To: Trinity Luhabe email@example.com
From: President of the Paranormal Association of South Africa admin@paranormalSA.com
Re: Ghost of Sisulu House
Dear Ms Luhabe,
We were fascinated to hear about your close encounter of the eerie kind with a paranormal manifestation in your boarding house. How privileged you are to have had such an experience!
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1 x Oscillating Vibration-sensitive EMF-meter – R7,655.99
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Paranormal Association of South Africa
To: Trinity Luhabe firstname.lastname@example.org
From: News Editor – Sandton Chronicle email@example.com
Re: Ghost of Sisulu House
Dear Ms Luhabe,
Thanks for your email about the ghost living in the boarding house of your school. We were very interested to read about it. You have a lively and entertaining writing style, and your letter was a great hit in the newsroom!
Unfortunately, it won’t be possible to “send a team of reporters” to your school in order to “investigate fully”. I agree that this is a very touching story and quite mysterious too, but our reporters are fully committed to covering a story about pollution in the Braamfontein Spruit this week. I agree that this is a local issue and therefore of interest to Sandton residents, but I fear our managing editor would not see it in that light.
I will therefore be publishing your email in the letters column of our newspaper next Wednesday. Who knows? It might be read by someone who knows the history of your ghost and could shed light on it. I will forward you any replies we get. Good luck with the ghost-hunting!
Caxton House, Craighall Park
To: Trinity Luhabe firstname.lastname@example.org
From: Dean of Students – Sisulu House email@example.com
Re: Accommodation for Term 2
We are, of course, delighted to hear how much you enjoyed your stay at Sisulu House during the first term while your parents were overseas. We can honestly say that it was a pleasure to have you, especially as Headmaster Dr Hussein decided to let bygones be bygones in the little matter of the Gumede Shield.
We are thrilled to hear that you wish you “could be a boarder forever and never go home again”. Unfortunately, it would be against our policy to tell your parents that they have to let you board again this term. If your parents have made up their minds to keep you at home this term, not even the information that you are “a hundred times less spoiled” at Sisulu House than you are at home is likely to sway them.
I suggest you keep working on your parents if you really want to board again, but we definitely won’t get involved.
Dean of Students
My parents have the worst timing ever.
At the beginning of this year they shoved me into boarding school for a whole term totally against my will. I was like, “You can’t make me go. I’ll live in a cardboard box by the side of the road.” And they were like, “Don’t be silly, you’ll get cold.”
And now that they’re back from opening a mine in Chile, they’re, like, “We’re back! You can move back home now. We’ll all be together again.”
Except, the thing is, I really want to stay in the boarding house this term. I don’t want to move back home at all, but apparently that’s “not an option”.
“I’ll live in a cardboard box by the side of the road!” I yell.
“I’ll come and visit you and laugh,” says my brother Caleb. My death stare warns him to stay out of this.
My father gives me an exhausted look. (Total ploy for sympathy and it is not going to work.) “Trinity, you were horrified when we told you that you were boarding last term. Now you want to stay there? What possible reason can you have for this change of heart?”
“I told you before – I can’t tell you.”
“Well, if you think we’re going to pay to have you spend a term in Sisulu House for some secret reason that you won’t even share with us…” My mother breaks off, shaking her head and standing up.
Now my dad is standing up too. My brothers are slithering towards the exits – their game consoles are calling to them. This family conference is over and I have lost.
“Okay, okay! It’s because of the ghost,” I say loudly.
That gets everyone’s attention. My parents stop and turn around. They don’t exactly sit down again, but at least they’re listening. “What ghost?”
“The ghost of Jim Grey. He was this boy who died at Sisulu House in the 1960s, and his ghost still walks. I’ve met him. I’ve talked to him. Lael and I are going to find out who he is and how he died. And we seriously need to be at Sisulu House this term to do our research.”
Gripping stuff, hey? I feel like if it was a movie, I could sell it to Hollywood.
