The Jacket Seen on Tal Street
Ndawedwa Denga Hanghuwo
Grace slipped off her heels and wore her flip flops. The last bell of the day had just rung and she was getting ready to walk home. She lived near Khomas High School in Windhoek, where she taught English. She was a teacher at the age of 25, and this made her happy because she felt like she could connect with her young learners.
A roar of laughter pulled her out of her thoughts about possible Friday night plans. Her cousin Kondja, who was a Grade 12 student at the same school, was a few feet ahead of her with his friends. The two of them lived together while Kondja’s father travelled with the navy.
“What time are we going?” one of Kondja’s friends asked. His name was Ruben.
“Six o’clock or so,” another friend, Titus, answered.
Grace did not interrupt the boys’ conversation. She was going to wait for Kondja to tell her where he was going with his friends.
“So you are sure your nephew won’t be home anytime soon?” Thomas asked.
Grace let out a chuckle as she put a plate of spaghetti and mince in front of him. “He is at the mall with his friends watching a movie. Don’t worry,” she assured him.
“I should worry. How else would we explain his principal sitting and eating dinner in his house?” Thomas said.
“Business?” Grace joked.
She never planned to fall in love with her boss, who was 15 years older than her; it just happened. She met him through her uncle when she applied for the job.
Principal Thomas Kaura was a kind and gentle man. Even when dealing with problematic students, he never lost his cool or sought out cruel punishment. He tried not to see the worst in children. “I hear you want to possibly teach more than just Grade 11s and 12s,” he said.
“I’m thinking eight and nine. I want to be a little more versatile and tackle other grades.”
“Are the senior students giving you trouble? Do I need to step in?” Thomas asked with a raised brow.
Grace smiled. The overprotectiveness was attractive. “It’s not them, I promise,” she told him.
She wanted to further the conversation by revealing that she was thinking of applying to another school for the sake of their relationship. She did not want to sneak around anymore, and she also hated that she got her current job through nepotism. She wanted to start fresh. Until she had made a definite decision, she would not plant the idea in Thomas’s head that she was leaving his school.
The rest of the evening went by and Thomas left. As the time neared 11pm, Grace decided to call Kondja, who was not home yet.
“It’s late K; where are you?” she asked, staring into the street from behind the living room curtain.
“We are walking from the mall now,” Kondja said.
“Walking? This late? In Windhoek?”
“I will be fine. I am with Ruben, Titus, Willem, and Joel. There are no cabs on this side, so we are walking to town to see if there is something,” Kondja explained.
“Okay,” Grace said, although she had a slight pit in her stomach. She did not like that her students were out walking late in the city.
She decided to wait in her bedroom, but eventually, she fell asleep.
Monday morning had come, and Grace’s class was filled with silence as her students took a quiz. She always started her Mondays with quizzes.
The ding of the intercom echoed in the classroom.
“Can all the Grade 12 teachers please come to the office immediately? Thank you,” Principal Kaura’s voice said.
Grace’s eyebrows furrowed as she stood up. “Sharon, please make sure nobody opens their books,” she instructed one of her students. Her heels clomped on the concrete floor as she speed-walked to the school office building. A police vehicle in the parking lot caught her eye just before she entered the building.
When the teachers were all gathered in the staff room, Principal Kaura walked in with two police officers.
“Good morning, everyone. My name is Officer Clemence Kisting. This is my partner, Helena Shimati. We are very sorry to pull you out of your classrooms, but we have a major issue at hand. Friday evening, someone was attacked. The victim is in critical condition at the hospital and chances of survival are very slim.”
Officer Helena Shimati opened an envelope she had and retrieved a photo. “This is a photo of our five suspects. The photo is not clear enough to confirm identity, but, as you can see, one of the people in the photo is wearing a matric jacket from this school.”
The photo reached Grace’s hands, and although the suspects’ faces were not clear, the jacket was: Black, with red sleeves, and the words, ‘Khomas High School, Class of 2024’ on the back of it.
