As I wait for the time to be right for me to return home, I stroll along the beach and this time I don’t stop at my usual spot; instead I just keep going, further and further down. It’s like I am nolonger afraid to be noticed by the rest of the patrons who are relaxing on this warm sunny afternoon. Infact, I don’t feel like anyone is watching me at all. The selfconciousness I have always possesed has disappeared and I just want to walk and enjoy the warm sun and the sound of nature around me. This actually feels like living – suddenly. It’s like all along I was not here, even though I have been in this land for many months. I just feel new again. Everything looks different, and if it was beautiful then, now it is magnificent. Wow! I have changed.
If I am going to live joyfully forever, as they promised me at church, then for once in my life, I made the best decision. Can it be possible that some people have lived like this all along? Does this explain why MaDube is always so jovial and so loving? How could she not be with all of this bubbling inside of her daily? This certainly explains Lizzie, and how she always knows to look on the brighter side of life. I wish this had happened sooner, then maybe I would have known happiness for longer. Hmmm, anyway. It’s here now, and I will make sure it stays.
I realize it’s now getting dark. The dying rays of the sun are shimmering at the edge of the earth. I must turn back now, I must make sure I get home whilst it’s still safe .
As I walk, I naturally pick up my pace because I know there will be very little activity on the beach tonight. The sun goes down faster than I anticipated and suddenly I cannot see the patrons I passed by earlier. When did things change so quickly? Where was my mind? I am beginning to feel uneasy.
After 20 minutes of walking, I am passing by a dark patch on the beachfront, which is about 40 meters in distance. There are no houses there and the piece of land is void of any lighting. It feels eery and I feel I must run, but I walk on for fear of startling whatever lies in the darkness. I do not want to draw unnecessary attention to myself and so I maintain my pace.
I can suddenly sense that someone is a few meters behind me and their steps are heavy and intimidating. I am unsure if I should run, and so I pace up and hug myself in hope of supernatural protection, feeling tiny beads of sweat forming in my armpits and on my forehead. I am relieved when I reach the first house which provides me with light, without incidence.
My relief is shortlived as suddenly I hear his voice, booming in authority. ‘Khethiwe! Wenzan’ la?’
Oh no! It’s Daniel. I freeze and just look down as I wait. I cannot move as the fear that naturally comes with the sound of his voice paralyses me, and I am forced to wait until I feel his hand roughly grab the back of my neck and squeeze it tightly whilst forcing me to turn slowly, ensuring that I stare into his scarred face and steely eyes. I involuntarily let out droplets of urine onto my underwear and whimpers of pain and utmost fear. Just then, a colleague of his joins him, holding a knife to my throat, towering over me so that my neck is exposed as I helplessly tilt my head back. He is threatening my demise if I should scream. I know not to. Death is not really what I want, and I behave accordingly.
‘Uyitholil’inyuku?’ He demands an answer from Daniel.
‘Akaphathanga nex lomuntu!,’ Daniel responds knowing because he took it all last week.
‘Aaaaaaarggggh then manje we must teach her a lesson, simenzumayithanda ngaye! After all, we can’t waste our night on nothing.’
This other man is evil and I can tell he is capable of anything. I have seen that look in his eyes somewhere in my past, and as I did before I can only stare back and silently beg for mercy.
Daniel looks at me, as a lion hungry for its prey. Anything can happen now, and I must ready myself for it. I close my eyes in frightened expectation and just wait for my demise on that empty, lonely beachfront.
‘Hayi!’ Says Daniel and I open my eyes surprised at his response. He is looking at my face and snarling as though I disgust him.
‘I need her strong enough to work, so that she can give me my beer money at the end of the month.’
He says this slowly, and roughly whilst moving my head from side to side as though I am his puppet to toy with. He lifts his free hand and uses it to place an already chewed match between his side teeth, chewing it like it is the venom that gives him power to attack. He then laughs in a triumphant way, mocking my timidity and my distress.
‘Uyambona Lo,’ he says, ‘she is only worth her pay check, and into enyce ngaye is that she is a faithful contributor to my welfare fund.’
He says this as he places his face right in front mine and blows smelly breaths of stale cheap beer with his harsh threatening tones. I am afraid, I am so very afraid; not only for my life and what they could do to me right now, but moreso for the day Daniel decides to dishonor our pact and divulge my whereabouts to that man.
