget all the things troubling me. I’ve been boxing here for years. Then, when I finished school last year, Baba – Hands Ngobese –gave me my job.
He had two reasons, he said. The first was that his daughter, who had been looking after the gym’s office, had got married and moved away. The second was that he didn’t want to lose me as a boxer and sparring partner for the other girls. That second reason made me feel so good.
“There’s not enough female participation at development level,” he always says, and he says it again this late afternoon, watching me working with Rhandzeka.
Over in the centre of the rather gloomy, echoing gym, Baba’s son and Rhandzeka’s brother are up in the ring, sparring hard and fast, sweat flying.
“You’re doing great with the punching bag,” I tell Rhandzeka. “Now you just need to stop being scared of getting in the ring with an actual human.”
“Let her try with Nicoleen,” Baba says. “Nothing to be frightened of when she’s such a little girl. And you, Zami, you need to do some speedbag training. You’re a good mentor for these girls, but I don’t want you neglecting your own training. I’ve got plans for all of you youngsters.”
I love speedbag work, what it does for my wrists and upper body, and for my hand-eye coordination. That’s another thing Baba talks about a lot.
“Looking good, Zami,” Kayise Ngobese calls, coming over to watch me after a while, when Xikosi, Rhandzeka, and Nicoleen have all left.
I’m breathing too hard to answer, but it gives me a boost, because he’s such a brilliant boxer, already competing in provincial level fights.
What is it about this sport that’s so special? Sometimes I think it’s the physical action of it, the way I have to push all my energy into it. Other times, in a real fight, it’s the skill it needs, holding back, staying in control, until I know the moment has come to let loose.
“Hey Zami.” It’s Jacky arriving, a guy my age who Kayise is mentoring. “Dude outside in a BMW, demanding to know if you’re here.”
Sandile! Has he messaged me?
“Shit.” I move away from the speedbag, feeling a strange sort of panic, because the gym clock shows me that I’ve lost track of time, and it’s past my usual leaving time.
“Wassup, Zami?” Kayise steps forward, the white towel slung around his neck somehow emphasising the dark gleam of his smooth chest. “Need us to chase him off?”
“No. No, of course not,” I gasp. “He’s just … It’s the man I’m engaged to.”
Just saying that gives me this weird feeling, like something is pulling me down.
“Oh! Sorry,” Kayise apologises. “I just thought you seemed … frightened.”
I shake my head and rush to the lockers and showers Baba put in after the gym became so popular. Nothing fancy, but an improvement on when we used to have to go home all sweaty.
I probably break some record for speed-showering and dressing, grabbing my phone from my bag as I wriggle into my leggings.
Yes, there’s a message from Sandile, saying he’ll fetch me at the usual time. I wasn’t expecting this, so my clothes – he’s not going to be impressed.
Shit, where’s my ring? The short piece of red ribbon I’ve tied through it helps me find it in my bag’s inside zip compartment. Only problem, I can’t get the knot undone, so I ram the ring on to my finger with the ribbon still attached.
Sandile. Are we back to normal, or has he come to tell me it’s over between us?
Tell us: Will Zami and Sandile make up, or break up?