The bail is set at a ridiculous amount. An insane amount.

Mrs Phiri weeps on the court steps. “I do not have that kind of money. I can’t get that kind of money, not even if I borrow from all my friends and relatives. Not even if I ask my boss at the factory for all the advance he can give me.”

A nearby reporter says, “Of course the bail is ridiculous. They don’t want your son out on the streets. Not after the terrible things he has done. They want to lock him up and throw away the key.”

“But they have no proof. They have no evidence,” sobs Mrs Phiri. And she goes home to her empty, silent house. She spends the morning tidying up the mess left by the police officers in Tshepo’s room.

“There you go, my love,” she whispers in the empty room. “All neat and tidy for when you come home. And clean sheets too. And a clean duvet cover.” She tries not to wonder how long it will be before Tshepo can sleep again in his own bed.

Mrs Phiri goes to visit Tshepo at the jail where he is being held. They sit outside together in the prison yard, on metal chairs across a metal table.

Tshepo sits with his shoulders hunched and his eyes wide with horror. Well, his right eye is wide with horror. His left eye is swollen and almost shut.

“Who did that, my darling? Who hurt you?” she asks. She is trying not to weep. How will it help him if she is crying?

But he will not tell her. Instead he says, “I walked into a wall, Mama.” But she knows he is lying. She looks around the yard at the other prisoners with their visitors. They are all big men, strong, rough men. They look like they belong behind bars and need to be kept away from society. But her beloved Tshepo does not look like that. No. He looks like a gentle little boy who has wandered into this dangerous place by accident.

He leans across the metal table towards her. He whispers in a hoarse, desperate voice. “Mama, you have to help me. You have to get me out of here. I cannot bear this. It is too, too terrible. I swear to you, if I don’t get out of here soon, I will kill myself.”

His words stab into Mrs Phiri’s heart like butcher knives. “Don’t say that. I beg you, my precious boy. How can I live without you and your golden smile?”

But he goes on speaking about suicide. “Yes, maybe I can tie my sheet around my neck and hang myself from the light? Or maybe I will ask the prison doctor for sleeping pills and take them all at once. Anything.”

Mrs Phiri is weeping now. The tears roll down her cheeks as she says, “I will find a way, Tshepo. I promise you that. So don’t harm yourself. Please.”

She is still crying as the guards open the outside door of the jail for her.

But in the taxi home, her sadness turns to anger. Angelique! Angelique aka Neo Mokgosi! This is all her fault, the selfish, uncaring slut! If Tshepo has been murdering young girls in Extension 6, then it is because of Angelique! Yes. Because she broke his poor heart. Isn’t that why all these murdered girls are young and attractive and tall – just like Angelique is?

Poor Tshepo. He fell in love with her and she just used him. She just used up all his money and then dumped him for someone who was richer. Cold, unfeeling bitch! She was the one to blame for this terrible situation.

When Mrs Phiri gets home, she finds her ex-husband at her front gate.

“Is it true?” he demands. “I heard it on the news. Tshepo Phiri has been arrested and charged with the Perfume Murders. Is this our son?”

Mrs Phiri cannot answer. She cannot even cry now. All her tears are spent. But still her ex-husband follows her into the house they once shared.

“This is your fault, Naledi! How many times did I warn you when Tshepo was a boy? I told you not to spoil him. But you never listened. You never punished him when he did wrong. Our son is going on trial for murder. And you are the one to blame!”

With that, Mr Phiri storms out of the house and slams the front door so that the whole house rattles.

Mrs Phiri sits at her kitchen table. She does not move. The TV is mute but photos of Tshepo and of the seven murder victims keep flashing onto the screen. Slowly the winter darkness descends, but she does not switch on any lights.

The same words are going round and round in her mind. Is it true? Is it true what her ex-husband says, that she is to blame for Tshepo’s problems? But how can that be? All she ever did was to love her son and protect him. Yes, love him with all her heart and soul. And how can that be wrong?

And then her cellphone rings. It is Tshepo from the prison call box. “Mama, you have to get me out of here,” he begs in a hoarse voice. “Mama, it is too terrible what they are doing to me. Help me, Mama.”

She can hear other voices behind him, loud male voice. Mocking him. Calling him a ‘mommy’s boy’.

She straightens her shoulders. She makes her voice sound strong and sure and she says, “Anything for you, my son. I will do whatever it takes. Whatever it takes.”


Tell us what you think: Who is to blame for the killings? Is it Angelique or Mrs Phiri or Tshepo himself?