What They Don’t Tell You

Naledi Mashishi

Mum always said that if you want to open your eyes, do community service. 

I’ve been brought up in the shelter of a delicate cocoon. My life is cushioned by a suburban home with a fridge full of food, a comfortable bedroom with underground heating in winter, and a garden with a swimming pool filled with cool water for the summer. Whenever we drive past informal settlements where homes are made of tin sheets and people hang laundry by the road, Mum points them out to me and my brother and says, “Zandi, Khanya, look. This is how most Black people in this country live. You should never take for granted how fortunate you are to live the way you do.”

Now that I’m in Grade 9, I’ve decided that it’s time for my eyes to open and I want to start doing more extracurriculars for my medical school application. I want to be a surgeon just like Dad. I know the competition to get in is tough, so I need to get a head start. My school, St Rose’s College for Girls, has a partnership with a disadvantaged primary school to tutor kids there in Maths and English. I’ve been thinking of specialising in paediatrics one day, so I figure the programme will be the perfect way to figure out if I actually like working with kids. 

I tell Mum about this after school and she hardly looks up from the pot of vegetables she’s steaming. “Well, that’s nice of you,” she says. “Where is the school you’ll be going to?”

“It’s in Brixton.”

She stops and looks up at me with a pinched, disapproving face. “Brixton? Will it be safe?”

“Yep. The programme’s been running for years, Mum. Apparently there’s never been a problem before.”

“Hmm,” she says, turning back to the vegetables. “Brixton is quite dodgy though. I used to go there for work and I remember how bad it was. But if you’re going with a group from school then I’m sure you’ll be fine. And what about Covid?”

“Mrs Pritchard says we have to follow Covid protocols. So all the tutoring has to be outside. We have to wear masks the whole time, and we have to sanitise and practise social distancing. And if the numbers go up again, we’ll have to cancel until they go down.”

“And it’s on Fridays? I’ll just have to check if I have a PTA meeting at Khanya’s school, but if I don’t, I should be able to pick you up.”

She waves towards the oven and says, “Please check on the salmon for me? It should be done by now.”

*

It’s Friday afternoon and I’m sitting in a half empty minibus. There are a few other girls here from a mix of grades sitting with one empty seat between them. I’m next to one of the open windows feeling hot and itchy under the cloth face mask I’ve been wearing all day. I’ve come armed with only my pencil case, exam pad, and water bottle. Mrs Pritchard is standing in the front row with one knee and two hands leaning against the seat to support herself. It’s a hot February day and she does not do well in warm weather. Her face is bright red with her hair forming a frizzy ginger cloud. 

She peers at us through her too large spectacles and recites a list of instructions. “I just want to thank you all again for signing up for community engagement. We’ve had a lot of concerns about running it this year with the pandemic, but these kids really need our help. The teachers were telling us how much they missed us last year and how the programme really makes a difference.”

She takes off her spectacles and looks at us all sincerely. “Now girls, remember that these kids come from very disadvantaged backgrounds. As you help them I want you to reflect on just how privileged you are to be able to go to the school and live in the types of homes that you do. Most kids in this country are not as fortunate as you and I hope through this programme you’ll get to appreciate what you have.”

As if on cue, the bus rolls out of the quiet suburbs and into the dingier part of town. I look out the window and see tall, dirty buildings and rubbish strewn on streets. I smell the distinct odour of petrol mixed with urine. I see some men making crude faces at me. I tense up and clutch my phone through my blazer pocket. 

We drive along dirty streets passing burnt out buildings and hooting cars until we reach the gates of a school surrounded by barbed wire fencing. The driver buzzes at the gate and we’re let in. Some children are still walking around the school grounds and I see a group of older kids. One of them has a large, pregnant belly under her school shirt.

I immediately think of Mum. Every time she watches a news report about how many school children gave birth that year she shakes her head. “These girls are shameless,” she always says. “They’re busy making babies just so they can dump them on their mothers and collect child grants for alcohol and hair extensions. I bet you they don’t even care about those babies.”

