The following days, weeks and months were a series of discovery and learning for me. I was offered a bed in one of the dorms which held 11 other girls. Some were nicer than others, but most just kept to themselves. It was clear that every one of us had a story to tell; some deep wounds that probably could not be healed in this lifetime.
The nights were surely comfortable, I mean, I was sleeping on a bed and under a roof, not some abandoned street corner. It felt good to have a sense of safety I suppose, but the hours seemed to drag on continuously. I could hardly fall asleep in the first few weeks. I had the continuous haunting feeling of Gumede appearing right by my bedside, and it wouldn’t go away. Somehow I felt as though I may have been safer, on the streets, continuously on the move, than in one place that I could be tracked to. What had I done? That was the question I heard often in my head.
During the day, the preoccupation with tasks and expectations helped to keep my mind from wondering. I must say that it in this shelter that I learned most of the things that use now in Bhut’ Manga’s house.
Firstly, every week I had two sessions of counselling with Ouma’ Francis and the interpreter. I learned to sit on a chair and allow someone to ask me leading questions about myself. It was hard to go through the process, but I was grateful that I had options of choosing whether or not to respond; she allowed me to set my own boundaries and she was patient enough not to push. I did share a little bit about my mother and siblings and uMaKhulu, but all else was kept under lock and key in my heart and mind. I just wasn’t ready, and I doubt that I will ever be.
When we were not in counselling sessions, we were given menial tasks to complete. They were done daily and were supposed to help us discover certain things about ourselves. I’m not sure what exactly. I think it just helped them, as counselors to asses us, because I don’t know the real reason why we did them.
What I did find useful, to me, were the chores. Through them I learned the power of routine and discipline and certainly, how to clean an already neat space (in my view); making it better and more acceptable to those around me. I learned to say ‘good morning’ a thousand times and not look annoyed by it, as I walked through the vast corridors of that grand girl’s hostel. Finally, I learned that, although the heart of man is full of evil and hatred; there is always room for compassion and love somewhere in there. The women in that hostel showed me that some goodness still exists in this world, they genuinely cared for all of us young girls.
Overtime I developed some relationships, although I can’t say I had a best-friend that came out of there. I eventually belonged to a community of my own that provided me with daily interaction and company. It felt good to just talk, laugh and share the few stories that we would each recall, or simply make up. They were moments of escape for me from the harsh reality of being alone with no real family to lean on.
Once a week I would phone my mother from Gumede’s handset using the little money I had left for airtime, and the small allowance we received from the work we did through the cleaning company. We would leave in teams, thrice a week, and clean houses, shopping centres, or venues around the city that needed our services. It was our duty to maintain a good reputation for the hostel by outdoing ourselves in our work, because it literally provided us with our bread and butter outside of the sponsored goods. The allowances that we received were something to call our own; they offered us own little sense of freedom, because knowing one has money somewhere always allows one to feel a little bit of self-worth.
I remember the first day I called mama, she sounded like she would have fainted. She was dumbstruck and admitted that she thought I had died, or worse was now into prostitution so as to fend for myself. I didn’t tell her where I was,;I couldn’t, but I did tell her that I was safe and that I would be fine. Ruth had shown me how to hide my number so that mama would not know it and my mother honoured my decision. I had bought yet another SIM card just for this reason, just so that I would not be found, even by the tiniest of mishaps. Although I had never opened my mouth about what Gumede had done to me, I believe mama knew and felt helpless in her inability to rescue me from the demons that would haunt me for the rest of my life. It was a topic we both seemed to deliberately avoid. It made sense to at the time – it still does.
However, as the months went by, and her certainty about my safety grew, mama began to tell me about how Gumede had reacted when he realized I had disappeared and had stolen from him. He had thrown a vicious tantrum and placed a bounty on my head for anyone who would find me and bring me back to him, so he could discipline me for being an ingrate and allowing ‘a boy’ to make me behave like a reckless mad person (that was the story he chose to tell the neighbourhood.)
