By Mak Manaka
I first met her in the streets of Zone 6 Diepkloof, Soweto. No one knew her name but I called her Poetry. She would chill with chicks dressed in gossip, the type that does the hunting and then loudly with an irritating voice confess to the whole street about, ‘how he can’t get up’, ‘he is so weak in bed’, but when her ‘can’t get it up’ man shows up, she gets all over him like a bee to a jug of honey.
Every Sunday I would chill by the corner close to the church Poetry went to, just to see the face that healed my wounds every time she glanced at me, then she would just smile after noticing that I was looking with eyes pure as virgin love. After the service, I would quickly run back to the same spot and look at her, I was young and innocent then, dressed in dirty shorts and tight shirt that exposed how chubby I was.
Every school morning she sat at the back seat by the window in her mom’s car going to school, her mom and my mom became friends two days after they had moved in, so every morning they used to greet me with that ‘my car needs a fix’ type a hooter, the stupid hooter would wake me up every Saturday when I was having quality sleep.
One afternoon, all the girls and boys in my hood including Poetry got together and played a game of ‘Truth or Dare’ out side some skinny girl’s house who kissed ass just to be seen around girls who were supposedly cool so we can make our move but still, no one even gave her a glance yet alone a look, shame poor girl didn’t even know it, always wanted to be first. As night slowly came to the game it was now Poetry’s turn, “ truth or dare”, my younger sister Mpho questions her in anticipation of a ‘dare’ answer, and so Poetry fulfilled her expectations and answered “dare”, “I dare you to give my brother a soapy kiss, mouth open”. I was only ten when I experienced a tongue on mine, at first the idea disgusted me, her tongue on mine bull crap, but when Poetry gave that kiss I felt an internal ecstasy no words can describe, after all It was my first kiss. When we got home my big mouthed sister told both my parents about what had had happened and my pops is a strict conservative Christian, so what had had happened earlier was seen as an act of defiance to him, so they repeatedly whipped me while shouting, “You like girls ha, You think you old enough to kiss girls now ne? And next thing you’ll be talking about children”. As he continuously lashed my behind with a leather belt, I grew close to pain.
I was the only boy in the house, so that made me the only example to my sister Mpho, anything bad that would happen in the house, like, broken chairs, cracked glass or scratched CD’s was pinned on my head, you can imagine what would happen.
After that kiss, Poetry and I became close friends but not in front of our parents coz my mother told her mother what happened but Poetry’s mom was cool and always smiled at me every time she saw us together. Poetry and I grew close to each other as time grew with us.
I went to a different high school far from home coz father thought he was smart, separating Poetry and I, but what he didn’t know was that Poetry went to a school 4 to 6 blocks away from mine, so we saw each other everyday after school by the bus station in town, sometimes her mother would pick her up when it rained bad and she would find me there standing with her and kindly greet me with a mother’s smile then offer me a lift but the thought of my father’s hard palm across my face concealed my actions, no ways I was now 16 and in high school, no more of those lashes, so normally I would decline the offer.
My father became a stranger to me as I grew older, anything I wanted I would ask my mother, and my sister became more ‘n more spoiled but she had my back and I had hers coz after the day she had me whipped she some how feels responsible for how I turned out to be. In my parents eyes, Mpho was an angel, and when she was young my father washed her brain with lies, forgive me for not believing in fairytales, but why bring a child in a polluted world and still pollute her mind with how she came to be, we didn’t have Discovery Channel may be then she would have known that, an angel didn’t come to the house carrying a baby wrapped in white clothe saying ‘here’s your gift’, I mean who in their right minds believes that? My sister did and I think she still does, even after she got into a fight with some girl out on the street, this girl told Mpho the truth and she just couldn’t handle it, so she flipped the script and threw a fit, cat fight in a middle of the street, next minute all I hear is ‘I am going to kill you bitch’ raw haircuts and street designed skirts. I had to step in and dislocate the fight take her home to cool off, Poetry was there and she was mad impressed. Father sat down with Mpho and broke it down, “But you still my angel, daddy’s little angel” father pleaded her mercy.
The girl who etched her face in my dreams and left a mark in my heart untraced, was sitting next to me in the so called park talking about our vivid future, every body who saw us thought we were going out, but we were best friends or so I thought.
December times were the worst times of my life, coz every holiday my name was ‘Toby’, my home version of Roots. Father and I use to wake up almost every morning and do our long-day shores, Mother and Mpho would polish the floor with Cobra that still left it looking dry and when they were done, Mpho would always take a long bath and come out looking like ‘Miss Universe’ meanwhile mother kept on sending me back and forth to the stores, how I hated that, she did it every day and at times it seemed like she was enjoying it but anyway, I loved her. Father sat on his normal old brown chair in front of the TV covered with a face of authority, slowly reading the news and turning a page with one eye and the other on me out side, fearsome man he was, build like a gladiator, but he had issues which at times blinded his vision of things.
