This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
First published by Jacana Media (Pty) Ltd in 2010 10 Orange Street Sunnyside Auckland Park 2092 South Africa +2711 628 3200 www.jacana.co.za © Kopano Matlwa, 2010 All rights reserved. ISBN 978-1-77009-791-9 Set in Sabon 11/14.5 Job No. 001178 Printed and bound by CTP Book Printers, Cape Town
See a complete list of Jacana titles at www.jacana.co.za
“Every book is a prayer.” (Author unknown) .
“Ah. “Do not say ‘I am only a child.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. I am only a child. for I am with you and will rescue you.” I said. Sovereign Lord.” But the Lord said to me. Do not be afraid of them. “I do not know how to speak.” (Jeremiah 1:6–7) .
when little pots of rice were washed of their yellow starch and the gravy turned down from 4 to 2. And even though it was only just her sternum and definitely not her breasts she’d permitted him and he’d attempted to touch … I vii . when black. And even though it really was just only their fingers that had rocked backwards and forwards in increasing desire. when the hot sun had had its final say. It was as the darkness was about to fall. square shoes were rested from their whole-day march and the rushrush was over with not much left to do. when children were called in from a day full of play. that they silently snuck out the back door. that they returned to where they’d been before. And even though they’d made sure their lips were curled tightly back as they took deep gulps of each other’s breath.t was as the curtains were about to be drawn.
As soon as he was out of view he would scowl his face. it had looked like something so much more ominous. so much more depraved. he made it clear to the thick plug of sour guilt that sat at the top of his throat that if it thought it was there to stay. he looked up to God for a moment with eyes that stung of anger and betrayal. Of all the things he was prepared to feel. viii . with all those grave creamy eyes sighing heavily at him.Kopano M atlwa … to the tall Fathers with the heavy shadows that crushed them as they lay there in the afternoon grass. the thick plug of sour guilt. where lines were straight and circles round. And once out on the road and far far from earshot. guilt was not one of them. How was he supposed to have known that the feelings were false and the intimacy wrong. As he stood before the church tribunal. And he would leave it there. to away away. when God Himself had been so encouraging? But that was that. so much more sinful. His bags were packed and soon he was on his way. lying on the dirt road for large truck tyres to crush. those frail gold-framed spectacles shaking their heads at him and those thickened bunion hearts tut-tutting at him. then it really did have another think coming. knot his neck and spit it out and out and out until his throat was raw and all that remained was retching. just as it should be.
God too was rolling in the grass. surprised at the scowling faces.Spilt MilK God had actually had nothing to do with their disgrace. laughing with the sun. but sadly. when too much had already been lost. That day. this was discovered only much later. ix .
after filling up 1 A . After packing up the room and moving into rooms. after the jubilation. after they had paraded into the streets and sung those songs that could only be sung by those who had suffered before. the sweet tears of joy. after they had howled at the mastery of their success. after they had all stood in lines changing back from names that rolled out the nose easily to those that slickly used the tongue. after they had sobbed in pure gladness. after they had snivelled at the beauty of it all. after the purchasing of German cars.fter all the excitement. after they had lit candles in reverence of the time. after they had embraced complete strangers. after they had thrown their fists into the air. after they had held hands and flung them into the air. after they had finished with the laughing. after they had knelt down on their knees and kissed the ground. after they had stood in front of the television flicking between the two channels hoping to catch it again. after they had exclaimed to all and sundry the victory they had won. after the celebrations. after they had roared with triumph and screeched at the supremacy. after they had yelped in ecstasy. after they had torn down old street signs.
MP3s. And at a time in this country when to get anywhere or anyplace one needed to be known. after shaking hands and swapping gifts. There would be no more speaking. electronic notebooks and hands-free sets. No place. after BlackBerrys. after changing the neighbourhood and the neighbours. no preschool teacher who could identify her. after the inaugurations and commemorations. Out of nowhere. Speaking and arguing. after the mounting of new statues where the old ones used to stand. no neighbour. no more 2 . no person. shouting and screaming. after throwing out prima stoves for microwave ovens. because no rational person would ever dream of doing such a thing. no more arguing. theorising and hypothesising. badges. no party. after buying new wardrobes. after sketching designs for emblems. planning and deliberating. logos. and the irrational have always amused us. She belonged to no people. after filling up leather purses with shiny gold and silver cards. after they had sat around round tables drafting new bills.Kopano M atlwa the cabinet. no prison. She had simply woken up one morning and realised we had been speaking for decades. after it was all done. it was quite a risky thing she did. But perhaps that is why they looked up. no nothing. complaining and moaning. after no paper became green paper became white paper announced on the evening news. with no struggle. as far as we knew anyway. Quite literally out of nowhere. and it was now enough. after rugby teams met quotas and companies had colourful CEOs. she came. coming out of nowhere. no friend.
Deceit was found in the pockets of heroes. after the delirium and the drama. treachery in the notepads of leaders. Came apart slowly. decay on the key chains of figureheads and disease tucked quietly into the bras of our legends. no more screaming. no more deliberating. It was all so boring. no more complaining.Spilt MilK planning. A time not for little round men and women in sparkly suits with quick speech and magic tricks. being charged with this and being charged with that. no more hypothesising. after the hysteria. depravity in the shoes of champions. under the 3 . promising this and promising that. no more words. after it all. And who amongst us was not tired of defending them? She pointed out that after the elation. no more moaning. She pointed out that it was now a different time. she said. no more theorising. And even the Pale People realised that they needn’t ever use the just-in-case packed bags they kept underneath the staircase. after excitement pierced the air and prospect ripped the sky. after the meat and the alcohol and salt and vinegar chips. saying this and saying that. caught for this and caught for that. buying this and buying that. no more shouting. so mundane. in the boot. round men and women in sparkly suits who kept letting us down. accused of this and accused of that. rot in the rucksacks of warriors. after the scones and ginger ale and custard and canned peaches. greed in the closets of the ordinary. after the heat and intensity. no more. It was now time to work. but came apart nonetheless. things came apart. There had been enough talk.
extra oil. called for a school to be formed. the Dark People became their own oppressors. your intent. because that was how she was to be addressed. there really were no great names. your motives. in New Zealand. to compute debts and to add zeros to failing economies. A reminder of where we have been and where we no longer want to be. And so Mohumagadi. well. Because as it so happened. A place where History would not be a subject of chronicled post-independence dates of resentments. no million-dollar smile. not in the moral sense. in London. no croaky voice. Sekolo sa Ditlhora. fill space. to create change. and so you continue on with no points checked and no questions asked. “The perilous thing about being the victim. the car they kept with extra fuel.” she said. but no T-shirts. It would be a place where Geography would not simply be a means to identify sources of aid on the 4 . A school of excellence. A place where Mathematics would not simply be a tool taught to tally mortality rates. but a means to add something to the nothingness. no funny dance. war and hatred but would stand as a witness to all things overcome from all centuries gone by. Sure there was money and plenty of money-makers.Kopano M atlwa bed. the apartment they kept in Australia. organise thinking and multiply results. no nobility left. No one ever asks you to evaluate your actions. “is that you are never forced to hold the mirror up to yourself. extra tyres.” And after uTata.
kings and queens who were left out of the history books were placed on the doors of classrooms. This would be a school where Art was not just the beadwork sold by bo Koko on the side of the road but a sense of identity. a means to connect with our ancestors and those to come. A place of truth. And if one walked far enough there were little streams to stand around where statues of Cleopatra. Behind them lay space. 5 . The gates were soaring and ebony and plated with gold. She said it would be a school where circumstance would not divide us. thick leafy gardens. So Shamba Reading Room and Khama Place of Study could be found on the same floor. and Nehanda and Nandi housed grades One A and B. a centreing. For how else could things change if not at the very beginning? And if we didn’t believe it? We could fuck off. A place where the elderly listened to the young and the young took the podium and led. and what a mighty structure it was. And so Sekolo sa Ditlhora was opened. gardens with fruit trees interrupted only by long corridors of light. to create. She said it would be a place where the begging bowl was overturned and used as a stepping stone. and poverty would be left outside the gates. but a pursuit of the understanding of the earth itself. Old scrolls were recalled and the names of great emperors. a way to find place and meaning and thus perspective. Where umntu omnyama could be something great. space in which to breathe. to think. There were gardens. A place of pride.Spilt MilK map of the world. distinct striking gardens. wide open space. Makeda and Tiye looked to the sky.
agreed that it was a good thing. At least she was not Mugabe-angry. Only a few years after the opening of the school. everyone was thankful she was focused on making the school great. angry woman. well.Kopano M atlwa The teachers were carefully selected. And even though Mohumagadi seemed like a tormented. and even though she appeared to have to try hard to be politically correct. the Public Health and Epidemiology teacher. And as the gates were closed each morning. No more did Aunty have to iron carefully around the badge of arms and Latin motto no one in the house knew the meaning of but everyone revered. it was clear to all who stood outside them that these people were done with being objects of curiosity. at least she was not that. encourage a pursuit of knowledge and instil a sense of ambition were chosen. 6 . even the white newspapers. and everybody. And what a relief it was for mothers now that they didn’t need to wake up a little earlier to force hard straw hats onto course hair and unwilling heads. And when they heard that there was an alternative to the schools where brown boys and girls only ever got certificates for Xhosa and Zulu. their minds were made up. Everyone agreed that it was indeed a school of excellence. It was written by Dr Tshivhase. a predicament in the form of a bound report found its way onto Mohumagadi’s desk. only those who were believed to have the ability to inspire growing minds. understood only by those she had worked with for years. The children were working.
suggested that perhaps a little divinity might do the kids (and the school’s now sullied image) a bit of good. The whole idea of religion irked her. the candles that would damage the classroom carpeting.Spilt MilK who had led an afternoon field trip to the Nkosi Johnson Inaugural Lecture. “God was not there when we were chained. In response. panties around ankles and school trousers around knees. religion was certainly not one of them. to Mohumagadi God was solely for weddings and bedtime stories and certainly not for work. They had no reasonable explanation for their behaviour other than that they had wanted to see. where it was reported that the children of Sihle Dladla (CEO of Maatla Power House). had no place in this school of change. when we were cheated and beaten for all those centuries past. when we were raped. Whilst redoing a headcount on the return journey. Ntombovuyo Pooi (author of Sexual Consciousness). Peter Graham (of the Alliance of the People) and Diplomat Tshilitsi Mntambo ‘were found at the back of a school bus engaged in an orgy’. But who to call and where to look? Of all the things Mohumagadi cared about. God and His Bible. 7 . The story found its way to the weekend’s papers. so why only now does God want to involve Himself when it appears that we are winning?” No. Public Relations Officer and Media Liaison. The way she saw it. the rituals. he had happened upon four Grade Fours at the back of the school bus with their buttocks exposed. which suspiciously held servitude in high esteem. Dr Mahlangu.
taking sons severed right off their umbilical cords. They made her terribly. How much worse it would be if he were also to have European blood! She really did not trust those religious types who claimed to believe in the country and in the people and in progress only to later escape to their balconies abroad and point down to the little corner of Africa where the people were resistant to the power of the spirit. It all left a bitter taste in Mohumagadi’s mouth. collecting whole nations for decades. But nonetheless. Of course. terribly uncomfortable. All of the priests Mohumagadi had ever known were of the lighter shades with theologies tainted by European influence. too many lives that had put their hope in it.Kopano M atlwa the pompous pious pew behaviour and the overzealous boasting of fourteen-year-olds claiming that they alone on missions to Africa had converted a village chief and his people to Christianity. there was the question of race. There was much too much invested in this school. she approved the idea proposed by Dr Mahlangu and seconded by Dr Ntsoko (member of the Board of Directors). convincing daughters to adopt strange attire and insisting that their families change or disappear. The church was a threat to the very thing she had created and she knew that these people were very good at what they did. splitting families. She would allow a church person to enter her school but resolved to keep a very tight handle on things and limit interaction with the pupils. albeit with a little perspiration prickling her armpits. 8 .
He had his landlord drop him off at the school. Mohumagadi rejoiced. at 7.Spilt MilK So when Mohumagadi was told in confidence by Dr Zungu. but he wasn’t exactly sure how long he would be staying. who taught Indigenous Belief Systems. no condemning bow. He had not been given a letter or a note or a number to dial. no. What was he there to do? The bishop had said he needed to reflect and rest. not sure if there would be a parking space for him.” He arrived on a Monday morning. 6 Ray Street.30 a. “could be a better example for the children. just a simple man brought back down to earth by his own sins. 9 .” Mohumagadi announced in the executive meeting. just told to come to Sekolo sa Ditlhora. When the security guards who stood at the gates asked him the purpose of his visit. and not wanting to be presumptuous.m. How perfect to bring in a banished white priest! None of the haughty holiness. no grand robe. the word ‘visit’ suggested he was there to see someone specific and would shortly leave. Grey Lourie Gardens (close to Trucks for Africa). that the bishop was desperately searching for a place outside of the church to station a priest who had ‘defaulted and fallen prey to the desires of the flesh’. He wasn’t visiting as such. “No one. he wasn’t sure what to say.
“Uthini lomntu?” said the other. we are afraid you cannot come in. 10 . “How peculiar.” they whispered. that he had come hustling for some kind of job.” some murmured.” And that is how he ended up sitting on the curb outside the school gates. “He is so pale. “His white skin.” is what he told the security guards. “I am afraid I do not have any identification. “Identification please. waiting for someone who could perhaps do something and not because. “To rest?” asked one.” “Well.” the third guard said. Mohumagadi had not noticed that the priest had entered their school hall until she heard the children and some of the teachers gasp. as it was later remoured by many of the parents who had seen the shabby old white man sitting on the pavement of the school as they drove in to drop their children off. sir.” others pointed out. who had heard him clearly and appeared insulted. sir. taking over. sir.Kopano M atlwa “I am here to rest.
” “The symposium on Lessons from Zimbabwe has been postponed until further notice due to the recent arrest of one of the speakers. or to speak. It was not often that white people came into this school. And never ever so poorly dressed. Morning assembly was halfway through and he was only arriving. His face looked a little familiar. “Pupils from grades Five to Seven will notice that an article titled ‘Africa is giving nothing to anyone apart from AIDS’ by one Kevin Myers has been posted on the senior noticeboard. so that Dr Ngwenya had to get up and seat them back down.” “His hair. not to clean. It really was quite a spectacle.” But no one was listening. let alone to teach. He was very late. who will forward them to the author.” “Those Grade Sixes leaving for Geneva for the green week are to meet after this assembly to receive their reading packs. or to fix. “His skin is all pink. Responses are encouraged and should be sent to Dr Kgwadla. “The man.” But the children could not focus. Some of the kids right at the back were standing on their chairs to see. he is so pale. Announcements were made. it has no colour!” 11 . She looked at her watch. but it was hard to make it out with all the excitement in the hall.Spilt MilK Mohumagadi frowned as she watched the man trying to wiggle his way quietly onto the stage where she and the rest of the staff were sitting.
or tell him privately that he was in fact no longer needed and that there had been a terrible mistake. “Ri thuphiwa zwinzhi Fhedzi ri si pwashekanyiwe Ra tovholwa. reclaim her. could not keep their large eyes off him. Bill Thomas. That voice. but he knew he wasn’t. And it was only then that Mohumagadi caught a clear view of his face. Before she could think. the man looked up. try as they might. or plan an escape of some sorts. exasperated at the mumbling and finger pointing that was going on. It was William Thomas. It was her and he knew it for sure. fhedzi ri si shae Moya 12 .Kopano M atlwa When the speaker stopped abruptly. Father Bill had fallen into a dark hole in his memory. Mohumagadi felt herself crumble immediately. He knew that voice. they were all standing up and singing the school song. now of course Father Bill Thomas. Oblivious to the consternation he was causing. He had not noticed that all the children. a note was passed across the stage urging her to introduce the man so that the school could carry on with their assembly. Heard the locks and bolted doors within her fly open and old demons that she thought she’d finally put to rest. Before he could think it through. He hoped he was wrong. Even after fifteen years he could recognise that voice in a room anywhere in the world.
Sekolo sa Ditlhora. singancami Sitshutshiswa asiyekeleli Sikhahlelwa phantsi Asitshatyalaliswa. Sekolo sa Ditlhora Destined for Success! “Re dikilwe thoko tsohle Mme ga re pitlaganywe Re a phoraphora Mme ga re gakanege Re a tlaiswa Mee ga ra lahlega Re digelwa fase Mme ga re senyege. Sekolo sa Ditlhora. Sekolo sa Ditlhora. Sekolo sa Ditlhora Destined for Success! “Siyabandezelwa ngeenxa zonke Singaxineki Siyathingaza.Spilt MilK Ra tsimbeledzelwa fhasi.” We are the school of excellence Despite the time of turbulence Unafraid of impediments Destined for success.” Child of a diff’rent providence In our hearts truth is prominent Believing in our competence Destined for success. Sekolo sa Ditlhora.” 13 . hone ri shi lovhe.
quickly down the staircase they’d nicknamed Victoria Falls and around the Timbuktu History Centre. Her black and red patent heels hammered their way down the corridor. She needed to think. She would take the most obscure route she could think of. 14 . Taharqa Lego Room. but everyone was still a little anxious about the implications of having this man in their midst. But she couldn’t talk now. Sekolo sa Ditlhora. Tenkamenin Model Court. she needed to get to her sanctuary. hoping not to bump into any of the teachers along the way who would certainly want to speak further about the new presence in the school. behind Makeba Music Room.Kopano M atlwa The world awaits the coming of us Here we go with wholeheartedness Bold enough to carry the cross Destined for success. she was nearly there. just past ‘1994 in Pictures’ and round the giant glass trophy cabinet and she’d be in her office. She was sure they would see that she was rattled and could not afford to let her staff see her that way. She did not think she would be able to hold it together if she had to face any of them. They had had numerous meetings pending his arrival. Kilimanjaro Climbing Wall. Sekolo sa Ditlhora Destined for Success! Mohumagadi hurried back to her office. Sekolo sa Ditlhora.
she told herself. the Music History teacher. arms gesturing. But what were the chances? What were the chances that after fifteen years when she was looking for a priest for their school the person they would send would be him? She had spent years thinking about how not to think of him. ready to report the morning’s incident of the white man who had mocked them upon his arrival. excited. been denied entrance. The four children. She knew she was often quietly criticised for not involving the staff in her decision making but 15 . in the crowd. hadn’t cared to know. and then proceeded to sneak into the school when their backs were turned. faces animated. she would make sure of that. fifteen years was a really long time. that the priest was probably sitting inside her office. She would simply pretend she did not know who he was and in fact she wouldn’t be faking. A whole congregation of people was waiting for her outside her office. It was a long time ago and they were both different people now. Mohumagadi felt her core collapse. And now this. It changed nothing. Dr Liyema.Spilt MilK How could she have been so careless? She should have asked the bishop for a name but she hadn’t thought to. All three security guards stood waiting too. His lessons only began after lunch and he was at the scene of anything intriguing happening in the school. whom she now remembered she had asked to come to her office straight after Monday morning assembly in order for her to brief them on their detention programme. sat on the bench outside her door. She immediately sensed from the way they were all standing. as usual. was. It would not be a problem at all.
She sighed. she closed the door behind her. it was one she was going to have to live with. a beautiful day for teaching and learning.” “That is wonderful to hear. This time she had allowed them to decide jointly how best to discipline the children. then. “Ninjani namhlanje?” “Siphilile. Mohumagadi. isn’t it?” “Yes Mohumagadi. Mohumagadi.” “Well. 16 . If the whole thing was a mistake. I will see you all at teatime. Had she made an error in judgement by bringing this man in? She did not make mistakes often. “Molweni.Kopano M atlwa this time she had.” they all replied together. and look what it had brought the school: absolute chaos.” she greeted them with her biggest grin. “Molweni. It’s a beautiful day. She had meditated on the matter for days before sending her letter of acceptance.” Giving then no chance to reply. if there is nothing else.
kneading his thoughts in his hands. The question stumped him. making the mistake of over-emphasising the point. She had been very kind. even alcohol. I never take alcohol. She told him Mohumagadi would join him shortly to brief him on the next few weeks. Father?’. if that’s what you would like. He hadn’t needed to lie. Hadn’t needed to feel embarrassed or ashamed. sir? We have everything. She repeated the question when she saw the confusion on his face. But the circumstances. He was used to only having two options from the tea ladies at the church: ‘Tea or coffee.Spilt MilK Father Bill had been sitting in one of the mahogany armchairs in front of Mohumagadi’s twin-pedestal mahogany desk. No. Tea for me please. 17 .” he said quickly when he realised she thought his hesitation was because he was too embarrassed to ask for liquor this early in the morning.” he lied. Father?’ He had never been offered the opportunity to wet his throat with anything his mind could conjure. She asked what he would like to drink. “What is it you would like to drink. He wondered what the people at the school had been told about him. who had been waiting for him with a clipboard and a smile at the exit of the school hall.” “No. ‘Some juice or water. Priests were allowed to drink and it wasn’t as if he drank very much anyway. He had been shown into the office by a Miss L. The circumstances made it all very complicated. making small talk and laughing politely as they walked. “No.
” Miss L had said jovially. But there was no sugar on the table. Perhaps with a bit of sugar in it he could try to swallow some. The tea tasted like the stuff his doctor had made him drink the night before he went for his bowel scope. When Mohumagadi came in. “I gather you do not like our tea. very professional. “Any tea.” she said. slamming the door behind her.Kopano M atlwa “What kind of tea will that be. smiling that smile again. His thoughts drifted off as he tried to work out what he would do or say if it really was her. chuckling for the first time since his arrival. ma’am. It still sat there on the table with its bits of what tasted like ginger floating to the surface. but it was pink with straws of cinnamon and soggy chunks floating in it and made him want to gag. but 18 . he had still not touched it. and he soon forgot all about the foul tea. It was her. But all tea was certainly not tea. sir?” She really was very sweet. He had really hoped it wouldn’t be. He appreciated that. right?” he said. especially because he had asked for it. He had tried to drink it. Tea is tea. not wanting to be rude. but not quite.” were her first words to him. almost. “Sure. as she placed the cup down on the wild cherrywood coffee table with a plate of equally peculiar green biscuits alongside it. Father Bill. “Mohumagadi never starts a day without a cup. tea is tea. he really did not want to be impolite.
m. switching on her laptop. appropriate conduct in public places. “You are not expected to teach them anything as such. looking for a pen. “As per discussions with the bishop. I would love to take you around myself but am unfortunately quite tied up this morning with a series of meetings. What now? What was he going to say? After fifteen years where would he begin? “I hope you found your way to the school without too much trouble.” 19 .Spilt MilK it was. he was almost certain. in fact we would prefer it if you didn’t.” It was her. just carried on. et cetera et cetera. you will host the afternoon detention class from 3 to 5 p. During this period the children will be required to read a variety of texts by different authors on selfdiscipline. She didn’t wait for a response.” Perhaps he was wrong. so I will ask one of the pupils to give you a little tour. every day. “I understand you will be with us for the next six weeks. But there was no sense that she knew who he was.” Was that a question? He wasn’t sure. personal restraint. Father Bill. pulling out notebooks. opening up her briefcase. and then use what they have learnt to work on a series of exercises. which they will have to hand in at the end of the six weeks. She looked at him briefly whilst rummaging through her desk.
harder. right into his eyes. Um. she did not remember him. thank you. I do understand. and go to great pains to ensure that they know exactly what is expected of them. and asking if she would let her know when she should allow them in. looked at him. It was her. This is a great place. older. but there was no recognition.” 20 . “So I hope you do. Welcome to Sekolo sa Ditlhora.” She stopped. the sweet Miss L who made the vile tea. Perhaps he would remind her. “Thank you very much for having me here at your school. Father Bill? Understand what is expected of you?” “Yes ma’am. I am sure there will be much you will be able to take with you from your stay. “Yes.” he continued. reminding Mohumagadi that the four pupils she had requested to see were still waiting for her outside her office.Kopano M atlwa Did she not remember him? Had he changed that much? Her voice was exactly the same. “We have a very structured curriculum that is carefully planned to the very last detail so we are very careful when we have a new staff member join us. but hers. I’m sure you know the circumstances under which I was sent here and—” but she did not let him finish.” No. Sisi.” She looked relieved when the phone interrupted her. It was the secretary. Father Bill. we are delighted to have you. “Send the first one in now please. “I feel very privileged. thank you.
back in her world. so clumsy. perhaps it wasn’t even him. and perhaps she was wrong. lost in it.” It was Ndudumo Mazibuko. daughter of Ntombovuyo Pooi. This man was a joke. the freckles on his nose. what the school would not tolerate. Everything he represented bored her. she felt no anger towards him. in her school. She stole some moments between words to observe him. “Come inside please. swallowed whole. She walked into 21 . a yellow blister at the corner of his mouth. the crustiness at the creases of his eyes. The man did not remember her. not even irritation. She had completely overreacted. what was expected of him. his cracked lips. Surprisingly. no hatred. She needed to focus on what up to this point she had done so well: run the school. The way he grasped his pen. A small boy in a big man’s body. carefully writing down everything he told her. in the first place. Just complete and utter indifference. his skin. Why do white people not moisturise? He was like a child.Spilt MilK Mohumagadi realised she had overreacted. She watched him as he sat across from her. fingers wrapped awkwardly around it. ‘Ten years old and sexually conscious’ is how Ndudumo liked to describe herself. A confident knock on the door wrenched her from her thoughts and reminded her why the priest was in her office. He bored her.
