Short Stories, Tale Africa

No Real Heroes (1)


By Katiso Thatho, Lesotho

The sound of a woman screaming as she was cornered by a group of thugs was all too common in the city. Most times it happened in dark alleys where no one could see, but even in the few instances when there had been witnesses they simply turned a blind eye. It would be easy to look down on such a person and call them a coward, but they, like everyone else in the city, hoped to cling to life as hard as they could for as long as they could. Despite the fact that most of it was lived in fear, they held on anyway and held on as though they might not get to see tomorrow, which in the cold unforgiving city was not an unlikely outcome.

In one of the numerous dark alleys littered around the city, a pair of thugs had cornered yet another victim. She quickly hurled her purse at them as she begged repeatedly for them not to take her life. As the bag landed at their feet, they stopped and looked at each other for a few seconds, after which they walked right over it and headed straight for her. It had become clear that what they sought was not something she kept in her purse. Tears rolled down her face as it dawned on her that the breaths she was taking could very well be her last. As she continued to yell at the top of her voice hoping that someone would intervene, a voice emerged from the shadows,

“Hold it right there scum. Why don’t you pick on someone your own size?”

The two goons started to look around to see where the voice was coming from. Shrouded by the darkness of the night, the man to whom the voice belonged emerged. His face was covered by a balaclava and in his right hand he wielded his lebetlela. The thugs were thrown aback for a short time but as they took a closer look, the look of worry disappeared from their faces.

“So you’ve come back for another beating? When will you just give up already?” asked one of the thugs.

Instead of answering him, the masked man charged towards the two hoodlums swinging his weapon in all directions. One of the swings landed right on the head of the smaller of the thugs and sent him crashing–but before the masked man could enjoy the minor victory, his second opponent grabbed the lebetlela  right out of his hand and flung it away. Realising just how much trouble he was in, he turned towards where it had fallen but before he could run to retrieve it, the thug grabbed him by the collar and lifted him in mid-air. He tried his best to put up struggle with his legs dangling in the air but to no avail.

The one he had struck to the ground got back to his feet with blood running down the side of his face. He immediately walked over to pick up the masked man’s fallen weapon and headed to where his partner continued to hold him in mid-air.

“So you still haven’t learned your lesson? There’s no place for a do-gooder like you here. Bring him down Spike.”

The thug that held the masked man in mid-air proceeded to lower him to the ground and bound his arms in the full Nelson hold while the other began to pound on him with his own weapon. Blow after blow landed on his mid-section. He cried out in pain until he was unable to make a sound but still they pounded and just as he could take no more, they stopped and let him fall to the ground. The pain had rendered him unable to move an inch and the blood coming out of his mouth made him unable to speak either.

“Once again we will not kill you and for one simple reason,” said the man holding the lebetlela.

I want you to continue living knowing that in this world those who thrive are people like us, the ones that you refer to as scum. This world is rotten and anything you do to try and change that is futile. You’d be doing yourself a great deal of good by swimming with the tide and not against it. Now–”

Before he could finish his monologue, his partner tapped him on the shoulder and pointed him to where they had left the woman. Neither she nor the purse she had flung at them were still in the alley; she had taken advantage of all the commotion and made her exit as they were distracted by the masked man. The thugs seemed rather annoyed by the realisation and when they looked down at the masked man he smiled.

“You think you really made a difference today? She was gonna be our fifth victim of the night, what you’re doing is an exercise in futility. You can’t hope to save them all, you’re weak and naïve and I hope living with this knowledge will bring you nothing but anguish. Now excuse us as we go get our next victim.”

The masked man was left bleeding on the ground, unable to stop them as they walked away. Slowly but surely he could feel himself slipping out of consciousness until his eyes finally shut themselves. When he woke up the first thing he saw was a bright white light and he instinctively used his hands to shield his eyes from it. It was after doing this that he realised they were connected to a drip and that he was in a hospital. He turned his head to the right and saw his sister seated beside him with tears streaming down her face.

“Why Thuso?” she asked

“Why do you insist on always putting yourself in danger over this nonsense? Do you want me to lose you too?”

Instead of responding he just looked away as she continued to weep. Out of nowhere, a pair of police officers walked in and their entry caused a momentary pause in the girl’s sobbing. The officers asked her to vacate the room so they could speak to him in private. Before they could even state their business, Thuso quickly sat upright and began to talk,

“I saw them this time officers, I could give you a very detailed description of both of them so you could bring them in.”

Despite his enthusiasm, the officers seemed not at all interested in what he was telling them.

“Young man, I think we have told you on several occasions that what you were doing was against the law. If you keep this up we’ll have to arrest you. Frankly, I would rather not do that because we understand that you have good intentions, so you’ll get off with a warning this time.” said one of the officers.

“So that’s it? You came all the way over here to tell me that–the one guy who’s actually trying to help people out there? What about the guys killing people out there, when will you arrest them?” asked Thuso in a fit of rage.

“Police work is not as easy as all that, we are doing everything we can to clean up our streets but we can’t do that if we have to worry about you too.”

“Bullshit, you know exactly who these people are, don’t you? You know but you turn a blind eye like everyone else, you who are charged with keeping us safe. As long as cowards like you wear that uniform I’ll never stop, even if it kills me.”

The officers turned around and walked out without acknowledging what he had said to them. The first officer exited the room and just as the second officer was about to cross the threshold he stopped and turned his head to the bed where Thuso lay.

“Be careful what you wish for kid. If you keep this up it’ll only be a matter of time before you end up dead. It’s a wonder that you’ve managed to stay alive for so long.” said the officer.

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