By Lerato Mensah-Aborampah, Lesotho
Last week Mr Phooko told us that we would have a Chemistry test on Stoichiometry. We are to have it next week. Most of my classmates were angry. TK and Katleho were protesting passionately in the back seat and I turned back to laugh at them. I have to be honest, I was very indifferent to this emotion. I also turned back to look at Palesa. Her eyes were infuriated and she smiled when she saw that I was laughing at her in silence.
“What in the world is your chemistry companion thinking?” Palesa said to my ear as we walked out of the Chemistry class. It was break time.
I laughed at her. “It’s about time we got a test,” I joked, much to her annoyance.
“You are not serious? The man gave us a quiz just last week!” she looked at me like I was crazy, “traitor! You have to be on the side of the students!”
“Sorry madam,” I laughed, raising my arms, “so, you reckon you will be ready?”
Palesa stopped walking and furrowed her brows, staring into the air.
“I think I could be ready, yes,” she said slowly, “but, are you free tomorrow afterschool? I know it will be Friday-“
“Why must you do this to my Friday?!” I complained playfully, “but yeah, I’m sure you are aware that I couldn’t say no to you,”
She smiled and said nothing.
“So same place? I just need help with some few exercises. It shouldn’t take too long.”
“No problem at all,” I smile, “Want to get snacks from the tuck shop?”
* * *
“Eiza! Palesa! Have you seen the time?” I shout, slamming my books shut.
Palesa looks at her purple wrist watch and her jaws drop open.
“The bus!” she exclaims. “You don’t think it has left, do you?”
“I heard that Bra Stacie is sick. That other driver leaves quite early. Let’s hurry up!”
We hurry out of the library. Miss P is not at her chair. No wonder we lost track of time. She always lets us know when she is about to lock up.
We are literally running towards the gate, laughing, the entire time but I am hoping the bus has not left. The two security guards grin as soon as we get to the gate, panting.
“Khotman?” I say to one of them, “Bese e vaile?”
“E qeta ho tsamaea!” they say in unison, evidently finding amusement in our dilemma. The bus has just left.
“Damn,” I whisper, pressing my knuckles.
Palesa looks at me, grinning. She does not seem bothered by this at all.
“Surely you can walk that far, Rapelang!” she grins and starts walking.
“Easy for you! You don’t live as far as I do, and besides, you walk home every Thursday!” I walk quickly to catch up with her. We start walking by the main road.
“How do you know that?” she asks, surprised, “my goodness, Rapelang! Stalker alert!”
I smile sheepishly and keep quiet.
She laughs. “Relax, I’m only joking! Are you in a hurry? Let’s not walk quickly hle, if you don’t mind,” she says, her eyes on the road ahead, “you know why I walk home sometimes?”
“Why?” I ask, surprised at her voluntary talking.
“Because I can drag my feet and feel like everything is in slow motion, and to be honest, I could always do with a bit more time outside my father’s house,” she glances at me, “nothing like it- just walking.”
“Okay then. The slow walk it is.” I reply. I don’t let my mind dwell too much on one of her few references to her father. It is none of my business. This feels good. Walking home and seeing less sadness in those eyes.
We turn to a gravel road so that we walk through the village instead of walking through town. We walk slowly in silence for minutes, passing by little children playing around. I notice Palesa look at these young girls playing mokou, her eyes lingering over them curiously as if she wants to drop her bag and join them in their excitement as they build a tower of tins while skilfully dodging a plastic ball.
“I was looking at the drawing, the one you gave me last week” she says suddenly, without looking at me, “you draw really good, Rapelang!”
“Thanks,” I smile, “I draw alright,” I add unnecessarily.
“You pass Maths! Sciences! And you draw!” she laughs, “dude! What are you? A prodigy?”
“Definitely no prodigy in soccer, if there ever was such!”
She giggles. “That I know! Well, everybody knows that: mokopu, Rapelang-The Pumpkin!”
“Wou! Man, that’s what you wanted to say to me that first day I spoke to you in the bus, isn’t it?” I am a bit embarrassed. Literally everybody knows that I always trip and fall on the field.
