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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
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“Every book is a prayer.” (Author unknown) .
Sovereign Lord. “I do not know how to speak. for I am with you and will rescue you.” I said.“Ah. Do not be afraid of them. I am only a child.” But the Lord said to me. “Do not say ‘I am only a child.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you.” (Jeremiah 1:6–7) .
t was as the curtains were about to be drawn. And even though they’d made sure their lips were curled tightly back as they took deep gulps of each other’s breath. when black. It was as the darkness was about to fall. that they returned to where they’d been before. when children were called in from a day full of play. square shoes were rested from their whole-day march and the rushrush was over with not much left to do. 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 the hot sun had had its final say. that they silently snuck out the back door. And even though it really was just only their fingers that had rocked backwards and forwards in increasing desire. when little pots of rice were washed of their yellow starch and the gravy turned down from 4 to 2.
Of all the things he was prepared to feel. then it really did have another think coming. to away away. he looked up to God for a moment with eyes that stung of anger and betrayal. How was he supposed to have known that the feelings were false and the intimacy wrong.Kopano M atlwa … to the tall Fathers with the heavy shadows that crushed them as they lay there in the afternoon grass. so much more depraved. those frail gold-framed spectacles shaking their heads at him and those thickened bunion hearts tut-tutting at him. And once out on the road and far far from earshot. 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. when God Himself had been so encouraging? But that was that. guilt was not one of them. As he stood before the church tribunal. His bags were packed and soon he was on his way. As soon as he was out of view he would scowl his face. so much more sinful. lying on the dirt road for large truck tyres to crush. just as it should be. And he would leave it there. with all those grave creamy eyes sighing heavily at him. the thick plug of sour guilt. where lines were straight and circles round. it had looked like something so much more ominous. knot his neck and spit it out and out and out until his throat was raw and all that remained was retching. viii .
surprised at the scowling faces. this was discovered only much later.Spilt MilK God had actually had nothing to do with their disgrace. ix . but sadly. laughing with the sun. God too was rolling in the grass. That day. when too much had already been lost.
after they had paraded into the streets and sung those songs that could only be sung by those who had suffered before. after they had held hands and flung them into the air. after the celebrations. the sweet tears of joy. after they had sobbed in pure gladness. after they had snivelled at the beauty of it all. after they had lit candles in reverence of the time. after they had thrown their fists into the air. after they had knelt down on their knees and kissed the ground. after the jubilation. after filling up 1 A . after they had howled at the mastery of their success. after they had finished with the laughing. after the purchasing of German cars. after they had roared with triumph and screeched at the supremacy. after they had yelped in ecstasy. after they had stood in front of the television flicking between the two channels hoping to catch it again.fter all the excitement. after they had torn down old street signs. After packing up the room and moving into rooms. after they had embraced complete strangers. 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 exclaimed to all and sundry the victory they had won.
badges. No place. as far as we knew anyway. after they had sat around round tables drafting new bills. after rugby teams met quotas and companies had colourful CEOs. logos. it was quite a risky thing she did. and it was now enough. But perhaps that is why they looked up. Out of nowhere. shouting and screaming. after sketching designs for emblems. theorising and hypothesising. after no paper became green paper became white paper announced on the evening news. There would be no more speaking. with no struggle. no friend.Kopano M atlwa the cabinet. Quite literally out of nowhere. no party. after the inaugurations and commemorations. no neighbour. after shaking hands and swapping gifts. no person. and the irrational have always amused us. Speaking and arguing. MP3s. after buying new wardrobes. She belonged to no people. no more arguing. complaining and moaning. no preschool teacher who could identify her. no more 2 . no nothing. no prison. coming out of nowhere. She had simply woken up one morning and realised we had been speaking for decades. planning and deliberating. after changing the neighbourhood and the neighbours. after BlackBerrys. after it was all done. because no rational person would ever dream of doing such a thing. And at a time in this country when to get anywhere or anyplace one needed to be known. she came. after the mounting of new statues where the old ones used to stand. electronic notebooks and hands-free sets. after filling up leather purses with shiny gold and silver cards. after throwing out prima stoves for microwave ovens.
It was now time to work. things came apart. A time not for little round men and women in sparkly suits with quick speech and magic tricks. no more shouting.Spilt MilK planning. round men and women in sparkly suits who kept letting us down. promising this and promising that. Came apart slowly. after the heat and intensity. after the meat and the alcohol and salt and vinegar chips. she said. in the boot. no more deliberating. after excitement pierced the air and prospect ripped the sky. treachery in the notepads of leaders. saying this and saying that. And even the Pale People realised that they needn’t ever use the just-in-case packed bags they kept underneath the staircase. depravity in the shoes of champions. greed in the closets of the ordinary. She pointed out that it was now a different time. under the 3 . no more theorising. It was all so boring. being charged with this and being charged with that. accused of this and accused of that. buying this and buying that. after the scones and ginger ale and custard and canned peaches. rot in the rucksacks of warriors. Deceit was found in the pockets of heroes. no more. after the hysteria. no more words. decay on the key chains of figureheads and disease tucked quietly into the bras of our legends. after the delirium and the drama. no more hypothesising. but came apart nonetheless. no more complaining. so mundane. after it all. no more screaming. There had been enough talk. no more moaning. caught for this and caught for that. And who amongst us was not tired of defending them? She pointed out that after the elation.
“is that you are never forced to hold the mirror up to yourself. to compute debts and to add zeros to failing economies. A place where Mathematics would not simply be a tool taught to tally mortality rates. the car they kept with extra fuel. to create change. “The perilous thing about being the victim. A place where History would not be a subject of chronicled post-independence dates of resentments. no nobility left. A reminder of where we have been and where we no longer want to be. well.” she said. A school of excellence. your intent. and so you continue on with no points checked and no questions asked. Because as it so happened. Sekolo sa Ditlhora. no funny dance. because that was how she was to be addressed. And so Mohumagadi. no croaky voice. there really were no great names.” And after uTata. No one ever asks you to evaluate your actions. It would be a place where Geography would not simply be a means to identify sources of aid on the 4 . not in the moral sense. no million-dollar smile. but a means to add something to the nothingness. but no T-shirts. extra oil. in New Zealand. the apartment they kept in Australia. 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. your motives. called for a school to be formed. organise thinking and multiply results. fill space. the Dark People became their own oppressors. extra tyres.Kopano M atlwa bed. in London.
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. kings and queens who were left out of the history books were placed on the doors of classrooms. distinct striking gardens. but a pursuit of the understanding of the earth itself. The gates were soaring and ebony and plated with gold. And so Sekolo sa Ditlhora was opened. and Nehanda and Nandi housed grades One A and B. Makeda and Tiye looked to the sky. A place of truth. thick leafy gardens. a means to connect with our ancestors and those to come. a centreing. 5 . 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. She said it would be a school where circumstance would not divide us. Old scrolls were recalled and the names of great emperors. a way to find place and meaning and thus perspective. A place of pride. Behind them lay space. She said it would be a place where the begging bowl was overturned and used as a stepping stone. to think. space in which to breathe. So Shamba Reading Room and Khama Place of Study could be found on the same floor. There were gardens. And if one walked far enough there were little streams to stand around where statues of Cleopatra.Spilt MilK map of the world. Where umntu omnyama could be something great. and what a mighty structure it was. to create. gardens with fruit trees interrupted only by long corridors of light. and poverty would be left outside the gates. wide open space.
6 . the Public Health and Epidemiology teacher. At least she was not Mugabe-angry. at least she was not that.Kopano M atlwa The teachers were carefully selected. Everyone agreed that it was indeed a school of excellence. And even though Mohumagadi seemed like a tormented. even the white newspapers. well. Only a few years after the opening of the school. encourage a pursuit of knowledge and instil a sense of ambition were chosen. The children were working. a predicament in the form of a bound report found its way onto Mohumagadi’s desk. 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. and everybody. everyone was thankful she was focused on making the school great. their minds were made up. 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 even though she appeared to have to try hard to be politically correct. it was clear to all who stood outside them that these people were done with being objects of curiosity. understood only by those she had worked with for years. agreed that it was a good thing. angry woman. And as the gates were closed each morning. 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. only those who were believed to have the ability to inspire growing minds. It was written by Dr Tshivhase.
Spilt MilK who had led an afternoon field trip to the Nkosi Johnson Inaugural Lecture. he had happened upon four Grade Fours at the back of the school bus with their buttocks exposed. God and His Bible. 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’. 7 . had no place in this school of change. where it was reported that the children of Sihle Dladla (CEO of Maatla Power House). the candles that would damage the classroom carpeting. Whilst redoing a headcount on the return journey. when we were raped. suggested that perhaps a little divinity might do the kids (and the school’s now sullied image) a bit of good. But who to call and where to look? Of all the things Mohumagadi cared about. Ntombovuyo Pooi (author of Sexual Consciousness). so why only now does God want to involve Himself when it appears that we are winning?” No. They had no reasonable explanation for their behaviour other than that they had wanted to see. to Mohumagadi God was solely for weddings and bedtime stories and certainly not for work. Dr Mahlangu. The way she saw it. In response. the rituals. “God was not there when we were chained. when we were cheated and beaten for all those centuries past. religion was certainly not one of them. panties around ankles and school trousers around knees. which suspiciously held servitude in high esteem. The story found its way to the weekend’s papers. Public Relations Officer and Media Liaison. The whole idea of religion irked her.
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. albeit with a little perspiration prickling her armpits. All of the priests Mohumagadi had ever known were of the lighter shades with theologies tainted by European influence. she approved the idea proposed by Dr Mahlangu and seconded by Dr Ntsoko (member of the Board of Directors). It all left a bitter taste in Mohumagadi’s mouth. There was much too much invested in this school. splitting families. convincing daughters to adopt strange attire and insisting that their families change or disappear. Of course. terribly uncomfortable. 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. too many lives that had put their hope in it. 8 . there was the question of race. But nonetheless.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. collecting whole nations for decades. 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.
m. and not wanting to be presumptuous. just a simple man brought back down to earth by his own sins. He had not been given a letter or a note or a number to dial.” Mohumagadi announced in the executive meeting. He wasn’t visiting as such. “could be a better example for the children. he wasn’t sure what to say. no condemning bow.Spilt MilK So when Mohumagadi was told in confidence by Dr Zungu. not sure if there would be a parking space for him. When the security guards who stood at the gates asked him the purpose of his visit.30 a. no. 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’. “No one. He had his landlord drop him off at the school. 9 . What was he there to do? The bishop had said he needed to reflect and rest. but he wasn’t exactly sure how long he would be staying. Mohumagadi rejoiced. Grey Lourie Gardens (close to Trucks for Africa). no grand robe. 6 Ray Street. at 7. who taught Indigenous Belief Systems. the word ‘visit’ suggested he was there to see someone specific and would shortly leave.” He arrived on a Monday morning. just told to come to Sekolo sa Ditlhora. How perfect to bring in a banished white priest! None of the haughty holiness.
taking over. we are afraid you cannot come in.” the third guard said.” is what he told the security guards. “I am afraid I do not have any identification. “To rest?” asked one. sir. 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. Mohumagadi had not noticed that the priest had entered their school hall until she heard the children and some of the teachers gasp.” they whispered.” some murmured. sir. “Identification please. “He is so pale. 10 . sir. “How peculiar. “His white skin. that he had come hustling for some kind of job.” And that is how he ended up sitting on the curb outside the school gates.” “Well.” others pointed out. who had heard him clearly and appeared insulted.Kopano M atlwa “I am here to rest. “Uthini lomntu?” said the other. waiting for someone who could perhaps do something and not because.
who will forward them to the author.” “The symposium on Lessons from Zimbabwe has been postponed until further notice due to the recent arrest of one of the speakers. he is so pale. “His skin is all pink. so that Dr Ngwenya had to get up and seat them back down. or to fix. not to clean. “The man. Some of the kids right at the back were standing on their chairs to see. it has no colour!” 11 . “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.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.” “Those Grade Sixes leaving for Geneva for the green week are to meet after this assembly to receive their reading packs. He was very late. Announcements were made. Responses are encouraged and should be sent to Dr Kgwadla. It really was quite a spectacle. but it was hard to make it out with all the excitement in the hall.” “His hair.” But the children could not focus. let alone to teach. And never ever so poorly dressed. She looked at her watch.” But no one was listening. It was not often that white people came into this school. His face looked a little familiar. or to speak. Morning assembly was halfway through and he was only arriving.
Bill Thomas. He had not noticed that all the children. He knew that voice. they were all standing up and singing the school song. That voice. but he knew he wasn’t. It was William Thomas. Oblivious to the consternation he was causing. try as they might. or tell him privately that he was in fact no longer needed and that there had been a terrible mistake. or plan an escape of some sorts. He hoped he was wrong. the man looked up. Father Bill had fallen into a dark hole in his memory. a note was passed across the stage urging her to introduce the man so that the school could carry on with their assembly.Kopano M atlwa When the speaker stopped abruptly. reclaim her. Mohumagadi felt herself crumble immediately. Even after fifteen years he could recognise that voice in a room anywhere in the world. exasperated at the mumbling and finger pointing that was going on. Heard the locks and bolted doors within her fly open and old demons that she thought she’d finally put to rest. now of course Father Bill Thomas. fhedzi ri si shae Moya 12 . It was her and he knew it for sure. could not keep their large eyes off him. And it was only then that Mohumagadi caught a clear view of his face. Before he could think it through. Before she could think. “Ri thuphiwa zwinzhi Fhedzi ri si pwashekanyiwe Ra tovholwa.
” Child of a diff’rent providence In our hearts truth is prominent Believing in our competence Destined for success. singancami Sitshutshiswa asiyekeleli Sikhahlelwa phantsi Asitshatyalaliswa.” 13 . Sekolo sa Ditlhora. Sekolo sa Ditlhora Destined for Success! “Siyabandezelwa ngeenxa zonke Singaxineki Siyathingaza.Spilt MilK Ra tsimbeledzelwa fhasi. Sekolo sa Ditlhora. Sekolo sa Ditlhora. 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. hone ri shi lovhe.” We are the school of excellence Despite the time of turbulence Unafraid of impediments Destined for success.
She did not think she would be able to hold it together if she had to face any of them. Sekolo sa Ditlhora Destined for Success! Mohumagadi hurried back to her office. Sekolo sa Ditlhora. quickly down the staircase they’d nicknamed Victoria Falls and around the Timbuktu History Centre. But she couldn’t talk now. 14 . she needed to get to her sanctuary. They had had numerous meetings pending his arrival. Tenkamenin Model Court. she was nearly there. She was sure they would see that she was rattled and could not afford to let her staff see her that way. Sekolo sa Ditlhora. She needed to think. but everyone was still a little anxious about the implications of having this man in their midst. just past ‘1994 in Pictures’ and round the giant glass trophy cabinet and she’d be in her office. 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.Kopano M atlwa The world awaits the coming of us Here we go with wholeheartedness Bold enough to carry the cross Destined for success. Taharqa Lego Room. She would take the most obscure route she could think of. behind Makeba Music Room. Kilimanjaro Climbing Wall. Her black and red patent heels hammered their way down the corridor.
Mohumagadi felt her core collapse. in the crowd. arms gesturing. And now this. 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. She knew she was often quietly criticised for not involving the staff in her decision making but 15 . It was a long time ago and they were both different people now. 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. It changed nothing. as usual. It would not be a problem at all. that the priest was probably sitting inside her office. was. faces animated. His lessons only began after lunch and he was at the scene of anything intriguing happening in the school. the Music History teacher. excited. Dr Liyema. fifteen years was a really long time. hadn’t cared to know.Spilt MilK How could she have been so careless? She should have asked the bishop for a name but she hadn’t thought to. sat on the bench outside her door. she told herself. She would simply pretend she did not know who he was and in fact she wouldn’t be faking. she would make sure of that. and then proceeded to sneak into the school when their backs were turned. been denied entrance. A whole congregation of people was waiting for her outside her office. She immediately sensed from the way they were all standing. All three security guards stood waiting too. ready to report the morning’s incident of the white man who had mocked them upon his arrival. The four children.
“Molweni. Mohumagadi.” they all replied together. This time she had allowed them to decide jointly how best to discipline the children. It’s a beautiful day. Had she made an error in judgement by bringing this man in? She did not make mistakes often.Kopano M atlwa this time she had. I will see you all at teatime. 16 . “Ninjani namhlanje?” “Siphilile.” she greeted them with her biggest grin. She had meditated on the matter for days before sending her letter of acceptance.” “Well. it was one she was going to have to live with. Mohumagadi. and look what it had brought the school: absolute chaos. a beautiful day for teaching and learning. She sighed.” Giving then no chance to reply. If the whole thing was a mistake. “Molweni. then. she closed the door behind her. isn’t it?” “Yes Mohumagadi.” “That is wonderful to hear. if there is nothing else.
He was used to only having two options from the tea ladies at the church: ‘Tea or coffee.” he lied. Tea for me please.Spilt MilK Father Bill had been sitting in one of the mahogany armchairs in front of Mohumagadi’s twin-pedestal mahogany desk. sir? We have everything. No. She had been very kind. He hadn’t needed to lie. She repeated the question when she saw the confusion on his face. I never take alcohol. kneading his thoughts in his hands. But the circumstances.” “No. He had been shown into the office by a Miss L. making the mistake of over-emphasising the point. “What is it you would like to drink. if that’s what you would like. 17 . The circumstances made it all very complicated. who had been waiting for him with a clipboard and a smile at the exit of the school hall. The question stumped him. “No. making small talk and laughing politely as they walked. ‘Some juice or water. She asked what he would like to drink. Hadn’t needed to feel embarrassed or ashamed. Father?’. even alcohol. She told him Mohumagadi would join him shortly to brief him on the next few weeks.” 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. Priests were allowed to drink and it wasn’t as if he drank very much anyway. He wondered what the people at the school had been told about him. Father?’ He had never been offered the opportunity to wet his throat with anything his mind could conjure.