“Are you well today?” “Very well thanks. a thick layer of gloss smeared onto her lips. the response it has received has been overwhelming for us all. Children always found a way around every rule and she could not keep making new ones. She had come to accept that if she could instill even some of those principles in the children then they could wear all the lip gloss they desired.” Ndudumo turned round in her chair and looked over 22 . national pride. the gold string of the black school tunic hanging loosely around her buttocks. clear nail polish shimmering off her fingertips. social integrity. Mohumagadi. Ndudumo. Tata. We are so delighted. Mama has been very busy since the launch of her book. her head held up high. Take a seat.” the young girl said. greeting them both whilst carefully seating herself on the chair across from Mohumagadi’s.” she replied quickly. Mohumagadi. but she had learnt over time that some battles were not worth the fight. “Molo.Kopano M atlwa the office.” In the early years Mohumagadi would have told her to leave her office and return only when she looked appropriate. Molweni. There was too much else to be concerned about: economic independence.” “Yes. “I understand your mother is overseas. Mohumagadi bit her lip and just smiled. “Molweni.
thanks for that. Anyway.Spilt MilK at Father Bill who was holding a small piece of paper and pen in his hand. She directed the next bit to him. She added that if we experienced any resistance from you we should contact her without delay and she would ensure your full cooperation. timely book that has really just liberated so many of our African sisters.” Mohumagadi watched the girl’s face fall and smiled silently to herself. “Ndudumo. let us address the matter at hand.” “Yes. but it was too late now. she believes that is where she begun and thus that is where her writing should begin. She could not help but shake her head as she watched the man scribbling away in his chair.” Mohumagadi said. we managed to get a letter to your mother describing what transpired that day on the school bus and she has sent one back to say that she thinks it appropriate that you attend the detention programme we have put together for you children. feeling her patience wane. “You might have heard of my mother – Ntombovuyo Pooi? We have different surnames because she chooses to write using her maiden name. my mother. a sexual awakening of sorts. Ntombovuyo Pooi. She should probably have asked him to leave her office before the girl came in. Ndudumo. But perhaps before we get a little derailed. She had been head of the school 23 . wrote a book on the sexual emancipation of black women. She would have to continue with him sitting clumsily in the corner jotting down every spoken word like a court stenographer. a wonderful.
” Ndudumo continued her protest. Ndudumo?” Mohumagadi asked her. So Mohumagadi picked up the letter and began to read. by manipulating their high-flying parents’ guilt about their physical or emotional absence. They thought that. her eyes avoiding Mohumagadi’s. They liked to use their mother and father’s influence to throw their weight around.Kopano M atlwa long enough to know all the little tricks children like Ndudumo tried to pull. “I don’t believe that. “Dear Mohumagadi 24 . “I beg your pardon?” Mohumagadi was taken aback. her arms folded across her chest. The girl did not respond. just sat there in her chair saying nothing. that’s why they were here. all the kids in her school were. especially the moneyed ones. they could weasel themselves out of any situation. making sure to emphasise that the story had gained some media interest which she knew would be very upsetting to Ms Pooi. They were smart kids. “I don’t believe that my mother would ever agree to me being punished for exploring my anatomy.” “Would you like me to read the letter from your mother to you. who was very particular about her public image. but she was smarter and had much to teach them. Mohumagadi had been careful to report the incident to the child’s mother before the girl could tell her herself. “You’re lying!” Ndudumo exclaimed. beginning to fume.
Yours truly.Spilt MilK I apologise deeply for my daughter’s behaviour. Mohumagadi. Please do whatever you think is best to keep Ndudumo in tow. Ntombovuyo Pooi” Mohumagadi handed the girl’s own letter from her mother to her. I do not know what it is that inspired her to behave so appallingly. ‘Dear sweetheart I’ve heard some distressing news that you have found yourself in a bit of a pickle. “Well then. You have my complete support in instituting whatever methods you think are necessary to ensure she never does anything of this sort again and if she gives you any difficulty please contact me immediately. Please. I shall read it to you myself. and would be grateful if you would pass it on to her. mom is having a strenuous time here with all the work and the 25 . Ndudumo did not say a word. I have attached a letter for her. I will stop by the school as soon as I land back in the country. and I do not know what any of us would do without you. Your commitment to these children is greatly appreciated. did not move. sweetheart. “Would you like to read it?” Mohumagadi asked her coolly. She worries me that girl. but she made no attempt to take it and still sat there with her arms folded.
Kiss. I really do not have the time to be pestered by the school. “Are we clear.’ I do not lie. and I will not tolerate such obstinacy in my school. I thought I would be coming home after India for your birthday but it seems life refuses to give me a break and I will be flying to Ethiopia straight afterwards instead. Please sweetheart.Kopano M atlwa travelling and it would make a world of difference to my life if you would avoid getting yourself into these kinds of situations. Don’t let Auntie trouble you for money. sweet pea. Ndudumo. kiss. I believe that the incident involved some sort of sexual indiscretion. Will call you when I have a moment.m.” she muttered. Miss you. so I know you will understand. You are 26 . This is what Mom has been waiting for for so long baby. Mohumagadi. Are we clear?” There was silence. “Your detention sessions with Father Bill will begin tomorrow afternoon from 3 to 5 p. try to have more self-control. I have deposited a couple of thousand rand into your bank account and if there is anything you need do not hesitate to call me. Ndudumo?” “Yes. This kind of stuff all comes back to me and does nothing for the public image I am trying to maintain. I have given her all she needs for groceries so don’t let her convince you otherwise.
Mohumagadi had been tolerant initially. but Ndudumo had pushed her too far this time. when her mother had sealed her publishing deal and moved to the neighbourhood. If you could return to your lessons please. But these were the times 27 . Ndudumo. The whole thing was absolutely ridiculous. or any child for that matter. understanding that there had been many changes in the family’s life and that it would take time for Ndudumo to adapt to the ways of her new school. Both her and her flamboyant mother. Mohumagadi had learned from Dr Tshivhase that it was this very child who had been heard encouraging the other children to be ‘comfortable with their genitalia’.Spilt MilK expected to be there on time and to fully cooperate with Father Bill. was ridiculous. The mother’s new-found fame as an author had turned her into a flighty airhead who thought it was the school’s responsibility to raise her daughter while she raced around the world furthering her writing career.” Mohumagadi put the letter down and looked at the girl. a former graveyard disc jockey for a local community radio station. her eyes downcast. to speak in a disrespectful manner. Ndudumo had only joined the school at the start of the current academic year. But this understanding did not extend to Mohumagadi allowing her. had been a strain since their arrival. She had not intended to humiliate the child. in much the same way as her mother describes at length in the second chapter of her book. The whole book. That is all. These sessions will continue for the next six weeks and you are required to attend each and every one of them. Her straight little back was now slumped over. in fact.
if that was all that was in there?” she whispered. had seen her little body fill with sadness when 28 .Kopano M atlwa they were in. Ndudumo. the strut she had come in with noticeably missing. in this country. when everybody had something to say.” “Yes. motionless.” But Ndudumo continued to sit there. “Why are you still here. Mohumagadi thought to herself. Father Bill had seen the young girl’s heart fall to the bottom of her shoes when that letter came out.” “Are you sure there is no other part to it?” “Ndudumo. “You can return to your lessons now. “In where. That is all. Mohumagadi was losing her patience. Ndudumo?” “In the letter.” The girl got up from her chair reluctantly and walked towards the door and out of it. Ndudumo?” “I just wanted to ask if that was it. I suggest you leave my office right now before you irritate me any further. Mohumagadi. a little chubby round boy. The next pupil walked in.
” the boy responded as he plonked himself down onto the same chair Ndudumo had previously perched gracefully on. “A man of God.” Father Bill caught Mohumagadi frowning from behind her desk. Father. she was simply disappointed that her mother was not returning home any time soon. Father Bill was startled when the chubby round boy came right up to him. The girl was not being bad mannered. Lost in thought. and Father Bill immediately felt afraid and wished the little boy hadn’t done what he did. he thought. Mohumagadi. had watched her cross her fingers under her lap when she asked Mohumagadi if there was perhaps more to the letter. emotion too big to pretend away glistened in her eyes. But it was too late. take a seat please. “Forgive me. He had tried to catch her eye as she left the room to offer an encouraging smile or sympathetic shrug. I am honoured to meet you. Perhaps 29 .Spilt MilK Mohumagadi read that her mother would not be returning home for her birthday. It was a typical case of miscommunication.” she snapped. but she had avoided his gaze. He decided he would summon up a little bit of courage once he was sure of what exactly was going on. and would ask Mohumagadi for the letter and give it to the girl. Mohumagadi had misunderstood. eyebrows raised to try and hide how she felt. “I am just ecstatic to have this man of God in our midst. wrapped his arms around him and gave him a tight squeeze. He suspected she would be happy to have it. “Zulwini.
” he said laughing. Father Bill felt a little embarrassed by this sudden attention. made him very.” the boy responded matter-of-factly. whose face looked like it had been smeared in Vaseline. “Well I’m the only active one. This boy. 30 . Mohumagadi.” the boy murmured. revealing a pair of deep dimples. “Alone?” Father Bill asked. whose spectacles made his eyes so wide behind them that you couldn’t look anywhere without feeling watched. He had gotten quite comfortable being ignored in the corner. “I am glad you have come to join us. Father Bill opened his mouth to add something to the conversation but nothing came out.” Mohumagadi said. Father Bill. Mohumagadi. putting his knees on the chair so he could turn around and face the priest properly. “The only Christian. It has been hard here alone. please.” the boy said. very uncomfortable. her voice taut. or if he was supposed to respond at all. especially with Mohumagadi frowning the way she was. And sit back down properly. “You are not the only Christian.Kopano M atlwa the sinful deed needed to happen for this man to come and guide God’s children. a little puzzled. Perhaps it wasn’t such a bad thing after all. Zulwini. He was not sure how he was supposed to respond.
trying to catch his breath between the chuckles. but a struggle all the same. “Imagine a Christian Café during break times where praise and worship would be what we fill our stomachs with.” he said. and I’m sure you have some dynamic programmes of your own.” is all Father Bill could think to 31 . At last God has sent me a spiritual mentor. bobbing up and down boisterously in the chair. Father. “In fact. before you got busy doing God’s work in this place. We could call it ‘Feeding the Spiritual Hunger’. but could never really put into action because of the solitary path I was on. I am no longer ashamed because I understand the why of it. A comrade in the war against sin and the devil.” the boy continued.” The boy was back on his knees.” “Thank you. but I just wanted you to know from the outset. I have some ideas I have been playing around with in my head for some time now. Well at least at the right time in my life.Spilt MilK “Forgive me for being so bold. The deed had to happen for you to come Father. A struggle I happily took on for God. that I am behind you all the way. I have been trying to instil some spirituality here. “but I do believe you were sent at the right time to this school. now seated back on his buttocks and having to peer at Father Bill from over his shoulder. Zulwini. “I know I’m being a little forward and talking all over the place.” Father Bill was stunned. well anything is possible. and it has been a struggle.” This sent him into peals of laughter. alone. But now that there are two of us. “Sorry.
church history. “I sadly do not have any grand plans as yet but if I were to think of a good place to start.” Mohumagadi broke in. but this child … “I think that is quite enough. Am I understood?” “Yes. and I would appreciate it if you would allow Father Bill to do the work he has been brought here to do. That was not what Father Bill had meant.” “Ah. Zulwini.m. awkwardly twisted in the chair at Mohumagadi’s desk. 32 . or think this was God-sent or not. but to give you the details of your punishment.” The boy looked over at him. “I have not called you in to hear about your evangelical plans. Mohumagadi. feeling very overwhelmed. Father Bill felt a little unsettled by the boy’s explosiveness and looked at Mohumagadi for some sense of what to do. Excellent!” And at that Zulwini clapped his hands. you and the others will be punished nonetheless. It was clear that he wanted him to say more. smiled a great big hearty smile and gave him a thumbs up.Kopano M atlwa reply. When she saw him looking at her she looked away. making no attempt to hide her agitation. The boy continued to smile expectantly. he’d meant history history. staring at him. Whether you feel ashamed or not. I would say History. Anything outside of that you must arrange in your own time and not in the time allocated to the detention sessions. Your sessions with Father Bill will begin tomorrow afternoon from 3 to 5 p.
Watching Zulwini almost begin to fit with excitement at the presence of Father Bill. back to your lessons please. It’s just such an annoyance in the mean time though. your perplexity. the R550 you spent at the hair salon a waste because your hair got all messed up.” 33 . as in the case of Zulwini. jump. spread his arms around him again and then ran out the door. went over to Father Bill. The whole thing was clearly a big mistake. but in those deep. not this fallen priest who wanted to fill the children’s minds with church history.” He jumped out of his chair. She could not shake the feeling he gave her. messy. dunk your head? Worse was masking your confusion. She should have asked for the help of an ordinary psychologist. with the waves. We encourage them to be passionate about whatever it is that excites them but sometimes it is to our own detriment. She could not remember the last time she felt so out of control. Mohumagadi wondered if it was too late to get rid of the man. you had it in check. the dirt. the sand. It was like the contempt Jo’burgers had for the sea.Spilt MilK “Zulwini. sure. On land. And what to do once you got into the water? Stand. unruly waters what chance did you stand? “Forgive our children. Father Bill. His mother has been very worried but we are reconciled to the fact that most kids outgrow this kind of religious fervour by the time they hit high school and I’m sure with time and careful study he will outgrow it too.
sitting there.” It was Zulwini. As for Mlilo. more so than she felt for any of the other children. And the day had only just begun! 34 . The children walked in. and that that wasn’t the same. Miss L. What was he still doing out there when he should be in class? She looked at the two seated before her and thought about the one singing hymns outside and sighed. She knew she shouldn’t have favourites and she kept telling herself she didn’t have favourites. She wanted to be done with it. She did not know what to do with Moya.” she said into the phone. “Send the last two in together. It is well in my soul and everything is just all right. She felt acutely sad that he was a part of all of this. just one favourite. With him. his hair stuck to his face with perspiration. Moya hiding behind her height as usual. The girl had said many times that she was only at the school because her mother wanted her to be there and that she would leave the country the first chance she could get. It is well in my soul.Kopano M atlwa There were two more children to be seen. Mlilo walking in step behind her. breathing loudly. please. She looked at him again. Mlilo just pained her. Outside the door she could hear some singing: “It is well in my soul. She wanted him gone. filling up her office with a strange smell.
starting tomorrow afternoon.Spilt MilK “I have called you in here to tell you both that I have spoken to your parents. ‘Punish’ is not a word we like to use here at Sekolo sa Ditlhora. Any questions?” “Excuse me. Mohumagadi. Not only have you disgraced yourselves and disappointed your parents. You will attend these sessions every day from 3 to 5 p. “Him?” Mlilo shouted. The calibre of pupil whom we accept has. but the reputation of this school has been called into question. but who has been brought in for the detention sessions? Who will be taking them?” Mlilo asked quietly. I hope that it is a lesson to you both that the consequences of your little enterprises extend further than your ten-year-old lives. They are well aware of the situation you children find yourselves in and agree that you behaved inappropriately on the first of March and need to be punished accordingly.m. while the girl in the chair next to him sat staring into her hands. It has never been something we have had to do. for the next six weeks. But your actions have brought us all to this point. and wondered what he was up to. Were you not at the assembly this morning?” Mohumagadi snapped. She knew the boy knew. “Father Bill here. exempted us from getting too involved in such banal activities as the drawing up of detention programmes. The school has brought in an external person to oversee the very structured detention programme that has been drawn up for you. Mlilo. 35 . to date.
and that it wasn’t them but the bishop who had sent them a white one.” Mohumagadi felt her stomach knot as she said it. Miss L would know to come in. You will be out before first break. warning him with her eyes that he had better behave himself. They had worried that such comments would be made and that is why she had consulted with the governing body before bringing the man in. including Mohumagadi. How could they have justified that? The more she thought it through the angrier she got at having to think it through. my boy. How could they have said to the bishop. just carry on the way you are doing. thanks. But him? A white man? A white priest? Since when did Sekolo sa Ditlhora start hiring white priests? What does he know about us? What value could he possibly add?” “Mlilo ge o nyaka ke go raka mo sekolong se. But Mlilo was a child. It infuriated her that for a moment he had made her feel defensive. A decision had been made and everyone was 36 . Mohumagadi looked sternly at Mlilo. she needed to get out of the room. a hard-headed child. we were really only looking for black priests. but no thanks. “Mohumagadi. She picked up the phone and pressed 1. needing to explain that it wasn’t her but the other teachers who had suggested that the school bring in a priest. knocking the teacup off the table and all its contents onto the carpeted floor. I accept that what we did was wrong.Kopano M atlwa Everyone in the room was startled. The priest jumped too. She was enraged by Mlilo’s impertinence. How dare he question her authority? Her bladder suddenly felt full.
Spilt MilK going to have to respect it. Why had he done it when he didn’t need to. when he wouldn’t have missed it if it hadn’t happened. He’d been thinking about how he came to be here. again. you may both leave and return to your lessons. He had never seen eyes so green in anyone so dark. and he looked away. Mohumagadi. why he’d pulled down her pantyhose that smelt like Zambuck. how he had managed to get himself sent away. green eyes. Why he’d stayed on after the service to help Sibongile wash the teacups. He’d knocked the teacup off the table earlier because he had been jolted out of his thoughts by the boy’s shouting. She would not allow a tenyear-old to unnerve her in her own office. Father Bill saw the boy glare at him with absolute contempt as he left the room. why he’d done what he did that day. “Unless you have any other questions. I expect you both to cooperate fully with Father Bill and I do not want to hear about any trouble making. They were beautiful eyes. but they were terrifying too. Do we understand each other?” “Yes. why they’d not thought that someone might hear the teacups falling from the sandwich table.” they said in unison. when it was completely meaningless? He’d been thinking why he did anything he did when he’d knocked the teacup 37 . why he’d lifted up her seshoeshoe skirt.
what are you doing?” He did not know what had happened to her. He had not even said goodbye. Poor Sibongile. he had packed his bags and left before they could even speak. How many times would he have to pack his bags and be sent off on ‘retreat’ before he stopped causing trouble? He was not sure. He’d messed up too many lives as it was. “Sibongile. gently. but dismissed her all the same. He’d only learnt her name after their clothes were on the floor and teacups lay broken all around them and Penny Thatcher walked in and screamed. “A white man? A white priest? What does he know about us? What value could he possibly add?” The boy’s words resounded in his head. They had probably dismissed her. he couldn’t do that. they’d never even spoken before that morning. other than a few general greetings in passing. Miss L had come in halfway through it all. Nor was he sure of how many second chances he had left. looked at him. No. returning minutes later with a lady carrying a bucket and a sponge. He had never heard a ten-year-old speak in that manner. smiled an empathic smile and then left the room. But the little boy was right: what value could he possibly add? He didn’t know and was afraid he might actually cause more harm than good. He tried to get down on his knees to help the lady but she waved her hand and mumbled something in an aggravated voice and he knew to get back on his chair. The boy 38 . seen the mess on the floor.Kopano M atlwa off the table and tea and green particles spilt onto Mohumagadi’s carpet.
11. he could add no value to this school but he would make certain he would do it no harm.30 for your tour. “Well. He panicked. He had six weeks here and he would spend them staying out of everybody’s way. getting up and hurriedly placing the items on her table into her bag. You are welcome to wait in the lounge until then.m.30. Why couldn’t he remember which way that one looked? 39 . the arms were everywhere. every day and I expect you to join us for the procession each morning.” He watched her put in her stapler and punch as well and wondered if she was aware that she was packing her whole table into her briefcase. or maybe he wouldn’t. I will arrange for one of the pupils to meet you outside by the Plaatjie Fountain at 11. 11. Mohumagadi did not remember him and that is how it would remain.30.” He glanced up at the wall clock but could not make sense of it. and it will also give you an opportunity to meet with the other teachers. Father Bill?” Mohumagadi asked. I have to hurry off. “I’m quite sure you are as worn out as I am. you can’t miss it. but either way he’d live right. so you are free to leave as soon as you have had your tour. It’s just around the corner. we’ve had ourselves an eventful morning haven’t we.Spilt MilK was right. He looked down at his wrist and realised he had forgotten to put on his digital watch. He would commit.30. “We start promptly at 8 a. 11. Maybe he’d find someone. When he went back he would be different.
burnt. She remembered him! Nobody else in the world knew he couldn’t tell the time but her. and she remembered. He couldn’t remember the last time he had felt that happy. fifteen years and she remembered.Kopano M atlwa “When the long arm is on the 6 and the short arm is between the 11 and the 12. He was blushing. blistering. Did she remember him? She must if she remembered that. boiling. 40 .” she said as she walked out the room. His face turned hot.
so why am I so tired? I have just eaten. I am not offended by the suggestion. Reflect like they make schoolchildren do. I was strongly advised to write in it daily. so why do I feel so empty? Should I eat again? Am I still hungry? Was I even hungry before? My day. just sorry for them because it is not a lack of reflection that is the problem. It is strange writing to no one. Lord? My day was as tricky as closing an ironing board. I will reflect to you if you don’t mind. But I will reflect nevertheless. I am exhausted. I went to bed really early last night and slept well.12 March Dear God The bishop has given me this journal to help me reflect. How was Yours? Bill .
Her head felt stuffy and her eyes swollen. heat up her supper. she was too hot for tea. check her diary and prepare for the following day. She’d left school early the previous afternoon hoping to come back home. When she got home she was not hungry. Watched them as they watched her. heavy. have some lunch and sit at her desk to work out how best to deal with the man. She sighed. She groped around the table next to her bed for her phone. Twenty-five minutes until she needed to wake up. her usual routine. hoping it was not yet time to wake up. she’d forgotten to stop and get the paper. read her emails. She found the phone. read the paper. it was 4.ohumagadi woke up and stared at the shadows on her wall. Then make some tea.35 a. She did not believe in using analgesics and had gone to bed with the headache she now felt returning. she was tired. She’d fallen asleep with what felt like a whole thesis in her head. That was the plan.m. But there had been an accident on the road and she’d sat for an hour longer in the midday traffic. watch the evening news. she’d left her laptop at the school in her hurry to leave and her diary 42 M . chapters and chapters of conflicting thoughts churning in her mind.
The children might be fascinated by him for a while. It was not such a big deal. Hot and humid lying there in her Vicky and Vincent blazer. when bo Mama would boil them some milk in a pot for their breakfast before they went to school. Baleri scarf and white 43 . What was it that made her feel so uneasy? She couldn’t possibly still have feelings for him. She needed to get up and pull herself together. The priest was a pathetic. sheer pantyhose. why was she so edgy? She got up and went just fine. sitting there in her office taking up space. climbed into bed and inhaled the smell of warm Low Fat. and even if she did.Spilt MilK was in her car boot and she did not care to go back out and get it. why. It usually soothed her. placed it on her chestnut bedside table.m. just get up and go. So she heated a mug of milk. poured it into a bowl. she was sure they would move on. pearl necklace and Alfindo ruby earrings. He was certainly not a threat. just hot. Even managed to put together a Sloui Martin skirt. as children always are with something new and strange. surely should have been medicine enough to open her eyes to the regrettable character he was. So why. “Just get up and go.” she told herself. But that evening it did not make her any calmer. reminded her of waking up at 4 a. don’t think. helped her sleep. but as soon as they realised there was very little of worth they could learn from the man. staring at the shadows on her wall. seeing him the day before. But today was a new day. Parana skirt. irrelevant man who belonged in another time when things were very different from the way they were now.
Miss L. All the heftiness she had felt the day before came plummeting back.m. that it was menial work and that she. She was no longer even aggravated by the headlines that used to make her switch off the TV. There was no traffic and she arrived at the school at 7 a. when what was thought to be certain no longer was. particularly in the past year when so much had happened in the country. But she was confident that these kids would be the difference. as she always did. threatening to flatten her. Things were going well until she reached for her handbag on the seat next to her and looked beneath it to where there should have been a newspaper clipping in a plastic sleeve for her to put up on the noticeboard. a wild fruit breakfast bar and homemade orange juice. She had not even remembered to buy a paper to find the articles in. Now she could watch them with a sympathetic smile because she believed the school held the secret. when so much had changed. But reading the paper every evening with the children in mind was a simple pleasure Mohumagadi treasured. every day there was an article for the children to read on the noticeboard. She had not remembered to cut articles out of the paper for the children to read. She knew it would take time but nothing 44 . Her whole existence revolved around the school and the children in it. She had a good breakfast: bran bayou bricks with plain yoghurt. on the dot. and there was nothing. She cut articles out of the paper every day. could easily arrange to have a daily article emailed to the children. and she had the notion to switch the engine on again and duck home.Kopano M atlwa shirt that surprised her in their combined beauty. Miss L had always said it was unnecessary for her to do it herself.