“It is solid reputation you’ve built for yourself there, I must say,” she says, laughing, “but it’s fine, your nerdiness makes up for all the falling and tripping on shoe laces-all the time in the field!” Then she bursts into giggles again.
“Unbelievable!” I chuckle, “you are making fun of me!”
“No malice intended, I promise,” she says with a rather strange seriousness, as if I would really be offended by her laughing at me. “You know, the drawing gave me goose bumps,”
“Kannete?” I am surprised. It seems too unlikely a stimuli for my amateur art to induce.
“Yeah, I’m serious, I swear it did. I knew exactly who that was and it sort of gave me the chills, you really like capturing things visually, hey?”
I feel a strange lurch in my stomach.
“Wait, did it make you sad? I should have probably not given it to you- I don’t know what I thought-“
“No, no, dude, not like that. I loved it. I love it. And the inscription too.”
“That’s good to hear,” I say.
We turn left into another street. There are no children playing in this one. It is quieter. I tell Palesa about the fights I have with my sister, about the silly bets we often make so that the price of winning is doing chores. Palesa laughs and laughs as I narrate some of our crazy stories. It’s so strange- the way I enjoy seeing Palesa Tefo laugh.
“She is the most annoying thing, but I love her. Just don’t tell her that!”
I stop suddenly as we are walking when I see a ‘morobei bush by the side of gravel, alongside somebody’s hedge fence, with its little orange fruits within the thorny green-leaved branches.
“What is it?” Palesa asks following my eyes to the bush. I walk towards it and pick out the orange spherical fruit.
“You don’t know it?” I ask her. She is now standing right beside me. She shakes her head quietly.
She reaches her hand for the rosehip.
“Careful of the thorns-”
“Ichu!” she shouts, “Dude! You didn’t warn me!” she laughs, sucking her finger, her face in a light grimace.
“Phephi!” I smile at her, “It’s a Rosehip bush- what’s a rose bush without its thorns right?” I laugh.
“It’s really a rosebush? It looks quite different.” She toys with the little fruit with her hands but she does not make an attempt to taste it.
“Yep! A slightly different species, I suppose. The little fruit is a rosehip – ‘morobei. I don’t really like its taste, my sister does-she ate them a lot when we visited my mother’s home in Ha Ramapepe. But it is apparently very rich in ascorbic acid- vitamin C!”
Palesa looks at me and furrows her brows, smiling.
“Why am I not surprised that you know that?” she laughs.
“I might be your go-to-guy for Biology too, it seems,” I say smugly. I play around with the little fruit with my hands.
“Biology is not that bad actually, sadly for you,” she smiles, rolling her eyes dramatically.
“Speaking of which, you haven’t done anything about that WhatsApp number I gave you,” I say, jokingly.
She clears her throat and says rather reluctantly, “I don’t have WhatsApp, well, anymore.”
“Really?” I laugh, “Why?”
“I deleted my Facebook too and Instagram,” she adds quietly.
I remove my bag and drop it onto the grass. Palesa smiles and does the same.
She walks slowly to the other side of the bush.
“So, the social media thing, what’s that about?” I ask, really curious to know. It takes me a few seconds to realise that this must have something to do with everything she does not like talking about. I notice this from the way she is now toying around nervously with the ‘morobei in her hands. How quickly her mood changes. I see her sigh. I stand still and throw the ‘morobei playfully at her. It hits her arm. She looks up at me but does not smile.
“You wrote that I shouldn’t do the stitching process alone, remember?” she says quietly, her voice has a little shake in it.
“I said so, and I meant it,” I look at her closely from where I stand, “even though I don’t know what happened, Palesa, and I understand that you prefer to leave it all behind, whatever it is. The inscription just meant I could be a friend to you- if you want me to.”
She raises her head and bites her lower lip for a moment.
“Yeah?” I smile, throwing another ‘morobei at her. Her lips curl into doubtful half-smile.
“Thanks Rapelang,” she says. She throws a rosehip back at me, surprising me with this little show of playfulness. Then she takes a deep breath.
“I deleted my social media accounts at the end of Grade 10, which is Form C here,” she begins, keeping her eyes on the bush and occasionally looking at me, “okay, where do I begin,” she manages a tight laugh.
I toy with the rosehip in my hand rather nervously, almost like her.