The tea tasted like the stuff his doctor had made him drink the night before he went for his bowel scope. “Sure. slamming the door behind her. he really did not want to be impolite. His thoughts drifted off as he tried to work out what he would do or say if it really was her. especially because he had asked for it. but not quite. He appreciated that.” she said. But all tea was certainly not tea. chuckling for the first time since his arrival. almost.Kopano M atlwa “What kind of tea will that be. right?” he said. he had still not touched it. He had really hoped it wouldn’t be. as she placed the cup down on the wild cherrywood coffee table with a plate of equally peculiar green biscuits alongside it. Father Bill. Perhaps with a bit of sugar in it he could try to swallow some. But there was no sugar on the table. It was her. “Any tea. and he soon forgot all about the foul tea.” were her first words to him. not wanting to be rude. tea is tea. “Mohumagadi never starts a day without a cup. but 18 . “I gather you do not like our tea.” Miss L had said jovially. He had tried to drink it. sir?” She really was very sweet. When Mohumagadi came in. It still sat there on the table with its bits of what tasted like ginger floating to the surface. smiling that smile again. ma’am. Tea is tea. but it was pink with straws of cinnamon and soggy chunks floating in it and made him want to gag. very professional.
which they will have to hand in at the end of the six weeks.” Perhaps he was wrong. But there was no sense that she knew who he was. She didn’t wait for a response. She looked at him briefly whilst rummaging through her desk.” Was that a question? He wasn’t sure.” 19 .Spilt MilK it was. every day.” It was her. so I will ask one of the pupils to give you a little tour. switching on her laptop. looking for a pen. Father Bill. you will host the afternoon detention class from 3 to 5 p. “I understand you will be with us for the next six weeks. “You are not expected to teach them anything as such. 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. just carried on.m. he was almost certain. During this period the children will be required to read a variety of texts by different authors on selfdiscipline. I would love to take you around myself but am unfortunately quite tied up this morning with a series of meetings. appropriate conduct in public places. personal restraint. and then use what they have learnt to work on a series of exercises. pulling out notebooks. “As per discussions with the bishop. et cetera et cetera. opening up her briefcase. in fact we would prefer it if you didn’t.
” She stopped. Sisi. but there was no recognition. thank you. Welcome to Sekolo sa Ditlhora. I do understand. It was the secretary. right into his eyes. thank you. but hers.Kopano M atlwa Did she not remember him? Had he changed that much? Her voice was exactly the same.” he continued. “Yes. we are delighted to have you. looked at him. “I feel very privileged. “Send the first one in now please.” She looked relieved when the phone interrupted her. older. and asking if she would let her know when she should allow them in.” No.” 20 . reminding Mohumagadi that the four pupils she had requested to see were still waiting for her outside her office. “Thank you very much for having me here at your school. Perhaps he would remind her. This is a great place. Um. Father Bill? Understand what is expected of you?” “Yes ma’am. the sweet Miss L who made the vile tea. and go to great pains to ensure that they know exactly what is expected of them. I am sure there will be much you will be able to take with you from your stay. It was her. harder. I’m sure you know the circumstances under which I was sent here and—” but she did not let him finish. “So I hope you do. “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. Father Bill. she did not remember him.
” It was Ndudumo Mazibuko. perhaps it wasn’t even him. the crustiness at the creases of his eyes. lost in it. his skin. what was expected of him. and perhaps she was wrong. This man was a joke. She walked into 21 . fingers wrapped awkwardly around it. so clumsy. Why do white people not moisturise? He was like a child. in the first place. back in her world. ‘Ten years old and sexually conscious’ is how Ndudumo liked to describe herself. his cracked lips. the freckles on his nose. carefully writing down everything he told her. She had completely overreacted. what the school would not tolerate. The way he grasped his pen. Just complete and utter indifference.Spilt MilK Mohumagadi realised she had overreacted. Everything he represented bored her. she felt no anger towards him. A confident knock on the door wrenched her from her thoughts and reminded her why the priest was in her office. She needed to focus on what up to this point she had done so well: run the school. A small boy in a big man’s body. She watched him as he sat across from her. The man did not remember her. She stole some moments between words to observe him. not even irritation. in her school. daughter of Ntombovuyo Pooi. He bored her. “Come inside please. swallowed whole. a yellow blister at the corner of his mouth. Surprisingly. no hatred.
Mohumagadi. There was too much else to be concerned about: economic independence.” the young girl said. the gold string of the black school tunic hanging loosely around her buttocks.” In the early years Mohumagadi would have told her to leave her office and return only when she looked appropriate. national pride. Mama has been very busy since the launch of her book.Kopano M atlwa the office. We are so delighted. Ndudumo. Mohumagadi bit her lip and just smiled. clear nail polish shimmering off her fingertips.” Ndudumo turned round in her chair and looked over 22 . “I understand your mother is overseas. Take a seat. the response it has received has been overwhelming for us all. Mohumagadi. “Molo. 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. social integrity. her head held up high. Children always found a way around every rule and she could not keep making new ones. a thick layer of gloss smeared onto her lips. “Are you well today?” “Very well thanks. Molweni. greeting them both whilst carefully seating herself on the chair across from Mohumagadi’s.” “Yes. “Molweni. but she had learnt over time that some battles were not worth the fight. Tata.” she replied quickly.
Ndudumo. “You might have heard of my mother – Ntombovuyo Pooi? We have different surnames because she chooses to write using her maiden name. a wonderful. She would have to continue with him sitting clumsily in the corner jotting down every spoken word like a court stenographer. She should probably have asked him to leave her office before the girl came in. timely book that has really just liberated so many of our African sisters. she believes that is where she begun and thus that is where her writing should begin. a sexual awakening of sorts. She added that if we experienced any resistance from you we should contact her without delay and she would ensure your full cooperation. 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. thanks for that.” “Yes. feeling her patience wane. Anyway.” Mohumagadi watched the girl’s face fall and smiled silently to herself. wrote a book on the sexual emancipation of black women. let us address the matter at hand. but it was too late now. But perhaps before we get a little derailed. She had been head of the school 23 . She directed the next bit to him.Spilt MilK at Father Bill who was holding a small piece of paper and pen in his hand. my mother. Ntombovuyo Pooi.” Mohumagadi said. She could not help but shake her head as she watched the man scribbling away in his chair. “Ndudumo.
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. The girl did not respond. They liked to use their mother and father’s influence to throw their weight around. her arms folded across her chest. “You’re lying!” Ndudumo exclaimed. So Mohumagadi picked up the letter and began to read. who was very particular about her public image. but she was smarter and had much to teach them.Kopano M atlwa long enough to know all the little tricks children like Ndudumo tried to pull. “I beg your pardon?” Mohumagadi was taken aback. Mohumagadi had been careful to report the incident to the child’s mother before the girl could tell her herself. “Dear Mohumagadi 24 .” Ndudumo continued her protest. especially the moneyed ones. beginning to fume. “I don’t believe that. by manipulating their high-flying parents’ guilt about their physical or emotional absence. that’s why they were here. Ndudumo?” Mohumagadi asked her. her eyes avoiding Mohumagadi’s. They were smart kids. just sat there in her chair saying nothing. They thought that. all the kids in her school were.” “Would you like me to read the letter from your mother to you. “I don’t believe that my mother would ever agree to me being punished for exploring my anatomy.
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. Your commitment to these children is greatly appreciated. I will stop by the school as soon as I land back in the country. Ntombovuyo Pooi” Mohumagadi handed the girl’s own letter from her mother to her. sweetheart. Please. I shall read it to you myself. Mohumagadi. Ndudumo did not say a word. ‘Dear sweetheart I’ve heard some distressing news that you have found yourself in a bit of a pickle. did not move. and I do not know what any of us would do without you. She worries me that girl. I have attached a letter for her. but she made no attempt to take it and still sat there with her arms folded.Spilt MilK I apologise deeply for my daughter’s behaviour. I do not know what it is that inspired her to behave so appallingly. Please do whatever you think is best to keep Ndudumo in tow. “Well then. mom is having a strenuous time here with all the work and the 25 . “Would you like to read it?” Mohumagadi asked her coolly. Yours truly. and would be grateful if you would pass it on to her.
This is what Mom has been waiting for for so long baby. Mohumagadi. I believe that the incident involved some sort of sexual indiscretion. I have given her all she needs for groceries so don’t let her convince you otherwise. This kind of stuff all comes back to me and does nothing for the public image I am trying to maintain. Don’t let Auntie trouble you for money. Are we clear?” There was silence. kiss.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.’ I do not lie. Miss you. Kiss. Please sweetheart. “Your detention sessions with Father Bill will begin tomorrow afternoon from 3 to 5 p.” she muttered. You are 26 . sweet pea.m. try to have more self-control. 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. and I will not tolerate such obstinacy in my school. Ndudumo?” “Yes. Will call you when I have a moment. Ndudumo. I really do not have the time to be pestered by the school. so I know you will understand. “Are we clear. 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.
The whole thing was absolutely ridiculous. but Ndudumo had pushed her too far this time. The whole book. Ndudumo had only joined the school at the start of the current academic year. 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’. If you could return to your lessons please. That is all. or any child for that matter. in much the same way as her mother describes at length in the second chapter of her book.” Mohumagadi put the letter down and looked at the girl. a former graveyard disc jockey for a local community radio station. Ndudumo. But this understanding did not extend to Mohumagadi allowing her. Mohumagadi had been tolerant initially. Her straight little back was now slumped over. These sessions will continue for the next six weeks and you are required to attend each and every one of them. to speak in a disrespectful manner. 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.Spilt MilK expected to be there on time and to fully cooperate with Father Bill. had been a strain since their arrival. her eyes downcast. 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. But these were the times 27 . when her mother had sealed her publishing deal and moved to the neighbourhood. was ridiculous. in fact. She had not intended to humiliate the child.
motionless. Mohumagadi.Kopano M atlwa they were in.” The girl got up from her chair reluctantly and walked towards the door and out of it. “In where. had seen her little body fill with sadness when 28 . I suggest you leave my office right now before you irritate me any further. Father Bill had seen the young girl’s heart fall to the bottom of her shoes when that letter came out. the strut she had come in with noticeably missing. “You can return to your lessons now. a little chubby round boy. if that was all that was in there?” she whispered. The next pupil walked in.” “Are you sure there is no other part to it?” “Ndudumo. in this country. Mohumagadi thought to herself. when everybody had something to say. Mohumagadi was losing her patience.” “Yes. Ndudumo?” “I just wanted to ask if that was it. Ndudumo?” “In the letter. Ndudumo. “Why are you still here. That is all.” But Ndudumo continued to sit there.
she was simply disappointed that her mother was not returning home any time soon. Mohumagadi had misunderstood. “Forgive me. But it was too late.” she snapped. Mohumagadi. Father Bill was startled when the chubby round boy came right up to him. He had tried to catch her eye as she left the room to offer an encouraging smile or sympathetic shrug. “A man of God. It was a typical case of miscommunication. Lost in thought.” the boy responded as he plonked himself down onto the same chair Ndudumo had previously perched gracefully on. He decided he would summon up a little bit of courage once he was sure of what exactly was going on. Perhaps 29 . had watched her cross her fingers under her lap when she asked Mohumagadi if there was perhaps more to the letter. but she had avoided his gaze. I am honoured to meet you. he thought. “I am just ecstatic to have this man of God in our midst. He suspected she would be happy to have it. “Zulwini. Father. eyebrows raised to try and hide how she felt. emotion too big to pretend away glistened in her eyes. and would ask Mohumagadi for the letter and give it to the girl. and Father Bill immediately felt afraid and wished the little boy hadn’t done what he did.” Father Bill caught Mohumagadi frowning from behind her desk.Spilt MilK Mohumagadi read that her mother would not be returning home for her birthday. take a seat please. The girl was not being bad mannered. wrapped his arms around him and gave him a tight squeeze.
” the boy responded matter-of-factly. Zulwini. whose spectacles made his eyes so wide behind them that you couldn’t look anywhere without feeling watched. Father Bill opened his mouth to add something to the conversation but nothing came out. “The only Christian.Kopano M atlwa the sinful deed needed to happen for this man to come and guide God’s children. He had gotten quite comfortable being ignored in the corner. “Well I’m the only active one. Father Bill. very uncomfortable. It has been hard here alone. And sit back down properly. Mohumagadi. Father Bill felt a little embarrassed by this sudden attention. He was not sure how he was supposed to respond.” he said laughing. whose face looked like it had been smeared in Vaseline.” the boy murmured.” the boy said. or if he was supposed to respond at all. “Alone?” Father Bill asked. Mohumagadi. This boy.” Mohumagadi said. “You are not the only Christian. 30 . please. Perhaps it wasn’t such a bad thing after all. putting his knees on the chair so he could turn around and face the priest properly. especially with Mohumagadi frowning the way she was. made him very. her voice taut. a little puzzled. “I am glad you have come to join us. revealing a pair of deep dimples.
but could never really put into action because of the solitary path I was on. Father. alone. But now that there are two of us. “I know I’m being a little forward and talking all over the place. A comrade in the war against sin and the devil. that I am behind you all the way.” the boy continued.Spilt MilK “Forgive me for being so bold.” The boy was back on his knees. The deed had to happen for you to come Father. “In fact. Zulwini.” he said. We could call it ‘Feeding the Spiritual Hunger’. but a struggle all the same. “Sorry. but I just wanted you to know from the outset.” is all Father Bill could think to 31 . “but I do believe you were sent at the right time to this school. and it has been a struggle. Well at least at the right time in my life. bobbing up and down boisterously in the chair. trying to catch his breath between the chuckles.” “Thank you. At last God has sent me a spiritual mentor.” This sent him into peals of laughter. well anything is possible. I am no longer ashamed because I understand the why of it. I have been trying to instil some spirituality here. “Imagine a Christian Café during break times where praise and worship would be what we fill our stomachs with. A struggle I happily took on for God. and I’m sure you have some dynamic programmes of your own. I have some ideas I have been playing around with in my head for some time now.” Father Bill was stunned. before you got busy doing God’s work in this place. now seated back on his buttocks and having to peer at Father Bill from over his shoulder.
or think this was God-sent or not. Am I understood?” “Yes. making no attempt to hide her agitation. Mohumagadi. feeling very overwhelmed.m. but this child … “I think that is quite enough.” “Ah. staring at him. Excellent!” And at that Zulwini clapped his hands. The boy continued to smile expectantly. 32 . smiled a great big hearty smile and gave him a thumbs up. “I have not called you in to hear about your evangelical plans. Zulwini.” The boy looked over at him. It was clear that he wanted him to say more. you and the others will be punished nonetheless. “I sadly do not have any grand plans as yet but if I were to think of a good place to start. he’d meant history history.Kopano M atlwa reply. Anything outside of that you must arrange in your own time and not in the time allocated to the detention sessions. and I would appreciate it if you would allow Father Bill to do the work he has been brought here to do. Whether you feel ashamed or not. but to give you the details of your punishment. awkwardly twisted in the chair at Mohumagadi’s desk. I would say History. Your sessions with Father Bill will begin tomorrow afternoon from 3 to 5 p.” Mohumagadi broke in. church history. Father Bill felt a little unsettled by the boy’s explosiveness and looked at Mohumagadi for some sense of what to do. That was not what Father Bill had meant. When she saw him looking at her she looked away.
back to your lessons please. 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. with the waves. the R550 you spent at the hair salon a waste because your hair got all messed up. you had it in check. went over to Father Bill. It’s just such an annoyance in the mean time though. the dirt. She could not shake the feeling he gave her.” 33 . On land. unruly waters what chance did you stand? “Forgive our children. Watching Zulwini almost begin to fit with excitement at the presence of Father Bill. jump. We encourage them to be passionate about whatever it is that excites them but sometimes it is to our own detriment. It was like the contempt Jo’burgers had for the sea.Spilt MilK “Zulwini. She could not remember the last time she felt so out of control. your perplexity. Father Bill. as in the case of Zulwini. Mohumagadi wondered if it was too late to get rid of the man. dunk your head? Worse was masking your confusion. And what to do once you got into the water? Stand. the sand. sure. messy. not this fallen priest who wanted to fill the children’s minds with church history. spread his arms around him again and then ran out the door.” He jumped out of his chair. The whole thing was clearly a big mistake. but in those deep. She should have asked for the help of an ordinary psychologist.
breathing loudly. Mlilo walking in step behind her. Mlilo just pained her. She wanted him gone. She looked at him again. She wanted to be done with it. please. sitting there. 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.Kopano M atlwa There were two more children to be seen. She did not know what to do with Moya. And the day had only just begun! 34 . The children walked in. As for Mlilo. She felt acutely sad that he was a part of all of this. With him.” she said into the phone. Moya hiding behind her height as usual. 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. just one favourite. “Send the last two in together. It is well in my soul.” It was Zulwini. She knew she shouldn’t have favourites and she kept telling herself she didn’t have favourites. and that that wasn’t the same. his hair stuck to his face with perspiration. more so than she felt for any of the other children. filling up her office with a strange smell. Outside the door she could hear some singing: “It is well in my soul. Miss L. It is well in my soul and everything is just all right.
Were you not at the assembly this morning?” Mohumagadi snapped. Mlilo. The calibre of pupil whom we accept has. Any questions?” “Excuse me. 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. She knew the boy knew. It has never been something we have had to do. But your actions have brought us all to this point. Mohumagadi. ‘Punish’ is not a word we like to use here at Sekolo sa Ditlhora. 35 . starting tomorrow afternoon. to date. “Him?” Mlilo shouted. for the next six weeks. and wondered what he was up to. The school has brought in an external person to oversee the very structured detention programme that has been drawn up for you. but the reputation of this school has been called into question. 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. “Father Bill here.m.Spilt MilK “I have called you in here to tell you both that I have spoken to your parents. but who has been brought in for the detention sessions? Who will be taking them?” Mlilo asked quietly. while the girl in the chair next to him sat staring into her hands. Not only have you disgraced yourselves and disappointed your parents. You will attend these sessions every day from 3 to 5 p. exempted us from getting too involved in such banal activities as the drawing up of detention programmes.
a hard-headed child. But Mlilo was a child. and that it wasn’t them but the bishop who had sent them a white one. Mohumagadi looked sternly at Mlilo. How dare he question her authority? Her bladder suddenly felt full. 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. She picked up the phone and pressed 1. A decision had been made and everyone was 36 . thanks. she needed to get out of the room. “Mohumagadi. She was enraged by Mlilo’s impertinence. You will be out before first break. How could they have said to the bishop.Kopano M atlwa Everyone in the room was startled. I accept that what we did was wrong. including Mohumagadi. my boy. we were really only looking for black priests. It infuriated her that for a moment he had made her feel defensive. warning him with her eyes that he had better behave himself. just carry on the way you are doing. How could they have justified that? The more she thought it through the angrier she got at having to think it through. knocking the teacup off the table and all its contents onto the carpeted floor. The priest jumped too. Miss L would know to come in. 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.” Mohumagadi felt her stomach knot as she said it. but no thanks. needing to explain that it wasn’t her but the other teachers who had suggested that the school bring in a priest.