He put his ear to one but could not tell if there were people inside or not.m. He arrived late. It was heavy and made a loud 45 . He did not like having to resort to it. And so there had never really been time to think of her own life. 8 a. from his landlord maybe. Idle? He laughed to himself at the thought.m. They would build the roof. He hurried to the hall and found the doors forebodingly closed. That is why she could not bear it.? Was she serious? He had to try and borrow a car. How he wished his mind could be idle! By the time he entered the school gates it was 8. Perhaps it was the bishop’s idea: ‘An idle mind is the devil’s playground’ was his favourite saying. but he knew his collar would make it easier. Why he had to arrive at 8 a.m. patiently developing a group of young people who would make the change. for these things that she was a part of were much bigger than herself. every morning he did not know. or from someone else. He tried to push it open gently.Spilt MilK good was ever made quickly. She was patient. The children were only scheduled to come to him in the afternoon. People found it hard to say no to one ordained.30 a. could not bear to see herself come apart over a ghost of a man who had left her and never thought to ever send a word. Women found it hard to say no to one ordained.
His palms were wet and he could feel his vest sticking to his armpits. cross-continent video conferences between pupils that were beginning imminently. He looked around. He was sure his face was as red as the fury he thought he had seen in Mohumagadi’s eyes. He stuck his head in and a sea of heads turned round to look at him. no one else had a sheet of words in their hands.Kopano M atlwa screeching sound at the smallest nudge. They were all in a hurry. so there were one or two corners he was happy to see again. mumbling apologies for his tardiness to everyone as he scuttled past. experiments that needed to be set up. but he had a sense of the general direction and did not mind getting lost a little. He tried to do it as quietly as possible but his footsteps were deafening hooves galloping in his head. Even the corridors 46 . Mohumagadi seated before a petite podium. He could not remember where exactly in the vast school his classroom was. One of the teachers pointed to an empty chair on the stage where he could sit. They slowly began to stink. Presentations. Like the few interactions he had had thus far. He’d tried to start some conversations with a few of the teachers after assembly. please get me through this day. Perhaps if he had come earlier. The teachers were all on the stage. He was the only one alone with nothing to do. He scurried down the aisle to the stage. “Dear Lord. Mohumagadi gave a very loud sigh and continued with her speech.” he prayed silently. He wished he had not arrived late. his tour the day before had been brief. On the chair was a printed sheet with the words of the school song on it.
an electronic pointer instead of chalk. The walls were lined with compact discs. It was empty. some areas roofed. There were a lot of windows and a lot of sunlight. He had brought nothing with him other than a pen and the journal he had in his hands. so he hadn’t worried about that. glad he had decided to bring it along. He ran his thumb over the journal’s pages. running his hands over the fabric of each chair. The chairs and tables were not in rows but arranged in a semicircle and seated only ten. He eventually found his way to the classroom. He zigzagged between the chairs. tea and coffee. ‘Expensive’ followed. the walls round with tiny spotlights set in the ceiling like stars. but perhaps he should have brought a Bible. That would have looked right. At the back was a room for coats and bags and to the side of it a table with mugs. The ports for Internet connection at each table put to shame the dedicated ruler and pen grooves on his former school desks. They had said the school provided lunch for all staff and pupils. the suede cover of which was now damp from his sweaty palms. feeling the wood of the tables. connected by stone pathways which were lined with large east African painted pots that birds would periodically perch on.Spilt MilK were beautiful. others not. The classroom was very different to those he had grown up in – a projector screen in place of a blackboard. ‘Plush’ was the word that came to mind. The soft sound of water soothed the anxiety he had come in with that morning and he was reminded of the triumph of God’s creation. Who were these children 47 . it would be his companion during his stay.
His late arrival that morning had caused another spectacle and she would have to speak to him about it. having to teach a grown man about punctuality. they had adopted a sister adult school in Mpumalanga and were sending a few of their Grade Fours to the province for a weeklong Mathmarvel Festival. it was just something commonly heard. Anecdotal. The school was doing some outreach. and what insane amounts of money were the parents paying to send them here? And how did they justify pumping so much money into a school like this. Three o’clock had taken forever to come and now that it was here Mohumagadi wished it wasn’t. He did not know for certain that many others sat learning under a tree. She had had a breakfast meeting with the Ministry of Education that had gone terribly because she could not keep her mind off the man in her school and three o’clock. It was embarrassing really. when many other children in the country were sitting learning the alphabet under a tree? He disregarded the thought as soon as it entered his mind. This was a good place and who was he to criticise what he had little understanding of? He decided that from then on it would be better to restrict his thoughts to only the few that were necessary to get him through the next six weeks.Kopano M atlwa who attended this school. Walking Mrs Zondi. he wondered. of Injecting 48 . She had been obsessing over that hour the entire day.
She had so much work to do but could not focus. had opened and marked to read later. but then again they were appointed by the Board. Surely he could not have sat in that classroom from 8. Would it be appropriate to go to his classroom and see how the session was going? It was. She looked at the clock: 3. had extensive and reputable track records and attended a series of interviews before they set foot in the school. She would dismiss him immediately if she did. or had started and saved in drafts. back to her car (she had come to discuss a proposed project the school was considering taking part in: Curbing Cultures of Corruption from Childhood).02 p. She never did it with her other staff members though. She hoped nobody had noticed.m.Spilt MilK Innovation. not even when she stuck her head into the lounge on her way back from lunch with uMhlekazi Tshwete. But he was nowhere to be seen. who had updated her on the Winter Warmer Children’s Opera that would take place at the Khamisa next term.30 until now? She hated the fact that he had her so preoccupied. And now that three o’clock was here she was not sure what to do. after all. He was not the same. Mohumagadi sighed. Her inbox was full of emails she had not read. Playing in the fields like a child. she looked around the gardens half expecting to see the man wandering around. although she was sure Miss L’s relentless smiles were more question marks about why she was unable to sit still in her office for more than ten minutes that day than mere cheerfulness. 49 . It was not the same. Perhaps he would need some guidance. his first day and he was new.
” he said. He would have to get used to calling her Mohumagadi. He was startled awake by the closing of the door and he opened his eyes to find them standing at their chairs staring at him. laughing nervously as he approached them to shake hands. so who would like to start?” Nothing. but I thought perhaps it might be nice if we introduced ourselves again. “Hi.” he said quickly.” They were silent. Not a sound or a whisper from any of them. “Molweni. “Okay. He wondered if they had noticed his slip up with her name. chuckling and feeling his face for sleep lines.” He felt a little embarrassed about having fallen asleep and said so. He’d been out for nearly two hours and had completely missed lunch. hi. “Well. “I’m Father Bill. I mean.02. getting out from behind the desk to where they were standing.Kopano M atlwa He’d been asleep at his desk when the children walked in. Mohumagadi’s office yesterday morning. “How are you guys? Nice to meet you all. Father Bill. now that we’ve got our first impressions out of the way. He jumped up from his chair and looked at his watch: 3. I briefly met each of you in Tshokolo’s. 50 .” they said in unison.
They never made any sense to me. Why the teacher could decide when she sat and we couldn’t.” “It is for respect. The door swung open. We can always 51 .Spilt MilK “How about you?” he said. “It’s been a very long time since I was a schoolboy myself and I’ll admit I never did get those funny rules. So I went to the Mphahlele Library to take a couple out for us to work with for now. “Oh right. the one he remembered hadn’t been happy he was there. That’s when I noticed that there was not a single Bible in this classroom. pointing to the girl who stood closest to him. Father Bill laughed awkwardly and pretended not to notice the animosity in the boy’s voice. but you were asleep and I didn’t want to wake you. and in came the round one. “Please do sit. You stand until the teacher tells you to sit. trying to lighten the mood. right!” he said going red in the face again. please?” was her response. carrying a heap of Bibles in his arms. is that it?” he asked warmly. the one with a pair of dimples and a pair of spectacles. “I’m so. I couldn’t believe the school could be so negligent as to not provide our priest with some Bibles he could teach from. so sorry I’m late Father Bill. the one with the gripping green eyes.” said the boy. I forget classroom protocol. I was actually here before three o’clock to see if you needed any help preparing for this afternoon. “May we sit down now.
not Bible study class. feeling a little overwhelmed by his eagerness.” Father Bill wanted to remind him that this was detention. “Yes.Kopano M atlwa get some more at a later stage. names. son. “I’m Zulwini Dladla. but in the meantime I tried to get as many different versions as the library had. let’s just start with names. He had not noticed that one of the children was missing until the boy walked in. and I am ten years old.” He turned to the girl he had asked in the first place. “Pleased to meet you. Instead he thanked the boy and asked him to take a seat. “Should we open up in prayer?” “No.” Father Bill said. son. there was no need for hundreds of different Bibles.” he said. I’ll go first.” he said with a smile. so shall we try that again then? Names. and silently chided himself for the oversight.” Father Bill could not believe this child. names please. a little giddily. But he didn’t. The round boy’s hand shot up even as he was arranging all the Bibles on the teacher’s desk. and that even if it was. Did he not know that this was a detention class? “Okay.” the boy continued. “Okay. “And who are you. madam?” 52 . without any prompting. Zulwini.
not sure what to do next. pencil cases. He felt a knot in his stomach as he turned to look at the hostile boy who was making no attempt to make their first day with him easy. Can you manage that?” he responded sarcastically. Moya. ma’am. as they pulled out electronic notebooks.” the boy who was not trying to hide his hatred for Father Bill immediately said. M–L–I–L–O Graham. Father Bill took a deep breath. Ndudumo turned to the boy and half smiled with a question mark on her face. pleased to meet you all. rolling the names out slowly. daughter of Ntombovuyo Pooi. “No. sir? What is your name?” “Mlilo Graham. before saying to Father Bill.” Father Bill was only trying to be friendly. “And finally you.” she said.” the girl said quietly. Everyone in the room was surprised. Mlilo. But they seemed to know exactly. “Pleased to meet you. I prefer being called by my full name. looking at her feet. what is your name?” “Moya Mntambo. “Pleased to meet you.” he said ignoring the boy’s animosity. thank you. “And you. exam pads and 53 . “Pleased to meet you. Can I call you ‘D’?” “No. especially Father Bill.Spilt MilK “Ndudumo Mazibuko.” He walked back behind his desk.
find pieces of gum from under the tables and chew on them. Father Bill gave him a thumbs up back. and Zulwini. the reeling cheerfulness. Women had always loved that about him. They were told to sit around silently for about an hour but it never worked out that way. Only needed to be told a name once and he’d never forget it. He looked at his journal on his desk. What was he supposed to do now? He looked at each of them and practised their names in his head. He remembered detention in his school days. the one who made him very uncomfortable. who could forget him? He was the one with the Bibles.Kopano M atlwa began to work. Zulwini saw Father Bill looking at him and smiled and gave him a thumbs up. He did not know what he had expected. he thought. he thought. they did not mouth 54 . and immediately felt silly for doing it. the pen. Mlilo was the one who did not like him. They would climb on the tables. the two girls did not giggle. He was a little thrown. but it was not that. the humming. He slumped into his chair. Childlike chaos but chaos all the same. and definitely not what he had in front of him. So they have their own materials to keep them busy. it was chaos. That is good. he always had been. especially if the teacher taking the detention class was somewhat fickle. Ndudumo was the one who always spoke about her apparently famous mother. that was clear. Moya was the one who did not say much. They passed no notes to each other. the stack of Bibles on the table and the children before him working very seriously. put their heads out the windows. pea shoot. they obviously have some work to keep them busy. He was good with names. Okay.
Spilt MilK words across the room or send text messages under the table. He felt a little disappointed. They all looked up at him. That meant another hour and a half to go. half of whom hated him anyway. angry at himself for expecting anything else. only to find himself sitting and waiting again. How sad his life was. How would he survive that? He felt like he was the one who was being punished. and then thought against it. foolish for having hoped for more. He’d sat and waited the whole day. he thought to himself. Zulwini gave him another thumbs up. What would he do with it? Read it from cover to cover like it was a novel? He’d been a priest for fifteen years and he had never dreamed of doing that. He looked at his watch. He sighed loudly. and presiding was exactly what he was doing. The bishop had said he might be presiding over the children’s detention classes and that this would give him an opportunity to reflect. Disappointed that he was going to spend the next six weeks waiting for these children to arrive and then waiting for them to leave. that the highlight of his day was looking forward to sitting around with some kids he didn’t know. He 55 . He gave him one back and hoped they would not continue in that fashion for the next six weeks. Only thirty minutes had passed. Six weeks of presiding. He felt disappointed and angry and then foolish. Perhaps he was sent here as punishment. like he was the one who had been sent to detention. except it was the worst detention he’d ever experienced because as the teacher he could do nothing but be quiet. He thought perhaps he should get up and fetch a Bible to read. He smiled apologetically.
m. Moya puzzled. Mlilo continued to scrutinise him mercilessly. guys?” Father Bill suddenly asked heartily. He did not want to disrupt the children again. There were still another thirty minutes to go. The other three were still busy. Perhaps the bishop was fed up. Mlilo shook his head. laptop and stationery to his backpack. 4. But Father Bill was not deterred. Zulwini put a finger to his lips and warmly mouthed a shush. He sighed again. None of you has a favourite movie? 56 . then looked away. They were never condemning. “Oh come on. Father Bill was pulled out of his daydreaming by the unzipping of a bag. hoping to relax the taughtness in the air a little. Father Bill tried to find other subjects for his own gaze and did his best to ignore the boy. but quickly clasped his hands over his mouth and caught his breath as soon as he realised it. Mlilo folded his arms across his chest and sat glaring at Father Bill. the church never condemned. Father Bill looked at his watch. He’d been in trouble with women before and each time the church had forgiven him and sent him away on a retreat to reflect on his actions.Kopano M atlwa had never thought about it that way. The two girls dropped their pens and looked up at him. always forgave. When he was finished packing. Father Bill half smiled at him. The boy was not going to smile back. Perhaps they were fed up. always forgot. never punished. Mlilo was returning his books. “What are your favourite movies.30 p. Ndudumo amused.
Everyone has a favourite movie. How about Indiana Jones, boys? Girls? Marie Antoinette?” At this Ndudumo laughed out loud. Zulwini looked afraid. “Okay fine, so maybe those are a little outdated, but how about the Harry Potters? You have to love those. Everyone loved those.” He laughed boisterously. And he wasn’t even pretending. He was crazy about movies, including animated ones, and was in fact a proud owner of Movie-Lovers’ 101 Greatest Films of all Time. Before Father Bill could say any more, Mlilo got up from his chair, picked up his bag and headed towards the door. Father Bill was dumbfounded. He watched the boy get halfway to the door, realise he had forgotten his blazer, head round to the cloakroom and then back towards the door. All without a word, not even a little bit of hesitation. Father Bill was completely shocked. “Hey!” Father Bill jumped up and shouted as the boy opened the door. “Where are you going?” Mlilo stopped and turned around. He pointed to the clock on the wall. “Home.” And with that he left. Father Bill was speechless. At the window he saw Mohumagadi outside watching him. When he caught her eye, she hurried off, presumably after the boy. He looked at the other three but they avoided his eyes, even Zulwini, so he asked them to leave too and they did so quietly. He sat back down on his chair. They’d
Kopano M atlwa
left the door open. Father Bill did not bother to close it. He knew someone could walk past and see him sitting there alone in an empty classroom staring into nothingness, but he did not care. His stomach cramped and the blisters on his lip prickled. He tried not to scratch. He had had the blisters for years. They came and went. A doctor he had seen about them many years ago had said they were caused by a virus and aggravated by stress and sunlight. She had given him a tube of cream to put on them every four hours, and warned him not to scratch them otherwise they would spread. The doctor had said that, unfortunately, once the virus was in your body it would stay with you for life. There was no getting rid of it. Back then, when he and she were much younger (and perhaps much happier), he would buy two tubes of the ointment and smear it on half hourly and not every four hours as the doctor had prescribed. He had been so worried he would give the blisters to Tshokolo, his Tshoki. He never did though, never got the opportunity to. Now he wished he had. She deserved the blisters. He felt humiliated being sent to this school where he was clearly not welcome and not wanted. He sighed loudly and then again even louder. He would sigh as loudly as he wanted to and not be shushed by a handful of ten-year-olds. His heart hurt but he swiftly shouted at it for being absurd. He was not sad, he was mad. He wished they had kissed. He wished they had kissed
and the blisters had infected her. He wished he had left her with some part of himself. If they had kissed and he had given her the blisters it would be something they could share, even now, something that would never leave their bodies, something that would reappear at night when they cried out for each other.
Mohumagadi felt a little embarrassed that the man had caught her spying on him, but she told herself that it was perfectly reasonable and completely within the bounds of her responsibilities that she actively seek to find out how the first session with the children was going. She immediately hurried after Mlilo, who fortunately had not seen her standing there looking at the priest through the window. “Mlilo, what are you doing walking around the corridors? Should you not be in Father Bill’s class?” She did not want to make it obvious that she had seen him leave. “Molweni, Mohumagadi. Forgive me, I did not see you there. Otherwise I would have stopped and greeted.” “Why are you wandering around, Mlilo?” “Mohumagadi, if I am not mistaken, we were told yesterday that our sessions with Father Bill were only until 5 p.m. It is already past five, Mohumagadi.”
Kopano M atlwa
“Then where are the other children, Mlilo?” “They are still inside the classroom, Mohumagadi.” “So why were you dismissed, Mlilo, and not the others?” “We were not dismissed, Mohumagadi.” “So you just left, without being dismissed?” “Yes, Mohumagadi.” And at this he cast his eyes down. “Is that how you have been raised, Mlilo?” “No, Mohumagadi.” “Is that how you have been taught to behave?” “No, Mohumagadi.” “Is impertinence the culture of this school, Mlilo?” “No, Mohumagadi, but neither is bringing a white priest into our classrooms.” “Mlilo Graham, if I did not make myself clear yesterday, then let me do now. Sa re kgoo! Selepe se remile lentsu la kgosi la kwagala Bokgalaka! Father Bill will be here for as long as I say he will be here. You will attend his sessions for as long as I say you will. Otherwise you will leave this school. You will show Father Bill respect, you will listen to what he has to say and you will never ever walk out of his classroom undismissed again.”
She looked back at the classroom and saw the other three children walking out. she looked back again to see if the man would emerge too. They both knew he did not mean what he said. then he was mistaken. but would say it graciously anyway. But Mohumagadi also knew that if Mlilo had made up his mind that he did not like Father Bill. She perhaps should’ve told Mlilo to go back and apologise.Spilt MilK Mlilo apologised and thanked her for pointing out where he had erred. He was an African child brought up in African ways. This was no ordinary school and these were no ordinary children. After they had gone. Still she felt nothing. She asked after their day. He did not. but she secretly felt a little pleased that the boy had given Father Bill a bit of a hard time. still there was nothing. 61 . She looked at his door again. then he would make sure the priest knew it. He would just have to get over it. give a small bow and then hurry down the corridor towards the soccer fields. She gave him permission to leave and watched him place his hands together in appreciation. so she did not expect any Western theatrics from him. And if he thought he could come here and throw his colour around. their parents and their health and then encouraged them to go home and rest so they would be ready for a new day of learning. As they passed her they stopped and greeted her.
Goodnight.13 March Dear God The children at this school are full of crap. Bill .
He could not understand why they did not make all clocks digital. taxis hooting. The sun was pretty. He had gone to bed angry and that wasn’t good. the long arm. trucks. He felt bad about what he had written in his journal the night before. He lay there with his eyes wide open. He looked at the clock on the wall. listening. Probably why he 63 F .30 a. found his journal and a pen amidst the mess and scratched out what he had scribbled in it. at his age could still not tell the time. A big 5. Cars. switched on the light. It used to bug him that he couldn’t work it out. He quickly covered his head and tried to fall back sleep again before it was gone for good. the short arm and the thin arm that moved really fast. why they made them so difficult to understand. It was too. just not on stupid analogue clocks.ather Bill lay in bed the next morning and looked at the sun shining through the brown curtains the landlord had put up in his room. He felt around on the floor for his watch. the curtains ugly.m. stared back at him. He slunk out of bed. It was too late. He could tell the time. busses. He could hear cars driving past on the main road across from where he was staying. too early. but now he didn’t care.
He would try harder. dancing for the stars. be the first on the stage and be awake when the children came to him at 3 p. doing handstands. eat breakfast and ask the landlord if he could borrow his car. They didn’t know him and so were only protecting themselves. The cars carred. walking on her hands. He would arrive early. the busses bussed and the taxis hooted in the distance whilst Father Bill lay in bed waiting to wake up. sleeping next to him under the clouds. rolling in the grass. He would try again. He would get dressed. laughing at the moon. he reminded himself. It was simply the way things had always been 64 . he concluded again. let alone him. He would have behaved the same as them at their age. They were just children. saving ladybugs. He would make it work.Kopano M atlwa slept so badly. running in the rain. if he would have been as mean to a stranger. He tried to remember what he was like as a child. jumping into puddles. There had never been a staff member who arrived at the school before her. If things were sour it was because he was not trying hard enough. Yes. they were only children. Probably why he was awake now. Mohumagadi almost jumped out of her skin when she walked into the hall and saw the man seated on the stage. But all his mind managed to dredge up was images of her.m. the trucks trucked. She did not expect anyone to be in the hall at that time of morning.
Had she suggested it? She could not recall. She had come in so calm and cool that morning and now had lost it again. Before he could get down the steps and any closer. She liked being there first to watch the school transform from peaceful stillness to vibrant life. She was annoyed.” Mohumagadi said. Father Bill.” she said.” the man said with a large smile on his face. “Good morning. There was absolutely no reason why he needed to be there so early. She needed milk. Mohumagadi. I suggest you wait there rather than on the stage. quickly turned around and dashed down the aisle and out the hall. “Good morning. in the morning? Did he really need to be there twenty-four hours a day? Mohumagadi hurried back to her office. she placed the notes on the podium.Spilt MilK and she preferred that they remain that way. getting up from his seat to come towards her. 65 . She liked to walk all the way past the tennis courts and the soccer fields to the induli. When she got to her office she pressed 1. together where the sun shone its brightest at that time of morning. “The staff procession begins from the gallery. walking towards the podium where she wanted to leave her notes for the morning’s assembly speech. Father Bill. where the school’s flag and the country’s flag stood together tall and proud. Did the man have nothing else to do with his life? Could she not ever get away from him? Not even at 7 a.m.
It read 2. If he went to the toilet right now and got back to the classroom with them already there. but it was the kind of thing a good teacher did not do and today was his day of making good impressions. He was not sure if he really needed to go or was just anxious that he wouldn’t be able to once they arrived because he really wasn’t supposed to leave them alone. forgetting all about his bathroom dilemma. He had even gone to the teachers’ lounge during lunch. He had been to the toilet at about 2. It was Moya. “Come in. He needed to go to the bathroom but did not want to be missing from the classroom when the children arrived. The doorknob suddenly turned. He did not want that. No one had told him that he shouldn’t leave the children alone. He stood up and waited as the door was slowly pushed ajar and in poked a little dreadlocked head.Kopano M atlwa Father Bill sat staring at his watch as three o’clock approached. and although he had not spoken to any of the teachers because they had all looked very preoccupied working on their laptops. The day had gone so well so far and he did not want to spoil it. “I thought 66 . he thought he was at least a step closer to making friends. come in. they would think he was late again. “Sorry I did not knock.30 but his bladder felt full again.50 p.” he said excitedly.” she said softly.m.
Spilt MilK you might be asleep again. 67 . before the others came. You are welcome to come here as early as you like.” he said smiling. hoped he wouldn’t later regret what he had just said. He stood there gaping at her for a minute. He thought she needed to do something else. He had hoped they might talk a bit. “Oh.” she explained. He was about to say something else when he saw her instantly begin to scribble away. “What are you working on there?” he asked. don’t be sorry. it was still 2. “My assignment. placed her bag on the floor and stood behind her chair. remembering Mlilo’s icy words. please Moya. standing there behind her chair. then realised that she was waiting for him to tell her to sit. you don’t need to be so formal in this classroom. She looked up at him and their eyes met. I finished Global Health and Public Policy early. “Sit down. and then went back to his seat. but she quickly looked back down and continued working.” He looked at his watch again. 2. He sighed. for just a short while. and then. He smiled. pulled out her books and put them on her desk.55. “No.55. He looked at his watch.” he said kindly. sit down. She walked towards her seat.” she said softly. His heart sank a little. He had not spoken to anyone all day.
Her thick eyebrows knotted in a cross of confusion. Self-control and Self-awareness in Puberty’. Father Bill. Miss L emailed it to us. “Are we not supposed to work on our assignment during this time? I’m sorry. I’m sorry if I confused you. An assignment he gave them to do? “But I didn’t give you an assignment to do. I thought that was what we were expected to do. The cover page read ‘Journal Articles on Self-discipline. I mean. Father Bill said. Father Bill was puzzled. The one you gave us to do. “It was emailed to us.” she said. This one. the assignment for this class.” “Well. Two pages of questions followed under the heading ‘Week 1 to 6 Study Guide’ and then article after article on topics ranging from ‘Learnt Behaviours: to do or not to do?’ to ‘Choosing to Lose vs Choosing to Win’ and ‘Sex 68 . I was just wondering what assignment you were working on. He got up to see what she was holding in her hand. the day we met you in Mohumagadi’s office. “No. He hadn’t given them an assignment to do. I’m sure you can work on whatever homework you have. what’s the assignment for?” She looked at him and was silent.Kopano M atlwa “So. I was just curious. the cross on her forehead growing deeper. he was sure of that. your class.” Realising he was worrying her.” She held up a wad of stapled documents. no.” he said after thinking about it for a while. She looked like she was too.
