After Baas Smit made his threat to me that Monday morning ten years ago my mind was jumping from one problem to the next like a grasshopper on a hot day. I was being pulled every which way by every possible name I have.
My phone buzzed in my pocket, it was Nessa. ‘I’m not ready to let you run away from this baby Impi!’
A little while later was another buzz, this time from Bossboy, ‘NP, I’m back and I have another job for you I’ll see you on the weekend,’ I switched my phone off.
The afternoon passed but I don’t remember it. As I left for the evening I passed Smit on my way out and he grabbed my arm. ‘You have ‘til 8pm to drop a message round to my place Sam’, he raised his fingers to his temple in the shape of a gun. Smit lived in the boss’s house at Skukuza, it was one of the bigger homes for staff but in a different area to where we lived.
I walked behind groups of workers all making their way back to the staff quarters; I was in no mood to talk to anyone.
I got home to no smell of dinner, Jacob met me at the door, he was in his first year of high school and was my height already; I seemed to be the only small man in my family.
‘Where you been Al? Ma isn’t well, you must cook tonight, I still have homework to do’. I glimpsed her lying on her bed through the slightly open door of her bedroom and it looked like she was asleep so I didn’t want to trouble her. I burnt the samp and beans and growled at Jacob to stop complaining about it.
I took a bowl of the food and a cup of tea into my mother’s room and sat beside the bed, she stirred slightly. ‘Ma, are you hungry?’
She opened her eyes and smiled a little at me, ‘Thank you Alhulani, just put it there my boy, maybe I eat later.’ The bread I put on the old formica topped bedside table before I left for work was untouched. I placed the bowl, next to it. I noticed a letter that was lying open. The only person who wrote to my mother was my father’s sister from Jo’burg. As she closed her eyes again I picked up the letter and just then a small chink of light opened in my head.
Jo’burg is a very big city, they say a man can easily hide there. I would go and make new life, maybe find my aunt or maybe not. I had skills for finding money in other people’s pockets and there were many, many thousands of pockets there in the City of Gold. I could maybe even find a good job and send the money home.
I found a pen on the table and wrote a short message in the corner of the letter to my Ma, ‘Don’t worry about me Ma, I have gone away to get a good job’.
Just then Jacob called to me, ‘Al, I’m going round to Bennie’s’ Bennie was his friend, another kid from the staff compound. I ducked out of her room, ‘Jacob, tell his mother that Ma is not well, maybe she can give us some muti. I am going to Hazyview to get Josephine’. Jacob’s eyes widened for a moment, Bennie’s mother – or the ‘Auntie’ - was a medicine woman, and our Ma’s Christian beliefs meant she stayed away from the bone throwing witch doctor practices of our ancestors. I didn’t know what else to do to help her now. He shut the door carefully behind him.
I went to the cupboard in our bedroom and threw a few pieces of clothing and my good shoes into a small bag, I returned to Ma’s room. I wanted to go in again, to maybe kiss her head or touch her hand but if she woke up I might not leave. It was hard to do but I left the house without saying goodby...