Fiction: Faith in a friend

By Drum Digital
25 October 2016

"I wouldn’t believe anything until I heard it from Raphael"

By Lauri Kubuitsile

At home, I put down my empty tea cup and tried Raphael’s cell, but it went to voice mail. It was dark by then. I called his little sister, Kyla.

“Where’s Raphael?” I asked.

“We don't know. Ma’s out looking for him.”

“So you heard what happened?”

“Yeah, but they’re lying, Mondi. That car was stolen over in Parkhurst. What would Raphael be doing over there?”

“Yeah, they’re lying.”

I hung up the phone. I wouldn’t believe anything until I heard it from Raphael. He had told me the night before he had to get to Parkhurst to collect some textbooks. He was at teacher training college now and some guy there was selling second-hand textbooks. But it didn’t mean he’d stolen that car. It didn’t mean anything like that, I told myself.

I had an idea where Raphael was, so I locked up the house and headed to the edge of Nokeng. At one point in its history Nokeng had a big abattoir, one of the biggest in the entire Karoo. The train used to come here and farmers brought their cattle to be bought, slaughtered, and sent off to the cities.

But that ended long before I came here. The abattoir was just a derelict building now.  Raphael and I used to swing on the hooks hanging from the ceiling. It was our secret place. It had a second floor which used to be a cold room. Now it was just a big room with a huge hole on one side where the crane had removed the cold room and taken it off to a place that mattered, not a forgotten dust bowl like Nokeng, the river place with no river.

We liked to sit up there to look out over the town at night, the cool breeze blowing through, our legs swinging dangerously out of the gaping hole, and solve all the world’s problems. I knew I’d find him there.

I climbed the rickety staircase at the back and walked over to where Raphael was and sat down next to him.

“It doesn’t matter what I do,” he started when I sat down. “I used to know that, I used to even accept it. It doesn’t matter. I will always be a thief, the bad one.”

“It’s not like that.” I said it like I believed it, but I’d heard those people in the crowd. I knew he was right.

He turned to me. “Isn’t it, Mondi?”

“Okay... maybe... but what do those people matter? We’re leaving this place.”

“Yeah, you and me, Mondi, we’ll leave this place.”  He turned to me and I saw the tears on his cheeks, running down his neck. Was it the tears? Was that what made me say it? Or had I already decided what I was going to say before I arrived?

“Raphael, it was an accident. Go to the police; tell them. I’ll come with you.”

His face changed. He wiped his hand across his face to get rid of the tears, and where the sadness had been there was now a quick spike of anger.

“What? Do you think I did this? Do you think I stole a car and killed that girl and then ran away?”

As soon as he said it, I knew I’d been wrong, but worse than that, I knew I was just like everyone else.

“I...  No, I never thought you did it... I... I knew you went to Parkhurst, that's all!”

His face told me everything. The anger slipped away and I knew I’d let him down. He'd counted on me and I'd let him down terribly. I knew the wound caused by my words was deeper than any wound he’d had before, and it would never heal.

I moved to him and tried to take his hand, but he yanked it away.

“I’m sorry... I didn’t mean it...” I tried.

“Of course you did! You came here thinking I’d done it. That I stole a car, that I killed a child, that I ran away. Mondi, is that who you think I am? Is that what you always thought?”

He didn’t wait for an answer. He turned and, after a second, I heard his footsteps on the rickety back staircase. He was leaving, not just the abattoir – he was leaving me.

I looked out over the flat village below me. I tried to think it wasn’t like it was. I wished I could go back and not say what I said. But it was too late. I sat there, my legs dangling over the edge, and knew I’d ruined everything.


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