As she turned into the sanitary lane, her blood turned cold. A thousand thoughts and memories raced through her mind: Should she turn back and go the other way? Should she press on ahead? A few metres away was Vusi and his friends standing on either side of the narrow lane, leaving a small gap, enough for a person to pass through. Without breaking her pace she pressed ahead, and was almost past the group of boys when Vusi in one swoop grabbed her by the wrist.
“Let me go,” she said from under clenched teeth.
“No, let’s talk. I want to ask you a few questions,” Vusi grinned showing large ivory coloured teeth.
“We have nothing to talk about. Let me go!” Lindo wriggled helplessly like a worm on a fish-hook.
“Well, we have lots to talk about.” His face shone with evil pleasure and his voice was laced with mockery.
The other boys watched passively, showing little excitement. She was slightly heavy in stature while Vusi was short and small. He had big eyes and a scar ran from his left eye down to his cheek, a reminder of an encounter he had with a sharpened toothbrush while he was in jail. Apart from that, his boyish looks hid flashes of red hot anger he was well known for.
“I will call the police if you continue like this. You know you are not allowed near me after what you did. Let me go!”
“Angibasabi mina abokgatha. I paid for my sins. Do you think they will arrest me for trying to make peace? Something called restorative justice”
Lindo’s chest heaved and he was close to tears. Something about Vusi made her turn to putty in his hands. Memories of that fateful night, about five years back flashed through her mind. He still reeked of sweat, dagga smoke and alcohol in his breath like on that fateful night. She remembered how Vusi had wrestled her to the ground, and the hawkish grin he wore as she writhed under him. She remembered how she yielded, unclasping her thighs as his rough right hand gripped tighter and tighter on her throat. She also remembered the satisfied mocking grin he wore on his face as she gathered her tattered, bloodied and soiled clothes before hastily limping home. Today, he wore the same smile and this drove her mad. After a violent struggle, she broke free, but not before Vusi playfully pinched her soft behind.
“Go to your kwere-kwere boyfriend, you whore! I heard that they have bigger tools that can satisfy loose women like you.” His friends laughed derisively behind her. She angrily stomped the dusty road, her face flushing red from the humiliation.
Tendai could smell that something was bothering his lover. He also knew that no matter how hard he would press her to empty the contents of her heart, he wouldn’t succeed. He therefore resorted to the best tactic that was sure to work: letting her be.
“No. I’m full.”
“Juice and some biscuits then?”
“I said I’m full, Tendai!” she almost screamed, her eyes popping wide.
“Ok, Ok! Sorry!”
Tendai was bothered by this state of his girlfriend. She was not herself. They had had minor fights and had seen her angry and upset but not like today. She would be moody sometimes, like when it is her time of the month but this was different. His mind wandered back to when he first met her. He was a junior teacher at Mabandla High School where he taught Economics. Lindo and her friends had come to him seeking assistance with Maths homework. The girls watched in awe at the ease at which he explained the principles in impeccable English and solved the problems with relative ease.
“You Zimbabweans know almost everything. You teach Economics but you explain Maths better than Mr Mhloki. Don’t tell him we said so.”
Mr Mhloki was the Maths teacher.
Lindo continued to visit Tendai for Maths extra lessons. Tendai was always there to assist willingly and enthusiastically. She passed Maths with flying colours at matric, then took up Economics at Wits University. Tendai continued to be of use to her since Economics was his forte. He had all Economics principles and theories at his finger-tips and helped with research via social media, phone calls, e-mail and the frequent visits which he now sponsored.
One day as he explained a difficult concept, Lindo gaped at him. She was obviously not listening. He struggled to explain the concept in her mother-tongue, IsiZulu, Lindo giggled. Startled, Tendai blushed and stopped mid-sentence.
“Do you have a wife and kids back home in Harari?”
“No, I don’t. I came here immediately after university since I couldn’t get a job. By the way it’s Ha-ra-re.”
“Hahahaha! Ok, a girlfriend, back home or here?” she pressed further. His discomfort intrigued her.
“No,” his face was a full blush now.
She gave him an I-don’t-believe-you look. Suddenly he noticed that her eyes shone. Her face was moving towards his, her lips parted. She moved her face until their foreheads touched. The sweet smell of her hair chemicals, lotion and perfume overpowered him. Their mouths inched closer and locked in a passionate embrace. They held each other tightly and suddenly realized that it was too late. It was that night that she lost her innocence from the violent act by Vusi who had been pestering her since primary school. Tendai had not yet forgiven himself since that day. He wished he had allowed her to sleepover and face the wrath of Gogo or accompanied her straight up to her gate. He had taken her halfway up to the local ground where she had fatefully met Vusi.