Mama simply insisted that if I was fine, I should stay where I was and that one day, when the tide turned in our favour, we would meet again and we would smile. She assured me often, as she still does, that my siblings were well and happy and I appreciated her for keeping me informed about their wellbeing. It kept feeling like there was room for me to still be a part of our family. It was after 2 years of my being at the hostel, that she announced that a school had been built in the village and all 5 of them would now be attending it and that the gods had favored her children in the midst of evil times and circumstances. I knew the work she did wasn’t easy for her, and I wished I could help her, but the money we received varied according to the number of jobs we did in the week. It was then shared amongst all the girls who participated and was often only enough for our feminine sanitary needs and basic toiletries. The food provided and the bills paid by the hostel depended on state funding and the goodwill of donors. Of-course I am sure that the hostel also kept a percentage from the cleaning service it ran, but that was not to be our business.
It was because of this that some girls left the hostel along the way, having the desire to make more money with easier work. The impatient ones unfortunately, would eventually venture into the crowd of girls that I had seen at what I thought was a restaurant, but was in fact a strip club which was well known for going beyond the advertised services and being a brothel for drug addicts and uncouth men. I wasn’t going to attempt to leave, at least not yet, I was content with what I had found, I was not about to be ungrateful lest I end up in a worse state than before.
From time to time, but very rarely, a girl would be considered too intelligent, and sponsors would be sought out to help pay for her education, advancing her into the world of the knowledgeable. I heard that one was actually even sponsored all the way to university. Mmm, that one was very lucky. She must have been completely outstanding and showed a lot of promise indeed. Ofcourse back in the village we would always wonder what streams some people were fortunate enough to bath in, that evaded the rest of us simple people. It’s a mystery that I demand answers to, even now, but they don’t seem to come.
Most girls, like myself, that stayed, where eventually placed into good homes where we would work as housekeepers and baby minders depending on how the counselors felt we would fare. This is how I ended up here, at Bhut’ Manga’s house, apparently 7 months after he was left alone with little Nandi.
I was grateful for the opportunity, but mostly I was grateful for the distance and the salary. Now I could help mama by sending money and that made me feel useful to her and my siblings. Mama was so happy for me, and she thanked the gods for being my guide and protection and bringing me to this place and job and ofcourse she advised me on my need to ‘ukubamba ngiqinise emsebenzini,’ as my diligence would be my salvation.
I struggled to convince her to allow me to send her money, and after a long battle of numerous phone-calls, she eventually informed me of how I could use the local supermarket to transfer the money to her instantly. I only had one problem. At that time, such a transaction needed me, the sender, to have an ID. I didn’t have one, and so Mam’Thandiswa spoke to the branch manager, explaining parts of my situation, and asking that they help me each time I am there. She used her Organisation to involve the name of the supermarket as part of their donors, helping them advertise themselves as an advocate for initiatives helping the girl child.
I avoid going to that supermarket though, as I do not want to be a bother. I only appear once a month to facilitate that particular transaction. It is also the same time that I switch on the cellphone and call my mother for a few minutes, avoiding overspending on airtime, so that I can make the most of the few Rands I remain with after mama’s portion.
Ofcourse, my phone-calls are even shorter now, because after Daniel appeared and began to threaten me, I find myself with literally nothing. He demands R500 a month for his silence and I dutifully deliver it in the back alley behind the supermarket, at 10 o’clock in the morning on the 1st Saturday of every month. Mama knows about Daniel now, and it makes her very sad. She does however appreciate that I am alive, and understands the need to keep Daniel at bay.
So now, as I lie on my bed thinking about the series of events that brought me to this state of tension and fear, I wonder when the terror of the existence of the Gumedes and BraScars of this world, will ever end. I fall asleep, sad, depressed and hopeless.
