I lie in a clean bed, smelling the newness of the sheets. I am used to sleeping on the hard ground under a blanket or newspaper. This bed feels different. It is soft under me. On top of me is something like a giant pillow case around a light blanket made of pillow stuff.
Although I am very happy to be staying with Gogo Kaye, everything is very strange. I don’t deserve to be in such a nice place. It is a different world to me.
I turn over onto my side. A heavy weight is next to my feet. It is Marshmallow. She came and settled herself on the bottom of my bed as soon as I got in. I chose the wrong book to read. It is called The Tiger’s Prey by Wilbur Smith but it is about a pirate ship chasing another boat. I don’t want to read about violence and bullies chasing people. I have enough disturbing pictures in my mind: Lucky spaced out on drugs, Sipho, swaggering down the road after Stella, his two friends covering him on either side. I try to think why he might be stalking girls and killing them.
Perhaps it is just the bully enjoying other people’s fear. Maybe he’s trying to keep his gang loyal to him and rewarding them with girls. Maybe it’s the feeling of power.
I try not to think about tomorrow. I managed to go to the police station in Soweto. It will be the same in Alex. I can do it. The major thinks I can
Every time I start thinking about jail cells, I try to picture the Lion, trapped in a net, feeling hopeless. Suddenly he hears a rustle and he sees the Mouse chewing, chewing on the net. Hope enters his heart.
I roll over to the other side, disturbing Marshmallow. She stretches and then walks with long legs to where my head is. She scratches at my bedding near my face, trying to lift the cover. I lift it for her and she goes under and lies down in the curve of my tummy. She purrs, sending vibrations into my body. It feels nice and my shoulder muscles relax.
I wake and it’s still dark. I have no idea what time it is. I go to the window and peep through the curtains. It seems a long way to sunrise although the street lights and buildings ensure that the night is not black.
I unexpectedly think of Baba. He used to wake up at five every morning while it was still dark. His repair shop opened at six so people could bring their cars before work. He would wash himself and then bring Mama a cup of tea before he went to open the shop. He loved Mama. I didn’t realise how unusual it was until I stayed with Aunt Letty. Her boyfriends treated her like a slave. She would have to be the one to make them tea and serve them food before she fed the children or herself.
Thinking about Baba, I decide to write him a letter. After all, I don’t know how long I will be free or even how long I will live. I could be dead or in jail tomorrow.
I tip-toe downstairs so as not to wake Jasper and fetch the exam pad and pen.
I don’t know if you can see me or hear me. Mama’s pastor used to talk about heaven. Maybe you are there.
I always wanted you to be proud of me. I wanted to be a hero like the people in the book you bought me. You used to talk to me about being a lion but I never was brave or strong.
I was angry when you died. You left Mama to fend for herself and you knew she wasn’t strong either. I blamed you for her death. I couldn’t understand why you would mess with a criminal gang when you knew how dangerous it was.
Now I know. It was because it was the right thing to do. The right thing is not always the wise thing. It is not what other people tell you is the smart thing. It is what you know deep in your heart when you are alone with yourself.
I didn’t always do the right thing. I was a thief. But you know that if you can read this letter. I didn’t know what else to do and it saved me from starving. But I knew, deep in my heart, when I allowed myself to be a person, that it was wrong. You would not have been proud of me.
I’ve realised some things this last month. There are good people all around. They think of others and not only themselves. Even if they don’t have much themselves, they are willing to share – like Stella’s’ Gogo. I think you’d like her.
I’ve also realised that you don’t have to be a lion to do the right thing. I also know that being brave is not the same as not being scared.
I am about to do something very scary. I think it is the right thing to do. Luckily if I die, I won’t leave behind people that depend on me like you did. But I know now why you did it. You are my hero. I love you, Baba.
PS. If you see Mama at all, please ask her to pray for me today.
I fold the letter carefully and put it in the cupboard under my...