The bus stops and I take my eyes off the pregnant girl. We get off the bus and are broken up into groups. The group I’m in is led to a classroom filled with Grade 1 students. We play a few icebreaker games before we’re split into smaller groups where there is one of us for every three children.

I lead my group of three to a spot under a tree. Once I see that their maths homework is simple arithmetic, I find some nearby sticks to help them with counting. We count one stick plus one stick makes two sticks. Two sticks plus one stick makes three.

After a few minutes of this, I take out my water bottle and lower my mask to drink. I look over the kids again as I drink, watching them count out sticks and write answers in their homework books. My eyes wander over them and meet the eyes of a woman standing still, staring at me. I look behind me. Maybe she is staring at something else? But there’s no one else there. I look back at her and her eyes are fixed on me. I look down but still feel her stare searing into my skin. I am unnerved by it. I keep glancing at Mrs Pritchard, hoping she’ll announce it’s time to go but she doesn’t. I feel exposed with the staring woman’s eyes prodding into me, judging me.

Finally I hear Mrs Pritchard’s voice say, “Alright girls, time’s up!” and feel relieved. 

I say goodbye to the kids, gather my things, and walk to the bus. I can’t shake the feeling of the staring woman’s eyes stuck to my skin. I’m about to board the bus when Mrs Pritchard stops me from entering.

“Is everything okay, Zandi?” she says. “You look upset.”

“I’m fine, Ma’am, it’s just…” I stop myself. Should I say anything? I don’t want the woman to get in trouble because of me. But I really want her to stop staring. “It’s just what? Did something happen?”

“No, nothing. It’s just…well this lady kept staring at me and it made me kinda uncomfortable.” She looks confused. “Which lady?” I feel unsure but there is something in Mrs Prichard’s eyes that says: It’s okay. You can trust me!

“I don’t know her name. She’s a bit on the big side and she was wearing a pink shirt and black doek. She looked older but I couldn’t tell how old because she had her mask on.”

Mrs Prichard pauses. “That sounds like Mrs Sibisi. How weird! She’s a Grade 3 teacher we’ve worked with for years and I’ve never heard any complaints before. Don’t worry Zandi, I’ll get to the bottom of this.”

But I do worry. I start to feel bad that I said anything the moment I close my mouth. I didn’t want her to get in trouble because of me. But I still feel unsettled by her. There are many ways a person can stare. Some stares are cruel, some are indecent, and some are curious. But hers was overly familiar. It said: I know you. Why don’t you recognise me?

*

Mrs Pritchard calls me into her classroom. I’m hot and tired from a long Monday of boring classes. My mind is already on the mountain of homework I have to do for tomorrow. I walk into an empty classroom and see Mrs Pritchard sitting at her computer.

She invites me to sit down and I do. “So I spoke to the school earlier today about Mrs Sibisi,” she says. “They called back and said that apparently, she was quite upset. She thought that you looked exactly like her daughter. Well, her late daughter. There was apparently some tragic incident a long time ago that they wouldn’t go into detail about. But the school has promised it won’t happen again. You’re tutoring Grade 1s, right?”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

“Then there shouldn’t be any issues. Mrs Sibisi will monitor the Grade 3s and you can continue with your group. Is there anything else going on or was that it?”

“No, that was all. Thank you for dealing with it Ma’am.”

“It’s my pleasure.”

I leave her classroom in a confused state. I’ve heard of doppelgangers before but I don’t know anyone who actually has one. How weird. How could I look exactly like Mrs Sibisi’s dead daughter?

I keep thinking about that stare. Poor Mrs Sibisi; she must have thought she was seeing a ghost. I guess in a way she was. It’s weird to think of yourself as a ghost, drifting through the world unknowingly haunting others. I think about her all the way to Mum’s car. She, like Mrs Pritchard, is skilled at reading my face.

