The first time Grace Jones screamed about her alleged rape wasn’t while it was allegedly happening. It was when Jakes Ngcobo, the nurse, walked into her room one morning.

   She shouted inarticulate words. Jakes couldn’t decipher them but he could tell they were directed at him and that she wanted him out of the room. When Marius van der Velde, the manager of the retirement home, finally managed to calm her down to a level at which she was vaguely comprehensible, she told him she had been raped the previous night. By Jakes.

   Although she expected the staff to call her Mrs. Jones, she always called them by their first names, unless she was being belligerent or cutting or accusatory, in which case she did call them by their last name. Only in Jakes’s case, she couldn’t pronounce the click on the c, or its proximity to the Ng, or the proximity of the N to the g, and so it came out “Nigobo”.  
   “It was Nigobo, he did it,” she said.
   Marius’s first thought was about the unlikelihood of anyone raping an 84-year-old. But this was South Africa, and such stories had been reported in the press before, as had rapes of infants. His second thought was to keep the allegation quiet. If it got out, it would be bad. Bad for the retirement home’s reputation. Bad for the residents’ equilibrium. Bad for his career. But it is very difficult, he knew, to keep an unpredictable 84-year-old quiet. His third thought was to wonder why she hadn’t screamed during the alleged rape itself, but he supposed that anyone, even an unpredictable 84-year-old, can be kept quiet if she is threatened and frightened enough. And his fourth thought was, could Jakes really have done such a thing?
   Jakes had worked at Simunye House for almost two years. He’d been a model nurse. Kind, gentle and patient. The residents liked him. It was unlikely that he was capable of it, Marius thought. But, not impossible. Marius knew that you could have a conversation or acquaintance or even a friendship with a murderer or paedophile or fraudster or wife beater and never know that’s who they were.
   Regardless, he knew he couldn’t do nothing. He had to do something, even something small, to show he wasn’t being passive, to assert a bit of authority and order in the place, and to placate Grace. So he had two conversations. First, one with Jakes. And then one with Grace’s daughter.

 

Jakes agreed to go on immediate paid leave. It wasn’t really tenable for him to stay. There was uncertainty about what would happen now, and at what pace things might progress or resolve.
   “Let’s just give it a week or two,” Marius said, looking at Jakes, who appeared shocked and shaken. Jakes’s innocence seemed implicit in his reaction to the accusation, but he hadn’t outright denied it. And Marius couldn’t be seen to be taking sides or assuming Jakes’s innocence.
   Jakes packed his stuff. He didn’t say a word to any of the other staff. And they, usually so full of camaraderie, didn’t say anything to him. They weren’t overtly hostile, they just put their heads down and carried on with their jobs. Jakes wondered if they were regarding him with suspicion, if they thought he might have done it, even after knowing him for two years. He was soft but strong. He could overpower most women easily. 
   He’d been very happy in his job. It was his first job. He was doing what he wanted to do, what he felt was a calling, with people who felt the same way. But as he left the estate, he looked at the name on the gate with, for the first time, a moment of cynicism.
   Simunye House was twenty five years old. It had been built during democratic South Africa’s honeymoon phase; the period when the phrase “the rainbow nation” had been coined by the Anglican Archbishop and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Desmond Tutu, and caught on. Around the same time, SABC1, the state-run television channel, had composed a jingle that went “Simunye, we are one…” and the developers of the retirement home thought it was a timely and highly marketable name for the home. 
   It was well-run, very profitable and, by now, in high demand; there was a waiting list. Grace was lucky to have got in.

 