He could not believe it. Ndudumo said nothing. “As long as we are keeping your growing minds busy. Ndudumo finally spoke. “Not to worry.Spilt MilK in the Modern Era’. Zulwini shook his head vigorously.” and gave a weak chuckle.” he said walking back to his seat. obviously confused. He looked to Zulwini but all the boy could offer was a face lined with deep regret. The two stood behind their chairs. “He said he is no longer coming to this class. she said. Moya looked down. Moya got up again and they greeted him in chorus. “Oh. 69 . and apologised again. not to fuss with all the formalities. not sure what he expected them to say or what he would do with their responses. He again told them to sit down.” he mumbled as the others walked in. He was telling everyone at break today that he finished the entire six-week assignment last night and that the whole thing is a joke. Mlilo was not there. guys?” he asked.” “Well. okay. is it?” he asked them. It was only Ndudumo and Zulwini who came in. She thought the assignment was from him. None of them answered him. It was a detailed work programme for them to do over the next six weeks. She looked up at him. “Where is Mlilo.
” 70 . Father Bill.” He was out of breath and now regretted his impulsive bolt out of the classroom. As Father Bill sat back down in his chair he saw Mohumagadi standing at the window. You were told on your arrival. “Well. He wasn’t even sure what he had stopped her to say. “Yes. “Father Bill. won’t we?” He hoped they would not ask him what that something would be.” And they did.Kopano M atlwa “Is it. She stopped dead in her tracks. guys? Is it a joke?” he asked again. Yes it is. “Yes. She was pacing down the corridor when he called out her name. “I’m sorry. He caught her eye and she swiftly looked away and hurried off. “Until we do. I just wanted to catch you before you disappeared. we’ll have to do something about that then.” “Perhaps you do not remember. we do not yell at this school. I was not told. He got up from his chair and went out after her. “I believe the children were given an assignment to do for the next six weeks.” Ndudumo said.” he muttered.” she said coldly before he could say a word. you did not know?” “No. watching them. please continue with your assignments.
modikologa o ja namane. Mohumagadi. “Everything has already been done. so we didn’t want to inconvenience you. What was ‘we know you have things to work through’ supposed to mean? And who were ‘we’? The entire staff? “I would have really liked to have been involved. It’s terribly boring work to compile such a thing.Spilt MilK “It’s not that. We did not think you would be interested to know the details. shrugging matter-of-factly. Choose appropriate articles.” he managed to stammer. I’m sorry. Father Bill. He had not even known he wanted to be involved until he said it.” He felt the blood in his gut hurtle into his face and was certain a new crop of blisters were busy sprouting on his lips at that very moment. he was silly to think they would have let him get involved.” she said.” “Oh. Create tasks that can best assess how the learners have engaged with the various texts. you should have notified us long before your arrival. “We prepare well in advance at this school. Leputlaputla le ja pudi. “… things to work through.” And he knew to leave it at that. One has to read all the literature on the topic. it’s just that it would have been nice to have had some part in it. He thanked her for her time and apologised again for shouting and running down the corridor. His head raced. A tremendous amount of work. Father Bill. 71 . She was right. and we know you have a lot of your own …” and she paused. If you were interested.
” they said in chorus. all three of them. Father Bill. then?” They laughed.Kopano M atlwa Then he returned to the classroom. put that ball down and come here right now. He wasn’t very good at being strict with anyone. Mlilo liked to think he was older and bigger than he was. “I’m guessing you have all finished your allocated assignment work for today?” “Yes. “Good. Ndudumo a fashion magazine and Moya what looked like a novel. So he sat back down at his desk. but wasn’t even given a chance to try because they were all sitting quietly when he walked in. “Mlilo Graham. and continued with their reading. It was to be expected. Zulwini was reading a Bible. and then shook their heads and said they’d get into trouble if they did. Mohumagadi found Mlilo playing soccer with the Grade Seven boys on the field. So how about we have a bit of fun. 72 .” Mohumagadi made sure she did not shout. cupped his chin in his hands and waited for five o’clock. She shook her head when she saw him. He fully expected to find the children chatting when he got back to the classroom and that he would have to be strict with them.
was not surprised. “Good day. “Six weeks of work.Spilt MilK Shouting made it seem like she was not in control. Why are you not in your session?” “I have completed my assignments. All the boys around him stopped and came over to great her too.” When he approached and was close enough to hear her without her having to raise her voice. struggling to keep up as he attempted to pull his soccer boots off and put on his school shoes at the same time. it is just this one I want to speak to. She waved her hand. Make sure you keep up because I have wasted enough time on you as it is. Mlilo came running. “No. knew he was 73 . she began. no. “Do not push me. “What are you doing kicking a ball around when you have a detention session you are supposed to be in?” She did not turn to look at him pacing along beside her. Mohumagadi.” She turned around sharply and began to walk back to the school building. Continue playing boys. How is Mohumagadi today?” he said between breaths. Mohumagadi. Mlilo. Mohumagadi stopped. “Pick up your things and follow me. Mlilo?” She could not believe this boy had such a nerve.” he muttered.
“Yes. Zulwini and Ndudumo could do it too. Mlilo. just scrunched his face up and looked down on the ground.” “When. You will redo all of those tasks. just could not believe he had such a nerve. “Look at me. “Why. dropping his face and walking away as she felt herself grow heavy.” he muttered. but they are working the way the have been told to. Mlilo?” She was not even angry any more. realising she was not finished with him. turned his head towards her and asked him again. Mohumagadi. Mlilo? Do you think you’re clever? Bo Moya. She saw his eyes well up.” she said. Just exasperated.Kopano M atlwa not lying. Why do you insist on being difficult? Why can you not behave like a normal child and do your work the way you are supposed to? Who are you trying to impress? Do you think you are the only one who can complete those tasks overnight. Mlilo?” she asked him again. 74 . Mlilo?” “Last night. “Motšhaba-pula o tšhabela matlorotlorong. Mlilo. Mlilo? Do you think this behaviour is noble?” He said nothing. This child refused to cooperate. when I speak to you. Mlilo. He would not look at her so she took his chin in her hands. She stopped once more. “I hate him. Do you think there is something special about you. he wouldn’t dare. Mohumagadi. “Hate is a stupid emotion.” “Why.
sure. Day by day. He had brought all of this on himself and had only himself to blame. Why had he got involved in all this mess in the first place? It was so unlike him.” He did not say a word as she returned to the school. He was everything the school sought to achieve. But she knew he had heard her. Her heart drummed in her ears. But to get himself mixed up with the likes of Ndudumo. She wanted to tell him that had he behaved as he was supposed to. In fact there would be no need for Father Bill to be at the school at all. but what else was she supposed to do. His work ethic and his relentless determination to succeed at everything he attempted made Mohumagadi beam like a doting mom. gaping at each other’s genitalia at the back of the school bus? Mohumagadi could not understand it and was disappointed in him at a very personal level. in the order they are supposed to be done. Mohumagadi let out a yell into the emptiness when she was out of earshot. He did not even know Bill. She hated having to be so hard on him. Yes. you will be the first one there and the last to leave. week by week. She shook her head and screamed into the nothingness again. But Mlilo? His father was white. there would be no need for him to be attending Father Bill’s sessions.Spilt MilK One by one. She had always secretly put her pride in the boy. And then tried to slow her breathing. And you will be in that classroom tomorrow. she did not particularly like white people either. 75 .
” Father Bill said to himself as he closed the classroom door. At first he could not remember where the words came from. Father Bill. Scarier. “Sorry. He laughed out loud. “Another day. A colourful summer coat doing pirouettes at her feet. and then laughed at himself for saying it.Kopano M atlwa “Another day. but still as beautiful. And then he recalled the rap music he had heard coming from his landlord’s son’s room that morning. another dollar’. “Scare me in my own school? Please. I didn’t want to scare you. shielding her eyes from the late afternoon sun that was making it difficult for her to see him. It was Mohumagadi. What are you still doing here so late?” 76 .” he said again and it made him feel a little drunk.” he lied. He watched her walk. He had nothing to be happy about and the best he could come up with was ‘Another day. back straight. She was still as beautiful as she was then. let alone what they meant. ‘Another day. He walked quietly behind her. another dollar. Like a peacock. “Father Bill?” she called down the corridor as he drew closer. As he walked down the corridor he saw someone walking ahead of him. another dollar. Long strides. another dollar’. It must have stuck in his head from then. not wanting her to see him.
his heartbeat quickening. “Why. but what did she think he was going to say? “The one from her mother you read to her in your office the other day. “Father Bill.” she said.” But as he was about to go out into the staff parking lot. See you in the morning. what?” he asked. that. If I still have it. Father Bill.” She frowned when he said that.” He really hadn’t. good evening then. “Not like I’m rushing off to anything anyway.” he shouted before she got away. He could see he had embarrassed her and felt bad for doing it. “Thank you. have a good evening. wait. if you think—” But he only wanted the letter from Ndudumo’s mother. She turned around hesitantly. so he turned around too. Turned around quickly and carried on in the direction she was going.” “Mohumagadi.” “Oh.Spilt MilK “Is it late? I hadn’t noticed. he heard her stop again. “Well. Mohumagadi. Father Bill?” “Why. 77 . walking away and waving her hand dismissively. yes. “What letter?” she snapped at him. come get it from my office in the morning.
when it was said to be the beginning of something new.J. something true. the one he had worn his whole life and had never needed until then. they were being pulled apart. vividly. something beautiful. How they had gotten to this place. the end of what was supposed to be just the beginning. Mohumagadi. He remembered.” is all he could think to reply. But what could it tell him. then said. But for him it was an ending. that day when the Fathers had made him pack his bags. other than that Jesus had never had a girl? It was a time in the country when people were celebrating. “Come fetch it in the morning. then.” “Yes.Kopano M atlwa “Why do you want the letter?” “Oh. Because I think she might like to have it. How ironic that when others were coming together.” And left. He had looked with desperation at the W. She looked at him for a moment longer. from 78 . He remembered it was the first time in his life he’d been away from Mamelodi. from the church. As he climbed into his landlord’s car he again wondered how he had gotten to this place.” “She would have asked me if she wanted to have it. Shook her head. Father Bill. bracelet around his wrist.W.D. How fifteen years had flung them round and managed to scatter them here.
foolish love when you were young and then just a bunch of entanglements to get you by for the rest of the way. Of course it got better. just as he had feared. He was young. a man. She was sent to her room in the servant’s quarters and the mamas were told to keep her there. He had not wanted to forget how it felt to be with her. And after fifteen years. Of course he forgot and smiled and laughed again. he would cry for her every day. for what was once new and beautiful and true and had now been lost. women were plenty. Of course that only lasted a week or two. to lay his head in her lap. Had not wanted to forget why their being torn apart made him. He had not wanted it to get better. But that was exactly what he feared the most. People told him later that when you hurt like that you feel as if you will never be the same again. but that with time you do.Spilt MilK her. he told himself that even if he had to force it. to smell her hand. He recalled pulling down his dead parents’ suitcase all covered in dust from the top cupboard and watching the dust make mud on its fabric with his tears as he stood above it. for what they had. He knew that there would come a time when he would forget and would stop crying. wail like a little boy. He’d never thought he’d see her again. a grown man. That was life wasn’t it? Naive. It was only in the movies that they waited forever. They were not allowed to speak to each other. One day you find yourself laughing again. to rest his heart against her shoulder. He was told to fetch his things. As he left the place of his upbringing. what were the chances? That’s why he had never 79 . a man of God. He knew that.
The priests had left a long time before. back in his life and as beautiful as ever. As Mohumagadi got into her car and saw Father Bill drive away. 80 . Mohumagadi used to take bo Mama Twiggy groceries every month before she and the others passed away. hoping and praying she’d spot him walking up the driveway. ‘Another day. fifteen years later. waiting for Bill to return. never put jam on her bread. They loved that church more than they loved the God it was built for. but the women stayed on. always kept to herself.Kopano M atlwa bothered with all that intense emotion and longing. She remembered Mama Twiggy and immediately got a chill up her spine. Because what were the chances? And yet here she was. Mama Twiggy was different from the others. Said she did not want to eat what she would never have the privilege of getting used to. He laughed. Mama Twiggy had been the one to pat her back when all the women had gone out to the prayer meetings at Vista University for the upcoming elections while Mohumagadi sat crying and staring out of the windows. And now it was too late. she was reminded of the words of Mama Twiggy at the church she had grown up in. another dollar’. She would sit at the window sill of the dining hall after supper and wait to see if maybe that night Bill would come home.
81 .Spilt MilK One night she fell asleep there. God can have him then. worse. floating in the light sleep that she had become accustomed to. like a beautiful sunset. moody. and then are gone as if they never were and only you are left with the painful memory of their existence. they die young. and how can you ever compete with that my child? What chance do you stand against God? They will sacrifice you for the sake of a Bible study session. they won’t ever love you as much as they love their God and their church. her forehead pressed against the window. they often die young and it’s just the way it is.” Well. by falling in love with these ones. my child. dirty people who live long miserable lives. Mohumagadi thought to herself as she switched on her car engine and drove home. “You are doing yourself a disservice. Mama Twiggy often just rubbed her back with her knobbly hand and moved on. And there’s nothing you can do about it. her cheeks dry and chapped from all the tears. All these Christian ones. but that night she whispered into her ear. It’s us selfish. And. They are here for just a moment. greedy.
God. I think it’s because you realise it’s over and this is how it’s going to end. Bill . nothing can happen between now and dawn. There is nothing you can do. again.14 March Dear God The evenings are hard. Goodnight. You realise that your hopes were foolish and that life has proved you and your dreams wrong.
“May I sit.” he said gently. realising he was in the boy’s way and was preventing him from getting to his seat.” he mumbled. The boy looked at him with an icy cold expression on his face. getting up from his seat to move closer to him. Eventually he spoke. 83 . Take a seat.” he said. at a loss as to what to talk to him about next.” Father Bill was surprised to see the boy suddenly appear at the classroom door. hoping that this might be the chance to crack the glacier between them. “Did you finish early today? You are here very early. “We missed you yesterday.” “Not out of choice. Father Bill laughed but the boy did not laugh with him. Mlilo. But Mlilo just stood there staring at him. of course. he did not expect him to be the first one there today. please?” “Yes. After he had not shown up the day before.“H ello there. Mlilo. of course. “So …” he said.
“I’m not certain what I have said to offend you. where are you from. his face lined with concern.” Father Bill replied softly. “I’m sorry. only this time much slower and with more emphasis on the words. “but I’m quite sure that whatever it is. His heart was beating loudly in his ears. “Fuck off. especially not by a child. did I offend you in some way. Mlilo. “Father Bill. dumbfounded. Mlilo?” Father Bill asked. He saw the other three children approaching the classroom and raised his hand in greeting as they neared him. 84 . All you children speak so beautifully.” the boy said again.Kopano M atlwa “So. are you okay?” Zulwini asked. What had just happened? What was going on? “I beg your pardon?” He had never been sworn at in his life. Mlilo? You speak English so beautifully. “Where do you come from? What are you doing here? Are you not aware that you are not wanted here?” The boy’s face was filled with hatred and resentment.” “Fuck off. Please excuse me. I need to get some air. it does not justify such behaviour. ‘Fuck off’? He battled to even repeat the words to himself.” What? Father Bill was completely taken aback.” Father Bill stepped outside.
” Moya greeted. feeling very embarrassed. “So you’re back. Be quiet children. “Ssshhh. “Molweni. “Good day.Spilt MilK “Yes.” he nodded and instructed them to enter. What are you children going to plant?” Father Bill asked. Before he could do or undo any more he heard singing coming from behind him. Father Bill is praying. each holding the hand of the one in front and the one behind them.” their little voices sang. Father Bill stuck his head in the door and tried to force a smile. “No. please. past the gymnasium that read ‘Shaka the Great’.” Ndudumo said to Mlilo as she entered the classroom and saw Mlilo sitting there. Father Bill. Please. over to the Grade One vegetable patches and into the shade where the long distance runners trained he went. as she walked past him too. 85 . Molo. yes. Father Bill. I am done.” He walked as fast as his feet would carry him. Down the corridors. Father Bill. It was a group of Grade Ones wearing gumboots and carrying spades and packets. We are going to plant vegetables today. out past the Khoi Khoi gardens.” the teacher leading them said warmly. smart ass. I’ll be back in just a moment. picked up a rock and threw it at God. getting up. Here he dropped to his knees. “Continue with your assignments.
“And mine will grow the biggest. so with his heart still thundering in his ears. trying to hide the anguish he felt within as the chain of small bodies moved past him. They looked straight at his knees and it was only then that he noticed they were covered in soil. “Thumbs up. This time in the opposite direction. Relief rushed back into Zulwini’s face and he gave Father Bill an enthusiastic thumbs up and continued working. 86 . He thought that if he could focus his mind on something else he could rid himself of the rage he felt rumbling inside. All four were working and all but Mlilo glanced up when he entered.” Father Bill said jovially. into the corridors. let me not slow you down.” one small little girl proclaimed confidently. “Thumbs up or down?” Zulwini mouthed quickly. away from the green grass and giddy gradies. Father Bill tried to sit back down at his desk.Kopano M atlwa “Onions. peas and beetroot!” they exclaimed. Never easily succumbed to hostility. But to be sworn at by a child was even more than he could bear. He wasn’t really one to get enraged.” Father Bill smiled back. When he got back to the classroom there was quiet. lying. “Well. he walked out the classroom again. Zulwini’s eyes grew wide.
He walked in. and Vuyo Mkhize.” the girl said brightly. “Oh.” he muttered. Father Bill. Father Bill?” the young man asked. captain of the under 19 national basketball team. “Oh. I didn’t look. they’re pretty good. “I had one of the egg ones earlier. “Isn’t that an egg sandwich in your hand?” she asked. I don’t know. He was surprised at her friendliness. 87 .” he replied. He filled his cup with ice. “A sandwich. a puzzled look on her face. Zola Mbambe.” the girl said with a smile. Some sandwiches. so he mumbled a quiet hello and walked over to the ice machine. “What are you eating there. He did not expect them to know who he was. he had become accustomed to being ignored in this school. They looked like they were in a very heated debate.” was his curt response. On the couch sat two of the school’s sports coaches. “I hate egg.Spilt MilK The door to the staff lounge was open and he could hear laughing. He recognised them both from television. muffins and croissants were laid out on the coffee table. former captain of the South African squash team. hi there. He picked up what was closest too him and sat on the opposite side of the room.
no fighting.“what’s your take on this whole ‘are we progressing as humanity’ debate? Do you think we are getting better at this whole life thing? Are we maturing as a species?” “I do not believe that in my life and time I will see an end to suffering or misery or any of that. there will be other things equally as evil. a soul to dance with yours. Father Bill. The Mandelas and the Mother Theresas of the world make a difference only for as long as they are alive and are remembered only for as long as money can be made out of their names. I think that is a false hope.Kopano M atlwa The two coaches looked at each other. no hunger. eyes vacant. A lie. I don’t think this world was made to be fair. a hand to hold. We continue to find more ways to do evil. We stop one war to start another. Just live. So many alive. “So. It’s crazy to think there will be a time when there is no poverty. Those who hurt are the stronger ones. You just need to make this world comfortable for yourself and maybe a couple of people around you. To love is to fail.” 88 . so many around and still not an ear to listen. no violence. smiles programmed. It’s foolish to get your heart stuck into that kind of stuff. Words are empty. perplexed.” the young man tried again. And even if there is. He didn’t care. The rest is just philosophical bullshit. It is weak. it is pathetic and needy. and then back at him. a heart to share. the ones who will survive. I think that is just rubbish. I don’t think it will ever happen. generation after generation. It is better to hurt. It’s all pretty mindless. We save the children from hunger only to kill them with obesity.
like it had always been there. had not understood what he himself had said. There will never be a time when there is no suffering or misery. you are right. for a bloody priest. But the laughing hurt. Just look at you. want to help us.” “Yeah. The girl joined in and Father Bill did too. ‘Bullshit’. But we all know they are bullies. pounded within his head. The West has done too much damage and the rest of us are too damaged. his feet cramp. They are forever telling us they only want good for us. He had no idea what the boy was talking about. made the ice in his hands hot. So he said it again. “Bullshit. 89 .” The boy laughed raucously. “That’s what I have been trying to tell uZola here all afternoon. Help with our elections.Spilt MilK Father Bill’s fierce words surprised him. the egg sandwich in his stomach churn. help with food packages. had not understood what he had said. but he threw his head back anyway and howled with laughter. helping us only as long as we can serve them. only looking out for themselves. too angry. bullies blackmailing us with their money. stung him behind his eyes. Father Bill – you’re pretty messed up yourself. absolute bullshit!” the boy exclaimed. excitedly jumping up from the couch he shared with the girl. help with foreign trade. too fed up to be interested in any kind of hippy happiness. Did such a word even exist in his vocabulary? But it had slipped off his tongue so easily.
molweni.” Zulwini whispered. The four children were working. sit down please. but she could not see Father Bill at his desk. but the 90 . children?” she asked impatiently. she would get up from her desk and head towards Father Bill’s classroom. molweni. In fact. and they all greeted her in chorus.Kopano M atlwa Mohumagadi knew it was silly. Maybe he was somewhere else in the classroom she thought. Then the next day she told herself it was only his second day. She walked slowly to the window. “Yes. Where is Father Bill. Zulwini hurried from out his chair and came round to her. she didn’t even get it herself. she reprimanded herself every time she did it.m. didn’t even know she was going to do it until she was halfway down the corridor headed towards his classroom. Every day around 3. “He just left. yes. He seemed very upset. She reasoned it out on the first day: he was new. She slowed down when she heard absolute silence coming from the room. Not only acceptable but expected. and the same again on his third … When she got close to the classroom she saw that the door was open and hurried down the corridor. perhaps in the cloakroom. Mohumagadi immediately looked at Mlilo. She poked her head in the door and was immediately spotted by Moya who rose to her feet. When the other three looked to see why Moya had gotten up they quickly got up too.34 p. it was acceptable for her to go and see how things were going. Mohumagadi. He did not say where to. but could not see from the angle she was at.
The 91 . His knees were all sandy but other than that she could not make out what the man was up to. Mohumagadi was immediately annoyed with the excitement around her. if everything is all right then …” “Yes.” Father Bill said.” he said. She did not know what was going on but did not like the feel of it. But there was nothing. Father Bill. the man walked in with a cup of ice in his hands and a plate of confectionaries. everything is all right. and I wondered if anything was amiss?” Mohumagadi replied. scanned the room looking for evidence.Spilt MilK boy did not look up. trying hard to sound calm. “Oh no. Zulwini giggled. She knew this had something to do with him but had no reason to confront him. everything is just double thumbs up. Mohumagadi?” Father Bill asked with a smile. Mohumagadi looked him up and down very carefully. Mohumagadi. so she told them to continue working quietly and reassured them that Father Bill would be back shortly. sending Zulwini into hysterical giggles. she shouted in her mind. As soon as the words left her mouth. “I happened to be walking this way and saw your door open. leading her to the door. “Well. I am not finished. “You joining us. evidence of anything. He just continued working as if he could not hear what was going on. She took a breath.
He laughed as he watched their eyes expand. “My name is William Thomas.” Father Bill said. It was a small classroom. so people call me Father Bill. I am a priest. putting the plate and cup down on his table as he climbed on top of it. I understand 92 . it came to him as he approached it and he did it. I was sent to this school because I had sex with a lady I was not married to.Kopano M atlwa children all sat there looking at her. Father Bill suddenly walking into the classroom with a whole plate of confectionaries? Did the man not eat lunch only an hour or two ago? Mohumagadi sighed as she entered her office and sat back down at her desk. Father Bill stood there smiling. “Close your books please. He had no reason to stand on top of the table. in the kitchen of the hall after a service at which I gave the sermon. few children. did not know and did not care to know. Whatever was going on in that classroom made her very uncomfortable. She did not like what was going on one bit. back towards her office. He had no reason to shout from the top of a table but he wanted to. She did not like the look of it but nodded and walked out the door. “There is no need to keep pretending you are engrossed in what you are doing because I know the work you have been given is menial and am sure you will find time to finish it without any trouble. So close your books and pay attention.
because I have done it before and always feel terrible afterwards. “We can’t hear you son. So that is why I am here. but Father Bill looked him right in the eye. He was deadly serious. “Braymow. The room was silent as everyone waited for Mlilo to climb onto his table. but I guess that changes nothing. Mlilo who?” “My name is Mlilo Graham. He could see that Mlilo was not sure whether he was serious or not.” And now he looked directly at Mlilo. speak up. Perhaps it is in my blood and beyond my control.” He climbed off. son. The bishop thought I would benefit from some reflection. “I am Mlilo.” 93 . I had no reason to do what I did. Now get up on your table and tell us who you are and where you come from. his usual confidence evading him as he stood on the table with everyone in the room watching him.Spilt MilK you are some kind of special children at this school. He was trembling. I felt terrible afterwards. Father Bill watched the boy as he hesitantly got up.” the boy mumbled. That’s where I come from.” “And where do you come from?” The boy paused for a minute and then said. not even to me. It made no sense. “You wanted to know where I come from. so I presume I can speak plainly to you and you will not be alarmed.