Do we understand each other?” “Yes. why he’d lifted up her seshoeshoe skirt. and he looked away.” they said in unison. how he had managed to get himself sent away. He had never seen eyes so green in anyone so dark. Mohumagadi. He’d knocked the teacup off the table earlier because he had been jolted out of his thoughts by the boy’s shouting. again. you may both leave and return to your lessons. when he wouldn’t have missed it if it hadn’t happened. He’d been thinking about how he came to be here. They were beautiful eyes. but they were terrifying too. “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. Father Bill saw the boy glare at him with absolute contempt as he left the room. Why he’d stayed on after the service to help Sibongile wash the teacups. 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 pulled down her pantyhose that smelt like Zambuck. why he’d done what he did that day. green eyes. why they’d not thought that someone might hear the teacups falling from the sandwich table. Why had he done it when he didn’t need to. She would not allow a tenyear-old to unnerve her in her own office.Spilt MilK going to have to respect it.
they’d never even spoken before that morning. He had not even said goodbye. Poor Sibongile. 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 had packed his bags and left before they could even speak. “Sibongile. other than a few general greetings in passing. No. 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. looked at him. He had never heard a ten-year-old speak in that manner. “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. returning minutes later with a lady carrying a bucket and a sponge. The boy 38 . They had probably dismissed her. Miss L had come in halfway through it all.Kopano M atlwa off the table and tea and green particles spilt onto Mohumagadi’s carpet. what are you doing?” He did not know what had happened to her. but dismissed her all the same. gently. 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. 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. He’d messed up too many lives as it was. seen the mess on the floor. Nor was he sure of how many second chances he had left. smiled an empathic smile and then left the room. he couldn’t do that.
30 for your tour. but either way he’d live right. Maybe he’d find someone. Mohumagadi did not remember him and that is how it would remain. every day and I expect you to join us for the procession each morning.Spilt MilK was right.30.30. the arms were everywhere. and it will also give you an opportunity to meet with the other teachers. he could add no value to this school but he would make certain he would do it no harm. He looked down at his wrist and realised he had forgotten to put on his digital watch.30. I will arrange for one of the pupils to meet you outside by the Plaatjie Fountain at 11. You are welcome to wait in the lounge until then. 11.” He glanced up at the wall clock but could not make sense of it. Father Bill?” Mohumagadi asked.m. getting up and hurriedly placing the items on her table into her bag. It’s just around the corner. 11. so you are free to leave as soon as you have had your tour. “We start promptly at 8 a. “I’m quite sure you are as worn out as I am. 11.” 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. you can’t miss it. “Well. Why couldn’t he remember which way that one looked? 39 . He had six weeks here and he would spend them staying out of everybody’s way. or maybe he wouldn’t. When he went back he would be different. I have to hurry off. He panicked. we’ve had ourselves an eventful morning haven’t we. He would commit.
blistering. burnt.Kopano M atlwa “When the long arm is on the 6 and the short arm is between the 11 and the 12.” she said as she walked out the room. 40 . He couldn’t remember the last time he had felt that happy. Did she remember him? She must if she remembered that. She remembered him! Nobody else in the world knew he couldn’t tell the time but her. and she remembered. He was blushing. fifteen years and she remembered. His face turned hot. boiling.
just sorry for them because it is not a lack of reflection that is the problem. Lord? My day was as tricky as closing an ironing board. so why am I so tired? I have just eaten. I went to bed really early last night and slept well. I am not offended by the suggestion. I was strongly advised to write in it daily. It is strange writing to no one. But I will reflect nevertheless. Reflect like they make schoolchildren do. so why do I feel so empty? Should I eat again? Am I still hungry? Was I even hungry before? My day. How was Yours? Bill . I will reflect to you if you don’t mind. I am exhausted.12 March Dear God The bishop has given me this journal to help me reflect.
Twenty-five minutes until she needed to wake up. She’d fallen asleep with what felt like a whole thesis in her head. She found the phone. She’d left school early the previous afternoon hoping to come back home. she was too hot for tea. read the paper. She sighed. her usual routine. 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. read her emails. Watched them as they watched her. chapters and chapters of conflicting thoughts churning in her mind. it was 4. she was tired. heat up her supper. she’d left her laptop at the school in her hurry to leave and her diary 42 M . That was the plan. When she got home she was not hungry. have some lunch and sit at her desk to work out how best to deal with the man. heavy. she’d forgotten to stop and get the paper.35 a. She groped around the table next to her bed for her phone.m. hoping it was not yet time to wake up. She did not believe in using analgesics and had gone to bed with the headache she now felt returning.ohumagadi woke up and stared at the shadows on her wall. Her head felt stuffy and her eyes swollen. Then make some tea. check her diary and prepare for the following day.
just get up and go. pearl necklace and Alfindo ruby earrings. The children might be fascinated by him for a while. staring at the shadows on her wall. Hot and humid lying there in her Vicky and Vincent blazer. don’t think. but as soon as they realised there was very little of worth they could learn from the man. He was certainly not a threat. she was sure they would move on. surely should have been medicine enough to open her eyes to the regrettable character he was. “Just get up and go. It usually soothed her. But that evening it did not make her any calmer. Baleri scarf and white 43 . just hot.” she told herself. So why. reminded her of waking up at 4 a. irrelevant man who belonged in another time when things were very different from the way they were now. Parana skirt. The priest was a pathetic. and even if she did. climbed into bed and inhaled the smell of warm Low Fat. as children always are with something new and strange. She needed to get up and pull herself together. placed it on her chestnut bedside table. But today was a new day. why was she so edgy? She got up and went just fine. What was it that made her feel so uneasy? She couldn’t possibly still have feelings for him. It was not such a big deal. when bo Mama would boil them some milk in a pot for their breakfast before they went to school. So she heated a mug of milk. helped her sleep. sheer pantyhose. seeing him the day before.Spilt MilK was in her car boot and she did not care to go back out and get it.m. why. poured it into a bowl. Even managed to put together a Sloui Martin skirt. sitting there in her office taking up space.
Kopano M atlwa shirt that surprised her in their combined beauty. Miss L. She was no longer even aggravated by the headlines that used to make her switch off the TV. 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. when what was thought to be certain no longer was. She had a good breakfast: bran bayou bricks with plain yoghurt. But she was confident that these kids would be the difference. every day there was an article for the children to read on the noticeboard. when so much had changed. She cut articles out of the paper every day.m. that it was menial work and that she. All the heftiness she had felt the day before came plummeting back. on the dot. and she had the notion to switch the engine on again and duck home. particularly in the past year when so much had happened in the country. But reading the paper every evening with the children in mind was a simple pleasure Mohumagadi treasured. and there was nothing. could easily arrange to have a daily article emailed to the children. She had not even remembered to buy a paper to find the articles in. She had not remembered to cut articles out of the paper for the children to read. There was no traffic and she arrived at the school at 7 a. Miss L had always said it was unnecessary for her to do it herself. as she always did. Her whole existence revolved around the school and the children in it. She knew it would take time but nothing 44 . a wild fruit breakfast bar and homemade orange juice. Now she could watch them with a sympathetic smile because she believed the school held the secret. threatening to flatten her.
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. And so there had never really been time to think of her own life. He did not like having to resort to it. How he wished his mind could be idle! By the time he entered the school gates it was 8. He put his ear to one but could not tell if there were people inside or not. He arrived late.Spilt MilK good was ever made quickly. Perhaps it was the bishop’s idea: ‘An idle mind is the devil’s playground’ was his favourite saying. People found it hard to say no to one ordained. The children were only scheduled to come to him in the afternoon.m. That is why she could not bear it. 8 a. They would build the roof. Why he had to arrive at 8 a. Women found it hard to say no to one ordained. Idle? He laughed to himself at the thought. from his landlord maybe.m. patiently developing a group of young people who would make the change. He hurried to the hall and found the doors forebodingly closed. but he knew his collar would make it easier. He tried to push it open gently.? Was she serious? He had to try and borrow a car. or from someone else. It was heavy and made a loud 45 .m. She was patient. every morning he did not know. for these things that she was a part of were much bigger than herself.30 a.
” he prayed silently. He stuck his head in and a sea of heads turned round to look at him. but he had a sense of the general direction and did not mind getting lost a little. so there were one or two corners he was happy to see again. experiments that needed to be set up. He was sure his face was as red as the fury he thought he had seen in Mohumagadi’s eyes. no one else had a sheet of words in their hands. He looked around. Perhaps if he had come earlier. They slowly began to stink. He’d tried to start some conversations with a few of the teachers after assembly. Mohumagadi seated before a petite podium. Like the few interactions he had had thus far. His palms were wet and he could feel his vest sticking to his armpits. On the chair was a printed sheet with the words of the school song on it. please get me through this day. One of the teachers pointed to an empty chair on the stage where he could sit. “Dear Lord. Presentations. mumbling apologies for his tardiness to everyone as he scuttled past. cross-continent video conferences between pupils that were beginning imminently. He could not remember where exactly in the vast school his classroom was. his tour the day before had been brief. He scurried down the aisle to the stage.Kopano M atlwa screeching sound at the smallest nudge. He wished he had not arrived late. Mohumagadi gave a very loud sigh and continued with her speech. They were all in a hurry. Even the corridors 46 . He tried to do it as quietly as possible but his footsteps were deafening hooves galloping in his head. He was the only one alone with nothing to do. The teachers were all on the stage.
running his hands over the fabric of each chair. so he hadn’t worried about that. the suede cover of which was now damp from his sweaty palms. an electronic pointer instead of chalk. others not. The classroom was very different to those he had grown up in – a projector screen in place of a blackboard. He had brought nothing with him other than a pen and the journal he had in his hands. connected by stone pathways which were lined with large east African painted pots that birds would periodically perch on. feeling the wood of the tables. The chairs and tables were not in rows but arranged in a semicircle and seated only ten. some areas roofed. He ran his thumb over the journal’s pages. but perhaps he should have brought a Bible.Spilt MilK were beautiful. ‘Plush’ was the word that came to mind. There were a lot of windows and a lot of sunlight. tea and coffee. The ports for Internet connection at each table put to shame the dedicated ruler and pen grooves on his former school desks. It was empty. That would have looked right. it would be his companion during his stay. glad he had decided to bring it along. The walls were lined with compact discs. They had said the school provided lunch for all staff and pupils. He zigzagged between the chairs. He eventually found his way to the classroom. 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. ‘Expensive’ followed. the walls round with tiny spotlights set in the ceiling like stars. Who were these children 47 . At the back was a room for coats and bags and to the side of it a table with mugs.
he wondered. 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. 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. Walking Mrs Zondi. having to teach a grown man about punctuality. His late arrival that morning had caused another spectacle and she would have to speak to him about it. Three o’clock had taken forever to come and now that it was here Mohumagadi wished it wasn’t. She had been obsessing over that hour the entire day. 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. it was just something commonly heard. Anecdotal. It was embarrassing really.Kopano M atlwa who attended this school. 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. of Injecting 48 . The school was doing some outreach. He did not know for certain that many others sat learning under a tree. 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.
She would dismiss him immediately if she did. She had so much work to do but could not focus.30 until now? She hated the fact that he had her so preoccupied. Her inbox was full of emails she had not read. or had started and saved in drafts. had opened and marked to read later. She never did it with her other staff members though.m. She looked at the clock: 3. But he was nowhere to be seen. Surely he could not have sat in that classroom from 8. 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). had extensive and reputable track records and attended a series of interviews before they set foot in the school. she looked around the gardens half expecting to see the man wandering around. It was not the same. not even when she stuck her head into the lounge on her way back from lunch with uMhlekazi Tshwete. She hoped nobody had noticed. Mohumagadi sighed. his first day and he was new. He was not the same. Perhaps he would need some guidance. 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.Spilt MilK Innovation. Playing in the fields like a child. And now that three o’clock was here she was not sure what to do. after all. but then again they were appointed by the Board.02 p. Would it be appropriate to go to his classroom and see how the session was going? It was. who had updated her on the Winter Warmer Children’s Opera that would take place at the Khamisa next term. 49 .
Not a sound or a whisper from any of them. getting out from behind the desk to where they were standing.” He felt a little embarrassed about having fallen asleep and said so. “Well. Mohumagadi’s office yesterday morning. chuckling and feeling his face for sleep lines.” he said. “Molweni. I mean. 50 .” They were silent. but I thought perhaps it might be nice if we introduced ourselves again. so who would like to start?” Nothing. “Okay. Father Bill. 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. now that we’ve got our first impressions out of the way.” he said quickly. He’d been out for nearly two hours and had completely missed lunch.Kopano M atlwa He’d been asleep at his desk when the children walked in. He would have to get used to calling her Mohumagadi. “Hi. “I’m Father Bill.02. He jumped up from his chair and looked at his watch: 3. He wondered if they had noticed his slip up with her name. “How are you guys? Nice to meet you all.” they said in unison. I briefly met each of you in Tshokolo’s. hi. laughing nervously as he approached them to shake hands.
Why the teacher could decide when she sat and we couldn’t. but you were asleep and I didn’t want to wake you. “I’m so. the one with a pair of dimples and a pair of spectacles. I was actually here before three o’clock to see if you needed any help preparing for this afternoon. please?” was her response. so sorry I’m late Father Bill.” said the boy. Father Bill laughed awkwardly and pretended not to notice the animosity in the boy’s voice. That’s when I noticed that there was not a single Bible in this classroom. They never made any sense to me. I couldn’t believe the school could be so negligent as to not provide our priest with some Bibles he could teach from. “Oh right. pointing to the girl who stood closest to him. “May we sit down now. “Please do sit. trying to lighten the mood. carrying a heap of Bibles in his arms.” “It is for respect. is that it?” he asked warmly. “It’s been a very long time since I was a schoolboy myself and I’ll admit I never did get those funny rules. the one he remembered hadn’t been happy he was there. We can always 51 . The door swung open. right!” he said going red in the face again. and in came the round one. the one with the gripping green eyes. So I went to the Mphahlele Library to take a couple out for us to work with for now. I forget classroom protocol.Spilt MilK “How about you?” he said. You stand until the teacher tells you to sit.
Instead he thanked the boy and asked him to take a seat. so shall we try that again then? Names. “And who are you. and I am ten years old. The round boy’s hand shot up even as he was arranging all the Bibles on the teacher’s desk. names.” Father Bill said. feeling a little overwhelmed by his eagerness.Kopano M atlwa get some more at a later stage. names please. let’s just start with names. madam?” 52 . a little giddily. there was no need for hundreds of different Bibles. without any prompting. son. But he didn’t. and that even if it was. not Bible study class. but in the meantime I tried to get as many different versions as the library had.” Father Bill wanted to remind him that this was detention. Zulwini. “Okay. I’ll go first. “Pleased to meet you. and silently chided himself for the oversight.” Father Bill could not believe this child. “I’m Zulwini Dladla. “Yes. Did he not know that this was a detention class? “Okay. He had not noticed that one of the children was missing until the boy walked in.” he said with a smile. son.” the boy continued. “Should we open up in prayer?” “No.” he said.” He turned to the girl he had asked in the first place.
But they seemed to know exactly. rolling the names out slowly. “Pleased to meet you. Father Bill took a deep breath. “Pleased to meet you. “And finally you. before saying to Father Bill. I prefer being called by my full name. Mlilo. 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.” he said ignoring the boy’s animosity. not sure what to do next. daughter of Ntombovuyo Pooi. Ndudumo turned to the boy and half smiled with a question mark on her face.Spilt MilK “Ndudumo Mazibuko. “Pleased to meet you. what is your name?” “Moya Mntambo. pencil cases. “And you. exam pads and 53 .” Father Bill was only trying to be friendly. especially Father Bill.” the girl said quietly. ma’am. thank you. “No. Can I call you ‘D’?” “No.” she said. sir? What is your name?” “Mlilo Graham. looking at her feet.” the boy who was not trying to hide his hatred for Father Bill immediately said. Everyone in the room was surprised. M–L–I–L–O Graham. as they pulled out electronic notebooks. Moya. pleased to meet you all.” He walked back behind his desk. Can you manage that?” he responded sarcastically.
he thought. He looked at his journal on his desk. and definitely not what he had in front of him. he always had been. They were told to sit around silently for about an hour but it never worked out that way. that was clear. pea shoot. That is good. They passed no notes to each other. and immediately felt silly for doing it. he thought. Mlilo was the one who did not like him. the one who made him very uncomfortable. the pen. and Zulwini. they obviously have some work to keep them busy. So they have their own materials to keep them busy. They would climb on the tables. Ndudumo was the one who always spoke about her apparently famous mother. Only needed to be told a name once and he’d never forget it. put their heads out the windows. it was chaos. He was a little thrown. Zulwini saw Father Bill looking at him and smiled and gave him a thumbs up. the stack of Bibles on the table and the children before him working very seriously. the two girls did not giggle. What was he supposed to do now? He looked at each of them and practised their names in his head. the reeling cheerfulness. find pieces of gum from under the tables and chew on them. but it was not that. He was good with names. Women had always loved that about him. He did not know what he had expected. He slumped into his chair. especially if the teacher taking the detention class was somewhat fickle. Moya was the one who did not say much. Okay.Kopano M atlwa began to work. Father Bill gave him a thumbs up back. who could forget him? He was the one with the Bibles. the humming. Childlike chaos but chaos all the same. they did not mouth 54 . He remembered detention in his school days.
He 55 . He felt disappointed and angry and then foolish. half of whom hated him anyway. Disappointed that he was going to spend the next six weeks waiting for these children to arrive and then waiting for them to leave. How sad his life was. He thought perhaps he should get up and fetch a Bible to read. They all looked up at him. and presiding was exactly what he was doing. He felt a little disappointed. Zulwini gave him another thumbs up. He smiled apologetically. except it was the worst detention he’d ever experienced because as the teacher he could do nothing but be quiet. Only thirty minutes had passed. Six weeks of presiding. Perhaps he was sent here as punishment. that the highlight of his day was looking forward to sitting around with some kids he didn’t know. He looked at his watch. That meant another hour and a half to go. he thought to himself. He’d sat and waited the whole day. angry at himself for expecting anything else. only to find himself sitting and waiting again. He gave him one back and hoped they would not continue in that fashion for the next six weeks. 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 sighed loudly.Spilt MilK words across the room or send text messages under the table. The bishop had said he might be presiding over the children’s detention classes and that this would give him an opportunity to reflect. How would he survive that? He felt like he was the one who was being punished. foolish for having hoped for more. like he was the one who had been sent to detention. and then thought against it.
Mlilo shook his head. the church never condemned. Mlilo was returning his books. Mlilo continued to scrutinise him mercilessly. Father Bill looked at his watch. They were never condemning. Father Bill half smiled at him. then looked away.m. He sighed again. 4. Perhaps they were fed up. 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. Perhaps the bishop was fed up. When he was finished packing. But Father Bill was not deterred. The boy was not going to smile back. The two girls dropped their pens and looked up at him. Mlilo folded his arms across his chest and sat glaring at Father Bill. He did not want to disrupt the children again. “What are your favourite movies. laptop and stationery to his backpack. Father Bill tried to find other subjects for his own gaze and did his best to ignore the boy. The other three were still busy. There were still another thirty minutes to go. None of you has a favourite movie? 56 . Ndudumo amused. Moya puzzled. never punished.30 p. always forgot. Father Bill was pulled out of his daydreaming by the unzipping of a bag. but quickly clasped his hands over his mouth and caught his breath as soon as he realised it. always forgave. “Oh come on.Kopano M atlwa had never thought about it that way. guys?” Father Bill suddenly asked heartily. Zulwini put a finger to his lips and warmly mouthed a shush. hoping to relax the taughtness in the air a little.