“What are you doing about it?” Joan Jones demanded of Marius a few minutes into his second big conversation for the day. 
   Five years before, Joan had decided she was going to move to the coast. She was tired of city life and, frankly, tired of bearing the burden of looking after her mother. Not that she physically looked after Grace. She checked in most days, usually for a cup of tea and biscuits, brought on a tray by the domestic worker, Prudence, and it had begun to be an obligation she resented. Robert, her brother, lived in England, so the responsibility, though self-proclaimed, was hers. But her husband was retiring and they had decided to move to their holiday house permanently. Grace’s care couldn’t be left to Prudence, who was given a severance that met legal obligations. And although Joan didn’t have Grace’s name down on any waiting lists, her husband knew someone on the board at Simunye House who agreed to “put in a word.”
   Joan made the four-hour drive from the coast that afternoon. By five o’ clock, she was in Marius’s office.
   “There surely must be some sort of investigation!”
   “Well-“
   “And why haven’t the police been? They surely must do some tests or whatever they do to prove there was a… an incident, and to get some, you know, evidence?”
   “Mrs. Jones, the police have been here,” Marius said, “but your mother wouldn’t allow them anywhere near her. She’s been quite hysterical.”
   “But surely you can, you know, pacify her or, you know, medicate?”
   “We can’t just tranquilise her against her will. Not unless she’s threatening or disrupting others. Now Mrs Jone-”
   “Well there surely must be, you know, some way, something.”
   “Mrs. Jones, please. There’s something I must tell you. Please take a breath and listen to me.”
   “What is it?” Joan said, agitated. But she took a seat and then a breath. Two, in fact.
   “Mrs. Jones, it’s been a while since you visited your mother.“
   “Well, I live out of town. It’s not so easy you know.”
   “I’m not making any accusations or insinuations, Mrs. Jones. It’s just that, it’s been quite a few months, if I’m not mistaken. And there’s been a change in your mother’s condition.”
   “What kind of change? What condition?”
   “Your mother started to show signs of dementia. Just small things she couldn’t remember. Or, things she remembered differently to how they actually happened.”
   “But why did no one tell me?”
   “We weren’t sure at first. It was, well, borderline to begin with. Even the psychologist wasn’t sure. But lately it’s become more pronounced.”
   There was a pause for the first time since Joan had walked into Marius’s office.
   “But what does that mean about, you know, the rape? That it didn’t happen?”
   “It may have happened. But, it may not have.”
   There was another pause, this one longer than the first.
   “It’s unspeakable,” Joan said. And then, “I want to speak to the nurse.”

 

“There’s a… thing going on,” Jakes told Peter.
   “A thing?”
   “With me and Mrs. Jones.”
   “The rude one?”
   “She’s saying I raped her.”
   “What?” Peter almost laughed. “When?”
   “This morning. I mean, she made the accusation this morning.”
   “But that’s obviously absurd. In any case, isn’t she losing her marbles?”
   “Well she keeps going on about it, and about me being the one who did it. And now her daughter’s got involved, and she told me she wants to press charges.”
   “Jesus.”
   “Mrs. Jones refused to be examined, so they can’t get any evidence. I mean, biologically, or whatever.”
   “So they can’t prove you’re guilty.”
   “I don’t think so. But I also can’t prove I’m innocent.”
   “Don’t they have cameras?”
   “Not in the rooms. It’s a privacy thing.”
   “Then it’s her word against yours. And you’re not senile.”
   “No. But an accusation is an accusation. You should have seen the staff.”
Neither of them said anything for a moment. There was, they both knew, a way to make Jakes’s innocence almost beyond question. But, Peter knew, Jakes might almost prefer to be found guilty.

 

Jakes had never slept with a woman. He kissed one, once, when he was 16, but he didn’t like it. He’d known he was gay since he was a boy. But he came from a culture where being a homosexual was worse than being a rapist. Rapists were criminals, but at least they were men. That’s what Jakes’s father would say. That’s what his uncles would say, and it wouldn’t have surprised Jakes if some of his uncles had raped. Jakes also carried the burden of being the only son, so there were even greater expectations of him. As for him being a nurse, there was an air of embarrassment about it in Jakes’s family. But he was the only member of the family ever to have got a professional qualification, and he earned more than anyone else in the family ever had, so there was also some pride.
   None of his childhood friends knew he was gay. Many of his current friends didn’t know. It was only after he moved to the city to study that he very cautiously and selectively came out. By Peter’s standards, Jakes was hardly out at all. They had been together for two years, since just before Jakes got the job at Simunye House. They were as committed as they could imagine being. But they didn’t live together, and most people who knew them assumed they were just good friends.
   It was never in Jakes’s plans to be open. He had no intention of letting anyone other than his closest friends know, on the remote chance that word might get back to his family. There was never any public affection with Peter outside of their closest circle of friends, in case someone saw. As far as Jakes had always been concerned, it would be a secret until his family, and certainly his parents’ generation, died.
   But Grace Jones was white and wealthy, and could afford astute lawyers. Jakes was black and, he knew, at a disadvantage, especially if the judge was white. His sexuality wouldn’t make it objectively impossible for him to have raped, of course, but in terms of perception it would tip the scales in his legal favour. Not in his familial one, though. 
   Jakes had some thinking to do. Meanwhile, the Grace and Joan seemed to have done as much thinking as they wanted to, and their minds were made up.