But instead of sitting down and immediately sending off an EFT to Sisulu House so I can stay there for another term, my parents just sigh and shake their heads and LEAVE THE ROOM.
I know. I couldn’t believe it either.
I fling myself on my bed and fire off a WhatsApp to my best friend Lael to let her know that my parents are being stubborn. She’s online, so her reply comes back in seconds.
Lael: Bad luck, babe. But the good news is, my mom is totally cool with letting me carry on boarding this term.
Trinity: How is that good news??? Are you trying to make me jealous???
I look at the screen and see her furiously typing away.
Lael: Ha! Not at all. Think about it – if we were both living at home this term, we’d have no excuse to go into Sisulu House. Day girls aren’t allowed in unless they’re visiting a boarder. This way, you can visit me all the time and we can go ghost-hunting.
Trinity: My parents won’t let me visit you that much, especially if they know we’re ghost-hunting.
Lael: Just pretend you want to join evening prep. Day girls are allowed. You can say you concentrate better during supervised prep. I bet your mom will practically force you to attend.
Hmm. My mom’s not dumb. I think she’ll be suspicious of this sudden desire of mine to join evening prep. But on the other hand, she tends to clutch at straws where my schoolwork is concerned, so maybe she’ll go along with it.
The day before school starts, I ask our driver, Lungile, to drop me at Sisulu House in the afternoon so I can say hi to all my friends in the Grade Ten dormitory. I’m really excited to see them. Lael is the only one I’ve laid eyes on this holiday. She spent a week with us in Cape Town at the beginning of April.
Nosipho spent the last three weeks in New York with her mom, who is a single parent who travels a lot. They live in Joburg, but Nosipho has to board because her mom doesn’t have time to drive her around all afternoon during term time. She boards during the week and goes home or to her aunt on weekends.
Yasmin was in Durban, which is where her family lives. And Priya went to the Seychelles with her family.
As soon as I walk into the dormitory and give hello hugs to everyone, I can see that Nosipho has a secret. Her eyes are huge and sparkling, and she looks twitchy.
Nosipho is the only one of us who has an actual boyfriend, so I’m guessing this has something to do with him. His name is Themba. I doubt they broke up because she doesn’t look miserable enough for that. Maybe he told her he loved her. Whatever it is, she can’t wait for one of us to ask her about it.
Lael is the first to crack.
“Babe. Stop bouncing up and down like that. You’re making me nervous. Spit it out. What’s happened?”
“Okay, listen. I’ve been dying for you all to arrive so I can tell you about this. Shut the door. I don’t want Matron to overhear. You know how she sneaks up and down the corridors eavesdropping.”
The matron of Sisulu House wears shoes with soft rubber soles, which turn her into a stealth missile of quietness. Also, she seems to know everything that goes on in here, so maybe she does eavesdrop. I’m not taking any chances, so I close the door, making sure it clicks shut.
“Spill,” orders Lael.
“Well, you remember last term how we all went to the fireworks at St Mark’s?”
Everyone nods except me. I missed the fireworks for the first time in three years. It’s kind of a long story, but I was busy giving a statement to the police and evidence in a disciplinary hearing.
“Sorry, Trinity. I know you missed it.” Nosipho gives my arm a comforting rub.
“No worries. I’ll just picture you guys having fun without me. I’ve got a good imagination.”
“Anyway, I was going to get a lift home with Themba. My mom was working late and couldn’t fetch me, so she said it was fine for his mom to drop me home after the fireworks. But his mom must have misunderstood because she took me home to her place thinking that my mom would come and pick me up from there later in the evening. Of course, Themba and I didn’t correct her because it meant more time for us to spend together.”
“Of course,” Lael agreed.
“Then … it got even better. His mom went straight out again for some PTA meeting at his sister’s school. She thought my mom was coming to pick me up in a few minutes, otherwise she would never have left us alone.”