The following morning Bhut’ Manga is preparing for one of his many trips to Cape Town. It is routine that he has them twice or thrice a month. He packs on Monday morning so that he has time to sort out whatever is not ready, then he leaves on a Tuesday afternoon and returns on a Saturday evening. The lady who drops Nandi off in the afternoons, extends her service and picks her up in the morning too, at 8o’clock, instead of five past 8. A family from his church drop in on the Wednesday and Friday evenings to check if the two of us are well, and we almost always are except if Nandi really misses her father. But she is hardly a fussy girl, just energetic and happy and sometimes adventurous. Ordinarily, she listens to reason and she behaves accordingly.
Today Bhut’ Manga is a bit different though, not only is he curiously happy, but he is in Nandi’s room reorganizing the way some things sit and are packed. Is he unhappy with my work? But if he were, why would he be smiling on his own? I am unsure of how to go about my duties at this point and I decide to just stick to the other rooms.
At ten o’clock I leave for the market and return by 11 because today I drove there with MaDube. She managed to meet Lizzie and the two happy people were so ecstatic, one could not stop them from talking the whole time. Bhut’ Nyaniso was not very happy to have lost a guaranteed faithful customer and shouted from across the street that MaDube must go back to the hole she came from. MaDube laughed and said that he should be blessed by the Lord. It was funny to watch, a seething grown man and a calm old plump woman at it in two very different styles of warfare.
Bhut’ Manga is still at it when I arrive. He has even changed the order of the pictures and posters and is now putting in bottles of brand new bubble bath, new soap tablets and new body sponges in Nandi’s bathroom. What is his matter?
30 minutes after my arrival his phone rings, and I can hear from his excitement that it is his long-time friend, Mdu. He is laughing continuously as he hears his friend talk and finally after some time says, ‘Yah, I hope she doesn’t refuse. I will just try, but yah, I think ngiyamfeela losisi.’ I giggle because I have never heard him talk about his interests in anyone since I moved in, and it is then that I suddenly I have an understanding of why he is this ridiculously happy and overdoing things. I am relieved that I am probably still acceptable in my boss’ eyes and I find comfort in it.
When he appears in the kitchen though, has completely changed. His outfit is now very nice but seems overdone for someone who had mentioned he would not be leaving the house. He checks himself in the mirror again and at quarter-to-one walks out and heads to the neighbours’ house. Aah, all that to walk across the lawn? Mmm what’s going on here? He has made me curious and it is not a trait that comes easily to me.
He returns at quarter-past one grinning from ear to ear and acting like a boy with a new toy. He is talking very fast about changing something and I can hardly keep up. Bhut’ Manga opens the draws and finds my dusting cloth and begins to walk about the house wiping anything within his reach. He is saying something about a Lucille and her coming and checking and everyday. It is all very muddled and eventually I choose to sit at the kitchen counter and just watch him fight his way round the tiny holes of a vase he is trying to clean. This goes on until he completes the room, and then, as though suddenly switching worlds he looks at me and says,
‘Cook early today and wash the pots by the time we eat at half-past seven, so that the kitchen is clean and we only have the plates left. Okay?’
He says this sounding very panicked then heads to his bedroom and I don’t see him again until it is almost time to eat. He has changed his clothes again, and is wearing clothes that he only uses during his travels. This man really wants to impress whoever he is expecting and I wonder why. I know this because ever since Nandi arrived from school she has been kept in his bedroom, and he has made sure that she doesn’t ‘ruin’ the rest of the house, not even her own room.
We all sit around the kitchen counter every night when I am on duty and eat. This is because Bhut’ Manga insists that people that stay together must share a daily meal together; something he learnt from his mother. I suppose I do not fear him, but I respect his position in my life, so I hardly talk unless he speaks to me and expects a response. I just always listen to his conversations with Nandi and enjoy watching a father actually raise his own child happily. The moments are bitter-sweet for me, and I often go to bed slightly depressed due to them. After our meal tonight, he seems grateful that Nandi is drowsy and he stands up quickly and takes her to his bedroom, as I pile the dishes on the counter near the sink and head to my bedroom to use the bathroom.