 

Grace continued to claim she was raped. She quite liked all the attention, Marius thought, to his frustration. He wanted to keep things quiet, but she talked about it in the dining room at meal times, in the common area where the TV was, outside on the terrace, and any time and place there was someone to listen. For her efforts, she convinced and won sympathy from many of the residents, some of the staff, and Joan. And, supported and encouraged by Joan, Grace did, indeed, press charges. Public prosecutors told Grace and Joan they weren’t confident, so instead they sought the advice of private attorneys, who were more enthusiastic about taking the civil case on.
   “They would be, wouldn’t they,” Robert declared. He was of the opinion that this “crusade”, as he put it, was driven by Joan’s residual guilt of having deserted Grace; that fighting this battle at her mother’s side served a more selfish purpose than she would admit. But he didn’t say it out loud. He did say, “I can only imagine what it will end up costing,” but it wasn’t a question so Joan didn’t answer. She had power of attorney over Grace’s affairs so she could do what she damn well liked, she thought. But she didn’t say it out loud. She did say, “even if you don’t believe her, I do,” but it wasn’t a question so Robert didn’t answer. His opinion, which he also kept private, was that his mother had always had a malicious streak. It was why he’d fled as soon as he finished school. That meanness, mixed with a dash of enduring racism and now dementia, was a nasty cocktail.
   Meanwhile, this was more excitement than the residents of the retirement home had had in years. They discussed the merits and demerits of the accusations passionately, at length and at any opportunity, including, to Marius’s  horror, when they had visitors. It didn’t take long for word to get out beyond the estate’s electrified walls.

   

The headline in the gossipy daily read “Simunye: we aren’t one” and the article described how Simunye House’s almost exclusively white residents were split down the middle.
   Like Marius, Jakes had hoped it would all blow over quietly, but now it was public and he would have to tell his family about the accusation. If his parents found out from someone else it would add insult to their injury. Not that it made a difference to their reaction. Proving his point to Peter about being guilty until proven innocent, his mother was horrified, and assumed it was true. Nothing Jakes said convinced or consoled her. His father didn’t say a word, but went to the shebeen and pondered the developments over four or five hours and almost twice as many beers.
   Jakes’s next call was to Marius.
   “Do you know half our waiting list have taken their names off it?” Marius said. Jakes wasn’t sure if was looking for sympathy or a scapegoat. “The board wants answers,” he continued, but Jakes didn’t offer him any.
   “So, about me coming back to work,” Jakes started.
   “Yes. I mean, no. Not until, well, I don’t know when. It’s the board’s decision, you understand. But it’s with full pay, for now.”
   “I understand,” Jakes said, trying to sound gracious and magnanimous, even though it was what he was hoping for. He couldn’t face going back to work with half the residents and staff looking at him, or not looking at him, like he was a rapist. And he didn’t have options – no one else would hire him now – so he considered himself lucky to still have an income. For the time being, he’d worry about his reputation, and his future, and his predicament, and his family. But not about feeding himself. At least, not any more than normal.

 

Jakes was a careful eater, having been diagnosed with diabetes in his first year of study. So when the virus started spreading in other parts of the world and it was becoming clear that diabetics were at risk, Jakes was anxious. When cases starting popping up in South Africa and the country went into lockdown, Jakes was more anxious, and quietly relieved not to be at work. But Marius’s assurances about his salary were somewhat vague; he’d left open the possibility that it might be finite, perhaps until the case came to a conclusion one way or another, perhaps not that long. After all, it was going to take longer than anyone expected now. Some legal services had been suspended. And the longer it all went on, the more likely it would be, Jakes thought, that he’d be let go. At which point, Peter told him, he might have a legal case of his own (if he could afford lawyers) – “retrenchment” might be a convenient way for the board to get rid of him. It would serve a public relations purpose for them; they could say the nurse in question was no longer there; it might encourage people to put their names back on the waiting list. 
   But all of this was speculation, accentuated by all the free time Jakes had on his hands during this hibernation. For weeks, nothing happened. Jakes spoke to a confidant at Simunye House who told him what the state of affairs was, and it was status quo: Grace was not taking her foot off the accelerator and even though the residents seemed to have gotten over their initial excitement about it all, “public opinion” seemed, on balance, to be against him. Anecdotally, at least. Outside of Simunye House, nothing much could happen until the legal wheels started turning again. The case was effectively in limbo, and Jakes was in purgatory: neither here nor there, not guilty or innocent, not captive or free; and, simultaneously, both relieved and frustrated, both keen for things to stay where they were and hopeful for them to go somewhere else, both eager and fearful for what might come next. 

