Thingo woke up to the sound of coughing. It sounded to her like a really serious cough, even though it was muffled, as if the owner was trying to hide her illness from the world. She rolled herself out of bed and headed to gogo’s room. The bed was immaculately made and the room was neat, but no gogo in sight. She checked the bathroom and the lounge room, both of which were obviously already cleaned but her grandmother was in neither. Finally she ventured into their tiny kitchen and found her gogo, not in the kitchen itself but outside, sitting on the tree stump, struggling. She was holding onto a broom for support. Without greeting, Thingo helped her grandmother up and placed her arm over her own shoulder to support her. They stumbled into and throughout the small house until they reached gogo’s bedroom, where she was allowed to finally settle on the bed. She was gasping for air. Thingo ran quickly to the kitchen and climbed onto the counter, reached onto the top shelf and retrieved the emergency asthma pump, which she then handed to her grandmother. She watched as gogo sprayed and inhaled once.
“Again, gogo” she said.
Her grandmother pumped the device again but no sound came from it. She tried two more times and then gave it up.
“It’s finished” she reported, deflated.
Thingo’s heart began thumping rapidly. She thought back to the day when she had accompanied gogo on her doctor’s visit and recalled the doctor saying that two pumps would be required in emergency situations in order to re-open gogo’s lungs up so that she could breathe properly again.
“Gogo, let me use your phone to order you another one”
“There’s no money to pay for delivery or to tip the driver.”
“I’ll go and ask one of the neighbours.”
“My child, it’s Friday and it’s month end. They’re going to be at work until late tonight. Even your uncle is still away on his business trip until tomorrow. His phone is off so he can’t help us until then”
Panic rose up in Thingo’s little body. She had to think of something. Gogo can’t just die. Who would take care of her and her toddler little brother? As if on cue, the baby boy began crying, signalling to the world that he was awake and hungry. Thingo picked the boy up from the cot beside gogo’s bed and soothed him until he calmed down.
“Bring him here,” gogo said.
“You can go and prepare his bottle”
After handing the child over, Thingo wasted no time in preparing the boy’s breakfast. She then watched as gogo placed the teat in his tiny mouth and he grunted as he ingested the bottle’s contents happily, oblivious to the situation around him.
“Gogo, I’ll go out to the chemist and get you another pump. I’ll use uncle’s Medical Aid card.”
“No, Thingo! No my child! I can never let you go out when it’s so dangerous out there!” Gogo was struggling with the simple act of breathing while speaking.
“I’ll call your father instead and he’ll bring it to me. I can’t ignore him forever, he’s still my son” Tears were beginning to well up in gogo’s eyes.
At the sound of the words ‘your father’, anger rose up like a furnace inside Thingo. Without thinking twice she scrambled around in the wardrobe, making a mess in the process until she found it. She reached into gogo’s purse and pulled out the royal-blue card.
“Thingo! “ Gogo gasped for a breath of air. “I won’t let him into the house! He will just hand it to me through the gate and then he’ll be on his way!”
Gogo’s tears were flowing down her cheeks now but Thingo simply removed the baby boy with his bottle from her lap and placed him in his cot. She then proceeded to fluff up a continental pillow and plop it behind gogo so that she could sit up comfortably. Gogo was crying but she was too weak to stop her granddaughter.
“Stop crying otherwise you’ll run out of breath quickly” were the last words that Thingo uttered before she shut the charcoal aluminium door behind her.
On the Kasi Street she maintained a swift power-walk and refrained from running even though she had an emergency at hand, in order to avoid any unwanted attention. The fear and her side-bag weighed her down and opposed her speed but nevertheless she fought them back. She was at war with her body and mind as she travelled on the road, the short distance to the Dischem at their local shopping centre. The roads were empty, not even little boys were out playing with abandoned tyres and ropes. Had it really gotten that bad? Were the little boys being taken now, too? She couldn’t help but to think about the number of children that had gone missing in her town so far. In her own neighbourhood section. Mothers wailed every day and families mourned as their young girls were snatched from them. The man behind all of those shameful acts was feared by everyone; rumour had it that he made sure that he killed everyone who got in his way, including the police and detectives and judges who tried to catch him and throw him behind bars where he belonged. They called him The Boss. He took whatever he wanted and didn’t care who got hurt in the process.