“Is everything okay?” she asks as she drives out the school gates.

“Yeah just…something kinda weird happened at community service.” “What? What happened? Did someone do or say something to you?”

“Not really it’s just…there was this lady there who kept staring at me. So I told Mrs Pritchard and she contacted the school. Apparently the lady thought that I looked exactly like her dead daughter or something.”

The pressure in the car drops. Mum tightens her grip around the steering wheel. She sucks in her breath. “What now?”

“Don’t worry, Mum. The school talked to her and she’s going to stop. It’s just a bit weird that she thinks I look like her daughter.” “Yes, that is weird. Weird and inappropriate. I don’t know if I want you going there anymore if some teacher is acting like that.”

“What, no!” Oh God, I definitely don’t want Mum to force me to quit. “I want to keep going. I like the kids I’m working with.”

“I don’t know, Zandile. You shouldn’t be dealing with some delusional teacher who clearly hasn’t dealt with her daughter’s death properly.”

“But Mrs Pritchard said she wouldn’t be a problem anymore, Mum. Please can I keep going? Think how good it would look on my medical school application if I’ve been doing community service since Grade 9.”

She sighs. “Fine. But I’m going to make sure this thing is sorted out. I don’t like it, I really don’t. What is that teacher’s name?”

“Mrs Sibisi. But don’t worry Mum, Mrs Pritchard said she’s taken care of it.” She stops at a red traffic light. There is a woman standing on the pavement with a baby tied to her back. Another child who looks around four is clutching her hand. In her free hand is a battered, empty coffee cup. She walks up to the window smiling at Mum and mouthing “please”. The light turns green and Mum drives away shaking her head.

“It makes me sick to see these women dragging those poor babies to beg with them,” she says. “They do it just so they can get more money. Can you imagine the quality of life those babies are living? If it were up to me the government would take them away and put them in decent homes.”

I barely pay attention. Mum always goes off on these rants when she sees women begging with children. I give an obligatory nod and start thinking about Mrs Sibisi again. I still feel unsettled by her but now I’m curious too. I wonder what happened to her daughter. Maybe I’ll find an old article on Google. I decide to look her up when I have time. 

Homework keeps me so busy that night that I don’t have a chance to look her up. School is a blur too, and by the time the day ends, I’m so tired I almost miss Mum’s call. I pick it up just before it stops ringing. She tells me Dad has some work event she needs to accompany him to so she’s sending an Uber for me. I need to watch my little brother that night and order in for the both of us. 

She sends me the details for the Uber. As I climb inside, it suddenly strikes me that the whole situation is weird. Mum and Dad don’t really go to work events during the week unless it’s a lecture or something. But those are all online now. And why is the hospital hosting an event during a pandemic?”

I try not to think too much about it. I get home and find Khanya already there. While we wait for the food we ordered to arrive, I decide to go ahead and try Google. I’m not really sure what to type at first. I end up typing “Sibisi, dead, Brixton” into the search bar. I click on the news tabs and see a couple of articles about an exhibition. I scroll to the bottom and my heart skips. I see an article about a girl who was murdered and click on it:

Brixton Teen Found Dead in Apparent Muthi Killing 

by Luthando Joyi

24 September 2006

A young girl was found dead in a field outside of Brixton in what has been called an apparent muthi killing. Her body was discovered by pedestrians on Tuesday morning, 24 September .

The girl has been identified by police as 15 year old Nomcebo Sibisi. She was first reported missing on Monday afternoon. The teenager had been 34 weeks pregnant at the time of her death but her body was discovered with the foetus removed. Her body was also mutilated with her eyes and tongue missing.

Brixton community members suspect that the teen’s murder is related to muthi killings based on the condition of her body.

Her mother Hilda Sibisi, who is a local teacher, said that her daughter usually accompanied her home from school but failed to do so on Monday afternoon. She added that she had reported her daughter missing that evening.