   

What did come next frightened Jakes. In the space of a week, there were five positive cases at Simunye House – three residents and two staff. The week after that, eight more. Marius phoned Jakes.
   “We’re short-staffed. Six are away today, I don’t know if they’ve got symptoms or if they’re scared. Anyway, we need you to come to work.”
   Jake had no choice. The case wasn’t cancelled but his suspension, or his leave of absence, or whatever it was – Marius had never actually given it a name – apparently was. He couldn’t stay away and expect to be paid. He couldn’t ask Peter, whose job was in jeopardy, to support him; if anything, it might have to be the other way round. And he certainly couldn’t ask his parents for money. But, as terrified as he was, the nursing home needed him, and he liked feeling needed. So he went back to face the virus, the music, and Grace. 
   The response to his return was mixed. Some, residents and staff, were happy to see him, told him they’d missed him and that they believed him. Others were cool and aloof and kept their distance. 
   Jakes was dreading seeing Grace, but that didn’t happen on his first day back. What did happen was that he was at the back of the TV lounge where half a dozen residents were scattered in a somewhat vain attempt at social distancing, watching an old concert. At one point, Grace Jones came onto the stage singing Slave To The Rhythm
   “Look! It’s Grace Jones!” one of the residents cried. 
   “It’s Grace Jones!” the rest of them echoed in laughter. 
   Jakes knew that Grace, the resident, was deeply embarrassed to share a name with Grace Jones, the singer. He’d seen a nurse once ask her if she knew the musician. Grace ignored the question. But the nurse pressed on, gushing over how she’d listened to Grace Jones CDs for hours on end when she was a teenager, and what an inspiration she’d been, and how brave she was, and how much she loved this song and that song. Grace still said nothing while the nurse went on and on, then she snapped.
   “That woman is scandalous! Running around like that, behaving a man. Don’t mention her name to me again!”
   Apparently, Jakes wasn’t the only one who knew of Grace’s loathing of the singer.
   “Leave Grace alone,” one of the frailer residents said. “She’s been through so much.”
   There was a whisper, and then a few heads turned around and looked in Jakes’s direction briefly, before looking away as if they’d been caught out. It was like watching a group of gossiping school children, Jakes thought, then turned around and left. He finished his first day back feeling slightly worse than he did starting it, and still dreading seeing Grace.

 

When they did see each other in the passage, Jakes froze, but Grace didn’t flinch. She looked him in the eye for a moment, her expression didn’t change or reveal anything. She merely walked past him.
   “Surely you must have seen him?” Joan asked her mother on the phone from the coast, where she’d returned to survive lockdown. It was a decision not taken without guilt, but she’d have been unable to visit her mother had she stayed in the city, so there seemed no point.
   “Seen who?” Grace asked.
   “Jakes.”
   “Who?”
   “Nigobo,” Joan said. “Marius phoned me to tell me he was, you know, back at work.”
   “Is he? Well, I don’t believe I’ve seen him. But they all look the same to me.”
   “Don’t say that in court, mother.”
   “With their masks on, I mean.”
   As soon as she put the phone down, Grace marched to Marius’s office to complain.
   “It’s an outrage!” Grace shouted.
   Initially, Marius had half expected Grace to forget the whole incident, or accusation, within a few days of it happening. But as time went on and the more she spoke about it, the more convinced she seemed and the more convincing she became to others. She had, over time, slowly elaborated with certain details that a talented novelist might produce. “He spoke softly and evenly, and told me if I made a noise any louder than his whisper, he’d hurt me,” she said. “He had a Swiss Army knife, a red one, and he held it with the blade open in front of my face.” Even Marius, originally so inclined to think the whole thing was a dream she’d confused with reality, now had moments when he thought she might be telling the truth. 
   “We don’t have a choice, Mrs. Jones. We have sick residents and we have to think of them. We have fewer nursing staff than usual at a time when we need more.”
   “There is a rapist in our midst!”
   “Please, for the sake of everyone else, try to not make a scene. Let the legal process run its course.”
   “The legal process is as slow as a snail! That’s what my husband used to say, and he was a lawyer. I’ll be dead before it runs its course!”
   Lucid articulations like this still occasionally came from Grace, punctuating her dementia. Marius was quite taken with the honesty of it – not just the apparent expectation and acceptance of her possible imminent death, but also the reference to her husband, who Marius had never heard her mention before. He didn’t know Mr. Jones was a lawyer, only that he died before Robert and Joan got to their teens, leaving Grace (said the board member who helped get her in) “alone, angry and very well off.”
   “I’m 75 you know!” Grace added, leaving Marius to question how coherent her previous utterance had, in fact, been. She was right about one thing, though, he thought: the legal process was slower even than normal. Separately, he, Jakes and many of the residents felt that things would play out to some conclusion before the legal process got it there.
   And Grace, who was not interested in not making a scene, did her bit to force the issue.