“This is a mistake” she thought to herself, and almost turned back but then she thought of her sister. Her dad didn’t come back home with her that day. He had said that she was nowhere to be found; the teachers said that she had just disappeared from the pre-school grounds and nobody had noticed until it was time for her to be fetched by her father. He hugged Thingo closer than usual that day and whispered in her ear that it would be alright.
Thingo broke into a sprint, as if trying to escape her thoughts. The small shopping centre was in sight; she was close to entering when she tripped and the fall knocked the air out of her lungs. She inched her hand toward the card that had fallen a couple of centimetres ahead of her but an expensive-looking Nike sneaker beat her to it. It looked like one that her father would wear, with his flashy tracksuits, and was convinced for a minute that it was him indeed. Maybe gogo really did call him.
She was told a different story when she looked up at the stranger who towered above her. The sun above him shone too brightly for her to see his face but she managed to see his gold teeth as they reflected when he smiled at her. Suddenly the man swooped down and pulled her up by the wrists. Pain shot through her upper limbs and it felt like they were being detached from her body. Before she could even scream for help, something was stuffed into her mouth. It smelled terrible, like sweat and it tasted even worse. She squirmed and struggled to slip her hands out of his grip that was as firm as handcuffs, trying hard to scream past the object in her mouth but all of her efforts were in vain. This was the end for her. The scary man walked toward the end of an alley that was behind the shopping centre. On the way there Thingo heard a low, mellow sound. Like a child crying from far away. She saw nothing that could give her answers; only the brick walls that surrounded her and her captor.
A static sound resounded from the man’s pocket. He let go of her and instructed her not to run or scream otherwise he would shoot.
“Boss! I got one more here downtown. When are you going to get here?” said the deep creepy voice on the other side of the line.
“Give me a minute, or call the other guys to pick you up. There’s some stock in my car and I’ve just caught one more”
Boss? Stock? One more??? Thingo’s head was spinning. It’s him! She’d been caught by the ruthless Boss himself. Instinct told her to run away screaming but she thought twice before doing so because she knew that she had to get out of the situation alive. The man put his walkie-talkie away and then turned toward her with a grin on his face that she did not like one bit.
“How about we play a little game before I take you to your new home, huh?” He said as he stroked her thigh. Thingo’s breathing sped up and she froze. The man licked her left cheek. He smelt of the weed that the phara’s in the neighbourhood smoked. When he squeezed her budding breast she was instantly taken back to the week after her sister went missing. She was home alone with her father; he had walked into her bedroom without knocking, after her bath, and he had his hand on her breast in the same way; he was about to remove the towel that was wrapped around her body when she began screaming as loud as she could and sped out of the house to the neighbours. The neighbours hurled insults at her father,
” You have no morals!”
“You’re a monster”
“Are you trying to destroy your family? What kind of man are you? Your children are still mourning for their mother and you do this to them?”
“Surely it was you who was responsible for Tumelo’s disappearance, you pig! Where is she? Huh? Where is the child?”
From there they chased him away until he drove away in his red, flashy GTI. They told him to never come back unless he was bringing Tumelo, Thingo’s sister, back home.
The memories made Thingo dizzy but her mind was still sharp. While the man was still preoccupied with her body she pulled a massive brick out of her side bag and dropped it onto the man’s foot. He instantly wailed in pain and Thingo used his moment of distraction to pull the shiny black gun out of its holster. She pointed it at him.
Realizing what had just happened, the man turned to her and smirked, still bent to one side, holding onto his injured foot.
“You would never” he chuckled. “You’re just as dumb and weak as the others!”