Suddenly, Daniel pushes me to the ground, and my fall is his comedic scene, as he bursts out laughing, assisted loyally by his friend. I push myself up with my hands and sit facing him, and then crawl backwards as I make an attempt to run away. My little sling bag is just a swinging mess, not knowing from which side of my body it should hang from. It is not my priority now. My priority is to escape with my life!
‘Yes, run Khethiwe. Run for your life and be happy that I, your savior, was here to rescue you from my venomous, blood thirsty friend!’
They both break out into evil laughter as I take to my feet without looking back. I just run, into the night for what seems like eternity. For 15 long minutes, I lose sight of the pain of the beach sand hitting my bare shins and the awkwardness of running in large, grainy, soft soil that changes shape randomly as I heavily step into it. I run because my very life depends on it, and it is only when I see the corner of Bhud’Manga’s house, that I consciously remember to breathe. I stop about twenty meters from arrival and pant and gasp for my life. I need air and I need it now. I listen all around for any sign that they may have pursued me, but I hear silence, and the calm tide of the ocean resting for the night. Suddenly my legs give in and I fall to the ground, crashing recklessly to both the triumphant feet of escape and to the defeat of exhaustion. It is then that I choose to sit for a few minutes, for I am disoriented, and my body just needs to reboot. It feels good to be here, on this rough sand, just sitting, just breathing, just being alive. Tjo! Ng’phose ngafa.
When I finally get up, I dust myself clean, trying to leave no trace of my assault. Bhud’Manga and Nandi can never know of Daniel or my past. They might just ruin everything. I am immediately happy that Mam’Thandiswa had emphatically explained my need for privacy and my need for a job and nothing else. She had strongly advised her son not to ask me too many questions and to just treat me as his little sister who just needed a place of refuge.
I walk slowly into the house, as one dreading the exercise, and find Bhud’Manga turning on the lounge TV. I pull myself together quickly, and use my most confident voice to announce my presence and that I am going to bed; and when I see him look at me as though he can tell something is not right, I walk away quickly avoiding any kind of confrontation. He doesn’t ask, he just politely wishes me a good night along with a good rest.
After a short shower, and a muddled mind, I choose to throw myself onto my neatly made single bed and cover my face with the palms of my hands. I am grateful to be here and alive. The slow recovery from my near escape from death has caused my body to tense up again, and the freedom I felt earlier in the day has dissipated. I am back to my old self, hapless, helpless and hopeless.
I was hoping the feeling of freedom would last. I was hoping I would remain the way I felt for at least one more day. Was that too much to ask? Probably! To hope I would experience the love that I had momentarily felt, for just one more minute was simply fooling myself; how ridiculous a thought that was, for a girl like me. For how can I expect to live a life of bliss with the likes of Daniel breathing down my neck, every chance they got and the vicious men of this world hunting me down with lethal intentions.
My thoughts linger and drift. An ever winding myriad of memories and recollections. The days that were bad are strongest in my mind and I cannot seem to shake them off. I release my face from the grasp of my hands and turn to my side using my hands as extra cushioning for my head. I am forced to lift my eyes to the clear sky appearing through my partly open curtains. It is a beautiful sky and the stars are nicely shining, but I don’t appreciate it as I should. Instead, my thoughts can only see the faces of those I do not want to see. Flashes of Gumede, Daniel and back to Gumede on a continuous reel as though I am in a torture chamber and my mind being conditioned to the things I should know, see and experience.
I remember, oh how I remember, things done and the pain experienced; and of course, the aching and the hatred towards those that did it. I remember and I feel powerless, so, so powerless; that for the first time in years I feel a tear escape my bottom eye and slowly hit the back of my hand. It is the only one, for the fountain of water in me, dried up a long time ago. It’s every attempt to flow again is futile and only ends in the big lump in my throat which has become a part of me. And so this is the only moment of triumph that this tear can glory in.
You see, Daniel is not his real name, but his real name is Tumelo Seipati, infamously known as Bra’Scar on the streets of Alexandra Park in Johannesburg. He is a gangster of note and many fear that the sons who have disappeared from the streets and have been discovered as dead bodies in the alleys, have been painfully eliminated from this world, at his hand. His last alleged victim, a young man from Bryanston, was found with Daniel’s popular engraved neck chain, in his tightly clenched lifeless fist, and this has caused Daniel to be on the run ever since, just as I am. Changing his name offered him a chance for new life, and a place in which to hide for a season, before the law catches up with him. Instead of starting anew and creating a totally different image for himself, Daniel did not. Unfortunately, he still lives in the shadows, lurking outside the closed windows of innocent homes, waiting for a chance to pounce in and claim whatever his eyes desire in that moment.