“Things are going to be different from now on. He waited for Mlilo to say something back. Things were definitely going to change. swirls. She did not want to go down that way. In this classroom we say what we think. the boy didn’t. The thoughts always lead her down the same treacherous path. the very one she wanted to avoid. twirls. He nodded to himself as he sat there at his desk. crazy loops. herself. staring straight ahead at the wall. “Okay then.” And he sat down. daring them to push him further than he’d already gone today. Anyone else want to share where they are from?” He looked around at all of them. it revved up too many forgotten memories. sit down. the children. Mohumagadi arrived home late that evening. Anything else you would like to share with us. not from me. Not from any of you. Father Bill felt no remorse. No more pretending. He felt a little drunk and hoped he still had this courage once whatever it was that had overtaken him over had worn off. the boy did have a carrot stuck up his butt. the school. about Father Bill. She’d sat doing a lot of thinking in her office that afternoon. Mlilo? Like why you have a carrot stuck up your butt?” The other three laughed. that’s very nice. It 94 .Kopano M atlwa “Oh. They said nothing. But the boy stood silently on the table.
you have no reason not to fit in. not of Domestos on clean tiles. you are beautiful. Not that she wanted any of that. make yourself completely vulnerable. release your toe grip and jump. She remembered her dead mother’s words: “Why are you so different? You have everything going for you. She knew there were some who worried about her. close your eyes.Spilt MilK made her angry. Were they to blame? Was it her fault. brought up questions she could not answer. Not of sebete. would never recover. not even of the sun. come back? Were all the promises they had made to each other in 1994 a lie? She felt weak. you insist on living 95 . and then she got into her routine. not of children jumping on a bed. She hated the fact that her house smelt of nothing. What did she want to remember for? What good had remembering ever done her? She closed her briefcase and left the office and headed home. only to fall on rocks that crack your skull and pierce your heart. men. open your palms. She knew she had never recovered. his fault? Would it have worked if he had stayed. Some of the female staff with their husbands and large families often tried to introduce her to people. She just wished it smelled of something. She checked each room to make sure nothing was missing as she did every week when Lee Anne had been to clean. To open yourself up like that. you are intelligent. relax your jaw. tired and confused each time she ventured in this direction. but you don’t. gravy and pap cooking on the stove. Had settled with trying to forget.
She just chose differently. We all choose. 96 . She was no more unhappy than the wife of some BEE giant who drove around in a fast car with a bunch of Grade Ten girls. and that it was a labour of love.Kopano M atlwa on the periphery. a column in the newspaper.” But they didn’t understand there was no other alternative for her and not everyone was made for the three children. and no man to slow her down. She had a white maid. a husband and ousie. a school full of exceptional children. They didn’t see that some people needed to sacrifice their personal lives for something greater than themselves.
Sadly. I thought that at least with children it would be simplified to good or bad. drinking wine. big or small. pretty or ugly. I realise I have just been going through the motions. breaking bread. This task they have assigned me is far more taxing than I expected and it has become quite clear that this is only the beginning and it is likely to be downhill from here. Father!’ that still reeks from where I came from. . I am doing a lot more thinking than I would like. happy or sad. I have been for years but it only just occurred to me today. this is not that kind of place. the distance from people and all the emotion that constantly gushes out of them. None of the ‘I hate you for making me need you when I don’t even like you. drinking wine. getting dressed. I wanted to be in a place where I would be separate from the kinds of things that keep you up at night.15 March Dear God I am dead inside. getting up. drinking wine. your shoulders stiff and your stomach cramp. I am not certain that I will be able to maintain the distance I had hoped to when I came to this school. If I am not dead then I am certainly dying. make your head feel full.
They think I am scared of them. but of what they are bringing out in me. Bill . I am not scared of them.
” Father Bill responded with a smile. You look beautiful today. I really only wanted two seconds of your time and Miss L said it would be okay if I popped in for a minute before assembly. “Good morning. She put her briefcase down on the table. “The culture here is that you make an appointment if you would like to see me.” she said loudly as she made a dramatic entrance into the room. Father Bill. showing no signs of anxiety at her obvious dissatisfaction with his presence. She frowned. The ‘you look beautiful today’ had thrown her off. bent on reclaiming her territory from the invader.” W 99 . I prefer to have my mornings to myself. Father Bill.” “Oh. Father Bill was sitting on her couch lost in the pages of one of her NEW AFRIKA! magazines. Mohumagadi. “Molo.hen Mohumagadi arrived at her office the next morning. I’m so sorry Mohumagadi.
” Had he completely lost his mind? “No. She marched into the corridor. That’s. and please do try to keep up. not looking behind her to see if he was following. The rules were not going to change for this man. When she got to the gallery where some of the teachers were drinking tea. now that you’ve taken my quiet time. if the school has one. not for me. I cannot be late for my own assembly. and she hoped Miss L knew better than to be intimidated by his skin. 100 . I just wanted to ask if the school could lend me a DVD player and a projector. She purposely walked faster when she could hear he was struggling to keep up.Kopano M atlwa Mohumagadi would have to speak to Miss L. Most certainly not.” She was being harsh. “Well. but so what? How else was he going to learn that you don’t just go plonk yourself onto your boss’s couch first thing in the morning and flip through her magazines as if she’s some old friend of yours. to her dismay he finally caught up with her. you’ll have to talk to me on the way to the school hall. Let’s walk.” “For your personal use? No. And as long as the man was in her school he would have to learn that she was the boss and he was the employee. “Mohumagadi.” he said quickly. of course. priest or not. for the classroom.
very simple. Shame. it’s just quite a long time to sit around with nothing to do. While seated on the stage Mohumagadi couldn’t help but chide herself for being so hard on the man.” She indicated to him that he needed to join the procession as they all entered the hall and the children rose. 101 . Mohumagadi. For the assembly and all. It’s not that I mind coming in so early. She laughed again. this time at herself for ever having being in love with this person. It was sweet. when all he wanted to do was watch a Bible series! She chuckled. So I was just thinking. He wanted to pass the time watching a Bible series. checking up on him every hour. I promise to take very good care of it. If it’s at all possible. as you know.” “Okay. “I get here quite early every morning. but cute. Why on earth would he want a DVD player for the classroom? “Why?” she asked. Thank you. But the children only come at three o’clock. There she was worrying about what he was up to. and I just thought the mornings would be a good time. I mean it’s completely fine if you say no.Spilt MilK She looked at him carefully up and down. She had been young and confused and could not be angry at herself for that. He wasn’t even her type! She had been a child. Cute. You don’t have to. a foolish child in love with the first white boy who had ever given her attention. It’s on DVD. But there’s this Bible series I’d like to watch.” “I’ll have to think about it. Simple.
things would be fine after all.Kopano M atlwa The orchestra began to play and they stood to sing the school song. Sekolo sa Ditlhora. hone ri shi lovhe. Mohumagadi thought to herself.” Child of a diff’rent providence In our hearts truth is prominent Believing in our competence Destined for success. Sekolo sa Ditlhora. Sekolo sa Ditlhora. 102 . Sekolo sa Ditlhora Destined for Success! “Re dikilwe thoko tsohle Mme ga re pitlaganywe Re a phoraphora Mme ga re gakanege Re a tlaiswa Mee ga ra lahlega Re digelwa fase Mme ga re senyege. Yes. “Ri thuphiwa zwinzhi Fhedzi ri si pwashekanyiwe Ra tovholwa. Things would be fine. fhedzi ri si shae Moya Ra tsimbeledzelwa fhasi. Sekolo sa Ditlhora.” We are the school of excellence Despite the time of turbulence Unafraid of impediments Destined for success.
103 .” The world awaits the coming of us Here we go with wholeheartedness Bold enough to carry the cross Destined for success. Please let us know if it is not suitable. Sekolo sa Ditlhora. when he returned from the staff lounge to his classroom and found a DVD player on his desk alongside a new projector still in its packaging. Father Bill felt loathsome for lying to Mohumagadi. There was a note attached to the projector: ‘Dear Father Bill All of the school’s portable projectors are in use this morning. singancami Sitshutshiswa asiyekeleli Sikhahlelwa phantsi Asitshatyalaliswa. Sekolo sa Ditlhora.Spilt MilK Sekolo sa Ditlhora Destined for Success! “Siyabandezelwa ngeenxa zonke Singaxineki Siyathingaza. Sekolo sa Ditlhora Destined for Success! Later in the morning. so one of the drivers went out to buy one.
messed up his shirt and dirtied his hands? At least he would have won a marble. which meant she must have agreed to his request only minutes after he’d made it and not given it any thought at all. at the DVD player barely used. and now he had a brand new. And then he decided against it. spun around a wheel and touched his legs near a cloud from a swing. and considered going to her office.Kopano M atlwa Warm regards. So what if he nicked his school shoes a little. Mohumagadi must have relayed the message even before assembly was over. Heaven knew he wasn’t doing any living sitting in that classroom all day while everyone else was out on the playground. Which was absolutely awful because he had not given his request any thought either. jumped over the highest pole. expensive-looking X Tech projector frowning at him from his desk. tore his socks. What would he do if she came round that afternoon and found him watching the animated movies he had brought along and not the Bible series he had fabricated? He looked at the sealed box on his desk. Miss L’ He couldn’t imagine when they had found the time between assembly and breakfast in the staff lounge to go out and purchase a whole new projector. there was no Bible series. She should have said no. There was nothing to gain by clinging to his Grade One rule book. He would tell her nothing. giving her back the equipment and telling her that he’d changed his mind. nor his lie. 104 .
something to do with liberal views on sex changing mindsets on HIV. bright pink crocodileprint heels.Spilt MilK Ndudumo’s mother was back in the country. true to her character. delivered at a small venue to a few fringe people. silver bangles crawling up her arm. a little risqué. From struggling graveyard show disc jockey to overnight celebrity. and there it was: your whole life shaped out for you in the media. As Mohumagadi put on her warm school principal face and greeted Ndudumo’s mother with a hug. just once and have one interested reporter from one biggish newspaper there to record it. she had done so unannounced. motivational speaker and face of Kinky Hair. but the sentence was radical enough to catapult her from her obscure five-thousand-rand-amonth radio job to international publishing sensation. She gave Miss L a razor-sharp look as she entered her own office and found Ms Pooi on the phone. God loves to see us fuck’. she had come to the school and. she could not help but marvel at the 360 degree transformation the woman had made. It was stupefying. Say something a little out of the ordinary. fishnet stockings. True to her word. It was a week of unexpected figures on Mohumagadi’s couch and she was getting quite annoyed. She remembered the woman’s infamous words on the evening news: ‘God loves to see us happy. A single phrase from a tiny speech. 105 .
Kopano M atlwa
Mohumagadi could not help but watch her as she spoke. She was so young, around twenty-eight, definitely not over thirty. Mohumagadi was quite sure this girl had not known what she was unleashing with her words until it was well on its way and she was so far into it that there was no turning back. One morning her speech was on the front pages of the newspapers, the next it was being discussed on the breakfast TV talk shows and before she knew what was happening, she had an international publishing contract. Not to mention the T-shirts. Yes, T-shirts. T-shirts with her face printed large and the words ‘God Loves To See Us Fuck’ all over them. She really did become quite topical. Ms Controversy, as some liked to call her. The kind of woman everyone was happy to talk about but nobody really wanted to meet. Being around her often got you into trouble, purely by association, because what would any decent person be doing around such an indecent woman? There were many theories about her; there was no man; there were too many men; she was sexually abused as a child. Mohumagadi personally thought she had made a mistake, not in the content but in the doing. Sure, some of the things she said made sense. She’d flipped through her book and it wasn’t all bad, but what about the consequences? Just like sin, the church, disease, immorality, even the truth had its consequences. One couldn’t just go around saying whatever one felt like saying. People listened, children listened, her own child listened. One could never put sexuality
and spirituality in the same sentence (unless one was speaking about abstinence) where the consequences of such indulgences added up to death or worse, isolation; such things should never be spoken about. After Ms Pooi had had her say about her fear that the incident involving her own child and the others would sully her public image and Mohumagadi had reassured her that her PR officer would make certain it would never make the papers again, Mohumagadi offered her a cup of tea. “God is so strange,” Ndudumo’s mother said abruptly, as she leaned back into the couch, pulled out her BlackBerry and flipped through it. “God is so cryptic. Imagine God as a boyfriend,” she said looking at Mohumagadi and laughing. “How frikkin’ frustrating. You would never really know where you stood, what He was feeling, whether you were doing right or doing wrong,” Ms Pooi said, laughing again. “Yes, sure, you know He loves you, but why doesn’t He come out and say it explicitly? I mean, I know He loves us through others who love you, but that’s so deep. What if you are not deep? What if you need God to just say it straight up, tell you you’ll be fine, tell you you’re okay, tell you that He’s happy with you. I’d go crazy dating God, absolutely just couldn’t do it. He’d drive me mad.” Mohumagadi did not know what to say. She stood motionless with their empty teacups in her hands. Ndudumo’s mother looked at her for a minute and then laughed. She got up and switched off the kettle.
Kopano M atlwa
“It’s not done boiling yet,” Mohumagadi said. “I never wait for it to boil just so I can wait for it to cool down after. Hot running tap water makes lovely tea,” she said to Mohumagadi smiling. “You don’t mind, do you?” “No, not at all,” Mohumagadi said, completely taken aback. Mohumagadi offered to call Ndudumo out of her classroom so Ms Pooi could see her before she left. It wasn’t really the culture and Mohumagadi very seldom allowed children to be taken out of their lessons, but Ndudumo had not seen her mother in a very long time. “Not now,” the famous mother said, “I’ve got to rush off to a lunch meeting.” Hot running tap water makes lovely tea? Mohumagadi shook her head as she closed the door behind the woman. She was suddenly so exhausted. She felt drained. Hot running tap water makes lovely tea. She couldn’t get over that one. I am not sure how to help these children, Mohumagadi thought to herself. These children whose problems started long before they were born. Children of a time of underpaid nannies, drivers, PlayStation and hurried feeds. Children who grandparents were in exile, parents at the SAMAs and uncles and aunts at Mzoli’s. Bottles not correctly prepared, one scoop instead of four, milk too concentrated or too dilute. Breasts engorged from unsucked tits, painful nipples from incorrect latch.
“I’ve brought some movies guys!” Father Bill exclaimed excitedly as the children appeared at his classroom door that afternoon. But he wasn’t greeted with the response that he had expected. “I know you have your work but I’m sure you can make that up at home or some other time, right guys?” he asked them with a smile. But the four of them just stood at the door and stared at him. Why were they so astonished? So they had work to do, but come on, he was the teacher and if the teacher said it was fine then it was fine, right? When he was their age he would have jumped at an opportunity to watch movies in detention. “I’ve brought King Kong, Lord of the Rings, Titanic, Casablanca, Pretty Woman, Gone With the Wind, Good Will Hunting, Australia, some oldies, some newies, but all goodies!” They placed their bags on their desks, stood at their chairs, silent. They avoided his eyes, even Zulwini, who stared at his shoes and fiddled with a sweet wrapper in his hands. Father Bill was confused. What was wrong with these kids? “Oh, come on,” he tried again. “What, is it that you
Father Bill looked at him and for a fleeting moment felt a pinch of anger. “Okay. 110 . But then a curious euphoria took over and he laughed that wild laugh he’d laughed the day before and began clapping his hands vigorously. It had been a taxing week and he’d come somewhat undone. making Mlilo stand on the table. but that didn’t mean that the next couple of weeks had to be miserable. which it never is. And don’t get it twisted.Kopano M atlwa have watched them all already?” Father Bill searched their faces for an answer. we are not interested. but let’s put that behind us. we are not your friends. “Here’s some honesty for you. We’ve all said things in this classroom that we did not mean. None of us in this room are here because we want to be. We do not watch stupid movies. I just wanted us to start being honest with each other. Father Bill. Maybe they were upset about his outburst the day before. Movies about white people’s fantasies. maybe you are upset about yesterday. but no eyes were willing to meet his. We prefer not to fill our minds with candyfloss and chewing gum. So let’s just forget yesterday. Unless it is African history. but he had been ruffled. Father Bill. be friends and begin our movie fest!” Mlilo chucked his school bag onto the floor and climbed onto his desk. I didn’t mean to hurt anyone. guys. their minor problems and crises.” And he climbed down from the table.
get up onto your tables and speak your minds. one for himself and one for his feet.Spilt MilK “Excellent. She considered it.” Mlilo hissed. No one else? Okay. deliberated with the idea that as head of the school it was her duty to make sure that everything was fine in that classroom.” He looked around. Thank you for that. he thought.” “Leave him. “Don’t. Father Bill walked to his table. They could do what they liked. let him get kicked out.” Zulwini whispered. Three o’clock came and went and Mohumagadi sat at her desk and did not move. then let’s get this show on the road. that it was only the man’s first week and that he had never 111 . his eyes filling with tears. so he walked to the wall to switch off the lights. Mlilo was breathless. told herself that she would stop checking up on them when things had settled but that they hadn’t yet. Father Bill. and sat back. pulled up two chairs. Mlilo. pulled out the first DVD his hands located and slotted it into the machine. none of them moved. He was watching King Kong. Who’s next? Come on. Father Bill had already set up the projector. his little chest heaving up and down with each pant. picked up the old tog bag he had brought along. “You’ll get kicked out.
a desire so strong she ended up urinating on herself in an attempt to contain it. that with urine dripping down her leg she wouldn’t be able to go by his classroom even if she wanted to. her planet. angry. she let him have his three o’clock undisrupted.Kopano M atlwa been a teacher before and should not be left alone with children without some sort of supervision. that she was responsible for all the minds within those walls and what went into them. that it was for their sake and not her own that she went by that classroom every day. her universe. A grown woman wetting herself. Again. afraid part of her did not want to just sit there and do nothing while he. It knew that she would be forced to go home and change. A large. that he could not be allowed to come to this school and do as he willed. In an attempt to keep herself on her seat. It was an effort of will. She did not want to fight the deep desperate desire to get up and go out her office and back down that corridor. despite her clear instructions to hold it together? Or her mind that had not thought to get up and go to the toilet sooner? 112 . It was not the first time that her body had rebelled against her mind. that these were no ordinary children. anxious. Not even her Grade Ones did that any more. But she didn’t. for whom was she to direct it at? Her body that had allowed her bladder to give in so easily. This time a frustrating kind of anger. though. For the first time since the man’s arrival. a threat to her world. moved freely within her school. She was angry.
19 a. the angrier I get. Why can’t that be me? Bill . but it. no figure of eight in my stomach? Why am I always the one who wakes up at 1. It makes my skin crawl. my mind racing with pretend answers to pretend questions? As if to mock me. I resent it. the louder they snore. gets up my nose. can’t get around it. makes me clench my teeth and I feel itchy all over. Why can’t I ever sleep like that. landlord and son. I can’t get above it.16 March Dear God All I can hear is snoring. not them. Such peaceful. contented sleep.m. through the night with no burden on my shoulders..
He looked at her and she showed him the DVD. He’d had very little sleep that weekend and was too exhausted to pretend. I’ve brought us a DVD from home to watch. eaten too much junk in the staff lounge.” she said. “It’s Finding Nemo. and could tell he smelt funny. Father Bill. “I thought we could watch it.“F ather Bill. When he opened his eyes it was Ndudumo standing at his desk shaking him awake. was tired of trying with these kids. He hadn’t thought of a plan for the day.” she said. figured he’d work it out when they arrived. her eyes studying his face intently. Excuse me. He’d arrived late. holding the colourful box right up to his eyes. I hope that’s okay. His mind was still trying to adjust to the abrupt transition from bottomless sleep to wakefulness. 114 .” He’d dozed off at his desk again while waiting for the children to arrive. He took the box from her hands and contemplated it.
“It’s a little tricky. finally finding his mind’s ON button and hurriedly getting up. “No problem. It was nice that for a change it wasn’t him having to take the initiative in making conversation. She smiled. no. seemingly oblivious to the tension in the room.” “No. before I came to this school.” Ndudumo continued. smiling too. especially for an old-school guy like me. but I managed to work it out on Friday. but a bit worried about the other three sets of eyes that silently followed their every move. He was excited too. Father Bill. “I used to always watch it at home with my mom. Friday’s chill still lingered between them. The three stood up as they always did and greeted him in chorus. We loved Finding Nemo.Spilt MilK He felt a little disorientated and before he could respond she spoke again. he’d forgotten that they hadn’t even greeted each other that afternoon. beaming. Father Bill could tell she was excited. “Hi guys.” he said.” he said quickly. already walking towards the table at the back of the room where he’d shoved the boxes and their contents on Friday. please put it in. Well. we don’t have to watch it. How was the weekend?” In his delight at Ndudumo’s enthusiasm. “I’m not sure how to put the DVD player together. “It’s okay. enjoying this shift of rhythm. I’m sure you already have something planned. 115 .” he said. I was quite chuffed with myself actually.” she said.
“Can’t you see what this man is doing. it’s just a movie.” said Ndudumo and she walked across the room to fetch the projector herself. Moya. Ndudumo? He is trying to get inside our heads. putting as much festivity into his voice as he could muster. won’t you please get the projector ready? And maybe you can think of something we might watch tomorrow.” he said. 116 . They had left one of the cords back at the other end of the room. but Mlilo immediately sat him back down. Maybe if he involved the others the mood would relax a little. it’s never just a movie. What is happening to you?” Mlilo said holding on to her arm. completely ignoring Father Bill’s instruction. He’s trying to fill our minds with meaningless fluff!” Mlilo yelled. We didn’t have much money back then. Zulwini made an attempt to get up from his chair. “Ndudumo. “What the hell do you think you are you doing. Ndudumo?” Mlilo shouted from his desk. Mlilo grabbed her arm. Father Bill felt numb. “No. it’s not just a movie Ndudumo. “Oh relax.” she continued. as they carried the DVD player to his desk together.” Zulwini said softly. you are going to get us all in trouble. You know movies are not allowed. “Mlilo and Zulwini. Mlilo.Kopano M atlwa “It’s the only one we ever bought.
“Do not use God’s name in vain. “Oh for God’s sake Mlilo. shot him a grin as she walked past him and began setting it up. this conversation didn’t even involve you so I don’t know why you think it’s 117 . relax. “Oh shut up.” She picked up the projector. “Relax man. how much more trouble can we possibly get into? We’re already in detention and that’s never happened before at this school. a look of profound irritation on her face. it’s animated.” Zulwini muttered. Mlilo. It’s a really cute movie. “What?” Ndudumo said turning to Zulwini. Even a hardhead like you might just like it. The scream startled Mlilo. About fish and more fish.” Zulwini answered. “How is it cute when we are depicted in the backgrounds of these movies sweeping floors. now smiling again.Spilt MilK “Let go of my arm Mlilo! Have you lost your mind?” she screamed. but it’s the minute you relax that they—” Ndudumo threw her hands in the air. clearing tables. And … more fish!” “Don’t say that. But Mlilo was not giving up. “Besides. picking up trash and wiping little white boy’s turds off toilets? That’s exactly what they want you to do Ndudumo.” she said. a little more boldly. Zulwini. and he let her pass.
Kopano M atlwa necessary to involve yourself. “How could you say such a thing?” “My mother is not a slut!” Ndudumo shrieked. Zulwini quickly covered his mouth with his hands. shuddered.” Zulwini mumbled. the words were out and everyone had heard “What?” Ndudumo gasped. Bible-bashing piece of nothing? What did you just say about my mother?” Zulwini did not respond. quivered. “Zulwini?” Mlilo said softly. the silence would suffocate them all. trembled. Father Bill had not moved from where he was standing when Mlilo first pushed Zulwini back into his chair. Father Bill tried to walk over to him but stopped midway. pious. as if suddenly realising that walking would not 118 .” Ndudumo spat back. you little narrow-minded. then sat back down. “Well at least my mother isn’t a slut. but it was too late. “What did you just say. not sure if he should go to Zulwini or Ndudumo first. He got up. a question mark on his face. “My mother is not a slut!” She made an attempt to walk out of the room but then. The room was quiet. The silence grew thick and Father Bill was certain that if no one said anything to fix what had just happened.
a good heap of paperwork. had heaps of paperwork to do. It was the interschool Khuluma Festival and that morning she had been at St. for a change. It was a good exhausted though. By the time it was three o’clock she was exhausted. The festival had 119 . She’d cleared her head that weekend and was determined to reclaim the peace she used to own by starting Monday with some degree of order in her life. she had sat quietly throughout the whole episode and the only evidence of life from her was the continuous trickle from her eyes that created a little puddle on her desk. Monica’s Primary School listening to pupils recite poetry. debate issues around the topic ‘Global Warming: whose fault is it anyway?’ and deliver speeches on ‘New Forms of Leadership in Africa’. and. Where could such words have come from. It was clear that he was utterly ashamed. when he had never so much as heard the boy raise his voice? Moya had not moved once. was not distraught about deciding whether or not to go to that classroom. When she did get up she went straight to Father Bill’s desk. Father Bill wondered. That day Mohumagadi forgot all about the man in her school and the children who had brought him there. Zulwini buried his face in his hands. she began to run. picked up the DVD and placed it into the machine.Spilt MilK carry her away from them as fast as she would like.