Thingo closed her eyes and pulled the trigger. The man doubled over and she shot two more times without looking. She looked up reluctantly and found him on the floor, gurgling; a bright red substance pooling on the cold ground around him. She placed the gun in one of the huge commercial DSW bins. Thingo walked out of the alley. There was only one car in the parking lot that was not in the staff’s parking. She walked toward it and heard the low mellow sound again. The windows were tinted very well so she couldn’t see inside. The door was locked. She rushed back into the alley and retrieved a set of keys from the pocket of the gurgling man. The static resounded again.
“Boss? Boss? Are you there?”
She boldly snatched it from his pocket.
“Your boss is dead, you pig! Come and get his body because it’s stinking up our kasi!”
Thereafter, Thingo wasted no time in unlocking the black Mercedes Benz. Two children squinted at her as light shone in on them. One of them, who looked to be seven, had puffy eyes and wet cheeks.
She helped them out and walked with them into Dischem after finding her royal blue card a few metres away, near where she had fallen earlier on. She left them with the cashier as she sprinted back home with the package in her hand. Police cars with their sirens blasting at full volume rushed past at full speed in the opposite direction. Gogo’s eyes were closed.
“Gogo?” She called, tears choking her voice.
“I’m here.” The grandmother answered with a very weak whisper.
Thingo tore open the package and brought the pump to her grandmother’s lips.
She pressed on the pump.
“Breathe in, gogo”
And gogo did so. It was done a second time and then Thingo sat beside her grandmother, watching as the woman gradually breathed more easily.
Finally, Thingo asked, “How are you feeling?”
Gogo sat up straighter and asked, still struggling slightly to breathe through her words,
“My child, what’s that blood on your hands?”
“I never thought that I’d have the blood of a man on my hands as a twelve year old. Adults tell me that I made history and brought a long sought after peace by doing so. My grandmother was shocked by my actions. She was obviously disappointed in me for what I had done but she was proud of me, not only for saving myself but hundreds of other children in the process. My heart smiles when I walk home from school in the afternoon, or to the taxi rank, the shops, or even when I simply take a walk with my friends and I see happy children playing outside again, without the fear of an intruder who would strip them of their childhood and innocence. Unfortunately, some of the children will be forever scarred after what happened to them. We should continue trying to give them therapy and support, and letting them know that we are here for them as their community and family. All bad things are meant to pass in order to make way for good things. With the money I was awarded for restoring the peace of my community, police officers are conducting extensive searches for the still-missing children. Children are being reunited with their families every day. Perpetrators are being arrested and punished under much stricter laws and regulations. Human trafficking should not become a trend. It should not be anyone’s pastime or source of income no matter what. It is a highly shameful act against our children who we should be raising to become the best leaders possible. I’m only seventeen but I can already see how cruel this world is, it is only getting crueller everyday, which should not be the case. This is why I am here today, urging each and every one of you, those in the audience here at “The Durban ICC Youth Awards “ and those watching from home, to do your part in making this world a more liveable place, one more like heaven and less like the devil’s playground. We cannot bring the children who have already passed on back to us, but we can protect and arm those that are still with us. As for my sister, Tumelo, she still has not been found yet, dead nor alive. I trust though that law enforcement all over the world and ordinary people like ourselves are doing our best each and every hour to help the children like her. No mother should be in distress about her missing child, or mourning for her dead child.
All will be well. That I believe.
The crowd roars, and others cry tears of joy as Thingo vacates the stage and descends the stairs to her seat in the front row with her grandmother and brother, and the other young award winners. She hugs her grandmother and squeezes her little brother in her embrace.
“Thapelo, I really wish that you had a chance to have Tumelo in your life. She loved you so much when you were a baby, she would have loved you to bits even now.” Thingo says, a lump forming in her throat.
“Don’t worry child,” gogo says. “He’ll meet her some day. She’ll be so happy to see him as grown as he is now. Even if she’s no longer with us, you can be confident that she’s safe with your mother. They’ll always be with us in spirit.”