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.”
Still she felt nothing. He did not. then he would make sure the priest knew it. but would say it graciously anyway. then he was mistaken. 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. They both knew he did not mean what he said. As they passed her they stopped and greeted her. But Mohumagadi also knew that if Mlilo had made up his mind that he did not like Father Bill. She looked at his door again. And if he thought he could come here and throw his colour around.Spilt MilK Mlilo apologised and thanked her for pointing out where he had erred. still there was nothing. She asked after their day. He was an African child brought up in African ways. 61 . He would just have to get over it. but she secretly felt a little pleased that the boy had given Father Bill a bit of a hard time. After they had gone. give a small bow and then hurry down the corridor towards the soccer fields. so she did not expect any Western theatrics from him. she looked back again to see if the man would emerge too. She looked back at the classroom and saw the other three children walking out. She gave him permission to leave and watched him place his hands together in appreciation. This was no ordinary school and these were no ordinary children. She perhaps should’ve told Mlilo to go back and apologise.
13 March Dear God The children at this school are full of crap. Goodnight. Bill .
Cars. stared back at him. He looked at the clock on the wall. but now he didn’t care. the long arm. He quickly covered his head and tried to fall back sleep again before it was gone for good. It was too late. He could tell the time. too early. switched on the light. A big 5.m. listening. The sun was pretty. He could hear cars driving past on the main road across from where he was staying. busses. He slunk out of bed. Probably why he 63 F . why they made them so difficult to understand. at his age could still not tell the time. taxis hooting. found his journal and a pen amidst the mess and scratched out what he had scribbled in it. the short arm and the thin arm that moved really fast. the curtains ugly. He could not understand why they did not make all clocks digital. He felt bad about what he had written in his journal the night before. He had gone to bed angry and that wasn’t good. It was too. just not on stupid analogue clocks.30 a.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 lay there with his eyes wide open. It used to bug him that he couldn’t work it out. trucks. He felt around on the floor for his watch.
He would get dressed. Yes. She did not expect anyone to be in the hall at that time of morning. he concluded again. He tried to remember what he was like as a child. eat breakfast and ask the landlord if he could borrow his car. It was simply the way things had always been 64 . he reminded himself. let alone him. rolling in the grass. He would make it work. He would try harder. If things were sour it was because he was not trying hard enough. There had never been a staff member who arrived at the school before her. if he would have been as mean to a stranger. He would try again. jumping into puddles. doing handstands. laughing at the moon. saving ladybugs. They didn’t know him and so were only protecting themselves. they were only children. He would arrive early.Kopano M atlwa slept so badly. running in the rain. They were just children. 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. He would have behaved the same as them at their age. 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. The cars carred. walking on her hands. be the first on the stage and be awake when the children came to him at 3 p. dancing for the stars. the trucks trucked. But all his mind managed to dredge up was images of her.m.
getting up from his seat to come towards her. walking towards the podium where she wanted to leave her notes for the morning’s assembly speech. She needed milk. where the school’s flag and the country’s flag stood together tall and proud. She liked being there first to watch the school transform from peaceful stillness to vibrant life.” Mohumagadi said. Did the man have nothing else to do with his life? Could she not ever get away from him? Not even at 7 a. “Good morning. Mohumagadi. she placed the notes on the podium. There was absolutely no reason why he needed to be there so early. Before he could get down the steps and any closer. I suggest you wait there rather than on the stage. 65 . Father Bill. “Good morning.Spilt MilK and she preferred that they remain that way. quickly turned around and dashed down the aisle and out the hall.” the man said with a large smile on his face. Had she suggested it? She could not recall. Father Bill.” she said. She was annoyed. in the morning? Did he really need to be there twenty-four hours a day? Mohumagadi hurried back to her office.m. She liked to walk all the way past the tennis courts and the soccer fields to the induli. She had come in so calm and cool that morning and now had lost it again. “The staff procession begins from the gallery. together where the sun shone its brightest at that time of morning. When she got to her office she pressed 1.
forgetting all about his bathroom dilemma. “Come in. It read 2. The doorknob suddenly turned.m. 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. and although he had not spoken to any of the teachers because they had all looked very preoccupied working on their laptops. He did not want that. He had even gone to the teachers’ lounge during lunch. He stood up and waited as the door was slowly pushed ajar and in poked a little dreadlocked head. The day had gone so well so far and he did not want to spoil it.” she said softly. It was Moya. he thought he was at least a step closer to making friends. but it was the kind of thing a good teacher did not do and today was his day of making good impressions.” he said excitedly. come in.30 but his bladder felt full again.50 p. He needed to go to the bathroom but did not want to be missing from the classroom when the children arrived. He had been to the toilet at about 2. No one had told him that he shouldn’t leave the children alone. “Sorry I did not knock. “I thought 66 .Kopano M atlwa Father Bill sat staring at his watch as three o’clock approached. If he went to the toilet right now and got back to the classroom with them already there. they would think he was late again.
and then went back to his seat.” he said smiling. “My assignment. it was still 2. “Oh. She looked up at him and their eyes met. “What are you working on there?” he asked.Spilt MilK you might be asleep again. standing there behind her chair. “Sit down.55. before the others came. for just a short while. 67 . He was about to say something else when he saw her instantly begin to scribble away. pulled out her books and put them on her desk. remembering Mlilo’s icy words. “No. His heart sank a little. you don’t need to be so formal in this classroom. please Moya. then realised that she was waiting for him to tell her to sit. He sighed. He looked at his watch. don’t be sorry. He smiled.” she explained. He had not spoken to anyone all day. He stood there gaping at her for a minute. I finished Global Health and Public Policy early. sit down. but she quickly looked back down and continued working.” she said softly.55. hoped he wouldn’t later regret what he had just said. She walked towards her seat.” He looked at his watch again. 2.” he said kindly. You are welcome to come here as early as you like. He thought she needed to do something else. He had hoped they might talk a bit. placed her bag on the floor and stood behind her chair. and then.
Kopano M atlwa “So. the assignment for this class. The one you gave us to do.” “Well. Miss L emailed it to us. he was sure of that. no. I thought that was what we were expected to do. what’s the assignment for?” She looked at him and was silent. “Are we not supposed to work on our assignment during this time? I’m sorry.” Realising he was worrying her. He got up to see what she was holding in her hand. your class. 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 . Her thick eyebrows knotted in a cross of confusion. The cover page read ‘Journal Articles on Self-discipline. Father Bill said. “It was emailed to us. I was just wondering what assignment you were working on. I mean.” he said after thinking about it for a while. He hadn’t given them an assignment to do. I’m sorry if I confused you. An assignment he gave them to do? “But I didn’t give you an assignment to do. “No. She looked like she was too. the day we met you in Mohumagadi’s office.” She held up a wad of stapled documents.” she said. Father Bill was puzzled. Self-control and Self-awareness in Puberty’. This one. I was just curious. I’m sure you can work on whatever homework you have. Father Bill. the cross on her forehead growing deeper.
It was only Ndudumo and Zulwini who came in. is it?” he asked them. “As long as we are keeping your growing minds busy. Moya looked down. “Not to worry. okay. Ndudumo finally spoke. guys?” he asked. “He said he is no longer coming to this class. “Where is Mlilo. she said. Mlilo was not there.” “Well.” he said walking back to his seat. The two stood behind their chairs. She thought the assignment was from him. She looked up at him.” he mumbled as the others walked in. It was a detailed work programme for them to do over the next six weeks. 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. and apologised again. He again told them to sit down.” and gave a weak chuckle. None of them answered him. 69 .Spilt MilK in the Modern Era’. He could not believe it. He looked to Zulwini but all the boy could offer was a face lined with deep regret. not sure what he expected them to say or what he would do with their responses. Ndudumo said nothing. not to fuss with all the formalities. “Oh. Moya got up again and they greeted him in chorus. Zulwini shook his head vigorously. obviously confused.
She stopped dead in her tracks.Kopano M atlwa “Is it.” 70 . He caught her eye and she swiftly looked away and hurried off. “Until we do. He wasn’t even sure what he had stopped her to say.” And they did.” He was out of breath and now regretted his impulsive bolt out of the classroom. I was not told.” he muttered. we’ll have to do something about that then. She was pacing down the corridor when he called out her name.” “Perhaps you do not remember.” Ndudumo said. please continue with your assignments. You were told on your arrival. “I believe the children were given an assignment to do for the next six weeks. we do not yell at this school. watching them. “I’m sorry. Yes it is. won’t we?” He hoped they would not ask him what that something would be. you did not know?” “No.” she said coldly before he could say a word. Father Bill. guys? Is it a joke?” he asked again. He got up from his chair and went out after her. “Yes. “Well. “Yes. “Father Bill. As Father Bill sat back down in his chair he saw Mohumagadi standing at the window. I just wanted to catch you before you disappeared.
I’m sorry. Father Bill. Choose appropriate articles. It’s terribly boring work to compile such a thing.Spilt MilK “It’s not that. Create tasks that can best assess how the learners have engaged with the various texts. We did not think you would be interested to know the details. She was right. 71 . so we didn’t want to inconvenience you.” 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. “… things to work through. “We prepare well in advance at this school. Leputlaputla le ja pudi. One has to read all the literature on the topic. shrugging matter-of-factly. 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. His head raced.” And he knew to leave it at that. modikologa o ja namane. you should have notified us long before your arrival. he was silly to think they would have let him get involved. Father Bill.” she said. He had not even known he wanted to be involved until he said it. and we know you have a lot of your own …” and she paused. Mohumagadi. If you were interested.” he managed to stammer. A tremendous amount of work. He thanked her for her time and apologised again for shouting and running down the corridor. “Everything has already been done. it’s just that it would have been nice to have had some part in it.” “Oh.
” they said in chorus. and continued with their reading. He wasn’t very good at being strict with anyone.Kopano M atlwa Then he returned to the classroom. but wasn’t even given a chance to try because they were all sitting quietly when he walked in. then?” They laughed. put that ball down and come here right now. and then shook their heads and said they’d get into trouble if they did. Ndudumo a fashion magazine and Moya what looked like a novel. Zulwini was reading a Bible. She shook her head when she saw him. So he sat back down at his desk. It was to be expected. “I’m guessing you have all finished your allocated assignment work for today?” “Yes. 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. 72 . “Good.” Mohumagadi made sure she did not shout. So how about we have a bit of fun. Father Bill. “Mlilo Graham. Mlilo liked to think he was older and bigger than he was. all three of them. Mohumagadi found Mlilo playing soccer with the Grade Seven boys on the field. cupped his chin in his hands and waited for five o’clock.
it is just this one I want to speak to. “Pick up your things and follow me.Spilt MilK Shouting made it seem like she was not in control. “No. She waved her hand. was not surprised. Mohumagadi. struggling to keep up as he attempted to pull his soccer boots off and put on his school shoes at the same time. Mlilo?” She could not believe this boy had such a nerve. “Six weeks of work. Continue playing boys. Mlilo came running. knew he was 73 . Mohumagadi. “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. Why are you not in your session?” “I have completed my assignments.” She turned around sharply and began to walk back to the school building. How is Mohumagadi today?” he said between breaths. no. 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. Mohumagadi stopped. Make sure you keep up because I have wasted enough time on you as it is. “Do not push me.” he muttered. “Good day. Mlilo. she began.
” she said.” “Why. turned his head towards her and asked him again. Mohumagadi. but they are working the way the have been told to. “Motšhaba-pula o tšhabela matlorotlorong.” he muttered. when I speak to you. “Look at me. She stopped once more. realising she was not finished with him. Mlilo?” she asked him again.” “When. he wouldn’t dare. dropping his face and walking away as she felt herself grow heavy. She saw his eyes well up. just could not believe he had such a nerve. “Hate is a stupid emotion. Mlilo? Do you think this behaviour is noble?” He said nothing. 74 . just scrunched his face up and looked down on the ground. He would not look at her so she took his chin in her hands. 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.Kopano M atlwa not lying. “Yes. You will redo all of those tasks. This child refused to cooperate. Zulwini and Ndudumo could do it too. Mlilo? Do you think you’re clever? Bo Moya. “Why. Mlilo. Mlilo. Mohumagadi. Mlilo?” “Last night. Just exasperated. Mlilo. “I hate him. Mlilo?” She was not even angry any more. Do you think there is something special about you.
And then tried to slow her breathing. She shook her head and screamed into the nothingness again. Why had he got involved in all this mess in the first place? It was so unlike him. Day by day. you will be the first one there and the last to leave. but what else was she supposed to do. Mohumagadi let out a yell into the emptiness when she was out of earshot. He was everything the school sought to achieve. she did not particularly like white people either. In fact there would be no need for Father Bill to be at the school at all. She wanted to tell him that had he behaved as he was supposed to. His work ethic and his relentless determination to succeed at everything he attempted made Mohumagadi beam like a doting mom. Yes. But she knew he had heard her. He had brought all of this on himself and had only himself to blame. Her heart drummed in her ears. 75 . He did not even know Bill.” He did not say a word as she returned to the school. But Mlilo? His father was white. in the order they are supposed to be done.Spilt MilK One by one. there would be no need for him to be attending Father Bill’s sessions. sure. She hated having to be so hard on him. But to get himself mixed up with the likes of Ndudumo. And you will be in that classroom tomorrow. 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. week by week. She had always secretly put her pride in the boy.
He walked quietly behind her. He laughed out loud. back straight. another dollar. What are you still doing here so late?” 76 . And then he recalled the rap music he had heard coming from his landlord’s son’s room that morning. As he walked down the corridor he saw someone walking ahead of him. A colourful summer coat doing pirouettes at her feet. not wanting her to see him. He watched her walk. “Father Bill?” she called down the corridor as he drew closer.Kopano M atlwa “Another day. “Another day. It must have stuck in his head from then. another dollar’.” Father Bill said to himself as he closed the classroom door. “Sorry. Like a peacock. “Scare me in my own school? Please. but still as beautiful. ‘Another day. It was Mohumagadi. another dollar’. I didn’t want to scare you. She was still as beautiful as she was then. let alone what they meant.” he said again and it made him feel a little drunk. Long strides. another dollar. Father Bill. Scarier. He had nothing to be happy about and the best he could come up with was ‘Another day. shielding her eyes from the late afternoon sun that was making it difficult for her to see him. and then laughed at himself for saying it.” he lied. At first he could not remember where the words came from.
walking away and waving her hand dismissively.” he shouted before she got away. have a good evening. See you in the morning. 77 . yes.” she said. good evening then. his heartbeat quickening. if you think—” But he only wanted the letter from Ndudumo’s mother. “Thank you. If I still have it. “Well. Turned around quickly and carried on in the direction she was going.” “Mohumagadi. that.Spilt MilK “Is it late? I hadn’t noticed. “Father Bill. Father Bill.” “Oh.” But as he was about to go out into the staff parking lot. what?” he asked. 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. “Why.” He really hadn’t. come get it from my office in the morning. so he turned around too. Mohumagadi. He could see he had embarrassed her and felt bad for doing it. She turned around hesitantly. “Not like I’m rushing off to anything anyway. he heard her stop again. Father Bill?” “Why. wait.” She frowned when he said that. “What letter?” she snapped at him.
vividly. “Come fetch it in the morning. bracelet around his wrist. that day when the Fathers had made him pack his bags.D.” And left. when it was said to be the beginning of something new. He remembered. something beautiful.” is all he could think to reply. Mohumagadi. But what could it tell him.” “She would have asked me if she wanted to have it. Because I think she might like to have it. How fifteen years had flung them round and managed to scatter them here.Kopano M atlwa “Why do you want the letter?” “Oh. He remembered it was the first time in his life he’d been away from Mamelodi.” “Yes. from the church.J. then. But for him it was an ending. the one he had worn his whole life and had never needed until then. She looked at him for a moment longer. then said. they were being pulled apart. How they had gotten to this place. He had looked with desperation at the W. from 78 . Father Bill. something true. As he climbed into his landlord’s car he again wondered how he had gotten to this place.W. other than that Jesus had never had a girl? It was a time in the country when people were celebrating. How ironic that when others were coming together. Shook her head. the end of what was supposed to be just the beginning.
People told him later that when you hurt like that you feel as if you will never be the same again. He’d never thought he’d see her again. a grown man. Of course he forgot and smiled and laughed again.Spilt MilK her. 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. He knew that there would come a time when he would forget and would stop crying. Of course it got better. Had not wanted to forget why their being torn apart made him. He knew that. She was sent to her room in the servant’s quarters and the mamas were told to keep her there. As he left the place of his upbringing. women were plenty. to rest his heart against her shoulder. He was young. He had not wanted it to get better. And after fifteen years. for what they had. but that with time you do. what were the chances? That’s why he had never 79 . Of course that only lasted a week or two. for what was once new and beautiful and true and had now been lost. He had not wanted to forget how it felt to be with her. to lay his head in her lap. to smell her hand. It was only in the movies that they waited forever. just as he had feared. But that was exactly what he feared the most. he would cry for her every day. a man of God. One day you find yourself laughing again. foolish love when you were young and then just a bunch of entanglements to get you by for the rest of the way. a man. That was life wasn’t it? Naive. They were not allowed to speak to each other. wail like a little boy. He was told to fetch his things. he told himself that even if he had to force it.
He laughed. 80 . Because what were the chances? And yet here she was. And now it was too late. Said she did not want to eat what she would never have the privilege of getting used to. fifteen years later. back in his life and as beautiful as ever. hoping and praying she’d spot him walking up the driveway. never put jam on her bread.Kopano M atlwa bothered with all that intense emotion and longing. They loved that church more than they loved the God it was built for. ‘Another day. As Mohumagadi got into her car and saw Father Bill drive away. 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. but the women stayed on. Mama Twiggy was different from the others. always kept to herself. waiting for Bill to return. She remembered Mama Twiggy and immediately got a chill up her spine. she was reminded of the words of Mama Twiggy at the church she had grown up in. Mohumagadi used to take bo Mama Twiggy groceries every month before she and the others passed away. 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. The priests had left a long time before.
81 . And. 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. and then are gone as if they never were and only you are left with the painful memory of their existence. Mama Twiggy often just rubbed her back with her knobbly hand and moved on. They are here for just a moment. “You are doing yourself a disservice. by falling in love with these ones. worse. God can have him then. her forehead pressed against the window. greedy. they won’t ever love you as much as they love their God and their church. And there’s nothing you can do about it. It’s us selfish. but that night she whispered into her ear. her cheeks dry and chapped from all the tears. like a beautiful sunset. floating in the light sleep that she had become accustomed to. dirty people who live long miserable lives. they die young.Spilt MilK One night she fell asleep there. my child. moody.” Well. they often die young and it’s just the way it is. Mohumagadi thought to herself as she switched on her car engine and drove home. All these Christian ones.