After looking and smelling like a swine, I would quickly wash up and dress to kill for my Poem. Just as when the sun was about to rest, we who live with the night were alive and walking with only one thing in mind, our loved ones.
I would chill out side her home with her mother bringing us biscuits and Coke-Cola, and would talk the night to sleep. We spoke about everything, from the Nigerians in Hillbrow to the terrorists in Cape Town, but what used to puzzle me was that every time the fatherhood topic surfaced, she would remind me of something I had to do like ‘when am I cutting my hair’.
When it was getting late and darkness was presenting itself on the monkey’s plate, she would walk me closer to home. We would always stand for 30minutes talking, laughing and flirting with a couple of chuckles, then give each other hugs. On the night of December 16 1999 was a moment printed in my memory in Cleopatra’s gold, I remember it like was yesterday.
We had just came from a jazz concert by the lake with a couple of friends, we both got off first and when we reached our destination, closer to her home, outside parked an unusual car, a black Ford Cortina, and suddenly something in her changed but I didn’t question it, this night was like the Cape’s four seasons in one day, I was so happy, excited to be in her arms yet saddened the same time. We didn’t even talk, she held me as if she was leaving for England the day after, I felt her heart pounding on my chest, thought of asking her what’s wrong but her tongue signaled a different feeling, her fingers had a life of its own with every grip I was alive.
Emotionally we massaged each other’s tongues, and her fragile fingers caressing my skin, eased down the pain I was going to feel when I get home, after leaving with a girl and no approval. Then in the mist of ecstasy she whispered, ‘I love you’ then walked away and grew smaller by the distance, my Queen, my light, my everything and I was only 19 years old, imagine me now. That night I couldn’t sleep, the black Ford outside her house kept my head running, ‘who’s car was that’, ‘Poetry is just like my grand ma, so secretive’, I had a funny anxious feeling when she looked back at me with half a smile. I couldn’t wait for tomorrow’s sun to show me her face, her laughter, her voice, her sent.
I woke up the next morning feeling like a lotto winner with a sparkling smile and the sun on my face, and for the first time as far as I can recall, that morning nobody woke me up. I quickly stole the house phone and tried calling Poetry but her phone was engaged, took a bath after breakfast, though with all the happiness something wasn’t right my mother was cool and father never ordered me to take out the trash, mhmm. Internal joy surrounded my whole being, ‘must see Poetry’, ‘Poetry, Poetry where art thou Poetry’ then just as I was about to walk out the dungeon and into the wonderful arms of my Poem, mother calls me back in, ‘what now, eeish.’ Go back in slower than a turtle and as I get inside mother sits me down and starts crying, ‘what’s going on’, then father decide to send me to the shops and buy bread, bread? Mpho could’ve done that, what’s going on? So anyway I ran out, and went passed her house just to catch a glimpse of her face damn, man I was in love, when I got there, there were cars parked outside her house, and that old black Ford was there too, but parked inside the yard, I heard a group of people singing gospel tunes, ’this is odd, it wasn’t even Sunday or Thursday’, so I quickly ran to the shops and when I got there, the store guy Thabo, whom barely, hardly talks to me, now he wants to know ‘if I am fine’, ‘how’s my day so far’ this dude kept asking me out-of-the way question, ‘sho man I am fine, see you later, got to go’. Hew! To Poetry, something’s not right. On my way there, my heart pounds faster after reading Sowetan’s shocking headline, “Father kills wife and daughter”.
And then it made sense why mother was crying, the gospel choir and Thabo at the shop, when I got outside of Poetry’s house my heart gave out, I broke down and cried a river then my sister came and sat down next to me and cried with me but she was the stronger one, she wept coz I was, she felt my pain, after all I had my first kiss with Poetry through her.
When the news hit my community it caused a turmoil coz the killer, Poetry’s father was not yet arrested, he survived suicide, apparently he ran out of bullets and tried hanging himself, he was found unconscious. He was in Baragwanath Hospital, so the community wanted to go finish him off, you might have read about it or seen it in the news, the Diepkloof police station had to send a couple of pigs to guard the weakling.
From what I had gathered later on was that, Poetry’s mother was about to divorce her abusive and alcoholic husband, they separated in 1992 a year before Poetry and her mom moved in my hood. They moved away from him but he would keep on showing up late at night in his black Ford, and sometimes she called the police on him to arrest him, but when did the police actually do some work?.
And when the divorce papers came to her father’s door step in some dump of a house in Mapetla, he couldn’t take it and so he took my poem and spilled her blood over papers that she had nothing to do with, some say I am biter but she was my everything and I was not there to shield her. The morning of December 17 1999 was a morning I first tasted anger, pain and the loss of a loved-one, I guess I became a man before 21.