In grief, the joys of the world laugh in the face of our misery. The sun seems to shine brighter, the birds’ songs gleaming with jubilee, as oxygen fills us up before escaping back to where it came, as if to ridicule our pain away. Such was that day, the earth wearing it’s Sunday best, whilst hoards filtered out of the blue Jammie Shuttle busses and into the square, clad in black. The weeks leading up to this morning had been saturated with disbelief, anger, fear, and the sense that everything had been turned upside down. It was as though they were forcibly being shaken out of the security of the lives they were building, and thrust into the reality of the world these lives would have to exist in. It was for the death of their innocence, their ignorance, and their arrogance that they wept that day, all exemplified by the face of the smiling girl in frame after frame of the slideshow that played behind the podium at Zinzi’s memorial.
We, Africans, sing at funerals, our sorrow finding comrades in the song. Voices might break at the weight of emotion, tears might join the symphony of sound, but we press on, asking God why, sending our farewells to our beloved, pleading for the strength to continue. It was as one such song petered out that Danielle Woodstock stood up to speak. Her voice held the slightest quiver, her baby blue eyes threatening to spill over but holding their form. She unravelled a white sheet slowly, carefully placing it on the podium before her as she pushed a lock crimson hair behind her ear. “What many of you know of Zinzi, is how she died”, she began, steadying her voice with a large inhale, “but a lucky few of us saw how she lived. The fact that so many of us looked for her and prayed for her and now weep for her is barely a testament to how she loved us. Zinzi walked around, open hearted, with a smile that lit up the room and everyone in it, sharing her heart, her thoughts, and her snacks everywhere she went.” The mass sitting in Bartjie Plaza shared in a small laugh at this point, drawing a sad smile from the girl, before she continued, “When you think of my friend, I want you to think of her laughing with me at 2am in the morning when we were supposed to be studying, because she decided I needed to laugh to remember everything I’d been trying to memorise for the 4 hours before. I want you to understand the empathy that led to her allowing me to sleep with her in her res sized, single bed for two weeks straight because I told her I was scared I would panic myself to death if I stayed in my room a second longer. At the end of those two weeks, she got me a consult with a therapist, and started me down the path to diagnosing and later managing my anxiety. Zinzi had this uncanny ability to recognise what you needed even if you didn’t realise it, then help you find it. She let herself be a crutch only as long as you needed her before helping you help yourself. And she was fearless too, she was deathly afraid of heights, so much so that there were hikes she avoided because they triggered the phobia, yet at 20 years of age she went and jumped out of an airplane. She always said she’d rather die young than die scared,” the girl choked back the wails lodged at the back of her throat. Taking a moment to still herself once more, she bowed her head slightly, furrowing her brows in concentration, trying to stop the tears from falling. “Friend. I know that you didn’t die scared, I know that you fought, and I know that if you were here, you’d look at me and say, ‘Dan, you’re going to be fine. Your skin might look like porcelain, but you cannot be broken.’ I’d cringe at your attempt at being poetic, and laugh and hug you, knowing that you were right. I hope you understand how difficult it is to believe that right now, but I promise I won’t break. I love you, always. ‘Til will we meet again my friend.”
“Vuka man. Ndithi Vuka!”, a gruff, impatient voice came to her from the distance. It wasn’t until Zinzi felt the sting of a hand slapping the outside of her thigh that she realised the voice was speaking to her. Heavy eyed and half-asleep, Zinzi pushed her eyes open, half expecting to wake up in the middle of her dream. Instead, her eyes met another’s. Dark, surrounded by yellowed whites, those familiar, frantic eyes. “Ey man, uyahamba namhlanje”, repeated the voice. “Sorry, I… I don’t understand. I don’t speak Xhosa.” Zinzi responded lamely, her voice coming out smaller than was familiar to her. “Hmmm. Of course not.” His voice was thick with disdain, ringing with accusation. She was just another spoilt little white girl in black skin, and he was more than ready to be free of her, “You’re leaving today.” “Where am I going? Who are you? What day is it even?” asked Zinzi, her voice tired and weary of the prospect of being led out of her pen. She was prepared to withstand the silence that had been the response to every other question she had asked since she first awoke in this place. To her surprise he gave an answer, “The 10th of September.”