“We will have to talk to the Grade 12 students, specifically the boys,” Officer Clemence revealed.
“I understand, and we have no problem cooperating, but some of these boys are still under 18 and cannot be questioned without the consent of their parents. We will need to get them here first. The secretary will draft letters letting them know they need to come in tomorrow” Principal Kaura said.
“Okay, thank you,” said Officer Clemence.
Grace walked behind her cousin and his friends. The five boys were quiet, though their usual after-school walks were filled with teasing and laughing.
“I’m going with the others. I’ll be home later,” Kondja said and continued walking past their street.
Grace did not argue. Instead, she went home to search for any articles online about Friday night’s attack.
“The victim, a 29-year-old male, was attacked somewhere on Tal Street in the capital between the hours of 11pm and midnight. A witness heard screams and saw five unidentified men running away from the scene. The victim is currently in critical condition at Katutura State Hospital.“
Grace was sick to her stomach.
The school office building was in chaos and overcrowded with parents asking questions. Things took a turn for the worse when more information regarding the victim was revealed. The victim was an alleged sex worker who dressed in women’s clothing. The victim also preferred the pronouns ‘she/her’ instead of ‘he/him’.
“It is outrageous that you are accusing our school boys of attacking someone like that! Someone you should be keeping off the streets in the first place!” an angry father yelled. Grace recognised him as the father of one of Kondja’s friends.
“We are just trying to do our jobs here,” Officer Clemence said.
The interrogation process began, and three officers questioned the Grade 12 boys one by one. Kondja’s turn came, and Grace sat silently next to him as he was questioned.
“What did you do Friday evening?” Officer Clemence asked.
“I was at my friend Titus’s,” Kondja answered.
“From what time to what time? And how many were you?”
“There were three of us. And we were there from 6pm to 10pm.”
“And then?” Officer Clemence asked.
“And then nothing. Titus’s father bought him some new games, so we stayed up all night playing them.”
Grace looked at Kondja. His jaw was clenched as he spoke. When she had called Kondja asking where he was, there had been no mention of Titus’s house. The crippling realisation of Kondja’s possible involvement in the attack set in for Grace. She felt nauseous and started to tremble.
“Ms Hamunyela, are you okay?” Officer Clemence asked.
“Can you confirm any of this?”
“Uhm… yes. Kondja was with his friends, and I did not see him until morning,” she said.
Over the next few days, the police visits became less and less frequent at the school. It was clear they had no clear leads on the case. Parents were also hounding and threatening them with lawsuits due to the harassment of their children.
Grace had become obsessed with the case because she was certain her cousin was involved. Tal Street was en route to Maerua Mall. The distance between the two points was about 30 minutes, which fit the timeline as Kondja and his friends were leaving the mall at 11pm. She was certain that was the truth and that the boys were covering up for each other.
She did not know what to do besides read articles and opinions on Twitter.
“Leave those students alone! They did not do this.”
“Men should not dress like women.”
“Why are prostitutes still roaming the streets of Windhoek? What are the police doing?”
“Namibia is no place for omashenge.”
“Such men who want to be women must be taught lessons!”
There were countless retweets of these negative comments.
Others were not so bad and hoped the culprits would be caught.
An LGBTQIA activist group had also become involved because the victim was one of their own. They pleaded with the police to continue with investigations. A peaceful march was held from Tal Street to the city centre police station. This only created more hostility between most of the general public and the LGBTQIA activist group.
The negativity angered Grace because she was involved in the #ShutItAllDown movement against gender-based violence, and she also supported the LGBTQIA community. She had to do something.
With Kondja out of the house for the weekend again, Grace had an opportunity to be with her lover, Thomas.
She should have been more cautious and strict with Kondja’s whereabouts because of her suspicions, but him being gone meant she could tell Thomas everything.
“This is a serious accusation, Grace,” Thomas said. “You think your own nephew did this?”
Grace nodded as she lay next to him in bed. “Doesn’t everything I’ve told you make sense?”