He gave her support throughout her ordeal, attended the trial that sent Vusi to jail for five years. He stood by her as she received counselling and treatment and was relieved when results came showing that she was not pregnant and had not contracted HIV or any venereal disease. The two then became naturally inseparable. . .
“I think you should go and stay in town,” she spoke to the wall.
“Why sthandwa? Here it is cheaper and nearer my workplace. Staying in town means I will spend more on transport or even have to buy a car which I can’t afford now . . .”
“Tendai do you even listen to me? Yeh?! I hate it here. It is dangerous. It’s no longer safe for you here! Don’t you watch the news? Didn’t you see what’s happening to foreigners in other parts of South Africa?”
“Ok! Ok! I understand. Sorry darling. I will work on it,”
“Tomorrow,” she looked at him with soft and apologetic eyes. She knew she had been too harsh on him since she arrived.
“Tomorrow mudiwa.” She knew fully well what the Shona word meant and smiled, like all times he called her that. The word was a magic charm that softened her each time she was tense or upset. She moved closer to him and they held each other in silence. He felt her relax and begin to doze.
Vusi and friends hastily made to the meeting at the nearby Mhlabunzima Hall. When they arrived it was utter chaos. The local councilor who had attempted to address the irate residents was heckled and booed off-stage. Efforts by the police to restore order were futile. After assessing the situation and realizing that they were out-numbered, escorted the councilors and community leaders off the stage and out of the hall. That was when Maphetsa, popular for several unsuccessful attempts at the post of councilor, stood up to speak. Each statement of his was hailed, cheered and clapped at. He had become a hero overnight. The crowd was eating out of his hands.
“Comrades, let me tell you the truth! Even if I die, I will die for the truth! We have lost our community” he yelled into the microphone.
“Yeeeeees!” roared the crowd in agreement.
“Who owns all tuck-shops in this location?!” His eyes panned the excited crowd and answers, like confetti, were thrown onto the stage with abandon: “Indians!” “Pakistanis!” “Somalis!”
“Who is getting teaching jobs in our schools?!”
“Now comrades, who are these Indians, Pakistanis, Somalis and Zimbabweans?!” He was possessed now.
“Foreigners!” the crowd roared in unison.
“We have to take back our community! We can’t be ruled by foreigners in our own land. During apartheid we were ruled by whites, now we are ruled by foreigners. They commit crimes. They don’t have papers. Our police is useless.
“Let’s take back our power. We fought apartheid alone, now foreigners come and reap the fruits of our hard-won freedom? They are taking everything we own while we watch!”
“They are taking our RDP houses,” shouted an old lady near the stage.
“They are selling drugs and alcohol to our kids!” intoned another.
“They are taking our women, enticing them with money!” shouted Vusi, who was now frothing from the mouth. His eyes had turned blood-red.
“Comrades,” Maphetsa was now speaking softly, in a calculated manner, “let us go to the tuck-shops and tell these foreigners nice to pack their stuff and go in piece before things get out of hand.”
The excited crowd did not wait any further. Immediately they surged towards the exit and made for nearby Babajee tuck-shop. Like a tsunami wave the crowd crashed into the tuck-shop and grabbed whatever they could and within minutes the windows were broken and shop floor trashed. As the crowd moved back to admire their work of destruction, one threw a bottle filled with petrol chocked by a burning piece of cloth. It landed softly but immediately burst into an inferno. Thick flames, like huge hungry tongues licked the wooden stalls. The wood responded by burning like tinder. The crowd did not wait for the roof to cave in but were baying for the blood of the owner. He had slunk out of the shop in the melee and managed to reverse his car into the street. He slammed the accelerator and the creaky little car lurched forward powerfully. Crowds littering the streets dived out of the way while those behind pelted the little car with whatever they could lay their hands on. The missiles seemed to propel the car forward and within seconds on a tail of dust could be seen.
The usually sleepy location of Themba was abuzz that night. Through social media, word, like a veld-fire in a summer wind, quickly spread that foreign-owned spaza shops were being looted. By the time the police arrived at each tuck-shop, it would be a smoldering trashy rubble. Not only were the police out-numbered, they had been out-foxed.
In Tendai’s room, Lindo woke with a start. She had had a scary dream. In the dream Tendai was crossing the river and went to the other side leaving her on the other side. She had screamed to him to come back and fetch her but he did not respond, he simply turned around and stared at her helplessly. Lindo took it upon herself and waded through the ankle-deep water but with each step the river was getting deeper. In the middle the water was up to her chin as she tip-toed the river-bed. Then, to her horror, the water turned to blood! She was up to her chin in flowing blood!
