My knees are literally shaking. Thandoza’s glaring at me like I’m about to become dead meat.
Themba gives us both a stern look as the first customers arrive to buy their things at the spaza, as if to say ‘wait until they’re gone before you two have it out’. One customer wants a little packet of sugar, another a small bar of soap, another just one cigarette, another one R10 airtime voucher….and so it goes on. They just keep coming.
Themba leans over the counter and quietly says, “You girls look like you have a lot to say to each other. Maybe it’s a good idea to take a walk and talk around the block.”
Great. Just what I need. A stroll with the girl I used to most want to be like, until she knocked me down with nasty words. And I imagine she’s going to tell me something I really don’t want to hear about her and the boy I really like.
My guts tie themselves in a double knot.
We make it about 50 metres down the road before Thandoza suddenly turns on me.
“Ask me what?!” she repeats with fury in her eyes.
To my horror I instantly start to cry. Big, wet tears that pour down my cheeks and drip off my chin.
“Why are you so angry with me?” I sob. “What have I done?”
“Well…for starters, um... how dare you say last night that maybe I’m the one that doesn’t have what it takes?” Thandoza growls.
I realize my tears have unsettled Thandoza. They’ve taken the bite out of her battle. She’s still trying to be angry but the fury is gone.
I wipe my nose on my arm.
“Thandoza, I’ve always wanted to be like you. I’ve admired you from a distance all year. But ever since I actually got to meet you and spend a little time with you, you’ve gone out of your way to say mean things to me. You really hurt me, and I don’t know why.”
I start to driz again. Terrible. It’s like someone’s just opened the door on all the pain I’ve been trying to bottle away inside these last few days and it's all pouring out.
Thandoza looks blown away by my words. She sinks down and sits on the edge of the pavement and drops her head down on to her knees. And then her shoulders start to heave with big, heavy sobs.
“Thandoza?” I whisper, totally shocked by the change in her.
But she just carries on bawling a gut-wrenching kind of cry that breaks my heart.
I sit down next to her and put my arms around her shoulders.
“You don’t want to be someone like me,” Thandoza cries. “That would mean you’d need to put on an act to keep your sugar daddies happy all the time so that you can bring home money and food for your little brothers.”
My heart squeezes.
“And if you were someone like me that would mean you would just have been diagnosed with HIV.”
Thandoza weeps and I hold her speechlessly in my arms until her sobs start to slow down, and then finally subside.
She wipes her face on the skirt of her dress before sitting up a little, and shaking her head while staring at the ground.
“I keep trying to remember what Themba told me. ‘If I’ve got what it takes to survive that moment when they told me I was HIV positive last week, then I’ve got what it takes to keep on living’.”
Thandoza suddenly turns to me.
“I’m so sorry Buhle. It’s been a rough week. I’ve felt like I’m losing everything, and I think I got a little confused and thought it was you that was taking everything away from me, and that’s why I’ve been so angry with you. But I can see now that it’s not you…”
She starts to cry again and I put my hand on her arm.
“It’s ok. I understand. It all makes sense to me now. Well…most of it. I’m sorry Thandoza. I’ve thought I’ve had such huge problems these last few days and I’ve blamed you for making me feel worse, but I didn’t think about looking deeper to understand what was going on. Shew…. But Themba’s right. You’ve survived a lot. If anyone’s got what it takes to survive it’s you. You've got such a light in you Thandoza. I don't think you realize how bright it shines, or how people are drawn towards you.”
Thandoza looks at me doubtfully. I wish she could see that I mean every word.
“And we’re here for you Thandoza. Gugu, Lindiwe and I," I continue. "We should stick together and help each other. I think we’ve all realized in the last few days that we've all been needing some really good, true friends. Good friends make all the difference when times are tough. They make life worth living.”
Thandoza takes my hand. She smiles at me through her tears, and I find that I’m smiling and crying too, all at the same time.
**See you tomorrow for the last chapter of this story!***
WHAT DO YOU THINK: Do you think it’s important for friends to stick together through hard times? Have you had a friend who has helped you through a crisis?