Fiction: Faith in a friend

By Drum Digital
24 October 2016

A little girl was dead, and who was to blame?

By Lauri Kubuitsile

I was heading home. I’d just knocked off from the Quick Mart, a double shift, and my feet were aching. I saw the crowd at the end of Steve Biko Street, way at the end near Mma Shabba’s shebeen. I thought about going the long way home, I didn’t feel like being involved in all of the drama, but that would have meant an extra four blocks, and my feet refused.

I got up to the crowd and saw the ambulance and police were already there. It was clear someone had driven their car into Mma Shabba’s wall. The car was bashed up really badly, and the wall, likely built by Mma Shabba’s useless husband who called himself a builder, had collapsed.

I tried to push my way through, tried to get to my house around the corner, to take my shoes off and sit down, to have a cup of tea. But as I got into the middle of the crowd I heard something familiar and turned.

“I bet it’s that no-good Raphael.”

I turned and saw my mother’s church mate, Mrs Jentile.

“So what happened?” I asked her.

“Oh Mondi, it’s horrible!” Mrs Jentile said, always wanting to put the most dramatic spin on things. “That crazy boy stole a car and drove right into the wall. Knocked it over right on her.”

“On who?” I asked.

“The little girl, Bontle, Mma Shabba’s granddaughter.”

I knew the girl, she often pushed a pink plastic motorbike up and down the street, sometimes even around the corner past our house.

“Is she okay?” I asked. I followed Mrs Jentile's gaze to the covered stretcher the ambulance people were carefully putting in the back. I looked away. Raphael couldn’t have done something like this. Never.

“And Raphael? Where is he?”

“He ran off, the coward!”

“People saw him do it?” I asked.

“No,” Mrs Jentile said. “But who else could it be? Everyone knows he’s no good.”

I pushed through the crowd and rushed home. I didn’t want to know any of it. I wished I had gone home the long way, gone home and put my feet up, and drank my tea knowing none of it.

I had known Raphael since that first day at Nokeng High School. I sat alone at break. I opened my book and read while I ate my lunch. Raphael sat down on the bench with me, but said nothing at first. He ate his apple as he looked out over the dusty grounds of the school.

“I like that guy,” he said to the air in front of him after some minutes.

I looked up. “You talking to me?”

“I mean that author, Kevin Brooks. He’s good.”

Raphael wore his school uniform in every way he could, to make it not look like one. The bottom edges of his trousers were tattered, his shirt sleeves were rolled up to show his biceps, his tie was slung over his shoulder. He didn’t look like a reader. He looked like a thug.

I glanced at the cover of the book as if I was just discovering the author, even though he was one of my favourites. “Yeah, he’s good,” I said and went back to reading.

“I got Black Rabbit Summer if you want to read it. It’s his latest.”

And that was how it started. I didn’t know anything about Raphael except that he liked the same books I did. It was later when I learned the rest. When “concerned” students came to me, saying how it wasn’t a good idea to spend too much time with him. He stole, broke into people’s houses. They’d long painted him with a wide brush and no one could see past any of that.

But it was too late by then – I knew the real Raphael. The Raphael who loved reading and odd quirky films. The one who kept a pet hamster named Bella; the one who cried all night when Bella died. I knew the Raphael who wanted to be a teacher one day – so he could show his pupils that there were all kinds of people, not just the kind the world likes to hold up for us to follow.

He had a brilliant mind, a compassionate heart, and sure, he’d gone through some rough times, but that was over now. The most important thing was he was my friend, the best one I’d ever had.

End of part one... to be continued.

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