SAPS spokesperson Col Fred Vilakazi confirmed that a case of murder was under investigation. No arrests have been made yet. 

I stare at it in shock. The article was published the day I was born. Everything stands still around me. A memory replays before my eyes:

I am eight years old. I look into the mirror. I look at my face and then Mum’s. I can’t find myself in her face. I don’t see her almond eyes, her small nose, or her oval face on me. I think of Dad’s face and realise I don’t see myself in it either.

“Mummy,” I say. “How come I don’t look like you?”

She stops and looks at me. “What do you mean? We have the same forehead.”

“But we don’t have the same face.”

“Well, kids don’t always look exactly like their mummies and daddies. Sometimes they look like an older relative. You look exactly like your great grandma. It’s just how it works sometimes.”

“Really? Can I see a picture of her?”

“I’m sorry sweetie, but we don’t have any pictures of her. We lost them a long time ago.”

I hadn’t thought about it that much. Every time someone would ask me why I don’t look like my parents, I would just explain that I look like my great grandma and they wouldn’t ask any more questions. It was normal for kids to look like grandmas and cousins and aunts. It was so normal that Khanya didn’t look like our parents either. He looks exactly like one of Dad’s uncles. An uncle we don’t have pictures of either.

A jolt of electricity courses through me. Is…no. It’s insane to even think. Or is it? It could just be a coincidence. But what if it isn’t? 

I take a deep breath and type something else into the search bar. This time I type “muthi killing, pregnant,” followed by Khanya’s date of birth, 18 November 2009. To my horror an article comes up dated one day later:

Fears of ‘Muthi Murders’ Grow in Tembisa After Pregnant Teen’s Body Discovered

by Themba Magubane

19 November 2009

Tembisa residents are fearful following the gruesome discovery of a body believed to be linked to muthi killings. The body was discovered by residents in the early hours of Thursday morning, 19 November. The body has been identified as 16 year old Innocentia Lehumo.

Ward councillor Lucky Kasela said that residents suspect the teen was the victim of a muthi killing because of how mutilated her body was. The teen had also been in the final trimester of her pregnancy at the time of her death, but when her body was found her foetus had been cut out of her. 

“What’s most concerning is that whoever killed her knew what they were doing,” Kasela said. “A healthcare worker here who saw the body said that the baby had been cut out in a way that looks like a professional caesarean. At this stage we don’t know if the baby is alive, or dead, or where it is.”

Kasela added that this is the fourth suspected muthi killing the community has seen in five years.

A representative from SAPS Ekurhuleni confirmed that the incident was being investigated. No arrests have been made yet.

I am frozen to the spot. My whole body turns numb. The air hardens in my lungs until every breath weighs heavily against my chest. I don’t know what to think. The gate buzzes, jolting me back to reality. It must be the delivery man.

“Khanya!” I yell. “Please get the food!”

A few moments later I see him walking down the staircase and towards the door. I look at him, the irritation on his face, the swagger of his walk, the shape of his head, and realise just how much he doesn’t look like my parents. How much we don’t look like each other. 

One coincidence can be ignored. Two or three demand an investigation. I decide that I’m not willing to accept what I’m starting to suspect without solid evidence. And for that I’m going to have to speak to Mrs Sibisi.

I think about her as I eat my food and argue with Khanya over whose turn it is to do the dishes. I think of her as I do my homework and lie in bed. What will I say and how will I say it? What can I ask her? For a DNA sample? That would be crazy! Maybe I’m overthinking this. Maybe the set of coincidences that were piling up had no real connection.

I hear the door open. Footsteps start to climb the stairs. I had been so absorbed in Mrs Sibisi I hadn’t even noticed that my parents were home late. They never come home this late even when they do go out during the week.

“Are you sure no one saw us?” I hear Mum say. She’s trying to lower her voice but in our hallway even whispers have echoes. 