I think it’s because you realise it’s over and this is how it’s going to end. God.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. again. There is nothing you can do. Bill . nothing can happen between now and dawn.
hoping that this might be the chance to crack the glacier between them. 83 . of course. Father Bill laughed but the boy did not laugh with him. “So …” he said. please?” “Yes. he did not expect him to be the first one there today. Take a seat.” he said. Mlilo.” “Not out of choice. at a loss as to what to talk to him about next. of course. “We missed you yesterday. After he had not shown up the day before. “May I sit.” he mumbled.” Father Bill was surprised to see the boy suddenly appear at the classroom door. Mlilo. realising he was in the boy’s way and was preventing him from getting to his seat. getting up from his seat to move closer to him.” he said gently. But Mlilo just stood there staring at him. The boy looked at him with an icy cold expression on his face. “Did you finish early today? You are here very early. Eventually he spoke.“H ello there.
His heart was beating loudly in his ears. “I’m not certain what I have said to offend you. ‘Fuck off’? He battled to even repeat the words to himself.” “Fuck off. “Father Bill.” What? Father Bill was completely taken aback. “but I’m quite sure that whatever it is.” the boy said again. All you children speak so beautifully. it does not justify such behaviour. dumbfounded. “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. are you okay?” Zulwini asked.” Father Bill stepped outside.” Father Bill replied softly. did I offend you in some way. especially not by a child. his face lined with concern. “I’m sorry. Mlilo. where are you from. Please excuse me. 84 . only this time much slower and with more emphasis on the words. Mlilo?” Father Bill asked. I need to get some air. He saw the other three children approaching the classroom and raised his hand in greeting as they neared him. What had just happened? What was going on? “I beg your pardon?” He had never been sworn at in his life.Kopano M atlwa “So. Mlilo? You speak English so beautifully.
out past the Khoi Khoi gardens. Here he dropped to his knees. Father Bill is praying. over to the Grade One vegetable patches and into the shade where the long distance runners trained he went. getting up. as she walked past him too. Father Bill. 85 . “Ssshhh. I’ll be back in just a moment. What are you children going to plant?” Father Bill asked. please. “Molweni.” Ndudumo said to Mlilo as she entered the classroom and saw Mlilo sitting there. yes. Father Bill stuck his head in the door and tried to force a smile.” their little voices sang. Be quiet children. feeling very embarrassed. picked up a rock and threw it at God. Please.” he nodded and instructed them to enter. “Continue with your assignments. each holding the hand of the one in front and the one behind them. Father Bill. Father Bill. “No.Spilt MilK “Yes. smart ass.” Moya greeted. It was a group of Grade Ones wearing gumboots and carrying spades and packets. past the gymnasium that read ‘Shaka the Great’. We are going to plant vegetables today. “So you’re back. Down the corridors. Molo.” He walked as fast as his feet would carry him.” the teacher leading them said warmly. I am done. Before he could do or undo any more he heard singing coming from behind him. “Good day.
” Father Bill said jovially.” Father Bill smiled back. “Thumbs up. peas and beetroot!” they exclaimed. He wasn’t really one to get enraged. he walked out the classroom again. Never easily succumbed to hostility. away from the green grass and giddy gradies. This time in the opposite direction. into the corridors. But to be sworn at by a child was even more than he could bear. let me not slow you down.” one small little girl proclaimed confidently. When he got back to the classroom there was quiet. Zulwini’s eyes grew wide. Father Bill tried to sit back down at his desk. “Well. trying to hide the anguish he felt within as the chain of small bodies moved past him. “Thumbs up or down?” Zulwini mouthed quickly. Relief rushed back into Zulwini’s face and he gave Father Bill an enthusiastic thumbs up and continued working. He thought that if he could focus his mind on something else he could rid himself of the rage he felt rumbling inside. “And mine will grow the biggest. lying. so with his heart still thundering in his ears.Kopano M atlwa “Onions. All four were working and all but Mlilo glanced up when he entered. 86 . They looked straight at his knees and it was only then that he noticed they were covered in soil.
they’re pretty good. he had become accustomed to being ignored in this school.” was his curt response. He recognised them both from television. captain of the under 19 national basketball team. Father Bill?” the young man asked. Father Bill.” the girl said with a smile.” he muttered. Some sandwiches. muffins and croissants were laid out on the coffee table. He did not expect them to know who he was. He was surprised at her friendliness.Spilt MilK The door to the staff lounge was open and he could hear laughing. They looked like they were in a very heated debate. “I hate egg. “Oh. hi there. so he mumbled a quiet hello and walked over to the ice machine.” the girl said brightly. On the couch sat two of the school’s sports coaches. “Oh. former captain of the South African squash team. “Isn’t that an egg sandwich in your hand?” she asked. “A sandwich. I don’t know. 87 . “I had one of the egg ones earlier. and Vuyo Mkhize. Zola Mbambe.” he replied. He filled his cup with ice. a puzzled look on her face. He picked up what was closest too him and sat on the opposite side of the room. “What are you eating there. He walked in. I didn’t look.
generation after generation. Just live. so many around and still not an ear to listen. To love is to fail. and then back at him. The rest is just philosophical bullshit. Words are empty. It is better to hurt. It is weak. the ones who will survive. You just need to make this world comfortable for yourself and maybe a couple of people around you. no hunger. smiles programmed. a soul to dance with yours. A lie. no violence. eyes vacant. He didn’t care. I think that is just rubbish. “So.” 88 . Those who hurt are the stronger ones. It’s foolish to get your heart stuck into that kind of stuff. We stop one war to start another.“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. a hand to hold. Father Bill.Kopano M atlwa The two coaches looked at each other. I think that is a false hope.” the young man tried again. perplexed. And even if there is. I don’t think it will ever happen. it is pathetic and needy. no fighting. We save the children from hunger only to kill them with obesity. I don’t think this world was made to be fair. It’s all pretty mindless. So many alive. It’s crazy to think there will be a time when there is no poverty. We continue to find more ways to do evil. there will be other things equally as evil. a heart to share. 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.
you are right. help with foreign trade. They are forever telling us they only want good for us. “Bullshit.” The boy laughed raucously. too angry. Help with our elections. But the laughing hurt. Did such a word even exist in his vocabulary? But it had slipped off his tongue so easily. stung him behind his eyes. 89 . the egg sandwich in his stomach churn. So he said it again. only looking out for themselves. too fed up to be interested in any kind of hippy happiness. but he threw his head back anyway and howled with laughter. like it had always been there.Spilt MilK Father Bill’s fierce words surprised him. There will never be a time when there is no suffering or misery. had not understood what he himself had said. his feet cramp. had not understood what he had said. bullies blackmailing us with their money. for a bloody priest. want to help us. “That’s what I have been trying to tell uZola here all afternoon. He had no idea what the boy was talking about. Just look at you. help with food packages. absolute bullshit!” the boy exclaimed. ‘Bullshit’. made the ice in his hands hot.” “Yeah. helping us only as long as we can serve them. But we all know they are bullies. Father Bill – you’re pretty messed up yourself. The girl joined in and Father Bill did too. pounded within his head. The West has done too much damage and the rest of us are too damaged. excitedly jumping up from the couch he shared with the girl.
She poked her head in the door and was immediately spotted by Moya who rose to her feet. She walked slowly to the window. “He just left. yes. but she could not see Father Bill at his desk. molweni. She slowed down when she heard absolute silence coming from the room.34 p. When the other three looked to see why Moya had gotten up they quickly got up too. She reasoned it out on the first day: he was new. Where is Father Bill. children?” she asked impatiently. The four children were working. He did not say where to. Every day around 3. but could not see from the angle she was at. sit down please.m. 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. Mohumagadi immediately looked at Mlilo. she would get up from her desk and head towards Father Bill’s classroom. Then the next day she told herself it was only his second day. Not only acceptable but expected. “Yes. Zulwini hurried from out his chair and came round to her. molweni.Kopano M atlwa Mohumagadi knew it was silly. perhaps in the cloakroom.” Zulwini whispered. she didn’t even get it herself. she reprimanded herself every time she did it. but the 90 . Mohumagadi. didn’t even know she was going to do it until she was halfway down the corridor headed towards his classroom. In fact. it was acceptable for her to go and see how things were going. Maybe he was somewhere else in the classroom she thought. and they all greeted her in chorus. He seemed very upset.
“Well. and I wondered if anything was amiss?” Mohumagadi replied.” Father Bill said. “You joining us.Spilt MilK boy did not look up. Mohumagadi. “I happened to be walking this way and saw your door open. The 91 . Father Bill. He just continued working as if he could not hear what was going on. She knew this had something to do with him but had no reason to confront him. leading her to the door. I am not finished. the man walked in with a cup of ice in his hands and a plate of confectionaries. everything is all right. Zulwini giggled. so she told them to continue working quietly and reassured them that Father Bill would be back shortly. Mohumagadi?” Father Bill asked with a smile. Mohumagadi looked him up and down very carefully. But there was nothing. scanned the room looking for evidence. everything is just double thumbs up. trying hard to sound calm. evidence of anything. sending Zulwini into hysterical giggles. “Oh no. she shouted in her mind. Mohumagadi was immediately annoyed with the excitement around her. As soon as the words left her mouth. She took a breath. His knees were all sandy but other than that she could not make out what the man was up to.” he said. She did not know what was going on but did not like the feel of it. if everything is all right then …” “Yes.
She did not like the look of it but nodded and walked out the door. Whatever was going on in that classroom made her very uncomfortable. “My name is William Thomas. in the kitchen of the hall after a service at which I gave the sermon. “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. It was a small classroom. did not know and did not care to know.Kopano M atlwa children all sat there looking at her. He had no reason to stand on top of the table. He laughed as he watched their eyes expand.” Father Bill said. I am a priest. She did not like what was going on one bit. so people call me Father Bill. back towards her office. few children. “Close your books please. it came to him as he approached it and he did it. He had no reason to shout from the top of a table but he wanted to. 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. I was sent to this school because I had sex with a lady I was not married to. I understand 92 . putting the plate and cup down on his table as he climbed on top of it. Father Bill stood there smiling. So close your books and pay attention.
because I have done it before and always feel terrible afterwards. He was trembling. That’s where I come from. “You wanted to know where I come from. It made no sense. The bishop thought I would benefit from some reflection. “I am Mlilo. Mlilo who?” “My name is Mlilo Graham. his usual confidence evading him as he stood on the table with everyone in the room watching him. “Braymow.” And now he looked directly at Mlilo. speak up.Spilt MilK you are some kind of special children at this school. but Father Bill looked him right in the eye. but I guess that changes nothing.” “And where do you come from?” The boy paused for a minute and then said. “We can’t hear you son.” 93 . Now get up on your table and tell us who you are and where you come from. son. Father Bill watched the boy as he hesitantly got up. I had no reason to do what I did. Perhaps it is in my blood and beyond my control. The room was silent as everyone waited for Mlilo to climb onto his table.” He climbed off. He could see that Mlilo was not sure whether he was serious or not. He was deadly serious. I felt terrible afterwards. So that is why I am here. so I presume I can speak plainly to you and you will not be alarmed.” the boy mumbled. not even to me.
the school. The thoughts always lead her down the same treacherous path. it revved up too many forgotten memories.Kopano M atlwa “Oh.” And he sat down. the boy did have a carrot stuck up his butt. “Okay then. that’s very nice. Anything else you would like to share with us. the boy didn’t. He felt a little drunk and hoped he still had this courage once whatever it was that had overtaken him over had worn off. No more pretending. It 94 . She did not want to go down that way. Not from any of you. not from me. Mlilo? Like why you have a carrot stuck up your butt?” The other three laughed. Father Bill felt no remorse. the very one she wanted to avoid. twirls. herself. He waited for Mlilo to say something back. sit down. In this classroom we say what we think. They said nothing. daring them to push him further than he’d already gone today. But the boy stood silently on the table. Anyone else want to share where they are from?” He looked around at all of them. swirls. the children. about Father Bill. crazy loops. Things were definitely going to change. staring straight ahead at the wall. She’d sat doing a lot of thinking in her office that afternoon. Mohumagadi arrived home late that evening. “Things are going to be different from now on. He nodded to himself as he sat there at his desk.
open your palms. 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. relax your jaw. Had settled with trying to forget. would never recover. She checked each room to make sure nothing was missing as she did every week when Lee Anne had been to clean. you are intelligent. release your toe grip and jump. Not of sebete. not of Domestos on clean tiles. not even of the sun. She knew there were some who worried about her. come back? Were all the promises they had made to each other in 1994 a lie? She felt weak. Were they to blame? Was it her fault. and then she got into her routine. close your eyes. She hated the fact that her house smelt of nothing. Not that she wanted any of that. gravy and pap cooking on the stove. but you don’t. make yourself completely vulnerable. not of children jumping on a bed. Some of the female staff with their husbands and large families often tried to introduce her to people. his fault? Would it have worked if he had stayed. you are beautiful. you insist on living 95 . brought up questions she could not answer. She remembered her dead mother’s words: “Why are you so different? You have everything going for you. you have no reason not to fit in.Spilt MilK made her angry. She just wished it smelled of something. men. only to fall on rocks that crack your skull and pierce your heart. She knew she had never recovered. To open yourself up like that. tired and confused each time she ventured in this direction.
We all choose.Kopano M atlwa on the periphery.” But they didn’t understand there was no other alternative for her and not everyone was made for the three children. 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. They didn’t see that some people needed to sacrifice their personal lives for something greater than themselves. and no man to slow her down. a husband and ousie. and that it was a labour of love. a school full of exceptional children. She had a white maid. a column in the newspaper. 96 . She just chose differently.
big or small. this is not that kind of place. I am not certain that I will be able to maintain the distance I had hoped to when I came to this school. I thought that at least with children it would be simplified to good or bad. I have been for years but it only just occurred to me today. your shoulders stiff and your stomach cramp. If I am not dead then I am certainly dying. the distance from people and all the emotion that constantly gushes out of them. getting dressed. make your head feel full. happy or sad. 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. Sadly. Father!’ that still reeks from where I came from. getting up. I realise I have just been going through the motions. I am doing a lot more thinking than I would like. pretty or ugly. drinking wine.15 March Dear God I am dead inside. drinking wine. None of the ‘I hate you for making me need you when I don’t even like you. . breaking bread. I wanted to be in a place where I would be separate from the kinds of things that keep you up at night. drinking wine.
Bill . but of what they are bringing out in me. I am not scared of them.They think I am scared of them.
showing no signs of anxiety at her obvious dissatisfaction with his presence.” she said loudly as she made a dramatic entrance into the room. She put her briefcase down on the table. Father Bill was sitting on her couch lost in the pages of one of her NEW AFRIKA! magazines. “The culture here is that you make an appointment if you would like to see me. Mohumagadi. She frowned. I’m so sorry Mohumagadi. 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. You look beautiful today. “Molo. Father Bill. bent on reclaiming her territory from the invader.” W 99 .hen Mohumagadi arrived at her office the next morning.” Father Bill responded with a smile. Father Bill. “Good morning. I prefer to have my mornings to myself.” “Oh. The ‘you look beautiful today’ had thrown her off.
“Mohumagadi. you’ll have to talk to me on the way to the school hall. The rules were not going to change for this man. to her dismay he finally caught up with her. priest or not. When she got to the gallery where some of the teachers were drinking tea. not looking behind her to see if he was following. and please do try to keep up. She marched into the corridor. if the school has one. Let’s walk. and she hoped Miss L knew better than to be intimidated by his skin.” She was being harsh. 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.” “For your personal use? No. 100 . Most certainly not. not for me. She purposely walked faster when she could hear he was struggling to keep up.” he said quickly.” Had he completely lost his mind? “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. for the classroom. That’s. of course. now that you’ve taken my quiet time.Kopano M atlwa Mohumagadi would have to speak to Miss L. I cannot be late for my own assembly. “Well. I just wanted to ask if the school could lend me a DVD player and a projector.
this time at herself for ever having being in love with this person. There she was worrying about what he was up to. Shame. But the children only come at three o’clock.Spilt MilK She looked at him carefully up and down. You don’t have to. He wasn’t even her type! She had been a child. when all he wanted to do was watch a Bible series! She chuckled. It was sweet. I mean it’s completely fine if you say no. Mohumagadi. it’s just quite a long time to sit around with nothing to do. Thank you. So I was just thinking.” “Okay. checking up on him every hour. She had been young and confused and could not be angry at herself for that. While seated on the stage Mohumagadi couldn’t help but chide herself for being so hard on the man. “I get here quite early every morning. But there’s this Bible series I’d like to watch. She laughed again. Cute. He wanted to pass the time watching a Bible series. as you know. It’s not that I mind coming in so early.” “I’ll have to think about it. and I just thought the mornings would be a good time. It’s on DVD. 101 . very simple.” She indicated to him that he needed to join the procession as they all entered the hall and the children rose. Why on earth would he want a DVD player for the classroom? “Why?” she asked. If it’s at all possible. but cute. a foolish child in love with the first white boy who had ever given her attention. For the assembly and all. Simple. I promise to take very good care of it.
” We are the school of excellence Despite the time of turbulence Unafraid of impediments Destined for success. Sekolo sa Ditlhora.” Child of a diff’rent providence In our hearts truth is prominent Believing in our competence Destined for success.Kopano M atlwa The orchestra began to play and they stood to sing the school song. 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. Mohumagadi thought to herself. Things would be fine. fhedzi ri si shae Moya Ra tsimbeledzelwa fhasi. Sekolo sa Ditlhora. “Ri thuphiwa zwinzhi Fhedzi ri si pwashekanyiwe Ra tovholwa. Sekolo sa Ditlhora. Sekolo sa Ditlhora. Yes. things would be fine after all. hone ri shi lovhe.
” The world awaits the coming of us Here we go with wholeheartedness Bold enough to carry the cross Destined for success. 103 . There was a note attached to the projector: ‘Dear Father Bill All of the school’s portable projectors are in use this morning. Sekolo sa Ditlhora.Spilt MilK Sekolo sa Ditlhora Destined for Success! “Siyabandezelwa ngeenxa zonke Singaxineki Siyathingaza. 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. singancami Sitshutshiswa asiyekeleli Sikhahlelwa phantsi Asitshatyalaliswa. Sekolo sa Ditlhora Destined for Success! Later in the morning. Sekolo sa Ditlhora. Father Bill felt loathsome for lying to Mohumagadi. so one of the drivers went out to buy one. Please let us know if it is not suitable.
at the DVD player barely used. there was no Bible series. She should have said no. messed up his shirt and dirtied his hands? At least he would have won a marble. He would tell her nothing. 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. Mohumagadi must have relayed the message even before assembly was over. and now he had a brand new. jumped over the highest pole. tore his socks. expensive-looking X Tech projector frowning at him from his desk. Which was absolutely awful because he had not given his request any thought either. and considered going to her office. which meant she must have agreed to his request only minutes after he’d made it and not given it any thought at all. nor his lie. giving her back the equipment and telling her that he’d changed his mind. And then he decided against it. spun around a wheel and touched his legs near a cloud from a swing.Kopano M atlwa Warm regards. 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. Heaven knew he wasn’t doing any living sitting in that classroom all day while everyone else was out on the playground. So what if he nicked his school shoes a little. There was nothing to gain by clinging to his Grade One rule book. 104 .