For weeks she had been confined to the insides of what she suspected was a shack with corrugated tin for walls and a roof, her feet chained to a pole, and her hands constrained except when she was given food or allowed to relieve herself in a hospital bed pan. The floor was damp and hard, the mattress she slept on, worn and uncomfortable, and the only source of light came from the gap where the walls met the ceiling. At first, she was certain she would die in this place and accordingly, she had wept, prayed, and offered God everything of value she had in exchange for rescue. However, as hours became days and later weeks, that feeling had begun to wane. Whilst her environs were less than ideal, she had been cared for. She had been fed, clothed, and even allowed a bath. She’d been treated like a pig being prepared for slaughter, replacing the fear of death with the dread of a worse fate. Yet now she knew the date, and with it a fresh offshoot of hope sprouted from her mind. Perhaps, by some unlikely miracle, she would make it out of this alive.
When a supermarket teller by the name of Jasper had walked into the police station that night Inspector Bhengu had been in the process of closing up shop, another day gone but more cases on his desk than when he’d first arrived. None weighed more on his mind than that of 20-year-old Zinzi, a university second year who had become the face of GBV when she went missing in broad daylight in Cape Town City in the first week of August. Of course, it couldn’t be confirmed that she was dead without a body but missing for close on a month, with a face that had been plastered on every corner of the internet, and Cape Town, it was a bygone conclusion at this point. No trafficker would risk moving merchandise that recognisable. Having been a member of the force for close to 2 decades now, Bhengu’s face wore grooves and valleys that spoke of long nights, painful conversations with loved ones, and stories that rarely ended well. As the father of three boisterous, beautiful girls under the age of ten and Bhengu had wept when each of them was born. He knew they were likely to pay for the crime of being born female and perhaps one day he would be investigating a crime involving one of his own. That fear that lived within him as vividly as he loved his girls. Bhengu was just about to turn the key locking his office when Constable Zima arrived at his side in a frenzy. The whispered words he uttered drawing both a shocked inhale and a painful clench of the chest from Bhengu. They had a confession.
“Jasper Ndonga, molo mfondini?” Those were the words to fall from Bhengu’s mouth a full 10 minutes after he had joined the young man in the interrogation room. He’d spent the time looking over the youngster in his clean but clearly weathered clothes. He had a small build, pointing to a perpetual state of hunger or an affinity to marijuana, a shaved head, skin the colour of an almond nut and a small patch of beard on his chin. Jasper, his file stated, had been arrested for multiple violent altercations. Fights, stabbings, even a shooting, in each case when he was detained his anger had been directed to individuals who had given almost as well as they’d received in the skirmish. “So, what did you do Jasper?” asked Bhengu eyeing the young man closely. “No answer? How Jasper?” The silent young man in front of Bhengu certainly didn’t look capable of killing anyone. Jasper sat completely still, carrying his small, wearied demeanour carefully, his shoulders hunched in exhaustion, while furrowed eyebrows framed a set of dejected, averted eyes. This young man looked like he preferred to disappear into the background, silently moving through the world unnoticed. To Bhengu, a man like this seemed incapable of taking a girl off the streets of Cape Town in broad daylight. The confidence required for such an act, seemed completely uncharacteristic of Jasper Ndonga. “But then again looks do deceive?” thought Bhengu. Bhengu had to wait another beat before hearing the young man’s small voice respond, “Ndim’bulele tata, I killed her. The girl, bathi nguZinzi,” before he collapsed into a fit of tears that heaved across his whole body.