“It does, but Mr Matias confirmed the boys were at his house,” Thomas reasoned.
“The jacket, the number of suspects, the timeline. It is Kondja and his friends. I know it!” Grace said.
“You heard what the police said about the jacket. The Grade 12 girls also have them, and how many of them have brothers or cousins who could have worn that jacket that night?” Thomas asked.
Grace bit the fingernail on her thumb. She was not convinced, and she was frustrated that Thomas did not see what she was telling him.
“Kondja has always attracted the wrong crowd. Many of my aunts and uncles turned him away because he was troublesome. I was my uncle’s last resort. Why do you think he asked you to open a spot for me at the school?”
“I know about Kondja; your uncle told me everything I needed to know. But the boy has behaved since coming to my school. He isn’t bunking class, fighting teachers or failing anymore,” Thomas said.
“Are we really going to sit here with this information and ignore it? Have you seen the things people are saying online? Justice is being overlooked because the victim is transgender and a sex worker. That seems to be the main focus and not the suspects. Is that really fair, to condition justice? And as a school, is that what we are trying to teach?”
“But, Grace, my love…we still don’t have proof that Kondja and his friends did this. If I bring this up to the parents and we are wrong, this will be bad. And the relationship you have with your uncle? This will damage it,” Thomas warned.
“I know. I will have to talk to Kondja to get the truth out of him,” Grace said. Kondja was her family and she did not want to believe he was guilty. But all the signs were pointing to him, and that was something she could not overlook.
Sunday evening had come. Grace and Kondja sat quietly eating their food. Grace could barely keep any of it down. She was terrified of the conversation she was about to have.
“K, I am going to ask something and I just want you to be honest with me.”
Kondja looked up from his rice and chicken, his eyebrows deeply furrowed. “Okay…”
Grace nodded. “Did you and your friends attack that woman on Friday?”
There was silence on Kondja’s end for a few seconds. “What woman?” he asked, looking down at his plate.
“K, you know what I am talking about. Look, just tell me the truth so we can go to the police. I am sure there is an explanation for what happened,” Grace said.
“I did not attack anyone,” Kondja stated.
“So you won’t mind if I go to the police and tell them you lied to them? About the phone call and everything? Kondja please. I know going to the police sounds scary, but I will be by your side. Please…”
Kondja was silent for a few seconds. “My father helped you get where you are and this is how you want to repay him? By ruining my life with such accusations?” he asked as he glared at a stunned Grace. “And what about your own truth, cuz? Why don’t you tell people that Kaura hired you corruptly? No formal application and interview. Or that you are with him. The neighbours always ask me about the silver Toyota Hilux that comes here. If you want to go and talk, Grace, go ahead, but I can talk too.” Kondja got up from his chair and walked to the sink to wash his plate. He then headed towards the corridor that led to his bedroom but stopped. “By the way, that was not a woman. It was a man in a skirt,” he spat.
Grace was silent as she walked to work, Kondja a few feet ahead of her. Her eyes focused on the jacket he wore: the jacket seen on Tal Street a few nights ago.
She had texted Thomas last night to tell him to forget about the case and that she was “being paranoid“. She was going to let Kondja be. Not because she was worried about herself but because she was worried about Thomas Kaura. His reputation would be ruined for helping her get her job and for their relationship. She could not let that happen. She certainly had not expected her cousin to throw it in her face that way. He looked even guiltier now.
She hoped the police would try looking harder into the case to solve it, but she knew they would not. They never did. Countless cases had gone unsolved, especially those involving minority groups.
The day passed, and it got worse for Grace when news broke that the victim attacked on Tal Street had succumbed to her injuries and died in the hospital.
Ndawedwa Denga Hanghuwo is an upcoming Namibian fiction writer. He is a Bachelor of English and Linguistics graduate from the Namibia University of Science and Technology. He has work published in the Doek! and in 2021, he won in the fiction category at the inaugural Bank Windhoek Doek Literary Awards for his short story ‘Silhouette’.
*Image by Elti Meshau on Unsplash