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He’d seen her before.
He knew her face in his sleep.
She was the most beautiful girl Ajok had ever seen. Whenever she laughed he had a flashback: The sky is falling, he feels the grumbles of the ground, like the sound his stomach makes when he’s hungry, but now the fire is hungry, hungry for death. He hears the old church bells ringing, a warning, he stares at his sister screaming at him to come with her, he follows. Outside the fire ate his world voraciously. They ran to the sound of the old church bells, the bells that saved his life. The bells that he loved to wake up to every Sunday morning. He came back to the present, watching her. She laughed again, the sound of the old church bells. The newspapers recorded it as ‘The Church Street Bombing’; Ajok and his sister lived on Church Street. It was a terrorist attack in South Africa, Pretoria, 19 people died, his sister one of them. Ajok was five, crenellated from his old life.
The girl walked out of the store; he followed, not wanting to lose that nostalgic sound. She walked into an ice cream parlor. It was a hot summer day; he already knew he didn’t have any money, but he walked in anyway, unnoticed.
She was sitting at the counter, talking to the ice cream man. Ajok hovered over the seat next to her, he sat down quickly and timidly. She continued chattering about some flavor that she loved, not noticing him. Ajok listened intently.
“I wish I could have that.” The girl pointed at a big lollipop.
When she left to the ladies’ room, Ajok looked around hastily. He caught a glimpse of a woman’s purse, without thinking he snatched it. He miscalculated, the purse was attached to the woman’s arm, and she jerked around and shrieked, “Thief! Somebody help me!” Ajok widened his eyes at the realization of what he had just done, he tried to run away but he tripped on a step, the contents of her purse spilled across the floor. Everyone in the parlor craned their necks to see what the boy on the floor was doing.
“Get that n**** out of here!” One of them shouted.
“He shouldn’t be in here anyway!”
He tried to get up but somebody pushed him back down, his face hit the hard cold floor. He could feel a foot on his back to keep him down. Ajok opened his eyes; he saw white flip-flops and painted toes. He shifted his face to see. The girl stood there staring at him, he closed his eyes.
“Let him go.” He opened his eyes again, nobody heard her save Ajok.
“Let him go!” She pushed the ice cream man to get his foot off. The man was shocked and looked at her.
“Fine then little missy, you and your n**** dog can never set foot in here again.” He pulled Ajok up from his armpits and pushed him into the street, the girl followed quickly.
“Are you alright? Why did you try to steal? What’s your name?”
Ajok landed on his hands and knees, his head down, breathing heavily. She patted his back softly.
He was still on the ground, his head hanging in shame; “I wanted to get money to buy the lollipop for you.”
She laughed, “Why would you wanna do that? I was just going to ask Daddy to buy me one tomorrow.”
“I don’t know, I just did.”
“What’s your name?” She repeated.
“That’s a funny name,”
He didn’t answer.
“Are you alright Ajok?”
It had seemed forever since he had heard anybody say those words to him.
“Well, my name is Molly. Everyday during summer I go to that parlor. Now I don’t know where I’ll go because he seems keen on not letting me go back in…you know, for helping a negro.” She watched him, his ratted clothes didn’t flatter his physique, she thought he looked rather puny, and that she could beat him up if she needed to.
“Where do you live?” He didn’t answer, “I live right over that hill over there, Daddy says it’s the prettiest house in Africa. It’s extremely boring now that the tennis courts are being re-surfaced, so now I have nothing to do all summer, and now I can’t even enjoy ice cream!” Molly whined.
“What’s a tennis court?” He got up and wiped his hands on his pants.
She started laughing and the old church bells came back to mind.
When he turned to see her face, she gasped.
He stepped back, cautious, “What is it?”
She stepped closer and examined his face, he recoiled, “What?”
She was staring at his lip and he knew it. He hated it. He hated her.
“Why did you tell him to let me go?” He asked furiously.
She couldn’t talk; she was confused.
He turned around and started walking fast; he wanted to forget her and all the humiliation she had brought on him.
“Wait!” She walked fast to keep up with him.
Ajok began to run she began also, to stay with him.
He ran faster, she was behind him now.
“Please wait!” He was gaining distance on her.
He kept running until he knew she had given up and they were far apart.
He ran to the local bridge, climbed the rail, and jumped.
8 years later
Molly Contee is now 17 years old; she attends Diocesan School for Girls and is studying photography. She hasn’t thought about Ajok in 8 years. She plays lacrosse and has a dog. Her father and her like to play tennis every Thursday during summer, and then afterwards get ice cream, the ice cream man forgave her for helping a colored. She never got the lollipop.
