Last Monday, while sitting on the stoep of my recently passed grandmother’s (not uMama Mama, her sister in Law) house, eTyeni, I watched three children walk towards the gate of the house. Two boys and a girl, the older two a curious distance ahead of the youngest one, the little girl.
The oldest boy was about 8 or 9 and the younger probably 5 or 6 years old. Like most village kids, bebephatshe imilenze, their clothes dirty from playing outside nokuzibhuqabhuqa engceni. It’s not that I was trying to eavesdrop on an argument that the boys were having but upon hearing what they were saying, I paid attention to their rather rugged speech.
The 8 year old: ”Hayi sund’nyela mna, andizukujongana nalento yakokwenu, andiyotshomi yakho”. (Basically a variation of one of the following loose translations: No, f*ck that sh*t / don’t sh*t on me, that’s some bull sh*t I’m not going to look after that thing from your family. Im not your friend). He said this about three times before he got to the wire gate that was wide open. The 5 year old in response: Hayi nam andizumjonga thyini, kudala ndimjongile (No, I’m also not going to watch her, I’ve beeeeen watching her). But imagine this in high pitched kid voices.
During their wayfaring argument, the little girl was lagging behind, silenced by the stroke of the midday sun. As soon as they were inside the yard, they sat on one of the grass banks joining two other older kids. The funeral was this past Saturday so there was a lot of unusual activity going on in the house last week.
They then took the little girl and put her on the opposite side of the dusty path on another grass bank about ten meters away. Bahlala bona bancokola, talking about random things and shouting across the yard at other kids their age while the little girl sat alone next to a newly made wheelchair ramp whose cement hadn’t yet dried. I don’t know these children and I’m not sure who they belong to but the little girl does resemble her older brother, who resembles one of the many makotis in the kitchen, so we might be related.
At this moment, I’m called inside because my mom and I are about to leave for East London and the makotis have dished up some freshly baked bakpot bread and umleqwa onomhluzu (chicken and stock). When my food arrives, I eat a little and break some bread and a piece of chicken for the baby. I go outside and put it in her hands, which can hardly hold the bread or the chicken. My childlessness doesn’t doesn’t advise me that I probably need to feed this child because she’s actually a baby. Anyway, I go back inside but before I sit down, I hear the older boys and the two other kids running towards her. I watch this scene unfold through the lace curtain. The oldest boy grabs the chicken from the child while her brother bites from the bread all the while the baby is silent and showing no resistance. I get up and stand by the door. They don’t see me. Maybe it’s the dust cloud they have made around this child. I then loudly ask them if they weren’t the same people who said they aren’t going to look after ”this thing”? I walk towards them and they all freeze. Don’t ask me how a little piece of chicken has managed to glisten all the mouths of all of these children in such a short space of time. I then say back to them the exact things they said about the little girl when they thought nobody was listening. I wish I could describe the look of collective shame on all of their faces for being caught red handed and of knowing that they had dome something wrong.
We stood there, all frozen for a few seconds. I told them to leave her alone and they scurried off. But I couldn’t finish my food because I couldn’t help but realize that unlike an adult who would have probably denied it or said something rude, the kids were literally swallowed up by shame or something that reminded me of their innocence. They were all vulnerable in that moment of being exposed and I didn’t exactly feel like a hero. So I got some more bread from the kitchen, divided some chicken into little mounds, dipped small pieces of bread emhluzwini and handed it out to the rest of them. I stood there with them and we all ate soggy salty bread. Then I went inside and got some of my Twizza, giving them sips in a line. I thought we were all satisfied at this point, including the baby, who had kind of livened up a bit. As I turned around to take the dishes to the kitchen, one of the older girls couldn’t help herself. ”S’cel’amathambo sisi”. (can we have the bones sisi). I looked down and hadn’t seen that there were exactly 5 chicken bones, one for each of them.