A single phrase from a tiny speech. but the sentence was radical enough to catapult her from her obscure five-thousand-rand-amonth radio job to international publishing sensation. True to her word. she had come to the school and. motivational speaker and face of Kinky Hair. Say something a little out of the ordinary. fishnet stockings. She remembered the woman’s infamous words on the evening news: ‘God loves to see us happy. It was a week of unexpected figures on Mohumagadi’s couch and she was getting quite annoyed. she could not help but marvel at the 360 degree transformation the woman had made. As Mohumagadi put on her warm school principal face and greeted Ndudumo’s mother with a hug. true to her character. 105 . and there it was: your whole life shaped out for you in the media. silver bangles crawling up her arm. delivered at a small venue to a few fringe people. bright pink crocodileprint heels.Spilt MilK Ndudumo’s mother was back in the country. a little risqué. she had done so unannounced. 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’. From struggling graveyard show disc jockey to overnight celebrity. something to do with liberal views on sex changing mindsets on HIV. It was stupefying. just once and have one interested reporter from one biggish newspaper there to record it.
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
we are not interested. we are not your friends.” And he climbed down from the table. be friends and begin our movie fest!” Mlilo chucked his school bag onto the floor and climbed onto his desk. 110 . which it never is. “Okay. making Mlilo stand on the table. but let’s put that behind us. maybe you are upset about yesterday. Father Bill. Movies about white people’s fantasies. We do not watch stupid movies. but he had been ruffled. None of us in this room are here because we want to be. but that didn’t mean that the next couple of weeks had to be miserable. Father Bill looked at him and for a fleeting moment felt a pinch of anger. “Here’s some honesty for you. but no eyes were willing to meet his.Kopano M atlwa have watched them all already?” Father Bill searched their faces for an answer. Father Bill. We prefer not to fill our minds with candyfloss and chewing gum. guys. 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. And don’t get it twisted. Unless it is African history. I just wanted us to start being honest with each other. their minor problems and crises. So let’s just forget yesterday. We’ve all said things in this classroom that we did not mean. It had been a taxing week and he’d come somewhat undone. I didn’t mean to hurt anyone. Maybe they were upset about his outburst the day before.
” He looked around. Father Bill walked to his table. get up onto your tables and speak your minds. She considered it. pulled out the first DVD his hands located and slotted it into the machine. his eyes filling with tears. his little chest heaving up and down with each pant. told herself that she would stop checking up on them when things had settled but that they hadn’t yet. Mlilo was breathless. and sat back. They could do what they liked. Three o’clock came and went and Mohumagadi sat at her desk and did not move. No one else? Okay. one for himself and one for his feet. “You’ll get kicked out. “Don’t. let him get kicked out. pulled up two chairs.” Zulwini whispered. Mlilo. Thank you for that. picked up the old tog bag he had brought along. so he walked to the wall to switch off the lights. He was watching King Kong.” “Leave him. none of them moved.Spilt MilK “Excellent. Father Bill. Who’s next? Come on. then let’s get this show on the road. deliberated with the idea that as head of the school it was her duty to make sure that everything was fine in that classroom.” Mlilo hissed. Father Bill had already set up the projector. that it was only the man’s first week and that he had never 111 . he thought.
that these were no ordinary children. that with urine dripping down her leg she wouldn’t be able to go by his classroom even if she wanted to. that she was responsible for all the minds within those walls and what went into them. her universe. that he could not be allowed to come to this school and do as he willed. But she didn’t. Again. Not even her Grade Ones did that any more. 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. anxious. moved freely within her school. It knew that she would be forced to go home and change. angry. For the first time since the man’s arrival. 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 . She was angry. A large.Kopano M atlwa been a teacher before and should not be left alone with children without some sort of supervision. though. afraid part of her did not want to just sit there and do nothing while he. In an attempt to keep herself on her seat. A grown woman wetting herself. her planet. a desire so strong she ended up urinating on herself in an attempt to contain it. 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. that it was for their sake and not her own that she went by that classroom every day. It was not the first time that her body had rebelled against her mind. she let him have his three o’clock undisrupted. a threat to her world.
I resent it. gets up my nose. Why can’t that be me? Bill .m.. not them. no figure of eight in my stomach? Why am I always the one who wakes up at 1. I can’t get above it. contented sleep. through the night with no burden on my shoulders.16 March Dear God All I can hear is snoring.19 a. landlord and son. It makes my skin crawl. can’t get around it. my mind racing with pretend answers to pretend questions? As if to mock me. Such peaceful. makes me clench my teeth and I feel itchy all over. the angrier I get. the louder they snore. Why can’t I ever sleep like that. but it.
His mind was still trying to adjust to the abrupt transition from bottomless sleep to wakefulness. When he opened his eyes it was Ndudumo standing at his desk shaking him awake. I hope that’s okay. her eyes studying his face intently. “It’s Finding Nemo. 114 . I’ve brought us a DVD from home to watch. He looked at her and she showed him the DVD.” she said. Father Bill. He’d arrived late. figured he’d work it out when they arrived.“F ather Bill.” she said. He took the box from her hands and contemplated it. eaten too much junk in the staff lounge. holding the colourful box right up to his eyes. He’d had very little sleep that weekend and was too exhausted to pretend. He hadn’t thought of a plan for the day. Excuse me. was tired of trying with these kids. “I thought we could watch it. and could tell he smelt funny.” He’d dozed off at his desk again while waiting for the children to arrive.
“I’m not sure how to put the DVD player together.Spilt MilK He felt a little disorientated and before he could respond she spoke again. finally finding his mind’s ON button and hurriedly getting up. “It’s a little tricky. He was excited too. How was the weekend?” In his delight at Ndudumo’s enthusiasm. “No problem. smiling too. We loved Finding Nemo. The three stood up as they always did and greeted him in chorus. he’d forgotten that they hadn’t even greeted each other that afternoon. She smiled. Father Bill. It was nice that for a change it wasn’t him having to take the initiative in making conversation. no. 115 . “It’s okay. especially for an old-school guy like me. but I managed to work it out on Friday.” he said.” Ndudumo continued. Friday’s chill still lingered between them.” “No. Well. “Hi guys. seemingly oblivious to the tension in the room. I was quite chuffed with myself actually. before I came to this school. enjoying this shift of rhythm. we don’t have to watch it. but a bit worried about the other three sets of eyes that silently followed their every move. “I used to always watch it at home with my mom. please put it in. Father Bill could tell she was excited.” she said.” he said quickly. beaming. I’m sure you already have something planned.” he said. already walking towards the table at the back of the room where he’d shoved the boxes and their contents on Friday.
it’s not just a movie Ndudumo. putting as much festivity into his voice as he could muster. Father Bill felt numb. What is happening to you?” Mlilo said holding on to her arm.” Zulwini said softly. “No. They had left one of the cords back at the other end of the room. Moya. you are going to get us all in trouble.Kopano M atlwa “It’s the only one we ever bought. Ndudumo?” Mlilo shouted from his desk. Zulwini made an attempt to get up from his chair. “Mlilo and Zulwini. “Can’t you see what this man is doing. 116 .” he said. Ndudumo? He is trying to get inside our heads. as they carried the DVD player to his desk together. it’s just a movie. “Ndudumo. You know movies are not allowed. Mlilo grabbed her arm. completely ignoring Father Bill’s instruction. “Oh relax.” said Ndudumo and she walked across the room to fetch the projector herself. won’t you please get the projector ready? And maybe you can think of something we might watch tomorrow. Mlilo. “What the hell do you think you are you doing. it’s never just a movie. We didn’t have much money back then.” she continued. Maybe if he involved the others the mood would relax a little. but Mlilo immediately sat him back down. He’s trying to fill our minds with meaningless fluff!” Mlilo yelled.
“Oh shut up. how much more trouble can we possibly get into? We’re already in detention and that’s never happened before at this school. Mlilo. It’s a really cute movie. Even a hardhead like you might just like it.” She picked up the projector. a little more boldly. “Relax man. this conversation didn’t even involve you so I don’t know why you think it’s 117 . picking up trash and wiping little white boy’s turds off toilets? That’s exactly what they want you to do Ndudumo. but it’s the minute you relax that they—” Ndudumo threw her hands in the air. “How is it cute when we are depicted in the backgrounds of these movies sweeping floors. Zulwini. “What?” Ndudumo said turning to Zulwini. a look of profound irritation on her face. now smiling again.” she said. “Do not use God’s name in vain.Spilt MilK “Let go of my arm Mlilo! Have you lost your mind?” she screamed. And … more fish!” “Don’t say that. and he let her pass. About fish and more fish.” Zulwini muttered. “Oh for God’s sake Mlilo. it’s animated. clearing tables. “Besides. shot him a grin as she walked past him and began setting it up. The scream startled Mlilo.” Zulwini answered. But Mlilo was not giving up. relax.
you little narrow-minded. “Zulwini?” Mlilo said softly. “What did you just say. a question mark on his face. quivered. then sat back down. Bible-bashing piece of nothing? What did you just say about my mother?” Zulwini did not respond. “Well at least my mother isn’t a slut. as if suddenly realising that walking would not 118 . Zulwini quickly covered his mouth with his hands. the silence would suffocate them all. The room was quiet. not sure if he should go to Zulwini or Ndudumo first. the words were out and everyone had heard “What?” Ndudumo gasped. trembled.” Ndudumo spat back. but it was too late. pious. Father Bill tried to walk over to him but stopped midway. “How could you say such a thing?” “My mother is not a slut!” Ndudumo shrieked. “My mother is not a slut!” She made an attempt to walk out of the room but then.Kopano M atlwa necessary to involve yourself.” Zulwini mumbled. He got up. Father Bill had not moved from where he was standing when Mlilo first pushed Zulwini back into his chair. shuddered. The silence grew thick and Father Bill was certain that if no one said anything to fix what had just happened.
When she did get up she went straight to Father Bill’s desk. Monica’s Primary School listening to pupils recite poetry. That day Mohumagadi forgot all about the man in her school and the children who had brought him there. The festival had 119 . a good heap of paperwork. she began to run. By the time it was three o’clock she was exhausted. It was the interschool Khuluma Festival and that morning she had been at St. Father Bill wondered. picked up the DVD and placed it into the machine. It was clear that he was utterly ashamed. Where could such words have come from. for a change.Spilt MilK carry her away from them as fast as she would like. 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. was not distraught about deciding whether or not to go to that classroom. when he had never so much as heard the boy raise his voice? Moya had not moved once. had heaps of paperwork to do. Zulwini buried his face in his hands. and. debate issues around the topic ‘Global Warming: whose fault is it anyway?’ and deliver speeches on ‘New Forms of Leadership in Africa’. It was a good exhausted though.
He handed her the letter saying. joining her on the hard floor. on target. For a change. When he returned. twice. I thought you might want it. He turned around and walked back to the classroom to get the letter he remembered lay in his desk drawer. simply happy. Father Bill hurried after Ndudumo and found her in the girl’s restroom weeping soundlessly. the one he had asked Mohumagadi for on her behalf.Kopano M atlwa gone very well and. then folded it up neatly and put it into her school blazer pocket. on point. she had stopped crying but sat without moving. opened it. exactly as he had left her. 120 . a good place to be. Father Bill sat down. Mohumagadi happy. read the entire thing. as usual. She actually felt happy. 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. It was a rare event. The kind of happy one gets from sucking on a little segment of naartjie. “I asked Mohumagadi if I could have this. the children of Sekolo sa Ditlhora had taken home most of the prizes. Sorry I’m only giving it to you now.” she said. She felt safe and warm inside. It was strange. It was a good thing. on time but seldom happy. She was usually on schedule.” She took it from him. “Thank you.
He looked at her too.” “No.” She looked at him. “Just barely. and I feel no shame. studying his face to see if he was telling the truth. to see if he meant what he was saying. He was still stuck on the word ‘hump’.” “I am not lying. 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. Ndudumo. “Not everybody thinks that. just barely. A priest is not supposed to lie.” Ndudumo said quietly. Why does that make her a slut?” He didn’t answer her. I know that is what everybody thinks but she is not. Ndudumo. You set rules that you can’t even keep yourselves. It’s not. Where did this ten-year-old get all this stuff? “I’m waiting. huh?” “Yep. I think you are all lying. Father Bill. with eyes that knelt down in 121 . Sex is not a sin. Ndudumo.Spilt MilK “My mother is not a slut. I don’t think that. That’s all my mom is trying to say.” “Don’t lie.” she said coolly. but just barely.
They had gone back into the booth so she could not tell. she kissed him like she was strangling him but there was no disputing it was a kiss. wondered if they were watching her and if they were. for no reason at all. She picked herself up from the floor and ran out. but could not convince the emotion out. People loved to tell her what they read about her.Kopano M atlwa prayer for this confused little girl. she pulled up against Father Bill’s car. But there was Father Bill’s. what was she doing? She did not let go of him and he wondered if she would stop to breathe. And then she kissed him. He wanted to cry too. after their health and laughed over some frivolous gossip they told her they’d read about her in one of the local papers. he was afraid. She asked after their families. whether she wanted to hear it or not. what they were thinking. She looked through the rear-view mirror to see if the security guards could see her. She did not move. She climbed into her car. Mohumagadi walked out into the parking lot not expecting to see any other cars still there but her own. the three security guards who did night duty. He wanted to push her away. and then thought that 122 . He sat there on the cold tiles and hoped that nobody would come in. He felt her tears on his face and he decided that it was better to let her do it. so she had learnt to laugh it off. Petro and Winston. whether it was nasty or nice. switched on her engine and was on her way out when. She greeted Vusi.
Still she could not see them. She felt so pathetic.” 123 . back to where they were. so what was she doing? She kept glancing nervously in her rear-view mirror.Spilt MilK not moving was even more suspicious. she couldn’t go back. She looked at her rear-view mirror again. and nobody reads a book backwards. she quickly pulled her arm back in.” she said out loud to herself. What was she doing? Even if it was possible. rolled up her window. How pathetic. switched on her engine and drove away. so she wound down the window and fiddled around in her bag. back to where they had been. “A past page. She stuck her hand out and ran it slowly across Father Bill’s car. As soon as she did it. “He is a past page in your life Tshokolo. foolishly afraid that someone had seen her and was following her to stop her and tell her that they had.
Such pain and hurt and confusion all stuffed up in this place. Bill . Lord.19 March Dear God How damaged and broken we are. becoming gangrenous and dying because people would see them and someone would know. Wouldn’t it have been easier. 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.
He would not shower. She drove past many every day.hen he woke up the next morning he knew he would not make it through a full day of sitting in that classroom. Mohumagadi impulsively decided to pull over at the next roadside ocean lookout point she came across. on a trip to a mission school the Fathers were building in Simon’s Town. At 2. let alone gone to the beach. but they would just have to wait. He got out of bed and sat on the floor. he would return to the school. he would more than likely be late.m. W Sitting in traffic that morning. He would put on the T-shirt he slept in. order pizza and watch movies. but not once since her move to the coast had she stopped to look at the ocean. The last time she could remember being at the sea was when she was much younger. He would get up and get dressed. Ten minutes was cutting it short. 125 . He would attend assembly as was expected of him and then come back home.50 p. She hadn’t been to a beach since.
she just made it through but the light turned red again. 126 . In the distance she saw a man putting a boat into the water. It felt good to step outside of the world for a minute. But something about the ocean that morning beckoned her. The light had turned green but she was so busy watching the man and the boat that she had not moved. further and further out. She laughed at herself. their engines running. For a change it was not a part of her. The ocean was its usual eternal blue. feather-brained. always felt forced. When she did. She could hear the cars behind her. but she was still startled by its beauty. could not trust it. It was such a cliché – the beckoning sea – but she indicated anyway when she saw the sign and pulled over. it was too late. She wondered if it hurt. still pushing. It hurt her more than was reasonable. She wanted to love it completely for what it was. She looked at him in the rear-view mirror intending to apologise but he pulled a finger at her before she could do so. stepping into all that cold. pure. always felt like it belonged to someone else and that she was an imposter. She watched him push it in deeper and deeper. Would he do that if he knew who she was? He was probably just an unschooled. By the time she returned to her car he was standing shoulder deep in the sea. the impatience. the stress. pushing a perfectly good boat way out into the ocean. stopping the frustrated driver behind her. but could not.Kopano M atlwa It never felt natural. Wasn’t he supposed to get into it? Someone behind her hooted. She felt so powerless. She wondered what he was doing.
The blinds were closed. the Fathers at the church. He was a whole hour late and he now regretted that morning’s bravado. Bill especially. and stand there and watch them go until she was sure they were gone for good. which he now recognised: Uncle Rico and Kip. She wanted to push the boat off the shore and run into that water and wet her knees. thinking he could waltz in and out of the school as he pleased. Pile them up in neat rows so she could fit in as many as possible and send them back to where they came from. Bill. She hated them. She wanted to put them on a boat. even if it was freezing. the room appeared dark. He could not believe it. Pedro. deep into the blue.Spilt MilK feeble-minded half-wit who didn’t recognise a woman doing great things for society when he saw one. He swung the door open and there were his favourite characters. all of them. They were all the same. Even Mlilo. And the voices. Father Bill panicked when he heard laughing coming from the classroom as he approached it. even if it stung. It took them a minute to notice he’d walked 127 . He stood at the door and listened but all he could hear were muffled voices he did not recognise. Deb and Napoleon. There was the laughing again. The kids were laughing. pile them up onto a great big ship. deep. He stood with his hand on the door handle not sure what to do. She wanted to push them deep. Bill too. She hated him. Mlilo was laughing. She hated all of them. choosing wigs on the projector screen. of Napoleon Dynamite.
one he’d come to adore for its easy prerequisites. 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. or prayer. “Of course it’s okay. they had just left it and started watching and hoped he didn’t mind “Sjoe. perhaps even confession. and when he still wasn’t there and the movie had started. Moya began to explain that she had brought the movie like he’d asked her to the day before. always agreeing to remain behind when he left the movie theatres. and its unfailing knack of allowing him to forget. he often cried in some of the sad ones. Almost four days a month. He watched an average of two a day. 128 . He was dragged out of his wool-gathering by the sudden silence in the room. but at least they were forgiving. The emotions were real. You’re missing the best parts!” Watching movies was a favourite pastime of his. that’s a mouthful. which added up to twenty-one hours a week. Time that would probably have been more appropriately spent in some kind of meditation.” he said chuckling. This he knew. a month and a half a year. that they had waited for him to see if it was okay. or quiet study.Kopano M atlwa in and when they did they all jumped up to greet him. He once counted the hours a month he spent watching movies. pizza and popcorn. so approximately three hours a day. 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.
