I take the back routes to Alex. The small printing business on the corner has an open car gate and I slip in. The sun warms my skin as I make my way around the building to a gap in the fence leading to the paint factory. Two workers are warming themselves at a fire on the hard ground next to the building. “Sanibonani,” I greet them in Zulu. These men are familiar. I often take this short cut from the church.
“You’re going to be in trouble if you go to school looking like that,” says the taller man. I think of him as Khwama because I always see him wearing a black knitted hat – even in summer. He winks at his friend.
I look down at my pants. They are very dirty from the concrete floor. I drop my eyes in shame. Without saying anything I run past them and out the gate.
I find Stella sitting on one of the two red polished step outside her Gogo’s house. The house is one of five in the yard and the only one with a stoep. The stoep has a concrete floor which has been polished with the red polish that Gogo makes.
Stella sits with her head in her hands while her elbows rest on her knees. It is obvious that she hasn’t gone to school today either although she is wearing the navy skirt and black tights of the primary school.
“Where’s Gogo?” I ask. I can’t believe that her Gogo allowed her to skip school unless Stella told her the whole story.
“She’s gone shopping.” Stella doesn’t lift her head.
I sit down on the step but not too close to her. “Didn’t you go to school?” I ask quietly. Stella lifts her head and I can see her eyes are red and her face is wet. “I pretended to go to school but I can’t face them. What if they know? The girls will think I’m a slut and the boys will think I’m easy.” She sniffs and wipes her face with a dirty hand.”
I don’t look at her but keep my eyes straight ahead. “Have you told Gogo?”
“How can I? She will think it was my fault.”
There is silence for a bit while I try to think what is best to say to help her. The weight of my fifteen years is heavy on me. I want to protect her, to keep her safe. She seems so innocent.
“Listen Stella, nothing happened.”
“That’s only because you saved me. He would have raped me. Don’t you understand?”
I understand only too well. Only two weeks ago a sixteen year old girl was raped and murdered only two blocks a...