Mrs Phiri wakes in panic. It is Sunday morning, 4.30. It is her one chance in the week to sleep late. But no! She wakes as always with only one thought on her mind: her beloved, broken-hearted son.

Did he come home last night? Is he safe in his bed? Or is he still wandering the dark, icy, winter streets in his hooded jacket?

Slipping on her dressing gown, Mrs Phiri walks down the dark passage to his bedroom. And his bed is empty! Empty. She can see it clearly by the glow of the street light. The duvet is still smooth and flat, the top sheet neatly turned down just as she left it yesterday.

Where is he? Where in the name of all that is holy can he be? Lying bleeding in some alleyway between rubbish bins? Attacked and stabbed by some gangster for the little money he had in his pocket? Or in a police morgue, overdosed on some dangerous drug that he took just to stop his pain for a little while?

The panic is flooding over Mrs Phiri now. She feels like she is drowning beneath the torrent of terrifying thoughts. And along with the panic, comes the anger. This is all Angelique’s fault. That gold-digging, two-timing, self-absorbed slut! She is the one to blame!

Mrs Phiri tries to reach Tshepo on his cellphone. But she is taken straight to voicemail. “Hi, this is Tshepo. Leave a message if you want. Or not. Who cares.” Even in his voicemail message she can hear the desperate sadness in his voice.

She leaves a message. “Tshepo, my darling, where are you? Please call back. I am frantic. I just need to know you are OK.”

Mrs Phiri gets dressed now. She puts on her apron. Sunday is her house-cleaning day. But she knows she won’t be able to do a thing until her beloved son is safe at home again.

So instead she goes to sit in the kitchen with a cup of rooibos. She sits where she can look through to the front door. So that she will know the very minute Tshepo walks in. And then all her panic can stop.

But the time goes by slowly. So slowly. Slowly the winter sky outside lightens to a dull grey. On the counter the TV is on, its volume way low. She cannot concentrate on what the newscaster is saying.

“This is now the seventh body discovered. It was found in the early hours of this morning. The young woman has already been identified as Gaone Dihoro, a Grade 4 teacher at Spes Bona Primary in Extension 7.The media have dubbed these slayings the Perfume Murders. Police insist they are close to arresting a possible suspect. But they still refuse to name the brand of the fragrance sprayed on the victims. They say this will hamper their inquiries.”

It is 6.15 on the dot when the front door opens at last. And there is Tshepo, unhurt, wearing his jacket with the hood still up over his head. Mrs Phiri’s heart overflows with relief and joy. And love.

“Where have you been, my darling? I was so worried. I thought maybe something terrible had happened to you. And I couldn’t bear that. Can I make you some tea? Some creamy porridge?”

Tshepo’s eyes are bloodshot. Mrs Phiri hopes that is only because he is tired after his long night. She hopes it is not from alcohol. Or worse.

Tshepo says blankly, “No Mama. No coffee. I am going to bed. And don’t wake me, you hear?”

“Of course not, my love. I’ll be cleaning, but I won’t use the vacuum cleaner. I promise. I’ll be so quiet you won’t even know I am here.”

But she is so happy to see him that she doesn’t want to let him out of her sight. She follows behind him as he goes into his bedroom. She stops and watches from the passage shadows as he takes a couple of items out from his jacket pocket: a pair of black lace pantyhose and the fancy bottle of Angel Child perfume. He slips the items into his top drawer. He takes off his hooded jacket and hangs it on the door of his wardrobe. Then he climbs in under the duvet and cuddles up. Just like a little boy.

“Sleep well, my darling,” says Mrs Phiri. And oh, it is so lovely to gaze down upon her son, safe and cosy in his bed. Soon, she is sure, he will recover from his heartache. Yes, his heart will mend and he will stop wandering the dark, icy, winter streets deep into the night. Yes, and his golden smile will brighten up the world once more.

What a wonderful day that will be! Mrs Phiri can feel the hope rising up in her chest.

There is the sound of police car sirens. Not in the far distance though. No. They seem to coming from just a few streets away.


Tell us: Do your parents worry when you are out at night? Do you think generally that parents worry too much – or are they right to be concerned?