 

Grace was on the lookout, and when she saw Jakes she made the event quite dramatic. 
   “It’s him!” she pointed. This was in the dining area at lunch time, so it was full, despite being spread out. The place fell into a hush for a moment until someone dropped a fork on their plate. Grace continued to play to the audience. “I can’t believe he has the gall to be here.” The woman sitting next to her leaned over and put her hand on Grace’s shoulder; Grace put her head down, shaking it slowly in either anger or pain, it was difficult to see which.
   If her intention, conscious or unconscious, was to win sympathy from everyone else, it mostly failed. Those who were already in her corner her didn’t need the show, and she alienated herself more from those who weren’t. But she succeeded in getting to Jakes.
   “I think she knows that it’s wrong, but it’s too strong to let it go now,” he said later that evening to Peter. “It’s bad enough stressing about the disease without worrying about this. Today was only my third day back. How am I going to feel in three weeks?”
   “The board should have nipped this in the bud,” Peter said. 
   “Maybe I’m the only one who can put a stop to it before it drags on longer. If I came out, her lawyers might convince her to drop the whole thing.”
   “Are you serious?”
   Jakes didn’t answer immediately.
   “Maybe I can tell her daughter. She might be reasonable. And she might agree not to say anything to anyone.”
   “Jakes, you know I would support you being open. But you can’t assume she’ll be that discreet. Not if she’s anything like her mother.”
   “I can’t think of any other way to prove my innocence. I keep wondering what will be worse – going to court and having the world assume I’m guilty, or facing my family with the truth.”
   His family had gone quiet. During the first few days, his mother harassed him with her shame and blame. But he hadn’t heard from her for weeks. Even his sister, usually an ally, hadn’t returned his calls.
   “Maybe it would be a relief to them after all this,” Jake muttered, not really believing the words.
   Back at Simunye House the following day, Jakes tried to avoid Grace, unsuccessfully. But her performance was identical to and therefore less convincing than the previous day.
   “It’s him!” she cried again, this time in the recreational area. The other residents were quickly becoming immune to her displays and complaints; most looked up, but went right back to whatever they were doing. Grace seemed to wait for some sympathy but it was mostly unforthcoming. She turned abruptly and went back to examining a pile of puzzle pieces as if nothing at all had happened; as if she might not have recalled the last minute of her life. 
   Later, in one of the resident’s rooms, Jonathan Pringle said to Jakes, “Nurse, forgive me for prying. But, well, it takes one to know one. I haven’t told many people in my life, and certainly no one here, but… I wondered if you were… well, I’m… homosexual, you see.”
   Jakes stared at him, frozen.
   “It’s just that if you are, you’re younger than me, it doesn’t matter like it used to, and if you spoke up, it might help with this… situation. If you are.”
   “I’m not!” Jake said too defensively. He felt himself flushing, and left the room.