The very next day a squadron of police officers pulled a body up out of the ground in Langa township. Charred beyond recognition, and in the grassy patch Jasper had told them they would find it in. Zinzi had finally been found, sadly too late, but her body would grant her family the peace they had thus far been denied despite replacing what little hope they’d held on to with immeasurable grief. These were the thoughts that filled the mind of Inspector Bhengu that day. It all added up, yet there was a gnawing unease in the pit of the inspector’s gut about the killer himself. Jasper. He didn’t feel right, his tearful confession didn’t seem aligned with the clinical nature of the disposal of that body. The body they found had been burned thoroughly, after its teeth were knocked out. Thereafter, it was buried deep, and the grass that had been displaced by the action, replaced. The intention was for that body to never be found and given its location and their capacity as the police force; it never would have been. So why would this perpetrator, who had committed this crime so very well, later offer a confession. A confession, that seemed to be filled with a deep regret at that. Yet Jasper insisted he did the crime, and all on his own and there was nothing to refute the claim. Except, perhaps, the body
The day stretched out before Zinzi’s mind like every other day before it had, filled with a hope for rescue that hurt to hold on to. She had screamed herself hoarse those first few days in confinement, praying that someone would answer her cries. She knew there were people outside, women, singing and humming as they walked past her pen. They would tell their children to ignore the screams when they asked about the wailing voice, some even screaming back that she deserved all that she was getting for selling herself into this life. “What life?” she would think, “Why am I here?” The truth, however, was that this day wasn’t at all like any other in this place before. She was leaving today, and for the first time since her arrival she was lifted onto her feet and led into the sunlight where she was met by a patch of green grass and a washing line in what looked like a squatter camp. “Where am I?” Her warden’s response was to grab hold of her forearm and begin to lead her down a narrow winding path past shack after shack. No one they passed on their march gave the slightest reaction to the startling image Zinzi thought she and her captor presented. A young woman with cuffed hands, being dragged through the streets by an imposing figure of a man would pull at least some stares where she came from. Here, however, this was either a normal part of everyday life or an inconvenience no one could afford to tend to. A thought that was both frightening and saddening.
After traipsing through shack lined street after street they finally reached a 1998 Toyota Corolla. It looked like the blue Corolla her dad had called Zinzi’s big sister. That old car featured in so many baby photos and night drives with her dad that she had cried when they finally decided to let it go. Zinzi’s guard opened the boot and unceremoniously shoved her into it. “Not. A. Word,” was the threat issued with a menacing look and Zinzi found herself back in a dark confined space. The car lurched forward, swerving past potholes, and taking turn after turn. Every time the car slowed down Zinzi thought, “This is it,” unsure whether “it” was freedom or death or worse. It was this anxious uncertainty that eventually lulled Zinzi to sleep. She was woken by a stop so sudden it threw her into the interior of the boot. She heard the car’s engine go silent, a door open and a woman’s voice shout a hello from the distance. “I have her here. Is everything ready?” enquired her guard’s voice in his staccato, stop and start English. “Yes, where is she?” replied the same woman’s voice closer now. “She’s in the boot.” “Why would you put her there? If she got hurt…” a hint of panic audible in the woman’s voice. “She’s too recognisable. If I had put her in the front and someone had seen her, it would all be over.” Zinzi heard a deep, relenting sigh in response. “Open the boot Sam. We need to prepare her,” ordered the woman’s voice. Zinzi held her breathe as she heard the pop of the boot. She found herself blinded by the sunlight as the silhouette of the man, her guard, Sam pushed the tailgate open, while the woman beside him peered into the boot in concern. As her eyes adjusted the two people in front of her became clearer, Sam with his yellowed eyes and the woman, with her familiar bright baby blues. “Danielle?”
“Inspector, the DNA results you asked for are in.” said the constable as he handed a sealed brown envelope to Inspector Bhengu. Despite a valiant effort, Bhengu had been unable to free himself of the conviction that Jasper was innocent of the crime to which he had confessed. This instinct had become inescapable even in his sleep, his dreams filled with images of Jasper, and Zinzi. Another man may have tried to explain these dreams away, but Bhengu believed that dreams were paths woven for him by his forefathers, leading him to the truth. It was thanks to a dream that he had found his wife, that he made it out of a house fire that would have otherwise killed him and his whole family and now, that he had a brown envelope in his hands. This envelope would either lead him further down the rabbit hole or settle it and so, with steady hands, Bhengu opened the envelope and pulled out the results. Impatiently, he scanned the page of paper before finally finding what he was looking for. “NO MATCH.”