“And I suppose you didn’t exactly rush to ask your mom to come and pick you up?”
“Well, duh. In fact, my mom only came to pick me up after ten. So Themba and I were all alone for two whole hours. Two whole hours. All alone. In his house.”
“No ways,” says Yasmin. “You didn’t. Don’t lie to us.”
We are leaning so far forward we’re almost tipping off the bed. Priya flaps her hand in Yasmin’s face to make her be quiet.
“Let her speak. You didn’t, did you? You couldn’t have. Or did you?”
Nosipho gives a slow, smug smile. “We did.”
There’s a chorus of gasps. This is big news.
Lael is the first to recover the power of speech. “What’s it like?” she asks, almost shyly.
“Did you use a condom?” adds Priya, always the practical one.
“Of course we did.”
“Was it sore?”
“It was a bit sore at first, but then it settled down.”
“But what did it actually feel like?” I ask. “Did the earth move? Did you … you know…?” I mime earthquakes and fireworks, while making exploding noises. “Boom! Tish! Pew!”
“Um … I don’t know. Maybe. I’m not really sure.”
“My mom says if you’re not sure, then it didn’t happen,” Yasmin says wisely. “She says you’ll always know when it happens because it’s unmistakable.”
“Well then, maybe it didn’t. The whole thing didn’t last very long, to be honest.”
“And was it worth it?”
“Oh, definitely. I felt incredibly close to him afterwards. And it meant such a lot to him. He was so grateful that I’d said yes.”
“Why did you say yes?” Lael wants to know. “You’ve always said you wanted to wait and not rush into anything. I always thought you’d be one of the last of us to do it, not the first.”
“He’s the first boy I’ve felt that I could really trust, you know? I felt safe with him. I knew if I said stop at any time, then he would stop. He didn’t try to pressure me into anything, and, like I said, we used a condom. But basically, if I’m going to tell you the absolute truth, I did it because I wanted to do it. It was almost like I couldn’t help myself. This huge urge just took over my body and made me go through with it.”
We sit back in awe. I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m trying to imagine myself being swept up like that. It doesn’t quite come into focus. I mean, it’s not like I’ve never had a boyfriend before. I was going out with this guy the whole of last term, and I certainly thought at the time that I was crazy about him. But when we kissed, I never felt as though I was losing control. It was more like I was hovering a few feet above myself, watching it happen.
I felt like if we were to go any further (which we didn’t, just for the record), it would have been something I was doing for his sake – like an icky kind of necessity. I have no idea what Nosipho is talking about with her huge urges. And just between you and me, I feel kind of jealous now.
“I’m so jealous of you, Nos.” Lael has no trouble admitting it. “I’ve never felt that way about a guy before. Not ever. What if I never do?”
“You’ll feel differently when the right guy comes along.” Nosipho is the wise elder now, initiating us into the mysteries of adulthood. “It’s all about chemistry. And trust.”
“So how many times have you done it altogether?” Priya asks.
“Just that one time. I left for New York with my mom soon afterwards, remember? And we only got back a couple of days ago. I’m still a bit jet-lagged.”
“Do you think you’ll do it again?”
Nosipho shrugs. “I don’t know when we’ll get another chance. It was a total fluke that his mom left us alone together for that long. I don’t know when we’ll get that lucky again. I mean, I’m stuck here all week, which is basically like being in Fort Knox. And on weekends we’ve both got sport and loads of homework, and moms who could qualify for the CIA the way they spy on us all the time.”
“Ridiculous!” Yasmin shakes her head. “It’s like they don’t trust you or something.”
“I know, right? How ridiculous is that?”
We disintegrate into cackles of laughter that only subside when Matron hammers on the door and tells us to find something useful to do with ourselves.