 

“I saw him talking to Grace a while afterwards, quite heatedly,” Jakes told Peter. “What if he told her? She’ll tell everyone.”
   “But it would blow her case.”
   “She may not think that far. And it would blow my cover.”
   “Yesterday you were talking about coming out anyway.”
   “Well I’m damned if I do and damned if I don’t.”
   Jakes shook his head, an action Peter couldn’t see on the phone.
   “I can’t even hold you,” Jakes said with a wobble in his voice.
   “Well, you could if you’d agreed to live with me.” Then, “Sorry, I didn’t mean to rub salt in the wound. I just miss you. I mean, you can’t lay low your whole life, can you?”
   Jakes sighed.
   “I don’t know. But at least for the next week I can. I’m on night shift.”

 

Night shift started at six. There’d be a busy couple of hours during changeover, but mostly away from the residents. After eight, things got quiet. By nine, the few staff on duty – now fewer even than usual – were in and out of the nurses’ lounge and on call.
   For the first two nights, Jakes avoided Grace. He avoided Jonathan Pringle, too, deliberately, still unsure of Jonathan’s intentions and ambivalent about his suggestion. 
   On the third night, a desperate wail came from one of the resident’s rooms. The voice was unmistakeable: Grace’s. Jakes knew it was her, and for a while did nothing, hoping the other night nurse, who’d gone to check on a resident, would respond. But Grace’s moans became louder and more urgent.
   He got up and walked uncertainly toward her room. He opened her door, but left the light off – there was enough light coming from the passage for him to see his way around, and hopefully too little for her to make him out.
   “Where am I? Who brought me here?” she cried with the pathos of a woman who recalled that she once had strength and influence.
   “You’re at Simunye house,” he said quietly and, he hoped, anonymously.
   “Samoonyay House?”
   “The retirement home.”
   Grace didn’t say anything. In the quiet, Jakes smelled something he may have been too nervous to notice earlier. He started to sniff more deeply to investigate, but stopped inhaling quickly when he realised Grace had soiled herself. Then he heard her trying to smother a whimper.
   “Mrs Jones, I’m going to help you get up and take you to the bathroom, is that alright?”
   In the dim light he saw her nod. He put one hand behind her back and took her hand with the other. He felt something with a doughy texture between their fingers and guessed it was faeces. Without flinching, he lifted her gently. He took his time. He swung her so that her legs hung off the side of the bed, feet dangling centimetres above the floor. He pulled her forward so her toes touched the ground, then lifted her, put his arm around her, and walked her slowly to her bathroom. She said nothing. 
   “Mrs. Jones?” Jakes said when they got to the bathroom, “I need to switch the light on, okay?”
   “Yes. But I’ll be alright on my own.”
   Jakes slid his arm away until he was sure she was steady on her feet. He turned away and switched the bathroom light on with his back to her. The door closed between them. 
   He switched the bedroom light on and removed the sheets and blankets, took them in a bundle to the laundry, and returned with clean linen. He made her bed, leaving a flap open at the top. Grace was still in the bathroom.
   “Mrs Jones?” he called softly through the door. “Are you okay? Do you need help?”
   He heard Grace clear her throat.
   “I need a nightgown, please.”
   Jakes found a nightgown in her cupboard. He knocked on the bathroom door, like his mom did when he was a boy and she took him shopping at a “smart” mall outlet that had change rooms where you could try clothes on. Grace opened the door enough to get half an arm out and accept the new garment from Jakes, like he had from his mother at the mall. Jakes stood for a minute, and considered switching the light off, both for Grace’s dignity and for his anonymity; he wondered if, possibly, she didn’t know who he was. But Grace emerged from the bathroom before he’d made his mind up. 
   Jakes approached her and offered his arm, which she accepted. He walked her to the bed and helped her sit on the open flap. 
   “Would you switch the light off now please,” she said, in a tone that, to Jakes, suggested detachment, or resignation perhaps. Or maybe it was authority masked with shame, or shame attempting to be masked with authority. Jakes obliged. He went to the switch at her bedroom door, turned the light off, and in the murkiness, his eyes not yet adjusted, watched her lie down.
   She took a deep breath, exhaled at length. Jakes started to close her door and leave.
   “Thank you, Jakes,” he heard her say.
   “You’re welcome. Good night, Mrs. Jones.”