” Father Bill exclaimed excitedly. They all looked at Mlilo. “you guys haven’t even seen the dance scene yet. Father Bill. kids!” 129 .” Father Bill exclaimed playfully. “I don’t know Moya. “I guess I could sms my driver too. “let’s get this show back on the road. “I can sms my driver. waiting for his answer.” Ndudumo added softly. They weren’t supposed to be doing this in the first place.” Moya said in a small voice. What about your parents?” “I can just sms them. “And the rest of you?” he asked. He shrugged. giggling.” Moya said. “Me too. “Ah. “We could carry on watching and just leave a little later than usual. man.Spilt MilK “It’s five o’clock.” Moya said quickly. ignoring the sudden prickle of unease he felt. Father Bill wasn’t sure. “Okay then.” Zulwini said.” he mumbled.” Zulwini giggled.
Zulwini ran up to him. saying something about his driver having been there since five o’clock. As soon as the movie ended. no pangs of conscience. She’d been done wrong before and those who had hurt her had carried on without a word. leaving her forgotten. She did not apologise to anyone for anything. her intentions were never to do anyone any harm. maybe rewind a bit and watch one of the funny parts again. no self-reproach. Father Bill had hoped they could talk about the movie a little. Mlilo muttered that his driver was waiting and asked if he could be excused. 130 . gave him a hug and dashed out the classroom. but Mlilo looked anxious to get out. Father Bill told them all they were free too leave. Had moved on with their lives. There were many apologies that she deserved but had never received. still waiting for an explanation. Even if she was in the wrong. which she very seldom was. feeling nothing.Kopano M atlwa When Mohumagadi arrived at the school and walked into the assembly late she did not apologise to anyone for her tardiness. Realising that he was being a little irresponsible keeping the children after hours. She gave no explanation even to Miss L. so she felt no need to ever explain herself. who looked at her with big eyes filled with questions that she knew better than to ask.
like they had been on his first day at the school. Ndudumo?” he asked. Ndudumo pulled the extension cord out of the wall and handed it to him. What he minded was being asked if he minded all the time. but when she reached the door she hesitated and turned around to look at him. She had avoided his eyes all day and. He thought Ndudumo was about to leave. he wondered if he deserved their trust and whether he was using it in the best manner he could. he told her with a smile.” she said. Now that the children were warming up to him. the last of the lot that needed to be packed away. her eyes welling up.Spilt MilK Father Bill began to pack the equipment away feeling the bristles of guilt again begin to brush at his insides. Moya said she’d come back to help close the windows but needed to run to the bathroom quickly. Neither of them moved. “Everything okay. he hadn’t made too much of an effort to meet hers either. Of course he didn’t mind. The DVD player felt heavier than it had earlier and he struggled to carry it across the room. too. His hands were sweaty.” She was silent. “Do you want me to?” “I don’t care. The girls must have noticed because they jumped up to help him. 131 . truth be told. “Are you going to tell Mohumagadi about what happened yesterday?” she asked him. “I won’t unless you want me to.
” Moya walked back into the classroom. they were all guarded. When they got to the parking lot he was not sure what to do. Moya had been one of the easier ones from the very start. He waited for her to run out the door. He watched her as she packed her school bag. very careful hands that made no mistakes. He didn’t mind.Kopano M atlwa “And my mom?” she asked. but he didn’t get the sense that she hated him on a very personal level like he did with some of the others. His was the only car and he wondered if she was perhaps embarrassed to tell him her parents were running late. Ndudumo quickly waved goodbye and hurried out. this time less courageously. She was guarded. but she didn’t. enjoying her company and not wanting to be the one to disrupt it. put the chairs on the table so the cleaning staff could sweep and mop with ease. “Not unless you want me to.” She slowly shook her head. so he sat down on the 132 . She had very small hands for such a tall girl. He wondered if Moya was lingering because she didn’t have a driver or a parent waiting for her. She walked quietly beside him to the car park. He said nothing and she offered no explanations. Father Bill and Moya closed the windows together. and turned off the lights. “Then I won’t. She was so careful and meticulous. Everything had its place in that bag and not a single piece of paper was crumpled in. but he said nothing.
Moya?” Father Bill asked. offering her no way out. “I lifted my skirt up for boys to see. But despite his better judgement. “I acted in an indecent manner. “Because I misbehaved. he remained silent. “You misbehaved?” She did not look up from her hands. He’d meant to start a light conversation about different types of cars. “How did you end up in my class.” He waited. tell him more. 133 . comedies or cartoons but when he opened his mouth those were the words that snuck out first.” “To see what Moya?” Didn’t he know? Of course he knew. these children were probably in play therapy all weekend.” she finally said. Father Bill. Father Bill.” “An indecent manner? Well. The silence that followed was his cue to drop the whole conversation. “Yes. Knowing this school.” he said laughing. And after some time she said. They did not need him probing them too. Perhaps she would go on. “What was the indecent thing that you did?” he asked gently.Spilt MilK curb and she sat down beside him. She looked down at her hands and he immediately felt bad for asking. waiting for an answer. Father Bill. a laugh that was followed by a snort that made her smile. well that does sound like a pretty serious deal.
they didn’t ask. 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. yes.” “Agreed?” “Yes.” “Whose idea was it?” “We came up with the idea together. so kept quiet and let her continue. not looking up at him. 134 . Father Bill. Father Bill. Moya?” “No. He was confused. no.” she finally whispered. “Did they ask to see your privates. We just agreed to show each other. He did the same. Father Bill. no. He smiled too.” “All of you?” “Yes.” “Of what?” he asked.” she said quietly. She looked at him and smiled. but the others said we needed to make use of every little bit of extra time we had. “I knew we shouldn’t have done it in the bus. we agreed.Kopano M atlwa “My privates. I mean. “I was scared.” She stretched her legs out and swung them from side to side.
but honestly didn’t think it was such a big deal. it’s not. this time not smiling. Wasn’t it a normal part of development? Pubertal curiosity? She had begun to sob silently. trying to keep his tone light.” she said.Spilt MilK She shrugged. a place where no one wanted to be and those who had been there would make every effort not to do so again. It didn’t work. They were just kids and it was not like they were caught having sex. “I guess I’d be too if I had my underwear on the floor at the back of a school bus. “Do you regret it?” “Of course I regret it.” He hadn’t meant to upset her. His was a detention class after all. I was just teasing.” he said. but it felt awkward so he stopped doing it. “You’re right. He was a teacher whose role was to be feared and hated. too. 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. I’m sorry. Father Bill. He tried to comfort her by rubbing her back. 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. “It isn’t funny. and then tried to see if he could make her smile again by swinging his legs like they had done earlier. 135 .
“It’s just that girls are not supposed to think about those kinds of things. Not that I was thinking about any of those things. Ndudumo raised her hand up high. but Ndudumo didn’t even look back.” 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.” “Ndudumo does. She didn’t even look back to see who else had put their hand up. 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. “Like Ndudumo does.Kopano M atlwa Realising that what she had said might have been offensive. huh?” “Ndudumo does all the time. but said you would know once you tried. like that is all she 136 . She just sat there with her hand in the air as if she was proud. That’s just gross. She didn’t say how. “It just seems so lustful to me you know. you need to get a real boyfriend Ndudumo’. Not good girls.” she whispered.” “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.” “Maybe she is. ‘Sick. She stared straight ahead and raised her hand up as high as she could. and not so often.
but he did not even write in it all that often. Hardly a mother who has unconventional beliefs about sex. 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. perhaps that was a danger to society. Psychopath. “Yes?” “Don’t write any of this stuff in your book. His journal. 137 . it’s her mom’s fault. It’s not her fault. Don’t write this stuff in there. Doesn’t she care for her? What if she becomes a slut and falls pregnant? That is what worries me the most.” He nodded. whose behaviour is a danger to society.Spilt MilK thinks about. Loosely defined as someone with a chronic mental disorder.” He nodded. They had noticed it. but then again. That book you always carry around. An antisocial person. “Her mom even sometimes does it while watching TV and Ndudumo says she even sometimes puts her finger in there. who knew. Psycho. Her mom’s a psycho. but how do you pray with sticky fingers all covered in cookie juice?” He did not have an answer to that question. “Father Bill. My mom says that a girl should pray in the morning. and almost never while he was with them. It was getting dark and windy and Father Bill wondered where this child’s parents were.” she spoke again. just like her dad.
his feet pink in the cold water. It made her frown whenever she thought about it because she couldn’t get around it and the more she tried. and they have their own heads and you cannot swap. Tiny tingles danced in the depths between her thighs. that sudden sense that you are you and they are them. Turned the volume up when she felt her palms get damp around the steering wheel. That this is you and all you are.” she said to herself. So she thought about the man in the water and his boat instead. “How primitive. And with that. But each time she tried to imagine him she saw Father Bill. his T-shirt hanging loosely around his waist being gently tugged up by the wind. the more her eyebrows knotted and her eyeballs. that you are in your head and you are stuck. She switched on the radio. She got that feeling she used to get when she was a little girl. the desire was gone. threatened to unhinge and swivel backwards. She curled her back as she felt the shudder of warmth come down her spine and in between her legs. 138 . dismissing the warmth that made her want to part her legs.Kopano M atlwa As Mohumagadi drove home she remembered the man she had seen in the water that morning. this is your life and try as you might you cannot get outside of it. looking up to the top right corner of her head. And sucked in the inside at the sudden pleasure of it. Father Bill with his jeans rolled up.
I am safe. Father Bill could tell they were not satisfied because they lingered on. “Ntombazana. It was the security guards. eyeing Father Bill warily.” Moya responded sweetly. “Your mom on her way?” 139 . “You cannot trust no one these days. “Molweni. “It is late for you to be sitting here.” the second one said. you don’t want us to call you a taxi today?” one of them asked Moya. we were just discussing some work we did this afternoon.” the one who spoke first continued. also ignoring Father Bill. do not worry about me.” the other said. Moya?” he asked. Whatever it was Moya had said. Thank you.” the one who had been silent up until this point added. “What is going on. Eventually they walked away. “Not even the ones who look trustworthy. “It is not safe for a young girl to be out here alone. but not before shining their torches in his face. forming a circle around them.Spilt MilK Father Bill heard footsteps approaching them. “Ndizam’fowunela Tata. grunting at each other and shaking their heads vigorously.” all three of them said simultaneously.
until Father Bill 140 . Father Bill. What had he done? He grabbed her hand and pulled her towards the car.” His heart started racing. “Why didn’t you tell me?” “I’m sorry.Kopano M atlwa She shook her head. I just call a taxi. I just wanted to watch the movie too. “My mom doesn’t like to come out after dark. She was gone for a while and when she finally did return she was accompanied by one of the men. “You are taking this girl home?” “Yes. Father Bill. Father Bill could not see and his eyes began to water but the guard continued with his torch.” She grabbed her bag with the other hand and followed him. We need to get you home.” “Moya!” he said jumping up. The guard shone the torch right into his eyes.” she said. “I need to go tell them you are giving me a lift home. turning around and running back to where they had come from. The torches from the security booth followed them too.” he answered. “Come. let’s hurry.” “So who picks you up then?” “No. Father Bill.
” The security guard switched the light off. Father Bill. please. but she seemed to be used to directing drivers.” “So why don’t you get a lift with a friend then?” She shrugged. She lies to people about having meetings in the evenings. “I’m sorry. she is safer with me than some cab driver. get in the car. Father Bill. it’s just when I end late. “Come.” “A taxi? A taxi. “I am taking her straight to her house. And it’s not all the time anyway. Moya? I could have gotten you home earlier. Ma doesn’t like coming out after dark. Were you going to just sit there the whole night saying nothing?” He was upset and was struggling to hide it. “It’s just easier this way.” They drove silently for a while. “She makes excuses.Spilt MilK shouted. “Why did you not say anything.” They got onto the road. I was going to call a taxi after you left. Your mom must be panicked. muttered something and walked away. Moya? This late? Is that even safe? Does your mom know you do this?” “I tell her I get a lift with a friend. how she can’t see at 141 . lies to me about her eyes and the dark. he did not know that area well.
“It was better there. now I can finally eat’ and then she says 142 . you know.” “Why were you in Switzerland?” “Ma is a diplomat. “Ag. ‘Yay. and I was just so hungry.” “Everyone is scared. still annoyed. We only came back from Switzerland last year. 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. She’s even more scared than white people are and she’s embarrassed of that or something stupid. but I know she’s just scared. Father Bill. Moya. She started locking her bedroom door after she heard that one in four women here get raped. and then I’m so relieved when they give me the box.” “Of what?” he asked.” “But Ma more than anyone else. and she hasn’t been the same since. walking to the car thinking. Ma says I’m not allowed to say that. But it’s the truth. the crime and stuff. Just the other day. So I asked her if we could stop at the Pizza Shack to buy pizza and we did. It was—” She paused and then said. And then she made me sleep with her when baby Tshepang was molested. She’s always locking herself up. She always thinks there is going to be someone in the back.Kopano M atlwa night. It was better in Switzerland than it is here. Father Bill. checking the backseat before she drives anywhere.
But if it is one in four. Father Bill? I’m not even the one who’s scared! She is. right there in the parking lot. Father Bill. why don’t we just leave this stupid country? She turned around and slapped me in front of all those people. She’s always muttering to herself when she reads those headlines about ladies being dragged into bushes and having beer bottles stuck in them.” “I don’t care.” “I’m sorry. then who? Me? No ways. 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. it has to happen to someone right? And if not her. and said she would not have a snob for a child. while she was standing on that balcony of hers. She thinks if she prays it will not happen to her. And you know what the worst part is. Moya. She said once even if it does happen we 143 . they aren’t interested in pizza. She thought bringing me to this school would change that. I just wanted to die. but it won’t.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. I’m leaving this country first chance I can get. She says that only white people are afraid. of all things. I heard her once. tell the clouds that only white people complain about crime. So that’s when I screamed at her and said if she is that petrified of the so-called crime. only white people immigrate. I can be black and proud in Switzerland. all those cars.
I know you are all Godly and stuff. but some things just don’t add up to me. I’m not spending my whole life begging God for something that He may or may not give me. Write books or something. And I’m not sticking around for that kind of love. like creepers. thorns for trees. Father Bill.Kopano M atlwa must just endure it and become activists or something. Father Bill. you must stay right here in the cities and endure it. motion detectors following their every move. then how can you expect Him to protect you? If every other girl out there is raped and God loves you all the same. But if He doesn’t have favourites. she said. but that’s what she meant. not if you are black. then what does that tell you about His love? That’s just how it makes sense in my head. God’s got a big head. mighty structures within that looked impenetrable. anyway. Running away is not an option. How come God protects some people and not others? Unless He has favourites. But being afraid is not an option.” “She really said that?” “Not like that exactly. 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. which He’s not supposed to. for the sake of the people.” Colossal walls with towering metal gates. crawling up the walls. No. 144 . a moat around the property and electric wires. Not even to Knysna or George or wherever. Password-guarded entry to a boomed off area.
a big obvious point. the point slipped through the base of his skull and onto the ground and rolled away. too. Most probably more than me. but when she looked at him with eyes begging for truth. Father Bill. As he drove away. “Surely those innocent girls and boys who suffer pray. he saw a figure standing up on the balcony. so what is the point really?” He had nothing to say in response to that. watching him leave. In his head he knew there was a point.Spilt MilK Before she got out the car she turned to him and asked. 145 . chiding himself for not having a single answer to some of the simplest of questions.
their own struggles pass them by.20 March Dear God These children are nothing like we were. They are filled with complexities. war against principles they have no understanding of. meanings to struggles that have long past. carry large loads. And while they are so busy printing Biko T-shirts and growing dreadlocks. Bill . Their hobbies are finding causes and ideologies.
Bill and little Mlilo were there too. A memory almost.” “What is Shrove Tuesday?” Mlilo asked her. like she celebrated all the other church holidays. “Today is Shrove Tuesday?” Bill asked. wearing the glitter dress that Mama Twiggy washed for her every night so she could wear it every day.ohumagadi had had a strange dream that night. “It feels like Easter has come early this year.” she said. M 147 . at the church. the Fathers who were always there. and the Fathers of course. always everywhere.” she said sitting down. She did not know. “Happy Shrove Tuesday. But in the dream she was an adult. A memory of a day when she was younger. waiting for her to answer. She sat silently. In the dream she walked up to them with a smile. All of them looked at her. but she’d been asleep. She just celebrated it. greeting them. “Yes.
He picked up his pace. Zulwini began to shout. he had attended assembly then left to go home to his pyjamas. If it had been any of the other children he would have 148 . popcorn and TV. Mlilo looked at her with a frown on his face. Just before he could turn the corner and run down the corridor towards the exit. Father Bill. 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. “Father Bill. His plan had worked very well the day before.Kopano M atlwa “You know. So she picked up a rock and threw it at God because all of it was God’s fault. He felt bad. But Zulwini was determined to get to him.” she said quickly. they obviously did not care because no one had said anything to him. making as if he had not seen him. The Fathers and Bill laughed and laughed and laughed. Nobody seemed to have noticed and if they had. wait up!” So he slowed down and turned around. 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. shook his head and walked away. coming throughs’ catching up to him. the day before Ash Wednesday. pizza.
I should start doing that. actually. Zulwini. where are you headed. Sheesh. I’ve never thought of that. he had taken to sneaking off after assembly to sit on his couch at home watching movies he had 149 .” Father Bill smiled. Father Bill?” Father Bill felt a knot in his stomach. Or maybe it was that the boy made him feel guilty. Who knew really? The boy just made him uncomfortable and he preferred to avoid him. Father Bill?” “To my classroom.” he said painfully. reminded him of the kinds of things he should be doing. I thought I wasn’t going to catch up to you there. He felt guilty. of his faith perhaps. He didn’t want to lie to Zulwini. “Morning. He took a deep breath and then said. Zulwini really was a sweet boy. “What do you do there all morning.” Father Bill smiled sheepishly. “Always good to get in a little bit of exercise where you can. Father Bill. but how could he tell him that. his sweet plan to return home now thwarted. his bothersomely blind faith. You walk so fast.” “That’s so true. the way of life he should be leading. but Zulwini … What was it about the kid that made him so uncomfortable? Maybe he was jealous of the boy. “So.Spilt MilK been delighted by their eagerness to speak to him.