It was a good thing. 120 . the one he had asked Mohumagadi for on her behalf.” She took it from him. the children of Sekolo sa Ditlhora had taken home most of the prizes. Mohumagadi happy. She actually felt happy. For a change. Father Bill sat down. a good place to be. as usual. she had stopped crying but sat without moving. Sorry I’m only giving it to you now. He handed her the letter saying. He turned around and walked back to the classroom to get the letter he remembered lay in his desk drawer.Kopano M atlwa gone very well and. “Thank you. Father Bill hurried after Ndudumo and found her in the girl’s restroom weeping soundlessly. on time but seldom happy. It was a rare event. twice. It was strange. read the entire thing. The kind of happy one gets from sucking on a little segment of naartjie. opened it. “I asked Mohumagadi if I could have this. on target. When he returned. then folded it up neatly and put it into her school blazer pocket. She felt safe and warm inside. He could not think of any consoling words to say when he saw her seated cross-legged there on the bathroom floor with her elbow rested on a toilet seat. I thought you might want it. joining her on the hard floor. She was usually on schedule. exactly as he had left her.” she said. on point. simply happy.
I know that is what everybody thinks but she is not. Sex is not a sin.” “I am not lying.Spilt MilK “My mother is not a slut. and I feel no shame. Ndudumo. Where did this ten-year-old get all this stuff? “I’m waiting.” “Don’t lie. I think you are all lying. but just barely.” “No. That’s all my mom is trying to say. Father Bill. to see if he meant what he was saying. with eyes that knelt down in 121 . You set rules that you can’t even keep yourselves.” Ndudumo said quietly. A priest is not supposed to lie.” She looked at him.” she said coolly. He was still stuck on the word ‘hump’. “Not everybody thinks that. I don’t know your mother so how could I possibly come to any such conclusion about her?” “Because people like you are always going around telling kids that being a virgin keeps you more beautiful and that even in marriage the number of times you hump should be kept to a minimum. studying his face to see if he was telling the truth. “Just barely. It’s not. Ndudumo. huh?” “Yep. I don’t think that. just barely. Ndudumo. Why does that make her a slut?” He didn’t answer her. He looked at her too.
She did not move.Kopano M atlwa prayer for this confused little girl. what was she doing? She did not let go of him and he wondered if she would stop to breathe. switched on her engine and was on her way out when. Petro and Winston. whether it was nasty or nice. And then she kissed him. Mohumagadi walked out into the parking lot not expecting to see any other cars still there but her own. wondered if they were watching her and if they were. She picked herself up from the floor and ran out. She looked through the rear-view mirror to see if the security guards could see her. so she had learnt to laugh it off. for no reason at all. She climbed into her car. whether she wanted to hear it or not. what they were thinking. They had gone back into the booth so she could not tell. but could not convince the emotion out. he was afraid. the three security guards who did night duty. He felt her tears on his face and he decided that it was better to let her do it. He wanted to cry too. she kissed him like she was strangling him but there was no disputing it was a kiss. She greeted Vusi. after their health and laughed over some frivolous gossip they told her they’d read about her in one of the local papers. People loved to tell her what they read about her. She asked after their families. But there was Father Bill’s. and then thought that 122 . He sat there on the cold tiles and hoped that nobody would come in. He wanted to push her away. she pulled up against Father Bill’s car.
she couldn’t go back.Spilt MilK not moving was even more suspicious.” 123 . back to where they were. switched on her engine and drove away. She felt so pathetic. Still she could not see them. so what was she doing? She kept glancing nervously in her rear-view mirror. foolishly afraid that someone had seen her and was following her to stop her and tell her that they had. she quickly pulled her arm back in. back to where they had been. She looked at her rear-view mirror again. What was she doing? Even if it was possible. and nobody reads a book backwards. She stuck her hand out and ran it slowly across Father Bill’s car. rolled up her window. As soon as she did it.” she said out loud to herself. “A past page. How pathetic. “He is a past page in your life Tshokolo. so she wound down the window and fiddled around in her bag.
Lord.19 March Dear God How damaged and broken we are. Wouldn’t it have been easier. Bill . so that others could see them too? So they wouldn’t just sit inside of us necrotising. if you had made us with hearts we could take out and put on shelves? Hearts that could be kept separate from ourselves so we could watch them like Dorian Gray watched his painting? So we could see how they changed? But most importantly. becoming gangrenous and dying because people would see them and someone would know. Such pain and hurt and confusion all stuffed up in this place.
but they would just have to wait. She hadn’t been to a beach since. he would return to the school. order pizza and watch movies.50 p.m. he would more than likely be late. He would put on the T-shirt he slept in. He got out of bed and sat on the floor. on a trip to a mission school the Fathers were building in Simon’s Town. He would attend assembly as was expected of him and then come back home. Mohumagadi impulsively decided to pull over at the next roadside ocean lookout point she came across.hen he woke up the next morning he knew he would not make it through a full day of sitting in that classroom. W Sitting in traffic that morning. 125 . At 2. He would not shower. He would get up and get dressed. She drove past many every day. but not once since her move to the coast had she stopped to look at the ocean. let alone gone to the beach. Ten minutes was cutting it short. The last time she could remember being at the sea was when she was much younger.
She felt so powerless. Wasn’t he supposed to get into it? Someone behind her hooted. Would he do that if he knew who she was? He was probably just an unschooled. It felt good to step outside of the world for a minute. could not trust it. She wondered if it hurt. always felt like it belonged to someone else and that she was an imposter. By the time she returned to her car he was standing shoulder deep in the sea. She watched him push it in deeper and deeper.Kopano M atlwa It never felt natural. pushing a perfectly good boat way out into the ocean. stepping into all that cold. It was such a cliché – the beckoning sea – but she indicated anyway when she saw the sign and pulled over. their engines running. pure. She looked at him in the rear-view mirror intending to apologise but he pulled a finger at her before she could do so. still pushing. She could hear the cars behind her. it was too late. but she was still startled by its beauty. The light had turned green but she was so busy watching the man and the boat that she had not moved. When she did. But something about the ocean that morning beckoned her. feather-brained. It hurt her more than was reasonable. In the distance she saw a man putting a boat into the water. she just made it through but the light turned red again. She laughed at herself. She wanted to love it completely for what it was. stopping the frustrated driver behind her. She wondered what he was doing. the impatience. always felt forced. For a change it was not a part of her. 126 . but could not. the stress. further and further out. The ocean was its usual eternal blue.
Pedro. Bill too. even if it stung. Mlilo was laughing. deep into the blue. She hated him. And the voices. She wanted to push them deep. He stood at the door and listened but all he could hear were muffled voices he did not recognise. The kids were laughing. Deb and Napoleon. Bill especially. She hated all of them. Pile them up in neat rows so she could fit in as many as possible and send them back to where they came from. Even Mlilo. even if it was freezing. They were all the same. which he now recognised: Uncle Rico and Kip. He swung the door open and there were his favourite characters.Spilt MilK feeble-minded half-wit who didn’t recognise a woman doing great things for society when he saw one. the Fathers at the church. thinking he could waltz in and out of the school as he pleased. and stand there and watch them go until she was sure they were gone for good. It took them a minute to notice he’d walked 127 . Bill. The blinds were closed. choosing wigs on the projector screen. She wanted to put them on a boat. She hated them. of Napoleon Dynamite. She wanted to push the boat off the shore and run into that water and wet her knees. He stood with his hand on the door handle not sure what to do. There was the laughing again. He could not believe it. all of them. Father Bill panicked when he heard laughing coming from the classroom as he approached it. He was a whole hour late and he now regretted that morning’s bravado. the room appeared dark. deep. pile them up onto a great big ship.
or quiet study. a month and a half a year. You’re missing the best parts!” Watching movies was a favourite pastime of his. they had just left it and started watching and hoped he didn’t mind “Sjoe. and its unfailing knack of allowing him to forget. This he knew. so approximately three hours a day. pizza and popcorn. always agreeing to remain behind when he left the movie theatres. Moya began to explain that she had brought the movie like he’d asked her to the day before. but at least they were forgiving. perhaps even confession.Kopano M atlwa in and when they did they all jumped up to greet him. The emotions were real. He peered out from behind his thoughts to find that Moya had paused the movie and that they had all turned to look at him. which added up to twenty-one hours a week. 128 . that’s a mouthful. He was dragged out of his wool-gathering by the sudden silence in the room. “Of course it’s okay. and when he still wasn’t there and the movie had started. Time that would probably have been more appropriately spent in some kind of meditation. He watched an average of two a day. He once counted the hours a month he spent watching movies. he often cried in some of the sad ones. Almost four days a month. or prayer. one he’d come to adore for its easy prerequisites. that they had waited for him to see if it was okay.” he said chuckling. and when he didn’t arrive that they had thought it would be fine to start it and watch the ads so they could get ideas for other movies to watch.
” he mumbled. “And the rest of you?” he asked. “I can sms my driver.” Moya said in a small voice.” Moya said quickly. What about your parents?” “I can just sms them. “Me too.” Ndudumo added softly. waiting for his answer. Father Bill wasn’t sure. man. “you guys haven’t even seen the dance scene yet. kids!” 129 . They all looked at Mlilo. Father Bill. He shrugged.” Zulwini giggled.” Moya said. “We could carry on watching and just leave a little later than usual. “I guess I could sms my driver too.” Father Bill exclaimed playfully. They weren’t supposed to be doing this in the first place.Spilt MilK “It’s five o’clock. “I don’t know Moya. “let’s get this show back on the road.” Zulwini said. ignoring the sudden prickle of unease he felt. “Okay then. “Ah. giggling.” Father Bill exclaimed excitedly.
leaving her forgotten. Realising that he was being a little irresponsible keeping the children after hours. Had moved on with their lives. feeling nothing. She’d been done wrong before and those who had hurt her had carried on without a word. still waiting for an explanation. Even if she was in the wrong. She gave no explanation even to Miss L. who looked at her with big eyes filled with questions that she knew better than to ask. so she felt no need to ever explain herself. gave him a hug and dashed out the classroom. Father Bill had hoped they could talk about the movie a little. Zulwini ran up to him. no self-reproach. saying something about his driver having been there since five o’clock.Kopano M atlwa When Mohumagadi arrived at the school and walked into the assembly late she did not apologise to anyone for her tardiness. but Mlilo looked anxious to get out. maybe rewind a bit and watch one of the funny parts again. She did not apologise to anyone for anything. 130 . Mlilo muttered that his driver was waiting and asked if he could be excused. Father Bill told them all they were free too leave. no pangs of conscience. her intentions were never to do anyone any harm. As soon as the movie ended. There were many apologies that she deserved but had never received. which she very seldom was.
too. Ndudumo pulled the extension cord out of the wall and handed it to him. Neither of them moved. Moya said she’d come back to help close the windows but needed to run to the bathroom quickly.Spilt MilK Father Bill began to pack the equipment away feeling the bristles of guilt again begin to brush at his insides. Ndudumo?” he asked. he hadn’t made too much of an effort to meet hers either. She had avoided his eyes all day and. He thought Ndudumo was about to leave. The DVD player felt heavier than it had earlier and he struggled to carry it across the room. Of course he didn’t mind. Now that the children were warming up to him. His hands were sweaty. “Everything okay.” She was silent. What he minded was being asked if he minded all the time. he wondered if he deserved their trust and whether he was using it in the best manner he could. The girls must have noticed because they jumped up to help him. the last of the lot that needed to be packed away. truth be told. “I won’t unless you want me to. “Do you want me to?” “I don’t care. her eyes welling up. like they had been on his first day at the school. 131 . he told her with a smile.” she said. “Are you going to tell Mohumagadi about what happened yesterday?” she asked him. but when she reached the door she hesitated and turned around to look at him.
this time less courageously. put the chairs on the table so the cleaning staff could sweep and mop with ease. He didn’t mind. She was guarded.” Moya walked back into the classroom. very careful hands that made no mistakes. She was so careful and meticulous. He watched her as she packed her school bag. “Then I won’t. She had very small hands for such a tall girl. but she didn’t. Father Bill and Moya closed the windows together. She walked quietly beside him to the car park. His was the only car and he wondered if she was perhaps embarrassed to tell him her parents were running late.Kopano M atlwa “And my mom?” she asked. “Not unless you want me to. they were all guarded. Moya had been one of the easier ones from the very start. but he didn’t get the sense that she hated him on a very personal level like he did with some of the others.” She slowly shook her head. When they got to the parking lot he was not sure what to do. but he said nothing. Everything had its place in that bag and not a single piece of paper was crumpled in. He said nothing and she offered no explanations. He waited for her to run out the door. and turned off the lights. so he sat down on the 132 . enjoying her company and not wanting to be the one to disrupt it. Ndudumo quickly waved goodbye and hurried out. He wondered if Moya was lingering because she didn’t have a driver or a parent waiting for her.
Father Bill. But despite his better judgement. he remained silent. She looked down at her hands and he immediately felt bad for asking. And after some time she said. They did not need him probing them too. “How did you end up in my class. these children were probably in play therapy all weekend. 133 . “Yes. “I acted in an indecent manner. “You misbehaved?” She did not look up from her hands. Perhaps she would go on.Spilt MilK curb and she sat down beside him. Father Bill.” “An indecent manner? Well. offering her no way out. Knowing this school.” “To see what Moya?” Didn’t he know? Of course he knew. a laugh that was followed by a snort that made her smile.” she finally said. comedies or cartoons but when he opened his mouth those were the words that snuck out first. He’d meant to start a light conversation about different types of cars.” he said laughing. Father Bill.” He waited. “Because I misbehaved. tell him more. well that does sound like a pretty serious deal. “I lifted my skirt up for boys to see. “What was the indecent thing that you did?” he asked gently. The silence that followed was his cue to drop the whole conversation. Moya?” Father Bill asked. waiting for an answer.
Moya?” “No. 134 . “I was scared. I mean. Father Bill. He was confused. She looked at him and smiled.Kopano M atlwa “My privates. but the others said we needed to make use of every little bit of extra time we had.” she said quietly.” “Of what?” he asked.” she finally whispered. yes.” “All of you?” “Yes. not looking up at him. We just agreed to show each other. He smiled too. He did the same. we agreed. Father Bill. A truck came speeding down the hill and came to a screeching halt when the driver saw the traffic light only at the last minute. no. so kept quiet and let her continue. “Did they ask to see your privates. Father Bill. they didn’t ask.” “Whose idea was it?” “We came up with the idea together.” “Agreed?” “Yes. no. “I knew we shouldn’t have done it in the bus.” She stretched her legs out and swung them from side to side.
Father Bill. Wasn’t it a normal part of development? Pubertal curiosity? She had begun to sob silently. trying to keep his tone light. “Do you regret it?” “Of course I regret it. and then tried to see if he could make her smile again by swinging his legs like they had done earlier. Giggling and watching movies with the children that afternoon had made him forget that his presence here was also supposed to be a punishment for him.Spilt MilK She shrugged. “I guess I’d be too if I had my underwear on the floor at the back of a school bus. but it felt awkward so he stopped doing it. I was just teasing. I’m sorry. it’s not. “You’re right.” she said. Who would want to spend over a month stuck here with you every afternoon!” Her words were like a glass of ice-cold water thrown into his face. He tried to comfort her by rubbing her back. 135 . this time not smiling. but honestly didn’t think it was such a big deal.” he said. It didn’t work. a place where no one wanted to be and those who had been there would make every effort not to do so again. They were just kids and it was not like they were caught having sex.” He hadn’t meant to upset her. He was a teacher whose role was to be feared and hated. too. “It isn’t funny. His was a detention class after all.
‘Sick.” she whispered. “It’s just that girls are not supposed to think about those kinds of things. Like once there was this HIV-positive man with the colourful hands who came to the school to talk to us about all that stuff and he asked whether girls do it and none of us wanted to raise our hands because what would people think? But Ndudumo did. Sinethemba said. She didn’t say how. huh?” “Ndudumo does all the time. but said you would know once you tried. That’s just gross.” “Maybe she is.” She turned around and looked at him in the eye.” “What kinds of things?” “All that sexual stuff. Moya tucked her arm into his and said. you need to get a real boyfriend Ndudumo’.Kopano M atlwa Realising that what she had said might have been offensive. Not that I was thinking about any of those things. and not so often. She stared straight ahead and raised her hand up as high as she could. Ndudumo raised her hand up high.” “Ndudumo does. “It just seems so lustful to me you know. like that is all she 136 . Not good girls. She didn’t even look back to see who else had put their hand up.” “She says her mom said it’s healthy and that a girl should not only examine herself every day to see how she is growing but touch herself too. She just sat there with her hand in the air as if she was proud. “Like Ndudumo does. but Ndudumo didn’t even look back.
It was getting dark and windy and Father Bill wondered where this child’s parents were. “Yes?” “Don’t write any of this stuff in your book.” He nodded. who knew. Don’t write this stuff in there.Spilt MilK thinks about. it’s her mom’s fault. “Her mom even sometimes does it while watching TV and Ndudumo says she even sometimes puts her finger in there. Doesn’t she care for her? What if she becomes a slut and falls pregnant? That is what worries me the most. Psycho. Hardly a mother who has unconventional beliefs about sex. They had noticed it. and almost never while he was with them. 137 . His journal. perhaps that was a danger to society. but how do you pray with sticky fingers all covered in cookie juice?” He did not have an answer to that question. It’s not her fault. Psychopath. Her mom’s a psycho. I tried it one day on the toilet and it was gross and it hurt and I couldn’t understand how Ndudumo’s mom could tell her child to do things like that. but then again. just like her dad.” she spoke again. whose behaviour is a danger to society. That book you always carry around. Loosely defined as someone with a chronic mental disorder.” He nodded. An antisocial person. but he did not even write in it all that often. “Father Bill. My mom says that a girl should pray in the morning.
Father Bill with his jeans rolled up. the desire was gone. that sudden sense that you are you and they are them. 138 . this is your life and try as you might you cannot get outside of it. She switched on the radio.” she said to herself. Tiny tingles danced in the depths between her thighs. Turned the volume up when she felt her palms get damp around the steering wheel. And sucked in the inside at the sudden pleasure of it. dismissing the warmth that made her want to part her legs. looking up to the top right corner of her head. “How primitive. threatened to unhinge and swivel backwards. So she thought about the man in the water and his boat instead. and they have their own heads and you cannot swap. She got that feeling she used to get when she was a little girl. the more her eyebrows knotted and her eyeballs. his T-shirt hanging loosely around his waist being gently tugged up by the wind. that you are in your head and you are stuck. And with that.Kopano M atlwa As Mohumagadi drove home she remembered the man she had seen in the water that morning. his feet pink in the cold water. That this is you and all you are. She curled her back as she felt the shudder of warmth come down her spine and in between her legs. But each time she tried to imagine him she saw Father Bill. It made her frown whenever she thought about it because she couldn’t get around it and the more she tried.
“What is going on. grunting at each other and shaking their heads vigorously. but not before shining their torches in his face. Eventually they walked away. “Your mom on her way?” 139 . Father Bill could tell they were not satisfied because they lingered on. “Ndizam’fowunela Tata. forming a circle around them.Spilt MilK Father Bill heard footsteps approaching them. we were just discussing some work we did this afternoon. do not worry about me.” all three of them said simultaneously.” the one who had been silent up until this point added. “Molweni. Whatever it was Moya had said. “It is not safe for a young girl to be out here alone. also ignoring Father Bill.” Moya responded sweetly. It was the security guards.” the second one said. “You cannot trust no one these days.” the one who spoke first continued. you don’t want us to call you a taxi today?” one of them asked Moya. Thank you. eyeing Father Bill warily. “Not even the ones who look trustworthy. I am safe.” the other said. “It is late for you to be sitting here. “Ntombazana. Moya?” he asked.
“You are taking this girl home?” “Yes. “Come.” His heart started racing. She was gone for a while and when she finally did return she was accompanied by one of the men. The guard shone the torch right into his eyes. Father Bill. Father Bill. turning around and running back to where they had come from.” he answered.” She grabbed her bag with the other hand and followed him. The torches from the security booth followed them too. I just call a taxi.” “So who picks you up then?” “No.Kopano M atlwa She shook her head. I just wanted to watch the movie too.” “Moya!” he said jumping up. Father Bill. We need to get you home. let’s hurry. until Father Bill 140 . “My mom doesn’t like to come out after dark.” she said. “I need to go tell them you are giving me a lift home. Father Bill could not see and his eyes began to water but the guard continued with his torch. “Why didn’t you tell me?” “I’m sorry. What had he done? He grabbed her hand and pulled her towards the car.
And it’s not all the time anyway. I was going to call a taxi after you left. Father Bill.” They drove silently for a while. Ma doesn’t like coming out after dark.” They got onto the road. She lies to people about having meetings in the evenings. lies to me about her eyes and the dark. “Come. “It’s just easier this way. “Why did you not say anything. Were you going to just sit there the whole night saying nothing?” He was upset and was struggling to hide it.” “So why don’t you get a lift with a friend then?” She shrugged.” The security guard switched the light off. but she seemed to be used to directing drivers. muttered something and walked away. he did not know that area well.” “A taxi? A taxi. Moya? I could have gotten you home earlier.Spilt MilK shouted. Moya? This late? Is that even safe? Does your mom know you do this?” “I tell her I get a lift with a friend. Father Bill. it’s just when I end late. get in the car. “She makes excuses. “I am taking her straight to her house. please. “I’m sorry. how she can’t see at 141 . Your mom must be panicked. she is safer with me than some cab driver.
Moya. and she hasn’t been the same since. and then I’m so relieved when they give me the box. checking the backseat before she drives anywhere. “It was better there. It was better in Switzerland than it is here.Kopano M atlwa night. you know. still annoyed. but I know she’s just scared. So I asked her if we could stop at the Pizza Shack to buy pizza and we did. Father Bill. She’s always locking herself up. and I was just so hungry. “Ag. But it’s the truth. She’s even more scared than white people are and she’s embarrassed of that or something stupid. It was—” She paused and then said. We only came back from Switzerland last year. now I can finally eat’ and then she says 142 . ‘Yay. Father Bill.” “But Ma more than anyone else. I was so hungry and starving ’cause Ma had had some conference overseas and she had come straight from the airport and had picked me up late and hadn’t even told me because I would have arranged a taxi or something if I knew she was going to be late. Just the other day. walking to the car thinking. And then she made me sleep with her when baby Tshepang was molested.” “Everyone is scared.” “Why were you in Switzerland?” “Ma is a diplomat. the crime and stuff. She always thinks there is going to be someone in the back. She started locking her bedroom door after she heard that one in four women here get raped. Ma says I’m not allowed to say that.” “Of what?” he asked.
Father Bill. right there in the parking lot. they aren’t interested in pizza. But if it is one in four. it has to happen to someone right? And if not her. Father Bill? I’m not even the one who’s scared! She is. and said she would not have a snob for a child.” “I’m sorry. And you know what the worst part is. I can be black and proud in Switzerland. Moya. She says that only white people are afraid. but it won’t. I’m leaving this country first chance I can get. because I know and she knows how far it is to get home in traffic and what was the point of getting pizza for the road if we don’t eat it on the road? And smash-and-grab guys at the traffic lights? That’s just garbage because even if there were.Spilt MilK I must put the box in the boot with the shopping bags because there are smash-and-grab guys at the traffic lights and she doesn’t want trouble. tell the clouds that only white people complain about crime. I heard her once. So that’s when I screamed at her and said if she is that petrified of the so-called crime. She said once even if it does happen we 143 . why don’t we just leave this stupid country? She turned around and slapped me in front of all those people. then who? Me? No ways.” “I don’t care. I just wanted to die. only white people immigrate. She thinks if she prays it will not happen to her. of all things. all those cars. She’s always muttering to herself when she reads those headlines about ladies being dragged into bushes and having beer bottles stuck in them. She thought bringing me to this school would change that. while she was standing on that balcony of hers.
thorns for trees. then what does that tell you about His love? That’s just how it makes sense in my head. I know you are all Godly and stuff. mighty structures within that looked impenetrable. God’s got a big head. 144 . not if you are black. motion detectors following their every move.” “She really said that?” “Not like that exactly. but some things just don’t add up to me. And I’m not sticking around for that kind of love. for the sake of the people. a moat around the property and electric wires. He waited until Moya had spoken to the security guard over the buzzer and the camera had zoomed in on him and then her and the gates had slowly opened and then quickly closed behind them. she said. crawling up the walls. Password-guarded entry to a boomed off area. But if He doesn’t have favourites.Kopano M atlwa must just endure it and become activists or something. No. Not even to Knysna or George or wherever. anyway. How come God protects some people and not others? Unless He has favourites.” Colossal walls with towering metal gates. you must stay right here in the cities and endure it. I’m not spending my whole life begging God for something that He may or may not give me. like creepers. then how can you expect Him to protect you? If every other girl out there is raped and God loves you all the same. Father Bill. But being afraid is not an option. which He’s not supposed to. Father Bill. but that’s what she meant. Running away is not an option. Write books or something.
chiding himself for not having a single answer to some of the simplest of questions. he saw a figure standing up on the balcony. As he drove away. watching him leave. a big obvious point. Father Bill. “Surely those innocent girls and boys who suffer pray. 145 . but when she looked at him with eyes begging for truth. Most probably more than me. so what is the point really?” He had nothing to say in response to that. too.Spilt MilK Before she got out the car she turned to him and asked. In his head he knew there was a point. the point slipped through the base of his skull and onto the ground and rolled away.
