Martha Chirau-Nduku is the editor's secretary. She's like a mother hen with me:
"Joseph, why are you smoking so much?"
"Joseph, put on a jersey - it's too cold outside."
Today, Martha is beside herself. Before I've even come into the newsroom she's heard the news: Joseph was found sleeping on the pavement outside the building.
She is waiting for me with arms crossed. "Mwana (small child), who did you go drinking with last night?"
I'm not thinking. May have something to do with the dull pounding in my ravaged little 17-year-old brain.
"Right," says Martha. There's steel in her voice. "Gift."
She picks up her phone, dials an extension, the photographic department.
"Gift. Get up here."
We stand before her like two schoolboys. Gift is ten years older than me, a grown man. From the moment we met, a year before, he has taken me under his wing. He calls me 'mfana', little brother. He copies valued contacts from his little black book into mine, the most generous thing one journalist can do for another.
When we go out on the town, he usually sees to it that I get home safe, or at least to a bed somewhere. He's gotten me out of plenty of scrapes. My thanks has been to stitch him up with Martha.
"Why did you leave the young man on the street? You were so drunk you just forgot him, is that it?"
"Ah, he just-"
"He got lost? At night? You let him get lost at night, after drinking too much. You know there are tsotsis in this place after dark."
I do my feeble best to extract Gift from ground zero. "It was my own fault, Martha-"
"You are still learning, mwana. This one is old enough to know by now."
So I am excused - poor Gift has to skirt around Martha for a few days. But he's quicker than that to forgive me. "Don't worry about it, mfana. But next time I'm going to put a bell on you, like the one we use on a goat."
Gift Chaita, January 9, 1959 - November 8, 2009
Lala ngokuthula, mfowethu.