She knows how to speak English and Swazi and is currently studying French; she wants to study photography in France. She first considered following in her father’s footsteps, volunteering in clinics, treating the poor. She found satisfaction when she watched her father cure somebody in need. However, she knew she could be more influential as a photojournalist to show the world the desperation that is present in her home country.
At school, Molly is researching photos of birth defects for a report she’s working on, she comes across a photo of a girl, and half of her lip is missing. Molly’s stomach does a flip and she finds herself relocated in the lavatories, her head over the toilet.
She had seen something a lot like that photo. 8 years ago. She doesn’t want to remember, it was nothing to remember…
She prints out the photo and slips it into her pocket, later that evening she asks her father about it.
“What is this disease?” Molly shows him the photo; her father is the doctor at the local clinic.
“That’s not a disease sweetheart, why, that looks like a cleft lip and palate.” He puts on his reading glasses and takes the photo from her.
“It’s where the roof of the mouth does not develop normally during pregnancy, it leaves an opening in the palate that sometimes goes through the nasal cavity, that’s what it looks like here.” He frowns.
“But the baby can function normally right?”
“Well, no, obviously, mostly they have speech defects, they can’t feed right, which results in poor growth,” Molly remembers Ajok, and how small he was.
“Is there a cause for this? Or does it just happen?”
“Everything the mother does effects the baby.”
“But to cause this?”
“Drinking, illegal drugs, radiation, infections, certain medications or family history.”
Molly is silent for a few moments.
“Thanks Daddy,” She begins to leave, “one more question, can you treat it? Like with surgery?”
He smiles, “Of course.”
“Thank you,” She leaves.
The ice cream man greets her with kindness.
“What can I do for you m’dear?”
“Do you remember a boy?” She starts.
“Well, there has been a lot of boys in here—”
“I wasn’t finished,” She interrupted sharply, “do you remember a boy who came in here about 7 or 8 years ago,” he rolls his eyes, “he was kind of skinny, he sat next to me.”
He shakes his head.
“He started, kind of… a fight…you kicked him out… and me too.”
“Doesn’t ring a bell.”
Molly sighs, “he was black, he had a lip dysfunction—”
“Oh yes! Now I remember! Yes of course, that little c*** who tried to steal Mrs. Chinno’s handbag?”
She closes her eyes and nods, “Yes that’s the one.”
“What about him?”
“Do you know where he lived? Or if he had any relatives, or parents?”
“Well, I didn’t like him—”
“I don’t care whether you liked him or not just tell me where I can find where he lived!” Molly can’t take this; she needs to put this thing behind her for once.
“I think I saw him leave to a shack a couple of times, but I’m not really sure of my memory.” He says, holding his chin up, a pompous a**.
“What street?” She asks sharply.
“You know Molly, you’ve been very rude to me, and I’m not sure if I’m gonna tell you.” He is a child now.
Molly searches her bag savagely and pulls out a coin, “Here.”
The ice cream man is now a businessman, “What would you like?”
She sees the lollipop. “That.”
He gives it to her.
“Can you please tell me now?”
“It’s on Durban Street, you won’t miss it.”
She goes to the street and looks at the shack: it is a dump. The roof collapsed into itself and the walls look like they were made of sticks.
Molly goes inside, it’s a single room shack. She can tell someone else occupied this for a long time.
She can’t stand this. She knew she had caused it. It was her fault; her father and friends told her that he was gone long before he had met her. She sits down and starts shaking, she compelled him to jump. She made him take his own life away. She lays down on the cardboard bed tearless sobs overcome her. If she just didn’t care about the lip… if only she didn’t look at him…if only she didn’t help him…if only she didn’t ask for the lollipop.
Molly pulls out the stale lollipop and smashes it against the walls, breaking it into pieces. She’s crying, she hates the lollipop. The stupid lollipop wasn’t any good in the first place. She hates it—she hates herself.
She catches a glimpse of something under the bed; it’s a photo of a girl.
The girl had dark locks of hair, porcelain skin, her cheeks were soft and rosy, she was laughing.
Realization overcomes her and she starts crying again. The girl was her, is her.
She did this to him, he was in love with her. They were only 9 years old, and she destroyed him. He would never be able to afford surgery for his lip, he loved her, and because she was so horrified by him, he jumped. Molly Contee can’t live like this; her whole life is a lie. She killed a boy. Plain and simple.
She knows what she has to do, to make it even. She walks out of the shack, picture still in hand, and walks to the bridge.
Tears rolling down her face, she grabs the rail and feels the cold metal. She climbs on top, spreads her arms wide, and falls.