Bill . They are filled with complexities. Their hobbies are finding causes and ideologies. And while they are so busy printing Biko T-shirts and growing dreadlocks.20 March Dear God These children are nothing like we were. war against principles they have no understanding of. their own struggles pass them by. carry large loads. meanings to struggles that have long past.
wearing the glitter dress that Mama Twiggy washed for her every night so she could wear it every day. A memory almost.ohumagadi had had a strange dream that night. She just celebrated it. like she celebrated all the other church holidays. “Today is Shrove Tuesday?” Bill asked.” she said.” she said sitting down. “Happy Shrove Tuesday. “It feels like Easter has come early this year. and the Fathers of course.” “What is Shrove Tuesday?” Mlilo asked her. She did not know. always everywhere. “Yes. All of them looked at her. greeting them. the Fathers who were always there. Bill and little Mlilo were there too. But in the dream she was an adult. M 147 . waiting for her to answer. but she’d been asleep. A memory of a day when she was younger. She sat silently. at the church. In the dream she walked up to them with a smile.
they obviously did not care because no one had said anything to him. pizza. Just before he could turn the corner and run down the corridor towards the exit.” she said quickly. But Zulwini was determined to get to him. So she picked up a rock and threw it at God because all of it was God’s fault. Father Bill was trying to slip out unnoticed to his car after assembly when he saw Zulwini pushing his way determinedly towards him through row upon row of children from grades One to Seven who were also leaving the assembly hall. “Father Bill.Kopano M atlwa “You know. The Fathers and Bill laughed and laughed and laughed. coming throughs’ catching up to him. popcorn and TV. Nobody seemed to have noticed and if they had. The Fathers laughed and Bill too. He was moving faster and faster and Father Bill could hear the little boy’s ‘Excuse mes’ and ‘Sorry. He picked up his pace. shook his head and walked away. He felt bad. making as if he had not seen him. the day before Ash Wednesday. Mlilo looked at her with a frown on his face. If it had been any of the other children he would have 148 . Father Bill. he had attended assembly then left to go home to his pyjamas. wait up!” So he slowed down and turned around. His plan had worked very well the day before. Zulwini began to shout.
but how could he tell him that.” Father Bill smiled. You walk so fast. Or maybe it was that the boy made him feel guilty. He took a deep breath and then said. I should start doing that. He felt guilty. I thought I wasn’t going to catch up to you there. Who knew really? The boy just made him uncomfortable and he preferred to avoid him. “Always good to get in a little bit of exercise where you can. where are you headed.Spilt MilK been delighted by their eagerness to speak to him. reminded him of the kinds of things he should be doing. “So. of his faith perhaps.” Father Bill smiled sheepishly. Father Bill. Zulwini really was a sweet boy. Father Bill?” Father Bill felt a knot in his stomach. his sweet plan to return home now thwarted. “Morning. the way of life he should be leading. Sheesh.” he said painfully. Father Bill?” “To my classroom. his bothersomely blind faith. but Zulwini … What was it about the kid that made him so uncomfortable? Maybe he was jealous of the boy. He didn’t want to lie to Zulwini. I’ve never thought of that. Zulwini. he had taken to sneaking off after assembly to sit on his couch at home watching movies he had 149 . “What do you do there all morning. actually.” “That’s so true.
and the more he shook his head and thought about it. This is why he avoided this child. “Like reading scripture and stuff. He was completely ridiculous. Zulwini?” “I have a tutor. That’s so cool. “Ever heard the saying ‘Don’t cut off your nose to spite your face’.Kopano M atlwa watched a thousand times before. didn’t think anybody would know but Mohumagadi. but I don’t attend this particular class. please?” Father Bill panicked. “I do.” Zulwini whispered. this and that. “Oh. you know. which was silly of him because of course she would have had to justify buying a new DVD player for his classroom.” was his answer. Can I come and watch with you. There would be no more sneaking about. Miss L told me you are watching some Christian DVDs. Whatever ‘Christian DVDs’ were! He would have to find them and start watching them. the funnier he found it. Father Bill laughed despite himself.” “Why not?” “Dr Semenya is an atheist. opening the 150 . He would have to buy some Christian DVDs now. “Don’t you have a class to go to. He had forgotten that he had lied about that too. Zulwini?” They had reached his classroom and the boy was still pestering him with questions.” the boy retorted.
He remembered the boy who had enjoyed it a little too much. But Dr Semenya is always going on about it.Spilt MilK classroom door they had been standing next to and pulling up two chairs for them to sit on. besides. For some reason he was reminded of Uncle Eugene – the driver who took them to school every morning when they lived at the church – and his bakkie. They would all sit in the back and Uncle Eugene would make them sing hymns. I have it at home and I don’t want to have it here. You and I are the only active ones. sang a little too loudly. And. I hand in all my assignments on time and get good grades for my tests. He’s worse than my mother. not any more. It was praise and worship all the way from C5 to Naledi. “And the other teachers?” “More agnostic than atheist. I refuse to attend his classes. his classes are boring.” he said hooking Father Bill’s arm and taking him to his seat.” Father Bill was astounded.” “Well. not sure what to think. the Billy who grew so bold in the spirit that he had taken 151 . My tutor is only 21 and she is a better teacher than he is. “And Mohumagadi is okay with that?” “She has to be. choruses and verses. He shook his head again.” “What about the other teachers? I thought you said you were the only Christian.
” the other added. He did not recognise the boy as himself. the three security guards were waiting for her at her door. Only once the teacups were empty and the biscuits were crumbs did they finally get to the real reason for their visit. and they shared a laugh about the weekend’s soccer. had not thought of that boy in a long time.Kopano M atlwa it upon himself to organise their little choir. because that was how things were done. Mohumagadi. They said that the night staff had left a very important message with them and they did not want to waste any time in relaying it to her. When Mohumagadi returned to her office from assembly that morning. “The evening shift were very unhappy when they left this morning. ripping out pages of the church hymn books and bringing them with each morning for practice. and Miss L took their drink orders. “They were very worried. seating the sopranos on one side of the bakkie and the tenors on the other. 152 . Once seated. Mohumagadi. Mohumagadi invited them in.” the oldest guard began. Mohumagadi asked after their families and their health. and wondered when along the highways he had lost him. they started all over again with the greetings.
“Too, too worried,” the oldest one emphasised. “They were not at all happy when we arrived this morning, Mohumagadi,” the other stressed just in case she had somehow not understood how worried and unhappy the night staff had been. “Too many lines on their faces, Mohumagadi, and their eyes were dark.” “Boobhuti yintoni? Kwenzeke ntoni?” Mohumagadi eventually had to ask. “They said they saw one of the children get into the white man’s car. They tried to stop the girl but she insisted that he was taking her home.” “They did not want to let her go,” the other one added. “But what could they do?” the oldest one asked. “They were very worried, Mohumagadi.” “The whole night they were worried,” the oldest man said, shaking his head. “Worried about the girl.” “They did not know if they did the right thing, Mohumagadi.” “But he is a member of staff, this white man,” the youngest guard, who had remained silent until this
Kopano M atlwa
moment, pointed out. It sounded more like a challenge than a statement, but Mohumagadi ignored his tone. “He is a member of staff, so what could they do?” the oldest repeated, sighing heavily. “Mntambo is the surname, Mohumagadi,” the other one said, pulling out a pen. “I have seen it on the mother’s number plate.” “Always taking private taxis home that one, her mother too, too busy,” the oldest one continued, with a knowing look in his eye. Mohumagadi reassured them that she would look into the matter. She shook their hands and thanked them each individually, by name, because that was how things were done. She told them she would report back to the evening staff. And when the oldest security guard suggested that they have a workshop to decide how such matters should be dealt with in the future, she praised him on the greatness of the idea. After they had left, she made a mental note to go and talk to Father Bill. She had not seen him in three days and had gotten quite used to not checking up on him so relentlessly. She had convinced herself that she had nothing to worry about and her anxiety levels had reduced somewhat. Miss L had mentioned yesterday that she had heard from one of the cleaners that Father Bill had been seen leaving the school after assembly, but she had not paid this gossip any mind. There was a lot going on, in the school and in the country. With
the elections coming up, there were many articles she had promised to write but had still not got around to starting; ‘The children’s preferred candidate’, ‘The children and the election: guiding your child through election tension’, ‘If our kids could vote …’ She determined to pop into Father Bill’s classroom and speak to him about not slipping out after assemblies or taking children home. She wasn’t worried that he would have harmed the girl but still, it was improper. There was a school shuttle and all the parents knew that in the event of a transport problem, the shuttle could be called for a small fee. This business of Moya taking private taxis home alone at night was news to her and it could not go on. She knew Ms Mntambo had many evening engagements but these taxis were not safe. She would have to talk to them both. But first Father Bill.
“So, what church do you go to Father Bill?” “Well,” he didn’t want to lie again, “right now I’m kind of in-between churches, Zulwini.” “Because of your problem?” “Er … I guess so,” Father Bill muttered awkwardly, his face turning red. “So when are you going to fix it?” Zulwini asked him matter-of-factly.
Kopano M atlwa
Father Bill was taken aback by the question. When was he going to fix it? He had never asked himself that. He had never thought about it like that, like it was something that could be fixed. “I don’t know, Zulwini,” he said after a while. “Ah, man!” the boy exclaimed, placing his chin against the table. Father Bill laughed. “You can’t really be that concerned about me, Zulwini.” “No, it’s just that I was really hoping to go to church with you.” “Oh,” Father Bill said. “I don’t really have a church I go to, or anyone to go with,” Zulwini said dolefully. “Why not?” Father Bill asked, feeling a little irritated with this boy whose stories, it seemed, never ended. “I’m not really allowed to.” “Not allowed to?” “My mom doesn’t allow it. I go sometimes, but then I feel bad because the Bible says to honour your mother and your father. I don’t know my father so I probably should honour my mother double. But then the Bible also says go to church, which confuses me and my head gets all in a muddle and I don’t know what to do.”
there aren’t.” “No.” “But there are black people in the Bible. That’s why I was so excited when I met you in Mohumagadi’s office that day. said. all the prayer books and Christmas cards. all of them are pink just like you. you reminded me of Jesus and his friends and God. neither would I.” “Yes. Even in churches all the paintings on the wall. Hagar (mother to Abraham’s first son). 157 . afraid of where this conversation was headed. “Why doesn’t your mother want you to go to church. Pharaoh Tirharkah. the boy. Zipporah (Moses’ wife). “Because she doesn’t go. it had been a long time since he’d opened up his Bible. and if I knew what was good for me. “Na-ah.” Before he could name the Queen of Sheba. Zulwini. Ebed-Melech. I loved you immediately.Spilt MilK Father Bill could not recall the verse in the Bible that said go to church and wondered if there was one. shaking his head vigorously. there are. Then again. You looked just like God.” “Why doesn’t she go?” “She says that until they put black people in the Bible she’s not setting foot in a church. all the windows. Simon of Cyrene and the many others. Father Bill. Zulwini?” he asked a little reluctantly.
I don’t even think she was into politics or anything. baby? Tell me. all the children of the world.’ She was so cross. for my birthday I would like you to come to church with me. and she couldn’t go back on that.’ So you know what I told her Father Bill? I said. Mama can buy you anything in the world. Father Bill. she had promised. I told her not even Chinese people are in the Bible and they are not angry at God. Very good. baby? That means things are going to be good for us. Father Bill. to get out of his sight immediately. red. because the whole thing was terrible. Jesus loves the children of the world’. Do you know what that means. but Mama was so angry. all the children in his sight. I told her that it didn’t matter what colour Jesus was because ‘Jesus loves the little children. What do you want for your birthday. One of the greeters at the door was wearing an old National Party T-shirt. He felt an old headache returning.Kopano M atlwa “I tried to convince Mama once to come to church. But she knew she had said anything in the world. white. my Mama said. it was probably just an old T-shirt she found lying around. He tried to think of ways to stop him talking and get him out of his face. but he could not open his mouth because his head was splitting in two and he was afraid his closed mouth was the only thing keeping it together. ‘Mama. Green and yellow. But I shouldn’t have forced her. She did not want to dip her fingers into the holy 158 . ‘Zulwini my baby. Mama was just made CEO of Maatla Power House.” Father Bill wanted Zulwini to leave his classroom. “For my last birthday. I love you.
” Father Bill did not realise he had been holding his breath until the boy stopped speaking. And everybody turned around and looked. “But I’m not worried. It was the worst birthday of my life. She wanted us to leave right in the middle of the service. right onto the Praise for Daily Living and the English Hymnal. she did everything wrong – she sat when we stood. kneeled when we sat. she started to get sick and threw up into her handbag. I was happy she was gone. And then. continued to leave me out. just as we were about to share the peace. and when I got home she had eaten all of my cake. so that I had to cover her mouth with pew leaflets. but I refused. so she left without me. She asked me how I could go to a church where we’re not praying for the same thing.Spilt MilK water either. again and again? She said I was foolish and blind and that she really hoped I wouldn’t do something stupid like become a priest.” “You are not worried?” “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” 159 . She said it was dirty. Right there in the middle of the service. And if we were all praying to the same God. whose side did I think He would take? Whose side had He taken for all of history? How could I love a God who had forgotten about me. just before we prayed to be purged of our sins so we could be as white as snow. I was so embarrassed. had left me out.
verse 27. I don’t worry. Or just an idiot. “But we won’t. verse 27.” “You are not even worried about the situation you are in right now?” Father Bill didn’t believe him. “Because God sent you.Kopano M atlwa “Matthew 6. I know God had His reasons for leaving black people out of the Bible. Hated him because he was a liar and a fake and a cheat.” “How do you know that.” Father Bill knew they wouldn’t get kicked out but he wanted to scare him. Matthew 6. that he was a counterfeit.” “Yup. after Zulwini had 160 . “Can I tell you a secret?” he said. he hated him. He wept and he wept and he wept like no man with any sense should do before a child. that he doubted too. Father Bill.” Father Bill wept. my favourite verse in the Bible!” “So. you don’t worry?” “Nope. “What situation?” “You kids could get kicked out of the school for what you did. In fact. wanted to show Zulwini that he was no different from anyone else. Zulwini?” Father Bill was almost shouting.
And then he added. Zulwini.” the little boy said resting his head on Father Bill’s shoulder.” “I know. Father Bill laughed. “How did you know?” “I saw you go yesterday.” 161 .” “Not me. It’s not honest.” Zulwini said pulling his chair up to Father Bill’s so he was sitting right by him. And you were running away from me. whose eyes. You are still very young. Zulwini. “You shouldn’t sneak in and out.” “I’m sorry.” “I’m not judging you. continued to storm. “I was going to sneak back home after assembly.” “But you are not sick. Father Bill. I’m used to it.” “But I could have been going to the doctor or something.” “I know. if you were sick you wouldn’t have had the strength to do that.Spilt MilK run out of the classroom and returned with a whole roll of toilet paper in his hand and handed it to Father Bill. try as he might to stop them.” “It’s okay. But you shouldn’t judge other people either. There are things you don’t understand. Dr Semenya. you know.
sticking out his hand. Mohumagadi had decided to try to catch Father Bill before his afternoon session with the children began. then felt ashamed. “I promise to stop sneaking in and out if you promise to attend Dr Semenya’s classes.” Zulwini was silent. she and her rules. it was contagious. Had she ever 162 . roaring hysterically. When last did she laugh like that? She could not remember. her nails. She smiled. “Let’s make a deal. Father Bill’s whole giant body jived as he laughed. her statements. Father Bill. her authority.” Father Bill said. her three-piece suit.” And they laughed together. And Zulwini looked so completely and utterly happy. “That’s just lame. heads flung back. She was too embarrassed to disrupt them. She was sure that he had only been trying to help by taking Moya home. As she approached his classroom. her jetblack afro in a bun. It would only be for a minute. She was not angry. Why were they laughing like that? She giggled. She began to laugh too.” Father Bill said with a large grin.Kopano M atlwa Zulwini looked up at him and nodded. her knowledge. She stopped at the door and watched them. she saw the man and Zulwini laughing. “Bet Jesus would.
set apart. but nothing before that. that wasn’t the way things were done. He’d taken all the love she had inside of her and made her hate herself. She was the one who grew up knowing she was different. To be reduced to nothing by a boy. And look. a person who would not be missed by the world if he died. still felt. needy. So. regrettable character. So embarrassed. She was the talented one who used big English words like ‘consequences’ when Bill and the rest of the boys came in hurt. not Mama Patricia. unable to accept that such a thing could happen to her. who didn’t deserve her anyway. She remembered all of it as clearly as if it was only a moment ago. not even Mama Twiggy. She had been stunned. She remembered how pathetic he had made her feel. but she did. She turned around and went back to her office. weak. Not Mama. not Mama Rose. She remembered. not Mama Puleng. special. So rejected and unloved. who was he now? A nobody. she had told no one. Walk backwards. Only the pain she had felt. How could she? They had 163 . Walked forwards but wished the whole time she could do it backwards. embarrassed. What would everyone think? A school principal walking backwards along a corridor? Nobody ever did anything backwards.Spilt MilK laughed like that? Not in this life certainly. an absolute nobody. She didn’t want to. the life after the church. but one whom she would still take back if he changed his mind— He’d made her into a sorry. none of the good. She was the clever one who knew her times tables before he knew his.
that he was waiting too. days she remembered but could not bear to look back on. and then she left too. remembered the ice machine in the staff 164 . And at the other places she also said nothing. She was evolved. She asked no one a thing and they did the same. She was too proud to have them pity her. were enough for them. She would not do it. that he had written but the letters had got lost. questions it was clear she was unable to answer. And it worked out for her just fine. waiting and waiting. studies and related things.Kopano M atlwa looked at her with eyes that warned it would not last. The reasons she gave. He wanted ice. bigger than. and how was she to tell them about the church without mentioning the Fathers. For how was she to tell them about Mama without mentioning the church. and how was she to mention the Fathers without it all leading back to him. almost like all that emotion he’d been too hasty to regurgitate had scratched the skin off his throat and left it raw. laughed some mornings. that he had been stuck somewhere and would send for her. this gaaning aan about the ins and outs of things long gone. very thirsty. beyond such. She waited and waited. As long as books were involved they did not ask any more questions. So she never spoke to people about things that did not concern them. told herself she was overreacting. In time she began to see it as even a little narcissistic. She waited for many days. Father Bill felt thirsty.
He knew that his ambivalence about interacting with people was silly and probably accounted for most of his awkwardness. His feet were light. and birds that looked like M’s and smoke out of a chimney and a mom and dad holding hands and a child laughing. He walked over to the staff lounge and got there faster than he expected. Fish and bicycles and dogs and balls and jelly and custard and a sun that had eyes and could smile. ‘you have always been cold and distant. He smiled. she’d never felt such a thing.’ He sat down in the middle of the couch with his ice. ‘Reluctant even to be born. The doctor had never seen such a thing either. He stuck his head in the door slowly and was glad there was no one about. His head had felt cold.’ his mother said. stuck his head out and then crept right back in. She said he had hesitated at his own birth. The walls were covered in paintings from the Grade Three art week. and had sucked him out with a vacuum. He stood up quickly and she waved her hand for him to sit. threatening to let go of the grip they had on the ground and fly off. His mother had said he’d been born awkward. tingly. he had not heard her come in. “You like our artwork?” It was Mohumagadi.Spilt MilK lounge from that day he had stood with a cup of ice in his hands eating an egg sandwich he had hated. 165 . Certainly none of his brothers had done such a thing when they had been born.
maybe she didn’t remember him at all. But that sounded even worse than what he had said before. ‘us adults when we were children’. But maybe it was a coincidence or even a joke.” He felt like such an idiot. Those paintings remind me of when we were children. picked up a sachet of sugar. he spoke up without giving what he was going to say any thought whatsoever. She walked over to the coffee machine and picked up her mug. “I meant us adults when we were children. trying to correct his last statement. He had meant ‘us’ as in ‘us when we were children’. She continued to pour her coffee. 166 . She probably didn’t even care any more. brown sugar. What I mean is that they remind one of being a child. “Remember how we would argue over which crayon was ‘skin-colour-crayon’? You would always say that the caramelish-brown one was skin colour and I would say the pinkish one was. and a stirrer. A large mug with a large spoon that only she used.” he said smiling He saw her face change. He was sure she remembered him.” he said. Not ‘us-us’ but ‘us’ being ‘adults’. “I meant us when we were children. lost to his life again. had poured milk into her cup and he was certain she would walk out the door and back to her office. Before she could leave. She was done.Kopano M atlwa “Yes. Reminds me of us. trying to hide his nervousness. Only she knew he couldn’t tell the time on a clock. Skin-colour-crayon!” He laughed.
” “Because I prayed. looking him straight in the eye for the first time since his arrival. Kids will smile regardless of what they are feeling inside. so he spoke again.Spilt MilK She sat down on the couch across from him. pray for this world. pray for our children. I prayed and prayed and 167 . He could tell that he should have stopped talking a long while ago. looked at him but said nothing. Maybe they are exactly the same and we’ve just found a way of complicating them. I’ve realised. Why he’d brought up their past was a mystery to him.” He laughed again. The silence grew thicker. didn’t blame her for her silence. “But things are different now. pray for ourselves?” “Pray?” Her voice came out hoarse. they will smile in the day and laugh and play just like the other little children. He didn’t know what he had expected her to say. Bill.” he continued. “You really believe that?” she asked him. “We’re all just kids. Just kids trying to figure it all out. “We’re all grown up and now things are different. “Yes. she didn’t. “What can we do but pray. Or maybe they are not.” And again. pray for our country. Even if they go back home at night to a man who not only enters their beds but their privacy too. threatening to squash them.
“It’s all just spilt milk now.” “Fuck you. fifteen years of fear.” “Spilt milk?” she screeched. and you know what it brought me? Nothing but lost time. pounding so fast he felt like it would fracture his rib cage. “I didn’t mean it like that Tshokolo. but he heard her. You don’t forget spilt milk. “Spilt milk?” she screamed again. Tshokolo. you clean it up. fifteen years of madness. Bill? All those promises you made in ’94. It was just an expression. ‘spilt milk’? So I should just forget everything. that wasn’t what I meant. His heart was pounding. I should just forget them? I should just forget the fifteen years you took from my life?” “That’s not what I meant. Bill. Tshokolo. gutwrenching pain.” 168 . “Are you insane? You want to call fifteen years of pain. Tshokolo. A figure of speech. no point crying over it.Kopano M atlwa prayed. agony and rage. So loudly that he jumped and dropped the cup of now melted ice so that it splattered across the room. “Are you crazy?” she continued to scream. is that what you are suggesting. Bill. fifteen years of lack of sleep. please. What had he done? He hadn’t meant it like that.” He couldn’t get the words out fast enough.” She whispered it.” “Your prayers will be answered some day.
It was just a figure of speech. explain. She did not know exactly when it had happened but when she got to her office her thighs stuck together and her panty liner was 169 .” Oh Lord. her eyes red. It was just an expression. He wanted to take it back. What had he done? “And get up from that floor. Maybe he had said it wrong. His soul was trembling. Bill. He tried to hold her. You pathetic coward. “Spilt fucking milk. So that’s what you good-fornothings think? Every little thing you’ve put us through is spilt milk to you is it? ‘Clean it up’ you say? Fuck you. You and your fucking ancestors. How could he fix this? He dropped to the ground. you coward. Wasn’t that how it went? He’d made such a huge mistake.Spilt MilK “You clean up your own fucking mess.” she cussed through gritted teeth. He’d obviously said it at the wrong time. Grabbed her around the knees. you piece of nothing. Don’t cry over spilt milk. “Get your hands off me. wouldn’t let him explain.” She wouldn’t stop. stop her.” Mohumagadi had wet herself again. clean it up. the veins on her forehead bulging.
pressing Zulwini’s Bible against his heart. the other scratching the erupting vesicles on his lip. Father Bill. How could it have happened? How could it have happened to her again? How could she have let it? And what about the universe. It. here to her new school and her new life and her new. simultaneously rubbing the Bible against his breast. Mlilo. have let it happen to her again? It wasn’t even fair. when Mlilo walked into the classroom “Good afternoon. to destroy whatever was left of her? What had she done wrong? Paulo Coelho was wrong.” he replied. Father Bill was sitting with one hand inside his shirt. His head was throbbing. perfect world fifteen years on. She. the world did not conspire to bring you happiness. Had it followed her here. “Good afternoon. not meeting his eyes.Kopano M atlwa cold to sit on. When the boy said nothing more. the world conspired to bring you pain. Hadn’t even gone looking for it. not bothering to lather the greeting in any niceties either. Them. the celestial beings. the gods. the whatever that was out there? How could He. He closed his eyes and tried to reach down to the peace 170 . She hadn’t even deserved it. he ignored him and continued scratching his lip.” Mlilo said.
So I made a movie. okay? There’s nothing left of me to destroy so just give me my space please.” He made a movie? “It’s the video we made that day in the bus. but could not find its hand to pull it up. “Mlilo? I’m sorry.” He saw tears suddenly fill the boy’s eyes as he retreated to his desk. “Look Mlilo. “Just the basics of the male and female reproductive systems and the changes they undergo during puberty. I know you’ve had it out for me since I arrived here. he was a little wary of what the boy was up to. He sighed. So we came up with the 171 . is everything okay?” “I brought this.” “What kind of movie is it. But not today. Mlilo was standing at his desk.” Mlilo said putting a DVD onto the table. My mother and I take the school rules very seriously. The best project would win a trip to the Human Sciences Museum. We never got to finish it because we got into trouble before we could. When he opened his eyes. We were put into groups and told to come up with an innovative way to teach the class the various stages of puberty. “I know you asked me to bring a movie but we don’t have any at home.Spilt MilK he knew had to be inside. Father Bill was confused. Mlilo?” Father Bill did not like the sound of this and after all that Mlilo had put him through.