“Bhengu, what are you saying?” the question boomed from the Captain’s mouth like an accusation, “It has to be her body. He confessed to everything”. Two simple words had led Bhengu to this seat in front of his captain, the only man who had been under more pressure to solve the case of missing Zinzi Mvuso than he was. So, understandably, Captain Singh was confused, upset and Bhengu suspected, a little bit frightened by the potential ramifications of this revelation. “Captain, the body that Jasper Ndonga led us to does not belong to Zinzi Mvuso,” reiterated Bhengu. The captain took a deep breathe in, the ferocity of confusion that had previously rung out from his voice replaced by a dejected surrender as he sunk into his chair. The Captain’s face, upturned to the sky in thought, was lined with years of stress and an exhaustion that seemed to descend upon him the moment he understood the gravity of Bhengu’s words. Undoubtedly, this was his best inspector, but just this once he wished James Bhengu didn’t have to be so good at his job. Heavy is the head, and Singh knew what he had to do. “James, I need you to bury this,” Singh ordered in a quiet voice. Bhengu looked back at Singh in disbelief, surely his Captain, who prided himself on this station being a clean ship, didn’t just say what he thought he did. “I understand why you’re looking at me like that, but this case has already put too much pressure on this station. We can’t absorb more.” “So… you want me to let a family bury the wrong body, when their child might still be out there?” Singh gave a sigh, “James, you know the stats. She’s dead. We may not know where her body is, but she is.” “Captain, in this case we have a viable lead. Jasper knows something, we have a better chance of finding this girl than any of the other women whose files are sitting on my desk.” “James, bury it”, the Captain insisted in a low voice. “Singh, I have daughters. You can’t expect me to do that.” “I do too, but we can’t let that cloud our judgement. That body needs to be Zinzi Mavuso’s and you don’t want to bear the consequences of it belonging to anyone else. Do you understand?” That haphazardly veiled threat was enough to end the conversation. In five minutes the Captain had shattered all the respect Bhengu once held for him, a respect that had been built through a decade of diligent, virtuous collaboration and friendship, but that threat sealed it. “Hmm.” Bhengu smiled incredulously to himself, then with a look of disappointment in his eyes and an icy rage in his voice he responded, “Yes sir, I completely understand.”
“Jailed for murder. Jailed. For. Murder. You are about to be jailed for murder.” The words were sprinting loops around Jasper’s mind, yet he was unafraid. For a lowly supermarket teller that grew up in a village of shacks, the three-square meter prison cell that was to be his home felt like an improvement. Here he had concrete walls he need never fear would blow away, food, blankets, water. He had sustenance and stability like his mother was never able to provide for him and his younger brother and he had managed to secure the same even for them. He just wished his mother would take the help, without fighting him. The way she had looked at him when she came to visit, as though she had been betrayed by all her faculties and seeing her good son in such a place were a painful hallucination, nearly broke his resolve. “Mntan’am, you could not have done this. Pho uxokelani? Tell them you didn’t do this terrible thing to that child.” She had pleaded with him, begging him to reinforce her every idea of who her Jasper was. All he could do was apologise and tell her it would all be okay. He just hoped Jongile, his little brother, would be alright without him.
Stunning blue eyes, bright red hair, and skin so pale it looked like it might shimmer in sunlight. Dan. “Hi friend. I’m here to help.” Even her voice sounded like Danielle’s, but why would Dan be here? Did she do this? Why? Finally snapping out of her stupor, Zinzi asked the question, “How are you here?” “I’m here to help you,” persisted Dan, “Sam was hired to hold you, but after seeing a missing person segment we managed to get onto the news he reached out to me. Now you’re here.” “Where are my parents? Do they know?” questioned Zinzi. “They know but they agreed with the police and I that we need to track down the people who took you. Now can we get you inside before someone sees you?” Dan handed Zinzi a pair of dark sunglasses and a navy blue hoodie to put on, before leading her through the gate, whilst Sam followed behind, suspicious eyes darting around their immediate vicinity. It wasn’t until she was standing in a shower, warm water beating down on her and she looked down to see the dirt that once caked the soles of her feet swirling down the drain that she let herself believe it. She was safe. She had been rescued and she wasn’t going to die even though she didn’t completely understand how. Without realising it, she had grieved for herself, accepting that she wasn’t going to see anyone she knew or loved ever again, yet here she was now. The weight of this realisation knocked her to her knees as tears of joy and pain and relief washed over her. For a while she just sat there, wailing in the water. Safe.