I would have expected Daniel to try and be different though. I mean, he and I are the same kind of person – runners; and so I know what it’s like to live in constant fear of being found. The constant fear of not knowing where one will actually sleep tonight just in case we are caught; it’s a painful, haunting fear. I experience it strongly every-time I leave the house, not knowing who I may bump into who may choose to reveal my whereabouts. Sometimes, I imagine that man creeping up behind me and grabbing the back of my neck with such strength that it almost snaps. I am far away from him, I know, but it doesn’t stop the haunting fear from constantly plaguing my mind. And so I know how Daniel feels. I think I know his terror everytime he sees a policeman or their vehicle. I think I know how he feels everytime he sees a familiar looking face, or even the faces of those he hurt. It must be a nightmare, one that I would think would push him to want to do better, just as a conscious soothing act of his repayment of his debt to society. But no, Daniel remains the terror that the law hunts down, and it amazes me how his vicious face has still not been captured 3 years later.
He left Alex Park after me, and so he is ‘reliably’ informed that I stole money from ‘my father’ and caught a bus to some distant land because I had lost my mind over a boy that I had met at school. This is obviously not the truth, and I wonder in his heartless existence, if he would treat me the way that he does, if he really knew why I had to flee the cold, haunting shacks of Alex Park. Would he find the man that he says he is ‘protecting me’ from to be worth the way he harasses me day in and day out. Would he not see the same devil that controls ‘my father’, in himself – would he care?
The man who fathered me, Gumede, is not a man in my eyes. He is beast sent from the very pits of hell and is bent on destroying the lives of little girls, such as myself, without remorse or shame. I am glad in our family of 6 children, that I am the only girl. I would not have run otherwise, had it meant that he would have simply replaced me with one of my siblings. I would have stayed and bore the hand of incest dealt to me just to protect them.
You see, after the ruthless marrying off of my mother to him, Gumede quickly advised her that she belonged in the village and took over the small house that my mothers’ husband had bought with his hard earned money, in the heart of Soweto. It is apparent that he squandered what little wealth his brother had accumulated for by the time I moved to stay with him, he was living in a 3 x 5 meter shack in the dilapidated slums of Alex Park.
Gumede is said to have come to our village home, in the heart of KZN, every December holiday. He would spend the few days he would be there, drinking and lording it over my mother, abusing her as his ‘wife’. As a result, the youngest of my siblings is 14 years old, because my mother was practically pregnant every year, and all of us were born either in late August or Mid September. My mother would struggle to feed us, until she would have to go to nearby farmlands and help them during the planting or reaping seasons, many times with a baby on her back. She obviously could not keep longer term jobs as she was always pregnant. The winters were particularly hard, and we would freeze knowing that our only source of warmth was to huddle up against mama and Makhulu, taking turns to be the one closest to their bodies.
Things however, became much better after my 8th birthday. Mama decided to go into the city and look for a job cleaning houses. This is when we began to receive adhoc parcels from the weekly bus with shoes and clothes, and sometimes even food. We were fortunate that our grandmother was an honest person, unlike her son, and would make sure that we would receive the gifts according to how mama had labeled them. Mama would visit us, once every 3 months, and it was such a treat because she could stay for a full 5 days. We were happy, but it was hard for a malnourished bunch of children who learnt to fend for themselves in the vast plains of Kwazulu Natal.
For a good four years, we did not see Gumede, because he had grown tired of his village wife and had moved on to ‘better’ prospects. I don’t think mama minded, and I am sure she rested from the torture. However, when I was 12 years old he arrived without warning and found that mama was not in the hut that he had condemned her to. He was seething with anger, which felt like hot hatred and he threw tantrums for information of her whereabouts to be given to him. My grandmother, his mother, simply asked that the woman not be bothered, but Gumede came dangerously close to murdering his own mother when he grabbed her by the neck and throttled her as we screamed for mercy amidst his shouts for our silence. When he finally let her go Makhulu collapsed to the ground and she helplessly divulged the information. I am told that he followed mama to her work address and made an obscene amount of trouble that caused my mother to obviously lose her job. She was now back home with us; no money, no job and no hope for a brighter future.