“Yes,” Dad says. “I’m sure. No one saw. We were quick.”

I hear their bedroom door open and close. And then silence. The details of the news stories replay in my head. Alongside them another memory:

I am ten. Mum, Dad, Khanya, and I are sitting at a table with other relatives. Uncles and aunts laugh at something Dad says. 

“Can you believe at that time, I was one of two doctors working in the whole hospital! I had to learn how to do surgeries fast fast,” he says. “Most doctors can manage maybe twenty caesareans in a 24-hour period but I had to learn to squeeze in even more! Even now, I’m the fastest surgeon at Milpark. Whenever they need someone to be cut open quickly they send in me.”

*

Mrs Pritchard takes her familiar half standing, half kneeling pose in the bus. A sombre expression is on her face. “I’m sorry to have to tell you this, girls, but Mrs Sibisi has gone missing. No one has seen her since Tuesday.”

A hush falls over the bus. We all stare in wide-eyed shock.

“Does anyone know what happened, Ma’am?” one girl asks.

Mrs Pritchard shakes her head. “No one is sure. She walked home on Tuesday afternoon and never came back to work on Wednesday. No one has seen her or been able to contact her.”

My heart sinks. My mind replays my parents coming home late on Tuesday night. I’m not sure. I can’t be sure. But a part of me just knows.

*

I can hardly look at Mum in the car. The smell of her perfume is making me nauseated. My heart is thudding against my chest. Question after question comes to mind but I don’t know which one to ask. So I don’t say anything.

“How was community service today?” Mum asks.

“It was fine.” No. I pause, take a deep breath, and say, “Actually, it was a bit sad. You know that teacher I told you about? Mrs Sibisi? She’s now missing.”

“Oh no. That’s awful,” Mum says. She doesn’t sound sorry. I look at her and her face is completely neutral. Too neutral. As if she’s hiding something.

“Yeah, it is.” I want to ask her outright but I know I can’t. So I ask for information. “Mum, I remember you said you used to work in Brixton. What did you do there?”

“Oh, it was such a long time ago. I used to run the CSR projects for Africa Gold Capital.”

“What’s a CSR project?”

“Corporate Social Responsibility project. Basically, all major companies have to spend a portion of their profits on programmes that uplift the community. Back when I started, it was nice to have but by the time I left it was legally required.”

“So it was like community service?”

“Yes. A lot of companies just donate money to non-profits but I liked taking a more hands on approach. We donated to a non-profit in Brixton that was focused on providing reproductive healthcare to girls and women. I liked to come in from time to time to make sure our money was being put to good use. And to see how we could volunteer.”

“When was this? And did you only have that project in Brixton or did you have projects in other places. Like in Soweto or…I don’t know…Tembisa?”
She pauses. She gives me a strange sideways look. “Okay, what’s with all the questions today?”

“I’m just wondering.”

“Well, it was years ago so I can’t remember all the details. We had a couple of projects in a number of places. Anyway, I left that all behind to take care of you and your brother.

“Speaking of him, I need you to watch him tonight. Your father and I are going out but we won’t be back too late. You know the drill. Order in some food and make sure the two of you don’t get in any trouble.”

I can tell now is not the time to ask more questions. I would have to find the answers myself. “Okay, Mum,” I say.

I wait for her and Dad to get dressed up and leave. Once I see Dad’s Porsche Cayenne roll out the driveway, I get to work. I take out my MacBook and google Africa Gold Capital, CSR projects, and Mum’s name. I find a company report from 2009. I press ‘Command F’ on my keyboard and type ‘Tembisa’ into the little tab in the top right corner. A result comes up. I click down to it and I’m led to a passage under the ‘Corporate social responsibility’ section:

At the beginning of 2009, Africa Gold Capital partnered with the Nkanyezi Leadership Initiative. This non-profit organisation is dedicated to uplifting girls in townships by equipping them with the skills they need to become successful entrepreneurs after matriculating. The organisation is based in Tembisa, a major township located in the Ekurhuleni municipality.

