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  from They Call Me Nothing by Jenny Young   

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Chapter 1
Lutho

Coming to the church was probably a mistake. What if they know? What if they call the Police? I listen intently, ready to run. No gunshots, no running feet, only the uneven pounding of my heart. I feel exposed. For seven years I have been invisible, a nothing. Nobody sees me. Nobody knows me. Am I really willing to give up my only protection? It seems to me now, in the light of day, that my decision of last night was only a dream. A foolish, childish dream.

I picture in my mind what might happen… The lady at reception glances up from her fashion magazine when I enter. She looks at me, a question forms on her well made-up face. She consults her computer for confirmation, then, with fear in her eyes, asks me to sit. She tries to look casual and unconcerned as she lifts the phone and murmurs something into it behind her hand. “Somebody will come and help you soon,” she says and leaves the room with a quick, nervous, high heel clatter. Ten minutes later three burly policemen rush in behind their shiny guns. They are disappointed that I am so small and so unresisting. They had been ready for a fight. Will they hit me and push me anyway? Will they put handcuffs on me? Will they throw me into the back of one of those horrible, barred police vans? Or, even worse, my mouth goes dry, will they handcuff me to the back of the vehicle and drag me along? I’ve read about that happening. The man died.

I turn slowly and start walking back. That was close! I get to the corner and check for traffic. Behind a bread delivery truck, a man in blue overalls crosses the road. I wonder if he is a mechanic like Baba was. I haven’t thought about Baba in a very long time. Why now? What would he say if he saw me here?

I think he’d say, “A man must have courage, my Son. If a lion runs away he is no better than a hyena.”

I hesitate then turn around again. The big rock in my tummy that had just begun to stop worrying me comes back with a thud. I’d better get it over with before I change my mind again. I walk quickly, pausing only to read the sign outside the church again.

“The Oasis Counselling Centre, where you can share life’s difficulties confidentially with trained carers...” Does confidentially mean what I think it means or is it cancelled if you are a criminal?

I ring the buzzer under the CCTV camera. Do I look respectable enough or do I look like what I am, a housebreaker? I wipe my clammy palms on the back of my grey school trousers. I thought school uniform was my best bet. I wait. My heart is beating like a tribal drum in my ears.

The gate springs open with a threatening click. I take a deep breath and walk through into the church garden. I am committed now. The rock in my stomach wobbles precariously. A strong scent of flowers encourages me. It is Spring. Time for new beginnings.

Discreet arrows lead to the counselling room. The door is partially open. I quickly shine my shoes on the back of my trouser legs and knock gently. A gogo looks up and smiles. She flicks her grey streaked hair away from her face. I slide in noiselessly. She looks at me. I feel like she actually sees me. I am not used to that. Usually I can come and go without being noticed.

“Hi, please sit down.” She points to two comfortable chairs next to a low coffee table.

My eyes scan the room. I note the tissues on the table. They look like they are embarrassed to be on the same table as the silver bowl of roses, as if they don’t belong. At the far end of the room are shelves of books behind glass doors. My eyes linger on them longingly. I’d love to be alone here with them. On the desk where the lady is sitting is a framed photo of a young girl holding a baby. Next to it is a box of chocolates and a cell phone. I sit down a little breathlessly. She gets up and joins me on the other comfortable chair.

“My name is Kay. I am here to help you.” Her blue eyes are friendly and look really interested in me. She tilts her head and raises her eyebrows expectantly.

The room is hot. The pause hovers between us like a piece of burned paper caught in the smoke of a fire. She is waiting for me to tell her my name. Words freeze in my throat. I do have a name but it is eight years since anybody used it. It’s like a book of fairy tales long abandoned, covered in dust in an old cupboard.

My mind tries to blow the dust off the book and open it. I remember scenes like pictures faded with age on yellowing paper.

I was seven years old. I strutted into my father’s repair yard with my report quivering in my pocket. I breathed the oily, dusty smell with pleasure. This was home, a small two bedroomed house in Jabulani, Soweto where my father had converted the garage and back yard area into a small motor repair shop. The old blue Pontiac was still there, waiting for its owners to find a good engine from the scrap yard. Baba was in the Pit under a red Toyota Corolla. The Pit was nothing but a sloped trench that Baba had dug himself so he could see the undersides of cars. He smiled when he saw me, his sweaty face shining like melted chocolate. I didn’t wait for him to wriggle his powerful body out from under the car. I ran to the Pit almost splitting with excitement.

“Baba, Baba! I came first in Grade One. Look!” I whipped out my report with a flourish. He took so long to open the envelope and take out the important document that I had to stop myself ...







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