When all the excitement about Nosipho’s revelation has died down, Lael and I find an excuse to sneak off alone. Without even talking about it, we head upstairs to the fourth floor where there’s an old room that practically nobody ever uses. It is full of encyclopaedias that date from the pre-Google era. It has one tiny window and a kind of musty smell, so it’s not a popular hangout spot for the girls of Sisulu House.
It’s where I used to go last term when I wanted to be alone. It was the first time I’d ever boarded, and I wasn’t used to having people on top of me all the time. I’d come up here sometimes for peace and quiet. But the main thing about it is that Jim Grey would come up here too.
Of course, I didn’t know at the time that he was a ghost. He looked as real as you or me. I thought he was just a kid from the boys’ boarding house. I still can’t bring myself to believe he wasn’t real. I know I told my parents about him, and Lael and I talk about him all the time, but it doesn’t feel right. It feels like make-believe. Like when we were little and pretended to be part of the Time Riders or the Power Rangers.
Lael found an old school magazine from the sixties that shows Jim as a boy who died in Sisulu House fifty years ago. I’ve stared at those photos until my eyes ache. It’s him. It’s definitely him. I recognised him before Lael even pointed him out. But somehow, I still can’t believe it. I keep thinking there must be another explanation. Like maybe the boy I used to speak was someone who looked like Jim Grey. But if so, where is he?
Why did nobody ever see him except me?
And even if the boy I used to hang out with was a random student who’s since left the school, what happened to Jim Grey? How did he die? The school magazine is vague about it. Sixteen-year-old boys don’t just drop dead. Something must have happened to him, and we want to know what.
Nothing weird about that, is there? Nothing spooky or woo-woo. It’s just natural curiosity.
“So, did you try that ghost-hunting website?”
I had managed to convince myself that this was nothing more than historical curiosity. Trust Lael to remind me about the supernatural angle.
“What?” she demands. “You said you’d look into it.”
“Yes, okay, fine, I did. And, guess what? Ghost-hunting is big business – not to mention a total rip-off. There are hundreds of sites out there claiming to give advice on detecting ghosts, and they all want to sell you something. They lead you on with their descriptions of how you can get in touch with the ‘other side’, and before you know it, you’ve clicked on a link that takes you to the online store.”
“So, what sort of stuff do they sell?”
“All kinds of junk. Machines that measure ghost waves and … what do you call it? … protoplasm floating around.”
“You mean ectoplasm.”
“I don’t know. Do I?”
Lael lifts a shoulder. This is new territory for her, too.
“They even sold sound recorders that supposedly pick up ghostly conversations and play them back to you. Load of nonsense, really. I didn’t buy anything.”
Lael shakes her head and jiggles a finger in her ear like she’s got water in it. “Excuse me?” she says. “Did I hear correctly? You, Trinity Luhabe, visited an online store and walked away without buying anything?”
“I told you – it was just a lot of overpriced junk.”
“Stop looking at me like that. I didn’t buy anything.”
She crosses her arms and stares at me.
“Oh, all right! I might possibly have bought one or two teeny-weeny things.”
“Now you’re talking. Like what? Show me.”
I pull out my phone to find the online catalogue I used. “Okay, but none of the stuff has arrived yet. I got an email that it was dispatched five days ago, so I’m expecting it quite soon.”
I show her the full-spectrum camcorder I ordered, as well as the chromatograph, and the EMF-meter.
“What on earth is an EMF-meter?”
“You paid over seven thousand rand for something, and you don’t even know what it does?”
“It’s an electro-magnetic field meter,” I say, as my eye lands on the fine-print description to the right of the photograph. “Essential for ghost-hunting. Look, it says so right here.”
Lael shakes her head. “I still can’t believe your parents gave you a credit card for online purchases. Even my mom is not that trusting, and she doesn’t care what I do as long as I don’t bother her.”
“It’s just the one credit card. And the Paypal account. And a few store cards. The limit isn’t even that high.”
“If it cleared all these purchases, it must be at Kardashian levels.”
Honestly, Lael can exaggerate sometimes.
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