She woke up with a start, drenched in sweat. Tendai continued to sleep peacefully with a gentle snore. She heard what sounded like a faint scream of a police van. Or was it an ambulance? She could also make out what sounded like singing. She knew that song well. Each time the song was sung things would not end well. Usually burning and destruction followed.
She cat-footed to the window and slightly parted the curtain. There was a crowd brandishing sticks, whips, pangas, assegai and all assortments of weapons. In front of the crowd was the unmistakable short frame of Vusi. Suddenly it made sense to her.
“Tendai! Tendai! Wake up! They are headed here! Quick!”
“Hmm? Who is headed here?” Tendai rubbed sleep off his eyes. Lindo had thrown a pair of shoes at his feet. As his head cleared, he heard the singing. It was much closer now. Even though his IsiZulu was elementary, the song sent a chill down his spine. He hurriedly slipped on the shoes.
“Don’t run, walk down the road and by Ausi’s yard jump over the fence then out of the location. Call me when you are in Standerton.”
The moment Tendai broke out of the gate, the crowd spotted him:
“There he is! There he is! Stop him!”
Tendai quickened his pace but after looking over his shoulder he broke into a run. His knees felt like jelly as he ran. Some people watched the spectacle from the safety of their yards.
“It’s the teacher! They are chasing the teacher!” screamed one child to his excited parents who quickly got out of the house to witness the unfolding event.
Tendai ran and ran. He was making good progress against his persuers when one burly man jumped over the fence and cut in front of him. He tried to dodge him but the man’s deftness belied his stature. He jumped and rugby-tackled him. The tackle knocked all the air out of his lungs and the two fell in a heap on to the dusty road.
By the time he came to, Tendai was bound hand and feet with shoelaces. The laces were so tight they sunk into the flesh of his hands. He could feel his veins throbbing and numbness setting in as the blood flow was disrupted. He was on his knees and sat on the soles of his feet. Suddenly he seemed old. There was commotion around him and Vusi pranced around him in what seemed like an awkward celebratory dance.
“Tishere, I told you. I told you leave our women alone but did you listen?” taunted Vusi.
From the back of the crowd an old tyre was thrown in front of Vusi. The crowd laughed nervously. A small boy moved forward, picked it up and placed it onto Tendai’s neck. Another boy moved forward, playfully doused Tendai’s head with a liquid and poured the rest into the lower part of the tyre. The crowed shifted back a bit. The petrol fumes stung Tendai’s nose, throat and eyes. His nose ran. He lifted his shoulders and his head and came face to face with Vusi.
Vusi fished his pockets and took out a box of matches. From the other pocket he took out a shriveled and broken cigarette. He slowly and deliberately lighted the cigarette, puffed once or twice and held the flaming match in his hand for some time. As the flame approached his fingers he quickly threw it towards Tendai. The crowd gasped in horror. Mid-air, the match-stick flickered and appeared to have gone out. Before it landed on the tyre a yellow flame exploded onto Tendai’s face. His upper body was a ball of flame. He tried to jump around but the laces held fast. Like a beheaded chicken he thrashed blindly around. A chorus of wailing police sirens suddenly and the crowd ran. One policeman jumped off the truck with a small fire extinguisher but it was too late. The air was filled with the pungent smell of burning rubber and human flesh.
Lindo locked the door and skipped out of the gate as the crowd trailed past. She was silently praying that Tendai will make it safety but when she saw the dust and the crowd congregating into a cycle she quickened home. Her grandmother knew the face she was wearing. It was the same face she wore when she arrived home after she was raped. She embraced her grand-daughter and literally carried her inside into her room. She sat on her small bed while her grand-daughter slumped on her lap, tears streaming down her grief swollen face. “He was a good man Gogo. He never hurt anyone. He was helpful. He was full of love. He loved me. I should have told him that I missed my period Gogo. I should have!”
“Shhhhhh! Sleep my child. You will need one of these.”
Her grandmother handed her a container of sleeping pills and made for the kitchen to fetch water. Lindo took one of the sleeping pills and held it in her mouth. Then a second one. Then another. She could hear the hiss of water from the tap filling the glass in the kitchen and her grandma would be here now. She poured half the contents of the pill bottle and held them in her mouth.
She drank half the glass her grandmother handed her then lay on her lap as the old lady sang her a lullaby.
It was only the next morning when Grandma realized that half of the near full pill-bottle were empty. . .
 I am not scared of the police.
 A derogatory term used to refer to foreign nationals, specifically those from Zimbabwe.
 Let’s go!
 Thick mealie-meal porridge.
 Darling in Shona.