 

Jakes didn’t see Grace again that week. The following week, when he returned to day shifts, he didn’t say anything to anyone about what had happened. He assumed that she, out of pride, wouldn’t have either. If she even remembered.
   When he saw her in the passage, she looked him in the eye, turning her head to hold his gaze as she passed him. She said nothing, she neither frowned nor smiled, but he understood it to be an acknowledgement.
   The next day she saw him again in the dining area but she avoided eye contact. And for the rest of the week no mention at all was made of the alleged rape, either by Grace or the residents. It was almost as if it had gone away, like condensation from a defrosted car window.
   On the Friday afternoon, while Jakes was getting ready to leave for the weekend, Jonathan Pringle approached him.
   “You know, I had a word with Grace,” he said discreetly, almost conspiratorially.
   “What did you say?” Jakes asked anxiously.
   “Only that you’re an innocent boy, and she should lay off.” He raised an eyebrow. “She hasn’t said a thing about it since then.”
   He smiled kindly at Jakes and started to walk off in small, slow steps.
   “Thank you,” Jakes said politely. 
   Maybe Jonathan’s word helped, maybe it didn’t, but one way or another things felt lighter. 
   Still, Jakes wasn’t fully relaxed or reassured, and didn’t want to build his hopes too high. In a way, the silence, the lack of clarity either way, was worse. As far as he knew the charges against him were still in play, and this could be the calm before the storm. With lockdown restrictions easing slightly, the lawyers might be getting ready to advance things. Jakes had a confusing weekend. 
   Then, on the Monday afternoon, Marius called Jakes into his office.

 

“There’s been a development,” Marius said. He looked at Jakes to try and read a reaction, but Jakes just looked back at him expectantly.
   “They’ve called the hounds off,” Marius said.
   “Excuse me?”
   “The Joneses. The lawyers.” 
   Marius explained that he’d had a call from a formal-sounding Joan around lunch time. ‘We can, you know, put this behind us,’ she’d told him. An even more formal email had followed, he said, and read Jakes the three line message: 
   “‘Dear Mr. van der Velde. We are withdrawing the charges against Nurse Nigobo.’ She spelt it wrong,” he interrupted himself. “‘Please inform him of such. Sincerely, Joan Jones.’ So your name is clear.”
   Jakes nodded, looking down at the floor.
   “I thought you’d be happy.”
   Jakes nodded slowly.
   “I am happy. I am,” he said. “It just needs to sink in.”
   “Well I’ve spoken with the board, and we’re putting out a press release, and writing to everyone who was on the waiting list. To set the record straight.”
   Jakes hated the idea of being the subject of a public communication, but he was too gracious to say so. And perhaps it would serve him some purpose – he could ask for a copy to forward to his family.
   “Thank you, Mr van der Velde.”
   Marius nodded. “I’m sorry for what you’ve been through.”
   Jakes left, feeling too relieved to be elated.

 

“I don’t know if the penny’s dropped that I don’t have to worry anymore,” he said to Peter.
   “We should celebrate. I don’t know how. But somehow.”
   “Maybe a quiet meal at your place.” Jakes suggested.  
   Then next evening they sat at a candlelit table eating a vegetarian curry that Peter had cooked.
   “So what happens now?” Peter asked.
   “I suppose now she’ll go her way and I’ll go mine. I mean, we’ll both still be at Simunye, but I don’t think either of us will mention it. We’ll just pretend the whole thing never happened.”
   “Well maybe in her mind it didn’t. Or soon won’t have.”
   Jakes swallowed a mouthful of curry and sat staring at nothing in particular behind Peter.
   “What is it?” Peter asked.
   “I’ve just realised, I need to tell my parents.”
   “You haven’t told them yet?”
   “That’s not what I mean. Although I haven’t. But, I need to tell them. About us.”
   “Wait, what?”
   “I was scared the whole time, but I think I knew that, if it came to it, a court wouldn’t convict me. It was more the idea of a trial, and what that would make people think. That was the worst part of it all. People thinking I’m something that I’m not. You know?”
   “I do.”
   “I need people to know who I am. And who I’m not. And I’m not who my family thinks I am. And I can’t spend the rest of my life scared that they’ll find out.”
   Peter wiped his mouth, got up, walked around the small table and gave Jakes a kiss.
   “If you want, I’ll be with you when you tell them. You can do it here. Tomorrow.”
   They finished their curry, washed the dishes, and sat down on the couch to watch a movie together.