Whilst I am in there, I hear the door bell and that Bhut’ Manga has swiftly run to open it. There is conversation and I conclude that this is the person he has been disoriented over all day. When I am done, I walk into the lounge area, enroute to the kitchen and I find Bhut’ Manga standing in the centre of the room with a woman. Ooo she is gorgeous. Tall, but not taller than him. She has long legs and curvy hips and a face that would cause armies to go to war. Her skin is light and her hair, whilst natural, has been pulled back in a headband and allowed to stand freely towards the back, looking like a crown designed to stamp her authority in the world of beauty. She has her arms folded at her chest and she is gazing around the house with interest, doing all she can to stop herself from taking a walk.
Bhut’ Manga is talking way too much and he seems to be going on about some details in the home. I interrupt his speech and greet her,
‘Yebo, Unjani sisi?’
Bhut’ Manga breaks his flow too and quickly introduces me and her to each other. She is the Lucille person, from next door. Okay!
He swiftly picks up where he left off and carries on with his list of things he needs to tell her and I can feel her gazing at me as I start to do the dishes. I wonder what she is thinking and why?
Bhut’ Manga continues his hurried speech, telling her about car keys and meal schedules and so much more in a single mouthful, but her response has nothing to do with what he is saying.
‘I’m impressed!’ She says, sounding lost and clearly showing she wasn’t listening. Bhut’ Manga bursts into embarrassed laughter and she quickly and bashfully apologises for her distracted head and attention. I hear him finally snap from his hypnotic trance as he begins his evening again, starting by being a good host. He finally offers her a seat and a drink and they engage in normal conversation for a few minutes.
©2017|Sithembile Lornah Ndlovu|All Rights Reserved.
I am done with my dishes and so I exist the room and prepare myself for sleep. I hear what I assume is a soft tour of the house and within 30 minutes the woman has left. The next thing I hear is Bhut’ Manga walking back into the house and within a few minutes he is excitedly on his phone talking extra loudly with Mdu.
‘Tjo baba! Hay’ andazi ukuba ndizoyenzani. Ung’shaya ngaphakathi losisi.’ He then walks into the small gym room on the other side of the house and shuts the door and I can no longer hear the rest of his conversation.
As I get into my bed. I am amused at my boss and his behaviour. I have never seen him behave like that before. Ofcourse I have seen him in magazine pictures with other women, but I have never seen him actually bring a woman home. I always assumed that he did the things they say about him when he is away for his travels and that he was probably protecting his daughter from his lifestyle. Even when he throws his parties, which are numerous, he doesn’t seem to have a girl for himself like most of his friends do, except for that girl Olwethu, but he doesn’t seem too interested. Yuu, but that one, she always wants to take over when she is here. She starts acting like she owns the house phela, walking around and commanding for things to move to where she thinks they should be. Tjo! I don’t understand why Bhut’ Manga allows her to do that, because the moment she leaves he asks me to return them to the way they were before. Olwethu is overbearing and insists on hanging on him like a child desperate for attention. Why do some women do that though? Most men are like dogs anyway and don’t deserve the scraps of meat stuck to the bone. She should dignify herself and stick to a man who actually shows interest in her. But what do I care, it’s her life! Aaah!
This woman from today though, she is very beautiful and very controlled. She looks older than him, perhaps that is why he panicked. I guess it’s not that he desires her, but more that he respects her; because how can a young man like him be interested in an older woman like her. And if she is the owner next door, then she is the mother of those three children, hay’cha! Bhut’ Manga would never do that! Would he?
Anyway, I will leave other people’s issues to them. I have my own and as I rest tonight, I want to choose my dreams, if I can. If it is up to me, I want to dream of my Sunday experience. I want to feel the same way I felt before my hideous encounter with Daniel; I want to smile again, even if it is just for a moment.
(See you next week)
©2017|Sithembile Lornah Ndlovu|All Rights Reserved.