I scroll a little further and my whole body turns cold. There is a picture of about four women and a group of around twelve girls all wearing t-shirts with the Africa Gold Capital logo and ‘Nkanyezi Leadership Initiative’ written on them. One of the women is Mum. The caption says, . Underneath are the names of everyone in the photograph. One name stands out like a flashing red light. Innocentia Lehumo.

I look for her in the picture and find her smiling towards the centre of the frame. On her face I see the same smile and eyes I’ve seen a thousand times on Khanya.

I want to throw up. The world around me is spinning faster and faster. I close my eyes and stop myself from screaming. When it slows to a stop it feels like everything has shifted. I don’t want to believe it. Surely I’m dreaming? I must be overreacting.

Suddenly it occurs to me. I have seen dozens, maybe hundreds of baby photos taken of Khanya and me. I don’t remember ever seeing a photo of Mum being pregnant.

I go downstairs to the study. The computer down there stores the digital copies of every family photo we have. I switch on the light, start up the computer, and comb through the folders of our family photos. There are photos of us at the beach, at Christmas parties and at birthday parties. Photos of me and Khanya with soft baby faces smearing chocolate on our faces and singing in nursery school plays. There are photos of our overseas holidays to Disney World, Mauritius and Thailand. But there aren’t any photos of Mum with a pregnant belly. 

I find a picture of Mum in a wedding dress. Another memory comes:

I am 13 years old. Mum is pouring a glass of red wine. “Can I have some?” I joke.

Mum looks at me, “Hhayi wena, don’t start. Are you eighteen?”

“I would be if you and Dad didn’t wait a million years to have me!”

She laughs. “Excuse me! We wanted to have some fun years to ourselves, okay?”

“You guys were married for six whole years before you had me!”

“You’ll understand one day when you get married,” she says, patting my shoulder. “We needed the time alone to just enjoy our marriage. And we struggled a little at first to start a family. But luckily we didn’t have to struggle for too long.” She looks at me and smiles. 

They’re all stacking on top of one another. Coincidence after coincidence after coincidence. There are too many. They are too obvious. My life is built on top of a fragile pile of coincidences and it’s starting to fall, crumbling from the weak foundation. 

I close my eyes once more. This time I don’t see a memory. I see a girl lying in a field lit by a weak morning sunshine. I see blood all over her clothes, her arms, her legs. She is not wearing a shirt and a blood red gash is cut across her abdomen. Her eyes have been gouged out so she can’t see. Her tongue has been removed so she can’t scream. I look at her face and realise with horror that she looks just like me. 

“What are you doing in here?” A voice says. I turn and see Mum standing in the doorway. Her face is half shrouded in darkness. Her expression is unreadable.

“I’m just…I’m looking at old photos for a school project,” I say.

“Looks to me like you’re falling asleep. I think it might be time for bed. We can go for brunch tomorrow.” There is something about her voice that says I can’t argue. 

“Okay Mum,” I say. I switch off the computer and walk past her. I smell her perfume and my hair stands on end. I can feel her watching me. I want to get as far away from her as I possibly can.

I get to bed but I can’t sleep. When I finally fall asleep I dream of three bloodied women lying in a field. One of those women is Mrs Sibisi, one is Innocentia Lehumo, and the other is me. I see my parents holding knives and staring down on our bodies with smiles. 

I wake up more alert than ever before. I look around my soft pink bedroom with my four poster bed, my desk in a corner, my reading nook with my wicker egg chair, the door to my bathroom and the door to my walk-in closet. I feel empty. I feel like I have been sleepwalking my whole life and I’ve finally woken up. They tell you to open your eyes but what they don’t tell you is that once they’re open, the things you see might change your life forever. They might make you realise that the life you’ve been living is a lie and that the truth is more terrifying than your worst nightmare. 