After a year, I was summoned to Johannesburg. Gumede claimed that he wanted to educate ‘his children’, starting with me, the first born. My mother’s eyes filled with sadness and tears and she seemed heartbroken at seeing me go; but as I stand today, I think that she knew that there was something more. On my journey there, I remember crying in the bus, because I felt like things were about to get far much worse than the minute hardships of village life, where there are no men to do the hard work. I was right.
From the moment I got off the bus, chills shot down my spine. The man who was waiting to receive me looked evil. Gumede had an icy look that spoke of murderous intentions. I knew right then that there was no school to be spoken about. His voice was rough as he greeted me, and his pungent alcohol smell simply confirmed to me, that he was not a man to be trusted.
Surprisingly though, he did send me to school, for a few months. He wanted the community to know that he was a ‘good father’ and that he was working hard to raise his family. He allowed me to make friends and seemingly settle down. It is as though he had planned to make everything seem as normal as possible so that the community doesn’t catch on to his greedy intentions and flawed thinking. And then one night it started.
I had been living with him for 5 months and had been attending the local school. The school holidays were almost over and so I was looking forward to continuing with my studies. I had learnt the alphabet and had learnt to read 1, 2, and 3 letter words. I even knew how to add and subtract now and the other cities and places that can be found in South Africa. I was thirsty for knowledge and would continuously try and read whatever I saw and could make out. Something positive was really taking shape in my life and I was finding hope and learning to dream.
Then one evening, Gumede returned from work drunk and tired as usual. He sat on the single chair that we had in the shack and watched as I prepared his food. When I was done, I knelt down to wash his hands, but noticed that he was grinning wierdly and had a ghastly, lusty look in his eyes. I had seen that look before, but only when those loose women would come home with him and spend the night. I would have to run to Khanyi’s house and ask to sleep there as the sounds they made and things they did, were too much for a 13 year old girl to be acquainted with. I was uncomfortable, and I did not want him looking at me like that.
As I stood up and turned, after washing his hands, I felt him touch my thigh under my skirt, and I immediately shouted, ‘Wenzani Baba?’ He was unimpressed by my reaction and looked at me with a fire in his eyes that threatened worse if I repeated my question.
I walked away and collected the dishes I needed so that I could serve him, but nothing was satisfactory anymore; he shouted about everything and eventually started throwing objects about – first the salt shaker, then the zinc plate he ate from, then the old battered shoe he had just removed. He kicked and hit the metal walls, shouting and making it seem like I was a rebellious child who had disobeyed the rules of his household.
Eventually he shouted out, probably so that neighbors don’t interfere, that he was going to discipline me and he grabbed me by the head, turned me around, and covered my mouth with his hard, smelly hand. With the other hand, he undid his belt and removed his trouser whilst pulling up my skirt and roughly tearing off my panties. All this happened as I kicked and tried to break free, scratchîng him with my figures and making every effort to bite him. It was futile, he was a very strong man who spent his days digging the ground in construction sites, and I was a 13 year old petite girl – making all of it a rather unfair fight. Gumede, unmercilessly had his way with me, calling me a whore and slut and telling me that he did my mother a favour in making her a reputable woman in the clan and giving her children. He said that he was forced but didn’t mind because my mother was a ‘gifted’ girl, and he just wanted to know if I was as ‘gifted’ as she was.
It was long, excruciating and hard; and tears just flowed down my eyes as I felt the pain of the harsh and brutal reality of rape. I died in that moment. I literally stopped existing as a child and started existing as a thing to be used whenever the mood was right. I lost all desire to live and grow as a human being. During the subsequent occasions, I simply stopped fighting; I just slept on my back and closed my eyes and saw nothing but utter darkness. It never got better, the pain never stopped and the heartache became a distant thud of bitter numbness.
When schools eventually opened, Gumede said that I didn’t need to return. He said I was treating him well and I had guaranteed myself a man who would take care of me for the rest of my life. I could not believe his twisted mind and constantly wondered what kind of demons lived in his head, that told him any part of this ludicrous arrangement was normal!
When my friends would ask why I stopped going to school, I would lie and tell them that there were more important issues in the village that Gumede was attending to with his money. My misery went on for two months, then two years, and finally three.
As I go back, I try to recall what thoughts were in my head during that time, and I doubt that I had any. I think I just went through the motions if life, handling my duties and simply avoiding any opportunities for deep thinking. I never dreamed, planned or imagined; I just did whatever was needed, asked or demanded of me. I don’t remember admiring anything, or anyone. I don’t remember wanting anything or anyone. Even when I would speak to mama, I think I was robotic, I never allowed myself to hope or remember or feel. I was in a prison, sentenced to a life similar to that of a rag that cleans up the most disgusting messes in a filthy public toilet and I accepted it. I must have believed that this was my destiny; that it was the reason why I was born.