“What do you have for me to eat?” Zinzi asked as she entered the kitchen, taking in the gleaming steel appliances, the mahogany hard wood floors, and the beautiful hand-crafted cabinetry. This kitchen, like everything else she’d seen in the house thus far, was enormous and immaculate. “Glad you have an appetite. Take a seat,” Dan gestured towards a bar stool as she placed a plate full of food on the countertop. Zinzi drilled into the mountain of food, trying to get her bearings regarding everything that had happened between bites. “So, who took me and why? Also, what are we going to do about it and whose house is this? It’s amazing.” She found herself charged with an energy that sh hadn’t expected to experience again and it was a wonderful feeling. “Woah,” Dan exclaimed laughing at the barrage of questions. “We can answer all your questions once you’ve eaten and relaxed a little bit. You’ve been through an ordeal. As for the house, you’ve met the owner before at one of my dad’s networking things, you know the ones I always to drag you too. He’s great, really. But for now, just eat.” At that phone went off on the counter. Before Zinzi could catch a glimpse of the caller ID, Dan had snatched it up and was moving into the next room with the device fixed to her ear. Through the window, Zinzi, could see Dan, hand on hip, eyes bright with concern, pacing back and forth, whilst speaking with quiet intensity into phone’s microphone. The relaxation that had enveloped Zinzi’s body dissipated immediately. The truth is, none, if any of what was happening made sense, least of all Dan’s involvement in it all. Zinzi, for all the luxuries of this new home, still felt like a pig being fattened for the slaughter, this time by her closest friend.
Inspector Bhengu for all his accomplishments was a stubborn man, with more than a sliver of pride in him and he didn’t take well to being bullied by anyone, not even Captain Singh. So, he took his investigation off the records looking into Jasper’s personal history, bank records and any other information he could find. Besides a series of altercations when he was a teenager, in recent history Jasper had been a model citizen, working an honest job, making less than was decent to live on but still committed to doing well. There was nothing out of the ordinary with his finances, and even the people that he had been in touch with, in the hopes of gaining a greater understanding of Jasper’s character, said they were surprised by his confession. The Jasper they knew was a disciplined, hardworking, quiet, somewhat timid young man whose main concern was providing for his family and keeping his brother out of trouble. So where had he kept this clinical killer all this time? It looked to Bhengu like he didn’t have a killer in him at all.
Jasper woke with a start, his heart hammering away in his chest, his breathing heavy. He had made peace with his fate. He knew he was likely to spend the rest of his life in jail, but he was okay with that. He knew he could fight with the best of them, he also knew his naturally quiet disposition would keep him out of trouble and if he was lucky he might make it out on good behaviour. The problem was his brother. After Jongile’s last visit, Jasper had started to doubt his decision. After promising Jasper that he would be better, his eyes and voice thick with emotion, Jasper thought Jongile finally got it. But then on Tuesday Jongile arrived to see his brother smelling of alcohol with his face battered almost beyond recognition, again. As usual he assured Jasper that everything was fine, and that he would do better but that stale reassurance did little to assuage Jasper’s anxieties. Now his dreams assaulted him with reminders of how he found himself in this jail cell.
Jongile had not always been violent, that development came with puberty and the pressures of growing up where they did. Jongile’s naturally curious and untethered personality had made him an early target for bullies who envied his confidence and sought to put him in his place. Following a particularly nasty altercation, that resulted in a broken nose for Jongile, Jasper had stepped in. However, his intervention whilst stopping the physical violence directed at Jongile had spawned an onslaught of name calling and ridicule at Jongile’s expense. The boy who needed his meek older brother to fight others off him, was no man at all. He was a child, and children deserved no respect. In response to the names and endless jeering, Jongile was reborn, baptised in a Black Label and blood. That night when Sam found Jasper, he knew immediately there had been trouble, but he didn’t expect to find what he did. Sam ran the Ntuli brothel. In all honesty it was more a shack with a mattress in it, but they had a healthy clientele even if it was so. When Jasper walked into the room he was confronted by the image of his little brother, head in his hands, crying so hard he was shaking, as he tears mixed with the mucus escaping from his nose, and he held his mouth agape in a silent wail. Jongile was sitting next to the lifeless body of a woman. He explained what he did, so shaken by his actions that he made no attempt to rationalise any of it. Jongile, with the few rands he’d made on a piece job that afternoon, had paid for a woman. Only, once he got what he had paid for, what he could afford, he wanted more. When she tried to leave, he’d held her down as he tried to slide himself into her, but she wasn’t willing to lie there and take it. She had kicked and punched until all he could do to keep her still was hold her down by the throat, depriving her of oxygen long enough to make her give in. Except, instead of just making her compliant he killed her, and you don’t kill a Ntuli girl unless you are Ntuli himself. In exchange for his brother’s life, both the Ndonga brothers were conscripted into Ntuli’s service.