Ndudumo knew all the stages really well so we used her voice to discuss them. so I just thought because we are all here and there’s a DVD machine … I don’t even think it’s very long. Ndudumo said it would be okay to film ourselves because only Dr Masemola would see it and she’s a lady and a mom and wouldn’t care about our privates and stuff. So I never bothered to edit it until last night. we don’t spend a lot of time together. That’s all. And I had nothing else to bring. Also.” he said. working on a school project?” “Yes. other than in here. “We could have won. I just thought the others might want to see it because we all worked so hard on it. So we started working on it. I just wanted to show them. Why? What did you think we were doing?” He looked up at Father Bill with eyes filled with the sincerity of the question. Father Bill. It’s really good. 172 . But she would care that we had been really innovative and we would win. but then Dr Tshivhase saw us in the bus and we got into trouble and we never got to submit it. We even went together to the university’s medical school library and got all the facts right before we started filming. we’re not all really friends.” “So that’s what you kids were doing in the bus. after waiting for Father Bill to answer his question and realising he wasn’t going to. We don’t have to watch it today if you don’t want.Kopano M atlwa idea of making a video of ourselves because we are all in different stages of puberty.
Father Bill. We got nought that whole week we were suspended from school. but it might still be worth submitting it to her.Spilt MilK The images are pretty good too. Kind of embarrassing but pretty good. I was thinking we should submit it to Dr Masemola anyway. When they realised it was the DVD that had got them all into so much trouble. Maybe we went a little too far but we just wanted to win.” The other children came in and were surprised to see Mlilo already there and holding a DVD in his hand while chatting to Father Bill. Questions flew around the room. “Did you put it together?” “When?” “Are you sure you’re not going to get us into more trouble for bringing this into the school?” “Why didn’t you tell us you still had it?” “What does it look like?” “Is it gross?” “Is it okay. I guess we didn’t think the whole thing through. they gathered around him and gasped and laughed and blushed as they each took turns holding it. We would have won if we hadn’t got into trouble. even if it’s too late to get any credit for it. if we just have a quick look?” Father Bill had meant to protest against the watching 173 .
His mind was so smoked out. but he had no real reason. Mlilo remained silent and did not touch him. then jinxed each other at the same time for speaking at the same time and everyone packed up laughing again. Joking that she was his favourite. I hope you didn’t put in any of mine. They continued to pester Mlilo with questions. and watched them as they thought and spoke and acted. Notting Hill and Sleepless in Seattle. they were about to see it for themselves. because she hadn’t expected Mlilo to bring anything. Ndudumo stuck her tongue out at him and called him ‘sour pants’. so he sat back. is it any good?” “Wasn’t it weird putting it all together?” “Did you include all the images? Oh my gosh. Zulwini and Ndudumo exclaimed ‘me too’ at the same time and packed up laughing.” Mlilo snapped at them and told them to be patient. Moya said she’d brought movies from home. let his Bible fall to his lap. smoldered.Kopano M atlwa of this DVD. Zulwini came up to him and gave him a hug. Ndudumo gave him a hug too. Moya protested that she was the favourite and gave him the biggest hug of all. About who had actually won the biology project and how it would not have stood a chance against what they had planned to submit. that he could not think. could not act. That’s so embarrassing. They chatted amongst themselves as they helped Mlilo connect the equipment. “So. Father Bill had never seen them so excited. 174 . could not speak. Mlilo.
their pubic hair. It was the strangest thing Father Bill had seen in his entire life. Mohumagadi marched towards his classroom. their genitalia. She was finally going to tell him everything that she thought of him. their breast buds. a 175 . peeped between fingers. She would start by telling him how he was a nothing. there was no vulgarity to any of it. a failure even amongst his own people. He shook his head and chuckled silently to himself. highly ambitious kids who had taken one school project a little too seriously. The past fifteen years had been the best years of her life. a priest who had shamed the church with his sexual indiscretions. She would take back what she had said earlier and tell him that. though he tried to hide it. she was determined to. She had built an empire. so many things she had stuffed inside of herself over all those years. Although they covered their eyes. in fact. folded into little pieces to make space for all of it to fit in.Spilt MilK even Mlilo. Sekolo sa Ditlhoro it was indeed. He was impressed but tried not to look at the private parts of a bunch of overzealous. There was so much she wanted to say. rolled in. hid their faces behind their books and giggled in profound embarrassment. It was really them on the screen. They all settled down to watch their biology project. the past fifteen years had not been lost time. The film really did explain the developmental process well. a school.
And she would tell him to get those repulsive pus-filled blisters on his lip sorted out before daybreak because he’d had them for the past fifteen years and they were disgusting to look at. And the images were all of children. But when Mohumagadi got to the classroom she was not prepared for what she saw. A school of giants. She would tell him that no one had worn jeans to this school since its construction and that he should either wear his full priestly garb every day or buy appropriate clothing or get out. 176 . throwing the door open. She would tell him that it was not his place to be inviting her school children into his car and that if it happened one more time she would call the police. She would tell him that if he snuck home one more time after assembly he would be thrown out of the school without a minute’s delay. baby testicles. a baby finger pointing at them all. she saw Father Bill and the children sitting in the dark. Baby vaginas. Instead of a neat row of heads buried in work. She would tell him that he had best learn the school song or she’d write a strongly worded letter to the bishop describing his failure to integrate into the school. a vagina and then a penis and then a finger pointing at testicles appearing up on the wall. huddled around the projector screen. “What is going on here?” Mohumagadi hollered. baby penises. the DVD machine’s blue light spinning.Kopano M atlwa school where no little black girl would ever have to cry over some foolish low-life dirty white boy. suggesting that his disdain stemmed from racism and recommending that he be told to leave.
pushed them out of the way. and later with thick. shaking. curlier hair. began to greet her in chorus and then stopped when she turned to look at them. initially with just sparse hair. The pubic hair begins to develop at stage two of breast development. as you can see in me. The contours of the papilla and the areola then become separate from the rest of the breast. quivering. threw the contents of their chair bags onto the floor. She ransacked the room and searched everything. The areola then regresses as demonstrated by my breasts. They had not moved. “Notting Hill. “King Kong? Australia?” She opened up their school bags and overturned them. coarser. “Puberty in girls starts at an average age of ten-and-a-half years.Spilt MilK The children jumped up. Her eyes dared them to. Pretty Woman? What is this garbage?” she screamed. It begins with the development of the breast bud. as demonstrated by Moya’s breasts. She heard Ndudumo’s voice on the screen. She could feel herself rattling. She kicked down the bookshelf. “What is going on in this classroom?” she asked again when she had regained her breath. And when she was out of breath she stopped and glared at them. flipped through the pages of the books. as you can see in Moya. quaking. Casablanca.” Mohumagadi was rabid with rage. “What is this?” she yelled pulling the cord out of the wall. “Who brought this 177 . saw the DVDs on the table. She marched around the classroom.
white sorrow. pointing at the projector screen. shake him.Kopano M atlwa filth into my school?” she screamed. These movies humiliate us with their depiction of white history. “You are bent on polluting my children’s minds. Mohumagadi. The only dark skin you 178 . Bill? Was it you? Did you bring pornography into my school. Mlilo? Did I hear you say ‘just movies’? Are there any black people in these movies.” she heard the man reply faintly. “They are just movies. Mlilo?” “And what do you have to say Bill? ‘Just pornography’? It’s only ‘just pornography. art? Artistic Christian DVDs? Isn’t that what you said you needed this projector for? Christian DVDs?” She wanted to grab him. crush him under her foot and spit on him. Mohumagadi’?” “It’s not pornography. Bill?” “Oh come on. Mohumagadi. white romance. “Just movies. “What is going on in this classroom? What is this trash?” she screamed holding up the DVDs. “What is it Bill. smash him.” Mlilo whispered. “Was it you. waiting for an answer.” “Don’t you ‘oh come on’ me Bill. Bill? Is that what you did? Is that what you have been planning all this time?” She looked at him. aren’t you.
just hear me out. there’s been a big mistake. I don’t think Dr Tshivhase understood what was actually happening that day on the bus.” “It’s not pornography. Bill. It’s all been a big misunderstanding. Mlilo.” “How dare you! What do you know? You come here in a cloud of shame and we open up our school to you and you think you know better than us. 179 . I really was just trying to help. Bill! You are in no position to help anyone. “All of you? Don’t you know better? Especially you.Spilt MilK see is picking up the trash in the background.” “We don’t need your help. they are just children. Mohumagadi. what do you think the skinny.” “We didn’t ask you to come here to fix us. I meant no harm. Children should be allowed to be children. What do you know. What do you think that teaches the children. Bill. spinning around to face the children. Father? As they fall in love with the man and cry for the girl. especially you. Mohumagadi. it’s you. Mohumagadi. insignificant shadows in the background do to their minds?” “And all of you?” she said. We were just fine until you arrived and if anybody needs fixing. Mohumagadi. Mohumagadi.” “Please. These children. other than lies and deceit?” “Please. We don’t need your advice. Honestly. I’m only trying to help fix things.
Bill. “You have had your chance. is no Smartie. examine us under all sorts of microscopes. it happens to be a great big suppository that gets shoved up your rectum. Bill. What about that is so hard for you to understand? Why can you not see that? Is it because you don’t think a black woman can help a white man? You were sent here so that we could help you get your sorry self back into society. sugar coating the truth for you so it is easier to swallow. years to study us and pick us apart.” Her breath was coming out so fast.Kopano M atlwa your counsel.” She needed to breathe. a regrettable human being. a mistake. we do not need anything you have to offer. Well I’m not about to do that. We are not some charity organisation. Bill. “The truth. do you Bill? I want you out. it went in before the last bit came out and went out as the rest was coming in. Father Bill. generation after generation and enough is enough. I want you out of my 180 . You people are so used to having us apologise for our opinions.” “Your words hurt me. Mohumagadi. You are a failure in every possible respect and have no right to tell me anything about my school or my staff or my children or how we do things.” “Life hurts. there were so many words coming out of her she had forgotten to breathe.” “Mohumagadi. A whore. your anything. I had no intention of— “You never have any intention of doing anything. You are a male whore.
so sorry. just 181 . I think it’s time that you go.Spilt MilK school right now. just listen to me. It was a mistake allowing you to come here.” That night he lay on the floor in the dark listening to the radio. There’s a reasonable explanation for all of this. Father Bill. I love you. Something you could never be a part of.” “Oh no. I want nothing to do with any of your sympathy. bigger than anything your pathetic little mind has thought of imagining. Please. Please. like there were people out there.” “Get out of my school. please. Bill. did not even know which station it was on.” “Please. We are doing something here. Father Bill? I created this school so that we. people who did not mind talking to him. the talking… it felt alive. You know why I created this school. If I’d known— You do not belong here. They were having some kind of debate. I don’t want your sorries. Mohumagadi. Tshokolo. It was the first time he had listened to it since his arrival. could have the privilege of feeling sorry for people like you. Bill. did not care. He did not know what it was about. You’ve done enough damage. Mohumagadi.” “Please. I didn’t know. don’t you dare. Don’t kick me out. I’m sorry. but the voices. for a change.
Has the world always been like this? It’s been around for so damn long and it’s like nothing is changing. Fucking drives you mad. I want no part in it whatsoever. where broke actresses with chipped nail polish and ashen knees play out meaningless stories. punk-ass lying motherfucker taking poor people for every penny they have.” the caller on the line said. fucking poverty. masking. masquerading. then some religious bullshit. fucking violent bullshit all the fucking time. “This world is stupid. “Were you angry when you saw her do that to me?” 182 . when the world around you is falling apart? Or are you just supposed to not care? Cancel your ticket to Mumbai and plan another trip?” The tirade ended and the DJ switched to an ad break and then there was another caller on the line asking for tickets to the J&B Met. drives you to insanity. It fucking pisses me off. looked him in the eye and with pain in his heart asked Him.Kopano M atlwa lay there quietly and listened. and then Africa TV. I do not want to be a part of it. What is the fucking point? How are you supposed to be happy. Fucking terrorist attacks. but at the core the same bullshit. I sit by the TV flipping from channel to channel and it’s all punk-ass music videos and then the BBC showing buildings falling apart. “It pisses me off. It’s fucking ridiculous. Father Bill turned to God. fucking crime. Just shifting.
because many of us wouldn’t bother if it was up to us. to beat our hearts.21 March Dear God It makes sense that you don’t require us to will ourselves to breathe. And maybe there is much more to it than what we want at any given time. to pump blood around our bodies. Bill .
that they forgot about where they’d been before. square shoes were rested from their whole-day march and the rushrush was over with not much left to do. because after this entry the world seemed to turn upon itself and everything that once rang true no longer did. It was as the curtains were about to be drawn. that they locked the doors once open before. when children were called in from a day full of play.nd that was the last entry ever written in Father Bill’s journal. It was as the darkness was about to fall. when black. the last time it made sense to write anything at all. for they 184 . when little pots of rice were washed of their yellow starch and the gravy turned down from 4 to 2. A At this point the author must take over and speak for those for whom this is more than just a story. when the hot sun had had its final say.
He remembered he was in trouble but could not remember why. remembered she had said not to sneak back home. the one with a pair of spectacles and a pair of dimples. the one with itchy blisters on his lips. the black one. the one called Zulwini. The woman. shivering. the one the boy grew up knowing as Tshoki. forgot she had said not to return at all. forgot that she had also said not to come back. He remembered he had done something wrong but could not remember what it was. how she had been deceived. forgot that he was no longer a part of the school. how she had been targeted and destroyed again. He remembered her instruction to wear his priestly garb. the one the girl grew up knowing as Billy. the one called Mohumagadi. the one who was always angry. the round one. how she had been humiliated. the priest. the one who slept with his Bible under his pillow and his rosary in his hand. how she had been disrespected. woke up that morning cold. the white man. how she had been attacked. woke up that morning and cried. like all the other mornings since his arrival. how she had been ridiculed. The man. 185 . remembered she had said to learn the school song. how she had been undermined. the one who was the principal. the one called Father Bill. woke up the next morning. The child. and got ready to attend the morning assembly.Spilt MilK do not know how to share the rest of it. the one who believed deeply and fearlessly. stiff. She remembered everything that had happened the day before.
the small boy. remembered wanting to explain to her mother. remembered thinking it was only because she wanted to impress her and her teacher. remembered never feeling it before she came here. She remembered the day before. she remembered everything that had happened. The other girl child. woke up that morning and cried. the one who tried to hide her hurt. the one who liked to paint her face and her heart. the one called Moya. The boy. the one who spoke like she knew. the quiet one. remembered not understanding what they meant. She remembered the shouting. remembered she would escape some day. remembered the words. remembered it was her fault. the one who never wanted to be here in the first place. woke up that morning and cried. remembered thinking they would get a good mark. the beautiful clever boy with 186 . the forward one.Kopano M atlwa He remembered being shouted at but could not say what for. He remembered thinking he should pray but wasn’t sure for whom. remembered her mother telling her she should stay out of trouble. remembered not being able to hear. remembered fear. The other child. remembered wanting to pick them up but feeling too afraid. remembered the cracked DVDs on the floor. remembered being confused and afraid. remembered how far away some day was. remembered not understanding why they didn’t. the thin one. remembered her mother not being there. the one called Ndudumo. the one who was planning to leave anyway.
not like this.” Zulwini had told him that in heaven people were always happy. the one who was bold. too bold. perhaps they would lift his arms a little. what if someone had? What if someone really had come in in the night and hadn’t seen him. smashing onto his big toe. He wanted to climb out but could not. He dug his elbows into the bed. He began to panic. a throbbing toe and a pile of bricks around him.Spilt MilK dark-dark skin and green eyes. not directly. There was no use pretending. Instead. God?” Mlilo had never spoken to God before. making him trip and fall. his head buried in his knees. He had ignored Zulwini. “What is it like up there. could not get his body to follow the instruction to get up and go. but still he did not cry. he lay with his eyes wide open in his bed. His chest felt like it had bricks on it. He wasn’t even sure if God was available and when one could consult with him. 187 . perhaps they would succeed in at least sitting him upright. the one they thought was testimony to the success of the school. like someone had snuck in in the night and plastered his entire body. So there he sat. had mistaken him for a part of their construction and built a wall on top of his body? His heart began to beat fast as he fought to get up. He tried pushing his hands against the mattress. “Is it fun? What do you guys do there all day? Don’t you get bored? I can’t imagine a place where people are always happy. woke up that morning but did not cry as little children should. the one called Mlilo. the bricks were heavy and when he did finally stand up they came tumbling down.
I think I could be quite useful there. I don’t remember anything – where we slept. He was bad.” he whispered. and sometimes I think that’s what Zulwini is talking about. a funny touch. just to see how it is doing? Do you speak to it? Do you ask it how it feels? I did that once. where we ate. I was lying. I just mess things up for everyone. bad.” he said to God. It’s weird because I have a pretty good memory. I’m a hard worker. I’ve 188 .Kopano M atlwa Zulwini was stupid and stupid people irritated him. God. Because there was this one spelling test and I forgot a word. I don’t remember any of that. It felt like something you would do. like I feel warm. Sometimes I get these feelings though. But Dr Kgomo gave me the mark anyway because she said she knew I knew it. bad. bad. Zulwini said we all came from you. So maybe it’s like that. Things pretty much stink down here and I’m just making it worse. but it goes away too quickly so I can’t really explain it. “I’m sorry. like a touch. “Do you sometimes go and sit at the beach and watch the ocean. so I told Zulwini if I didn’t remember it then it wasn’t true because I remember everything. one teacher told me it’s a photographic memory. I’m sorry for being so bad. though. He immediately felt bad for his thoughts. “You can take me back if you like. I’m no use here. I don’t remember. what it smelt like. I can’t explain it. what we used to speak about. I wouldn’t mind coming back. and he remembers. “If you guys need an extra hand or anything.
” He waited.Spilt MilK been top of my class since Grade One. I’m pretty good at everything. She’s so tough and she’ll still have Manzi. I don’t mind. and waited. I looked it up. Even if I came for a weekend. I don’t want to be here any more. I don’t know why I have it but I do. God. I don’t want it. but still God said nothing. I keep thinking too many things. I don’t understand anything. It’s Greek or something. anything. I don’t even have to do fancy stuff. I don’t think he’ll even notice and when he does he’ll just make another baby someplace else. Just a weekend. I’m lonely. some day I can work my way up to helping with the decision-making stuff. And Dad. But even if I don’t. God. I can do filing. and even then he waited some more. I wouldn’t mind. And I promise not to get in anyone’s way. even cleaning. that’s all. I miss you. God. I want to come home. I can’t concentrate. and waited. “I’m always sad. And I miss you. It’s called anhedonia. that would be okay. and waited until the sun came up and he was late for school. but she will be fine. God. please. “I’m just saying that if you needed just a little bit of company or something. take me back. “I know you’ll worry about Ma. I don’t like it any more. If you miss me. Please. 189 . and maybe if I’m good. but I don’t want to play with the other children. that’s fine. well you know him.
You look just like my dad.” Mlilo sobbed. And as he was about to set off again. but you are nothing like him. the gardens to his left. and smiled. the staff lounge to his right.Kopano M atlwa It had already been announced at the school that he would be leaving. to away away. “Father Bill! Father Bill!” It was Mlilo. They had found each other again after all. where lines were straight and circles round. Father Bill arrived to find no seat for him on the assembly stage and an empty classroom with only the few things he’d collected over the past two weeks packed into a box. Mohumagadi had not wasted a moment. the green ones streaming with tears. There were no tables and no chairs. running fast. No letter. his green eyes into the man’s blue eyes. no note. The boy looked up into his eyes. Emails were sent out. 190 . He walked out into the corridor. there came a thundering down the corridor. “Father Bill. no number to dial. almost exactly. “Father Bill! Father Bill!” The boy nearly bowled Father Bill over as he grabbed him and flung his arms around him. the cracked DVDs too. but the message was very clear. her scent everywhere. so tightly and so abruptly that a gush of air leapt from the priest’s chest and he couldn’t speak.
felt his shirt dampen from the little boy’s tears. She wanted to make sure that the man had taken everything out of the classroom. Mlilo did not move. “Mlilo Graham.Spilt MilK Father Bill felt the boy’s arms tighten around him. Mlilo slowly backed away and then began to run too. she started screaming.” But Mlilo did not move.” is all he could manage to say. She warned him. Were you not supposed to report to my office this morning?” The boy was startled by her voice and dropped his arms. What would words change anyway? And it was at that very moment that Mohumagadi came round the corner. He 191 . saw them. it was over. “Mlilo Graham. She had put up with enough and she was done. but the boy did not budge. the last straw. allow Father Bill to leave and come here right now. that he had left no reminder of his ever having been there. told him that if she had to say it one last time then that would be it. Father Bill and her Mlilo. Mohumagadi said it again. “Mlilo. She screamed and screamed after him. When Mohumagadi saw him. felt his head pressed into his chest. Mohumagadi went berserk and came running for him. it was done. She would be finished with him if he didn’t move that instant.
their painful memories. too fast. Not from kings who had stood at the head of their empires watching men in great numbers torch their homes. watching him run faster. He ran right into the middle of the road and a truck came. their suffering. They all watched. far away from their struggles. She screamed his name.” But the world had never. further away. not even from the eighteen-yearold soon-to-be mother watching two true stripes of venereal disease appear before her. gone. across the Pyramids of Gaza and through Fes. faster and faster.Kopano M atlwa ran. swiftly. He ran as fast as his little legs would carry him. Past their anger. Right into the road. never ever in all its years of existence. the one that large trucks with their huge tyres came trundling down. there was always a truck coming down that road. What with all that noise. but it was a different scream now. that big road. running and running and running. running away. their hardships. Running fast. along Masai Mara. Of course it did. watching Dr Booi push the children back into the school. behind the cloud above Table Mountain. The world never waited. She watched him. Watching him climb the fence. as quickly as possible. quickly. as far. their pain. “Wait world! Please world. behind the gate. Even as she cried those words watching Father Bill run across the road. Mohumagadi screaming and screaming all the time. watching cars slow down around them. out past Nehanda and Nandi. Down the corridor. wait. too far. over Plaatjie and under Shaka. responded to that call. as fast. not from leaders of countries who had woken up to find their careers destroyed in the morning papers. she already 192 .
knew that they had seen, and, yes, were old enough to remember forever, that the truck and the cars and the people in them had slowed down too late and would now only be spectators, that Father Bill was carrying a corpse in his arms, that the world would not, could not wait. And as if her mind had decided that it could not wait either, could not wait to first allow the heart to moan, and the eyes to well, and the stomach to knot, it started to draw conclusions and make decisions. She would leave the school. She would go some place far away. She had failed the children, fed them the bitter milk from her withered breasts. She had especially failed Mlilo, destroyed Mlilo, denied him a future in this country. She had burdened these children with foul emotion that did not belong in their little minds. So she would leave. But first she would put her hands in the white man’s and ask him to pray for her. She imagined they would be soft and even though she knew she would not, could not believe his words, it was a good place to start.
“We are all here this evening …” They were all there that evening, all the school children, all the teachers, all the parents, even Ms Mntambo who was known never to leave the house after dark; they were all there, except Mlilo.
Kopano M atlwa
“We are all here this evening to remember the life of Mlilo Graham.” It was supposed to be Father Bill speaking, but when he had Googled the words ‘death of a child’ in an attempt to prepare for his sermon, the pages would not open and the mouse refused to click, making drops of salty water fall from his eyes and his fingers skid across the keys, so much so that Miss L had to pull the cord out at the wall. It was suggested that the bishop speak instead. Speak words of encouragement and consolation that Father Bill could not. But read a passage from the Bible, that much he could manage. His personal favourite, he told everyone there, and one that he thought Mlilo might have liked, despite himself. We are often troubled but not crushed, sometimes in doubt but never in despair, there are many enemies but we are never without a friend, and though badly hurt at times, we are not destroyed. (2 Corinthians 4:8–9) And as if the bird of realisation had perched on all the children at the very same time, their little eyes lit up because they knew those words well, every single one of them, for those were the words of their school song! But how was it that they were in the white man’s
Bible too? How strange, how odd, how frighteningly marvellous that they were in the white man’s Bible too! And as they sang their school song together, Mohumagadi began to weep as the walls of the hall resounded with their voices, baby voices, the voices of a room full of young people who were destined to change the continent, to change our history, to change the world, and did they even know? And there stood Father Bill, happy that he could finally sing the words of the school song effortlessly, but did he know the secret that the children in the hall shared? That the words he had struggled with for so long were exactly the same as the words that were written on his heart? We will never know, because before anybody could point out this marvellous coincidence to him, Mohumagadi got up and held his hand. She had never stood up from her chair during assembly before, let alone to hold someone’s hand, a white man’s hand, but even Mohumagadi knew that we had to stop hating at some point.
first published by Kwela Books in 2004.Thank you to Ntate Nape ’a Motana for compiling our Sepedi proverbs for all the world to see and enjoy. . Here's to milk! Proverbs are taken from Ntate Nape ’a Motana’s Sepedi Proverbs. for encouraging me on. Thank you to my family and friends for your support once again. and to you. Re a go leboga. reader. They were such a treat to work with in the writing of Spilt Milk.
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
We've moved you to where you read on your other device.
Get the full title to continue reading from where you left off, or restart the preview.