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from P.S. by Liberty Henwick

Chapter 16

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...

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