That had been over a month ago. Since then, the burnt body of a prostitute had been dug up by the police and given the name Zinzi Mvuso. Since then, he’d confessed to the murder of a woman he’d never even met, but he’d also secured a lifetime of security and financial support for his mother and brother for that act and he’d saved his brother, one last time. At the time he believed the exchange more than fair. A simple sacrifice on his part had secured a better life for those he loved; they could even afford to leave that squatter camp for the first time in their lives. He made that happen in a way a teller’s salary never had a chance at doing. He just prayed his brother could understand the gravity of this final gift, rather than squandering it away the way he had so many times in the past. After all, this time, 3 people had sacrificed their lives for Jongile.
“Thank you for coming in Mr. Ndonga. Can I call you Jongile?” asked Inspector Bhengu, having just sat down in his office across from 21-year-old. He’d invited the young man to come see him at the police station after hours, with the promise of his being able to help improve his brother’s prospects in court. As he suspected, Jongile loved his brother. Who wouldn’t love someone willing to go to jail for them? Inspector Bhengu suspected that every arrest Jasper had to his name, should have been attributed to his brother. Jongile was always with Jasper during the arrests looking far more battered than his “violent” older brother, curious given Jongile’s reputation as the troublemaker in the Ndonga household. With the Cape Town police force being understaffed, no constable was ever willing to press an issue further when there was a willing assailant confessing to the crime, but it was clear to Bhengu that Jasper had a tendency of suffering the consequences of his younger brother’s reckless actions. This time, however, there was even a paper trail attached to the mess. A payment three times the amount Jasper earned in his job at the supermarket was made into his mother’s bank account the day the news broke of his arrest in connection with Zinzi’s murder. Bhengu was sure it had something to do with Jasper’s confession, but he also had an inkling that Jasper was trying to protect his brother.
“Yes Inspector, Jongile is fine. You said on the phone you had a way to help Jasper?” From the slight tremor in Jongile’s speech, it was clear he was uncomfortable. He made a concerted effort to avoid making eye contact with the inspector his nervousness impossible to ignore. Whether this was the natural agitation people tended to experience in the presence of law enforcement officers or an indication of guilt, he could not be sure, but he had a theory about which of the two it was. “You see Jongile, the body we found on your brother’s direction showed signs of sustained physical and sexual abuse, like she was tortured before she was killed. Jasper had previously alluded to the young woman’s death as an accident. This new evidence, however, points to far more malicious intent.” The Inspector studied Jongile’s face as he laid bare his case. The story he had concocted was impossible to prove true with a body damaged to the extent that the young woman’s had been, but Inspector Bhengu had long realised that his job at times required a poker face that rivalled those of the sport’s best. Using his knowledge of the Ndonga brother’s and the affection that he suspected existed between them, Bhengu had a suspicion that the guilt of letting his brother go to jail for his sins would render young Jongile irrational. Especially, if the charge became one of murder in the first degree. Bhengu hoped that once pressed Jongile would let some salient piece of information slip. Confused by the Inspector’s tale Jongile asked, “But on the phone you said you found a way to help Jasper Insector Bhengu. What you just said… Kumsiza njani ubhuti wami, how does it help?” That innocent question was all Bhengu needed. Unless the Jasper Jongile knew was vastly different from the Jasper known by everyone else in their lives, including their mother, Jongile should’ve been more surprised by the accusation of torture. The man sitting before inspector Bhengu, knew more about this victim then he was letting on. He knew enough about her to be unsurprised about the state of the body, and Bhengu suspected that was because Jongile knew who she was, how she died, and who really did. All Bhengu had to do was apply some pressure. He would crack. “Jongile, your brother told me everything. He said he needed to release the burdens he carried whilst he could. He told me about his arrests over the years and how he had been protecting you, and how he still is protecting you.” A flurry of emotions played out on Jongile’s face, fear, concern, disbelief and guilt all in quick succession finally settling on what the Inspector assumed was Jongile attempt at neutrality. “He’s struggling here, Jongile. He’s trying to keep it together, but he isn’t”, pressed the Inspector. To the surprise of the Inspector Jongile replied in a clear calm voice that rang out with finality, “Thank you for your time, sir.” After this Jongile stood up and left the office.