*

I am sitting at brunch with Mum and Khanya, but he seems more preoccupied with his phone. Tashas is as busy as always and we had to wait 10 minutes to get an outdoor table. Khanya sits next to Mum and I sit across from her. I look at her and feel cold. Her perfectly manicured nails look like talons. I wonder what cruelty they are capable of.

“Do you two know what you’re having?” Mum asks. I nod and so does Khanya. We have the same thing every time. I am not hungry. I am determined to get answers. I have thought about it all morning and I can’t keep living with all these suspicions. Either I am overreacting or my mother is a monster and I need to know which one it is.

“Mum, what did you and Dad do on Tuesday night?” I ask.

She looks at me with a surprised expression. “We went to a work event. I told you .”

“I know. I just thought it was a bit weird for a hospital to have an event on a Tuesday, during a pandemic.”

“It might seem a bit weird but that’s what happened,” she tilted her head and narrowed her eyes. “Is everything okay with you? You seem a bit off.”

I pause. “I’ve just been thinking about Tuesday a lot since Mrs Sibisi went missing.”

“I’m not following you, Zandi. What does Mrs Sibisi have to do with me and your father?”

Khanya had stopped looking at his phone. He was now looking at me with a confused expression. 

“Mum, did you ever meet Mrs Sibisi when you did that CSR work in Brixton?”

She shakes her head. “I don’t think so. Why are you suddenly so interested in Mrs Sibisi? I thought you didn’t like her?”

“See, after I found out that she thought I looked exactly like her daughter I got curious so I googled her. And I found an article that said her daughter was killed while pregnant but the baby was taken out. And the weird coincidence is that she was killed on the day I was born. And I ended up finding out another pregnant girl was killed in Tembisa the same way and found the day after Khanya was born-”

“So what Zandile?” Mum snaps. “Are you trying to imply that I have something to do with all of this? Is that what you’re saying?”

A darkness comes over her face. Her eyes flash with anger. Time stands still. I can hear my heart beating in my ears. I open my mouth to speak but nothing comes out. My throat turns into sand.

Mum starts laughing but it’s not a happy laugh. It’s an angry laugh prompted by outrage. “Really, Zandile, can you hear how ridiculous you sound? All these years I feed you, I clothe you, I raise you under my roof, I send you to the best schools, to piano lessons, to ballet, all of that, only for you to come with these ridiculous accusations based on a Google search! How dare you? I am your mother!”

She spits the last word out with venom. Her skin reddens. Her face contorts as she speaks until she looks almost demonic. I shrink under her eyes. My whole body begins to shake. There is no way I can continue.

“Well Zandile, say something! Do you think I had something to do with Mrs Sibisi? Is that it?”

At that moment with her wild eyes and murderous expression she looked like she might have. I didn’t know what else to do. So I shook my head. “N…no. No I don’t. I’m sorry I brought it up, Mum.”

That calms her down. “Well, good. I think you’ve been watching too many of these true crime documentaries on Netflix. Maybe we should put a stop to those.”

We sit in silence. Khanya stares at me with a confused look. But he doesn’t say anything. A toddler from two tables over walks up to Mum and gives her a smile. Her heart melts immediately. 

“Oh hello, Nana!” She says with a smile. “Are you here to visit me?”

The toddler’s mother calls him over and he walks away. The two of them exchange a knowing laugh. “Argh they’re so cute when they’re that age!” Mum says. “Every time I see a baby I feel so tempted to get another one.”

Naledi Mashishi is an author and researcher based in Johannesburg, South Africa. Her debut novel Invisible Strings (2021) has been longlisted for the Sunday Times Literary Awards 2022. In 2019, she received the Casa Lorde Writing Residency hosted by Blackbird Books Eunice Ngododo Own Voices Initiative.

 

*Image by Hassan Rafhaan on Unsplash

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