The years went by and the torment and torture became routine and expected. My body learnt to receive the torture and my mind learnt to reason with it. I am sure that our neigh our knew what was happening, but it was probablyly taken as none of their business, and I never complained to anyone. I never uttered a word to any of my so called friends nor any other older person about. Gumede never threatened me, neither did he need to. What he had done was enough to make coward out of me and render me his obedient slave for the rest of my life. I was his, and he knew it.
However, at the age of 16, something entered into me and I am unsure of what it was. I don’t even know where it came from, but it came strongly and rested in my brain, on my shoulders and in every part of me causing me to shake out of the zombie state I had been in the whole time. It’s like my eyes were opened and I realized immediately. Gumede was nolonger as strong as he was when I first arrived. He had weakened. I mean, yes, he still had physical power, but his bark no longer matched his bite.
He had softened towards me and actually began making advances as one would to a loved one. He would sometimes even ask, if it was okay for us to copulate and of course, in my fear, I always agreed. However, it was like he had lost sight of the fact that he was the dominator and I the dominated. He was treating this part of our lives, like a real love affair. He would take his time and even ask if I was enjoying ‘it’, as though I would ever find pleasure in being violated by my own father.
It was then that I courageously realized that I had found a tiny, maybe dillisional opportunity, to break free from his hold, and I for life of me, I was going to try and take it.
On one of those evenings, I waited for him to roll himself off of me, and slump into his catatonic state of sleep. I had preplanned my escape, and knew all the steps I needed to take within a few minutes if I was going to be successful. I slowly stepped out of the squeaky bed, dressed myself fully and warmly and picked up his cellphone and his wallet, which still sat in the pockets of his recklessly removed trouser. I switched the cellphone off and removed the cash in the wallet.
I turned around swiftly and bent down quickly retrieving the savings of R1700, that he had neatly hidden in the suitcase under the pile of raggy blankets that were no longer being used. I suppose he thought that I didn’t know of it and that it was safe.
R1765. That was the total amount of money I walked out with that day as i rushed into a taxi headed to MTN taxi rank. When i dropped off, I walked, no jogged swiftly all the way to Park Station, where I hoped to find a train to anywhere far from there. Every eye I passed and every face I saw seemed to threaten my safety. I felt like they were all colluding against me and so I dared not ask any stranger for directions or advice.
The security guard who saw me desperately trying to read the signs at the train station, stared at my shabby clothing and satchel and immediately assumed I was a street girl. He walked towards me and roughly told me to ‘voetsek’ as I was making the other potential passengers uncomfortable.
I sheepishly moved away and figured out my way around until I arrived at the designated docking place for trains. My legs were thudding în pain and my body weak from hunger and fatigue, but I was not yet ready to be merciful on myself. I did what was needful and booked the very next train that was leaving, in the furthest direction I could get, within the next half hour. I was running, and it didn’t matter to me, where I was going to end up, I just needed to go before I was caught.
That evening, at half-past ten on the dot, The Shosholoza Meyl train diligently began its trek, as though sent by someone to accompany me on this unplanned journey and it never tired until it reached my final destination. The rhythmic sounds on the train track could not move fast enough for my satisfaction. Each short stop in the different towns brought panic in my heart as I imagined the distraught Gumede running swiftly towards me, ready to catch me and ravage my already tired and worn out young body. I could see his blood shot, evil eyes, stare deep into my soul and remind me that I could never, and would never escape him. They reminded me that he was to forever hold his special place of torment in my life and I would forever live in fear of him. He literally owned me.
After 16 gruelling hours, the final destination was announced and I had to jump off when the train stopped. I was both satisfied at my triumphant escape, but I was also uncertain of what would happen next. I was now far away and, don’t get me wrong, it was truly a victory for me; but in truth; where was I? I did not even understand what the remaining R1250 translated to in terms of a place to stay and food to eat. I was just far, I had escaped, and that is all that counted for the moment.
When I had stood at the ticket counter the previous night, the lady had impatiently asked me where I wanted to go. My mind had raced and my thoughts had rummaged through all the places I had learned about in my few months at school. Finally, nervously, but sure it would be far enough, I had timidly responded, ‘Cape Town!’
See you next week Monday for more chapters
Does Gumede Catch Up?
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