Dressed in plush pink colour cotton pajama set, laying in a bed of what felt like roses, Zinzi was still struggling to believe it all. The day, as she’d seen it had been a dream, and around the corner in any good dream is an alarm clock itching to ring you back to reality. Yes, Dan’s behaviour was still unusual, but she was still being allowed a moment of joy. She was clean, she was fed, and she was, at least for the moment, safe. A soft knock on the door shook her out of her reverie. Zi, I have some people here who want to see you,” announced Dan as she followed her knock with a push of the door. Zinzi, didn’t have the time to conjure up any idea of what Dan could be talking about when she it in the doorway. A pair, a tall grey-haired dark skinned man, in a pair of charcoal grey trousers, and a checkered black and white knit jersey, over a light yellow shirt and a woman who only came up to his shoulder, dressed in her staple loose fitting blue sundress under a navy blue cardigan Zinzi had seen even in old baby photos. When Zinzi’s eyes met her mom’s and her dad pulled into his signature big ole bear hug she found herself in euphoria that could only be expressed physically through a weeping that ran the length of her body, and found voice in her sobs. Living in a lightless, lifeless, floorless shack for weeks on end, Zinzi had feared death, yes, but insanity more so. The longer she had been kept alive, the likelier the latter fate had seemed, and it threatened to take with it every memory she held dear. Especially those of her parents. Finally, breaking the embrace, she took a second just to look at them, assuring herself that they weren’t a mirage, because seeing them meant it really was over. The entire ordeal, a lot still needed to be explained, but those were concerns for a later time because look at what she’d been gifted. Her life, her sanity, and the people she cared for most. She was safe, she was happy, she was alive. Until…
Breathe. Please, please breathe. Don’t die like this. Breathe. “Andikwazi kuphefumla! I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe! I…” the weight on the girl’s body too heavy to move, the man who kept it there too entitled to care that he was killing her, so long as her legs were open, and her body still. She was going to die for R50. It was laughable honestly, she was going to die for R50 and no one would even care to look for her. It was painful, she was going to die for R50 and no one would even care to look for her. No, she wasn’t that girl, the pretty one from the posters and the TV kwaMam’Thembu. You know her, Zinzi, the one who even had a white girl speak at her memorial whilst her parents sat in grief visible even through a grainy TV screen. What it would be like to be her?
Maybe… maybe I could… know. For a moment. Maybe… maybe if I just stop fighting, I could enjoy that plush pink cotton pajama set. I could fall asleep in a bed that feels like roses after eating a mountain of food in a beautiful house. Maybe I can, for a moment, imagine, that the girl with red hair spoke about me, saved me, loved me enough to at least look. And my parents… their faces when they see that I’m okay, the way dad’s black and white checkered jersey feels against my cheek, the way mama always smells like vanilla. How warm I feel here with them. That other life, with the shacks and the men and the pain, that was temporary. This, love is forever.
Death met her dressed in a fantasy of a life she was denied. Her remains burned and buried.
Inspector Bhengu never saw Jongile again. Jasper went to jail and despite Bhengu’s most desperate efforts to unravel the truth, it escaped him. He never found Zinzi, but he granted her parents the peace that came with the belief that she was dead. Killed by Jasper Ndonga, who found his way out of prison only 5 years after his trial. A lowly supermarket teller with powerful friends. A wonder indeed. The woman whose remains they found remains nameless. What was her sin? Being poor? Being a woman? Being alive?