“I do. “Don’t you have a class to go to. Zulwini?” They had reached his classroom and the boy was still pestering him with questions. “Ever heard the saying ‘Don’t cut off your nose to spite your face’. “Oh. you know. He was completely ridiculous. but I don’t attend this particular class. He had forgotten that he had lied about that too. which was silly of him because of course she would have had to justify buying a new DVD player for his classroom. opening the 150 . There would be no more sneaking about. please?” Father Bill panicked. and the more he shook his head and thought about it.” was his answer. That’s so cool. Can I come and watch with you.Kopano M atlwa watched a thousand times before.” Zulwini whispered. this and that. the funnier he found it. didn’t think anybody would know but Mohumagadi. Miss L told me you are watching some Christian DVDs. “Like reading scripture and stuff. This is why he avoided this child. He would have to buy some Christian DVDs now. Father Bill laughed despite himself. Whatever ‘Christian DVDs’ were! He would have to find them and start watching them.” the boy retorted. Zulwini?” “I have a tutor.” “Why not?” “Dr Semenya is an atheist.
sang a little too loudly. “And Mohumagadi is okay with that?” “She has to be. “And the other teachers?” “More agnostic than atheist. I refuse to attend his classes. I hand in all my assignments on time and get good grades for my tests.” “What about the other teachers? I thought you said you were the only Christian. You and I are the only active ones. 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. He’s worse than my mother. not sure what to think. besides. It was praise and worship all the way from C5 to Naledi. his classes are boring. They would all sit in the back and Uncle Eugene would make them sing hymns. He remembered the boy who had enjoyed it a little too much.Spilt MilK classroom door they had been standing next to and pulling up two chairs for them to sit on. not any more. choruses and verses. I have it at home and I don’t want to have it here.” he said hooking Father Bill’s arm and taking him to his seat.” Father Bill was astounded. And. the Billy who grew so bold in the spirit that he had taken 151 . But Dr Semenya is always going on about it. He shook his head again. My tutor is only 21 and she is a better teacher than he is.” “Well.
He did not recognise the boy as himself. ripping out pages of the church hymn books and bringing them with each morning for practice.Kopano M atlwa it upon himself to organise their little choir. Mohumagadi invited them in. 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. they started all over again with the greetings.” the other added. When Mohumagadi returned to her office from assembly that morning. 152 . because that was how things were done.” the oldest guard began. and they shared a laugh about the weekend’s soccer. “They were very worried. Mohumagadi. Once seated. and wondered when along the highways he had lost him. and Miss L took their drink orders. had not thought of that boy in a long time. Mohumagadi. Only once the teacups were empty and the biscuits were crumbs did they finally get to the real reason for their visit. Mohumagadi asked after their families and their health. the three security guards were waiting for her at her door. “The evening shift were very unhappy when they left this morning. seating the sopranos on one side of the bakkie and the tenors on the other.
“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
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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.”
“Na-ah.” Before he could name the Queen of Sheba.” “But there are black people in the Bible. the boy. Simon of Cyrene and the many others. there are. you reminded me of Jesus and his friends and God.Spilt MilK Father Bill could not recall the verse in the Bible that said go to church and wondered if there was one. “Because she doesn’t go. all of them are pink just like you. said. Even in churches all the paintings on the wall. 157 . and if I knew what was good for me. neither would I. it had been a long time since he’d opened up his Bible. Zulwini?” he asked a little reluctantly. That’s why I was so excited when I met you in Mohumagadi’s office that day. Father Bill.” “Why doesn’t she go?” “She says that until they put black people in the Bible she’s not setting foot in a church. there aren’t. Zulwini. afraid of where this conversation was headed. shaking his head vigorously. Zipporah (Moses’ wife). Then again. all the prayer books and Christmas cards. Ebed-Melech. You looked just like God. all the windows. I loved you immediately. “Why doesn’t your mother want you to go to church.” “No.” “Yes. Hagar (mother to Abraham’s first son). Pharaoh Tirharkah.
But she knew she had said anything in the world. all the children in his sight. but Mama was so angry. because the whole thing was terrible. all the children of the world. “For my last birthday. Jesus loves the children of the world’. I told her that it didn’t matter what colour Jesus was because ‘Jesus loves the little children. my Mama said. But I shouldn’t have forced her. ‘Mama. I told her not even Chinese people are in the Bible and they are not angry at God. What do you want for your birthday. ‘Zulwini my baby. Do you know what that means.” Father Bill wanted Zulwini to leave his classroom. baby? Tell me. He felt an old headache returning. 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. I love you. Green and yellow. to get out of his sight immediately. baby? That means things are going to be good for us.’ She was so cross. One of the greeters at the door was wearing an old National Party T-shirt. Mama was just made CEO of Maatla Power House. I don’t even think she was into politics or anything.’ So you know what I told her Father Bill? I said. Father Bill. Mama can buy you anything in the world. Father Bill. and she couldn’t go back on that. for my birthday I would like you to come to church with me. she had promised. white. Very good. red. He tried to think of ways to stop him talking and get him out of his face.Kopano M atlwa “I tried to convince Mama once to come to church. it was probably just an old T-shirt she found lying around. She did not want to dip her fingers into the holy 158 .
she did everything wrong – she sat when we stood. I was so embarrassed. kneeled when we sat. so that I had to cover her mouth with pew leaflets. just before we prayed to be purged of our sins so we could be as white as snow. continued to leave me out. She wanted us to leave right in the middle of the service. Right there in the middle of the service.” Father Bill did not realise he had been holding his breath until the boy stopped speaking. And everybody turned around and looked. but I refused. And then. It was the worst birthday of my life. 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. she started to get sick and threw up into her handbag.” “You are not worried?” “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” 159 . just as we were about to share the peace. She asked me how I could go to a church where we’re not praying for the same thing. And if we were all praying to the same God. right onto the Praise for Daily Living and the English Hymnal. and when I got home she had eaten all of my cake. I was happy she was gone. “But I’m not worried. so she left without me. had left me out. She said it was dirty. 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.Spilt MilK water either.
” Father Bill wept. he hated him. I don’t worry. verse 27. verse 27.Kopano M atlwa “Matthew 6. “What situation?” “You kids could get kicked out of the school for what you did.” “You are not even worried about the situation you are in right now?” Father Bill didn’t believe him. that he was a counterfeit. that he doubted too. Matthew 6. my favourite verse in the Bible!” “So. Zulwini?” Father Bill was almost shouting. “But we won’t. Hated him because he was a liar and a fake and a cheat. Father Bill.” “Yup. after Zulwini had 160 . Or just an idiot. “Can I tell you a secret?” he said. I know God had His reasons for leaving black people out of the Bible.” “How do you know that. He wept and he wept and he wept like no man with any sense should do before a child.” Father Bill knew they wouldn’t get kicked out but he wanted to scare him. you don’t worry?” “Nope. “Because God sent you. wanted to show Zulwini that he was no different from anyone else. In fact.
if you were sick you wouldn’t have had the strength to do that. And then he added. It’s not honest.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. “How did you know?” “I saw you go yesterday. “I was going to sneak back home after assembly. whose eyes.” “But you are not sick.” “I know. “You shouldn’t sneak in and out. try as he might to stop them. Father Bill. Dr Semenya.” “I know. Zulwini. I’m used to it.” “I’m not judging you.” “I’m sorry. You are still very young.” 161 .” Zulwini said pulling his chair up to Father Bill’s so he was sitting right by him. you know. Zulwini.” “But I could have been going to the doctor or something. And you were running away from me.” “It’s okay. There are things you don’t understand. continued to storm.” “Not me. But you shouldn’t judge other people either. Father Bill laughed.” the little boy said resting his head on Father Bill’s shoulder.
it was contagious. It would only be for a minute. “I promise to stop sneaking in and out if you promise to attend Dr Semenya’s classes.” Father Bill said with a large grin. Father Bill’s whole giant body jived as he laughed. Why were they laughing like that? She giggled. heads flung back. she and her rules. She was sure that he had only been trying to help by taking Moya home. then felt ashamed. sticking out his hand. her authority.” Father Bill said. her jetblack afro in a bun. her three-piece suit. her nails. her statements. her knowledge.” Zulwini was silent. “That’s just lame. And Zulwini looked so completely and utterly happy. She smiled. As she approached his classroom.” And they laughed together. She was not angry. Had she ever 162 . She stopped at the door and watched them. roaring hysterically. “Bet Jesus would. She was too embarrassed to disrupt them. When last did she laugh like that? She could not remember. “Let’s make a deal. Father Bill. Mohumagadi had decided to try to catch Father Bill before his afternoon session with the children began. she saw the man and Zulwini laughing.Kopano M atlwa Zulwini looked up at him and nodded. She began to laugh too.
who didn’t deserve her anyway. needy. not Mama Puleng. Not Mama. a person who would not be missed by the world if he died. regrettable character. What would everyone think? A school principal walking backwards along a corridor? Nobody ever did anything backwards. He’d taken all the love she had inside of her and made her hate herself. an absolute nobody. So. special. She was the talented one who used big English words like ‘consequences’ when Bill and the rest of the boys came in hurt. set apart. She had been stunned. that wasn’t the way things were done. the life after the church. She was the one who grew up knowing she was different. she had told no one. but one whom she would still take back if he changed his mind— He’d made her into a sorry. She remembered all of it as clearly as if it was only a moment ago. but she did. not Mama Patricia. And look. She remembered how pathetic he had made her feel. To be reduced to nothing by a boy. weak. who was he now? A nobody. So rejected and unloved. unable to accept that such a thing could happen to her. She was the clever one who knew her times tables before he knew his. Walked forwards but wished the whole time she could do it backwards. She turned around and went back to her office. but nothing before that. embarrassed. still felt. not even Mama Twiggy. Walk backwards. She didn’t want to. Only the pain she had felt. none of the good. So embarrassed. She remembered.Spilt MilK laughed like that? Not in this life certainly. not Mama Rose. How could she? They had 163 .
He wanted ice. bigger than. this gaaning aan about the ins and outs of things long gone. and how was she to mention the Fathers without it all leading back to him. She waited and waited. Father Bill felt thirsty. told herself she was overreacting. In time she began to see it as even a little narcissistic. and how was she to tell them about the church without mentioning the Fathers. She asked no one a thing and they did the same.Kopano M atlwa looked at her with eyes that warned it would not last. laughed some mornings. questions it was clear she was unable to answer. She waited for many days. that he was waiting too. and then she left too. that he had written but the letters had got lost. were enough for them. She was evolved. As long as books were involved they did not ask any more questions. almost like all that emotion he’d been too hasty to regurgitate had scratched the skin off his throat and left it raw. She would not do it. And at the other places she also said nothing. very thirsty. days she remembered but could not bear to look back on. For how was she to tell them about Mama without mentioning the church. waiting and waiting. studies and related things. that he had been stuck somewhere and would send for her. So she never spoke to people about things that did not concern them. And it worked out for her just fine. beyond such. The reasons she gave. She was too proud to have them pity her. remembered the ice machine in the staff 164 .
She said he had hesitated at his own birth. He stood up quickly and she waved her hand for him to sit. stuck his head out and then crept right back in. He knew that his ambivalence about interacting with people was silly and probably accounted for most of his awkwardness. she’d never felt such a thing. he had not heard her come in. His feet were light.’ his mother said. and birds that looked like M’s and smoke out of a chimney and a mom and dad holding hands and a child laughing. and had sucked him out with a vacuum.’ He sat down in the middle of the couch with his ice. His mother had said he’d been born awkward. ‘you have always been cold and distant. ‘Reluctant even to be born. He stuck his head in the door slowly and was glad there was no one about. His head had felt cold. “You like our artwork?” It was Mohumagadi. The doctor had never seen such a thing either.Spilt MilK lounge from that day he had stood with a cup of ice in his hands eating an egg sandwich he had hated. He walked over to the staff lounge and got there faster than he expected. He smiled. threatening to let go of the grip they had on the ground and fly off. tingly. Certainly none of his brothers had done such a thing when they had been born. Fish and bicycles and dogs and balls and jelly and custard and a sun that had eyes and could smile. The walls were covered in paintings from the Grade Three art week. 165 .
had poured milk into her cup and he was certain she would walk out the door and back to her office. She probably didn’t even care any more. “I meant us when we were children. She was done. brown sugar. Before she could leave. Those paintings remind me of when we were children. He was sure she remembered him. A large mug with a large spoon that only she used. But that sounded even worse than what he had said before.” He felt like such an idiot. He had meant ‘us’ as in ‘us when we were children’. 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. maybe she didn’t remember him at all. Reminds me of us. he spoke up without giving what he was going to say any thought whatsoever. Skin-colour-crayon!” He laughed. But maybe it was a coincidence or even a joke. picked up a sachet of sugar. lost to his life again. She walked over to the coffee machine and picked up her mug. 166 . trying to hide his nervousness. Not ‘us-us’ but ‘us’ being ‘adults’. Only she knew he couldn’t tell the time on a clock. and a stirrer. “I meant us adults when we were children. She continued to pour her coffee.Kopano M atlwa “Yes. trying to correct his last statement.” he said smiling He saw her face change.” he said. ‘us adults when we were children’.
pray for ourselves?” “Pray?” Her voice came out hoarse. looked at him but said nothing. Even if they go back home at night to a man who not only enters their beds but their privacy too. pray for this world. Bill. I’ve realised. Just kids trying to figure it all out. she didn’t. He could tell that he should have stopped talking a long while ago. The silence grew thicker.” He laughed again. so he spoke again. Why he’d brought up their past was a mystery to him. He didn’t know what he had expected her to say. I prayed and prayed and 167 . “Yes. threatening to squash them. didn’t blame her for her silence. “You really believe that?” she asked him. “We’re all grown up and now things are different. Kids will smile regardless of what they are feeling inside. pray for our country. “What can we do but pray. “But things are different now.” “Because I prayed.Spilt MilK She sat down on the couch across from him. Maybe they are exactly the same and we’ve just found a way of complicating them. pray for our children. they will smile in the day and laugh and play just like the other little children. looking him straight in the eye for the first time since his arrival.” he continued. Or maybe they are not.” And again. “We’re all just kids.
” “Spilt milk?” she screeched.” 168 . agony and rage.” He couldn’t get the words out fast enough. but he heard her. Bill.” “Fuck you. Tshokolo. Bill? All those promises you made in ’94. “Are you crazy?” she continued to scream. “Are you insane? You want to call fifteen years of pain. that wasn’t what I meant. Bill. His heart was pounding. is that what you are suggesting. “Spilt milk?” she screamed again. Tshokolo. It was just an expression. Tshokolo. So loudly that he jumped and dropped the cup of now melted ice so that it splattered across the room. “I didn’t mean it like that Tshokolo.” She whispered it. gutwrenching pain. A figure of speech. no point crying over it. please. “It’s all just spilt milk now. What had he done? He hadn’t meant it like that. you clean it up.” “Your prayers will be answered some day. fifteen years of lack of sleep. pounding so fast he felt like it would fracture his rib cage. ‘spilt milk’? So I should just forget everything. You don’t forget spilt milk. I should just forget them? I should just forget the fifteen years you took from my life?” “That’s not what I meant. fifteen years of madness. and you know what it brought me? Nothing but lost time.Kopano M atlwa prayed. fifteen years of fear.
Maybe he had said it wrong. “Get your hands off me. 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 .” she cussed through gritted teeth. her eyes red.” Oh Lord. It was just a figure of speech. You and your fucking ancestors. Wasn’t that how it went? He’d made such a huge mistake. He wanted to take it back. clean it up. He’d obviously said it at the wrong time. You pathetic coward. the veins on her forehead bulging. you piece of nothing. wouldn’t let him explain.” She wouldn’t stop. explain. 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. Grabbed her around the knees. It was just an expression. Don’t cry over spilt milk. How could he fix this? He dropped to the ground. What had he done? “And get up from that floor. He tried to hold her. “Spilt fucking milk.Spilt MilK “You clean up your own fucking mess.” Mohumagadi had wet herself again. Bill. you coward. stop her. His soul was trembling.
the gods. Father Bill was sitting with one hand inside his shirt. He closed his eyes and tried to reach down to the peace 170 . Hadn’t even gone looking for it. the other scratching the erupting vesicles on his lip. pressing Zulwini’s Bible against his heart.” Mlilo said. Them. His head was throbbing.” he replied. when Mlilo walked into the classroom “Good afternoon. simultaneously rubbing the Bible against his breast. She hadn’t even deserved it. not meeting his eyes. Father Bill. he ignored him and continued scratching his lip. It. the whatever that was out there? How could He. the world conspired to bring you pain. “Good afternoon. Had it followed her here. have let it happen to her again? It wasn’t even fair. When the boy said nothing more. not bothering to lather the greeting in any niceties either.Kopano M atlwa cold to sit on. She. to destroy whatever was left of her? What had she done wrong? Paulo Coelho was wrong. here to her new school and her new life and her new. perfect world fifteen years on. the celestial beings. Mlilo. How could it have happened? How could it have happened to her again? How could she have let it? And what about the universe. the world did not conspire to bring you happiness.
We were put into groups and told to come up with an innovative way to teach the class the various stages of puberty.” “What kind of movie is it. “Just the basics of the male and female reproductive systems and the changes they undergo during puberty. So I made a movie. he was a little wary of what the boy was up to. The best project would win a trip to the Human Sciences Museum. He sighed. is everything okay?” “I brought this.Spilt MilK he knew had to be inside.” He saw tears suddenly fill the boy’s eyes as he retreated to his desk. My mother and I take the school rules very seriously. I know you’ve had it out for me since I arrived here. Mlilo?” Father Bill did not like the sound of this and after all that Mlilo had put him through.” Mlilo said putting a DVD onto the table. But not today. So we came up with the 171 . Mlilo was standing at his desk. “Mlilo? I’m sorry. “Look Mlilo. Father Bill was confused. okay? There’s nothing left of me to destroy so just give me my space please. but could not find its hand to pull it up. We never got to finish it because we got into trouble before we could.” He made a movie? “It’s the video we made that day in the bus. When he opened his eyes. “I know you asked me to bring a movie but we don’t have any at home.
” “So that’s what you kids were doing in the bus. I just wanted to show them. after waiting for Father Bill to answer his question and realising he wasn’t going to. Why? What did you think we were doing?” He looked up at Father Bill with eyes filled with the sincerity of the question. And I had nothing else to bring. We even went together to the university’s medical school library and got all the facts right before we started filming. but then Dr Tshivhase saw us in the bus and we got into trouble and we never got to submit it. It’s really good. Also. So we started working on it. But she would care that we had been really innovative and we would win.Kopano M atlwa idea of making a video of ourselves because we are all in different stages of puberty. We don’t have to watch it today if you don’t want. other than in here. 172 . we don’t spend a lot of time together. So I never bothered to edit it until last night. That’s all. I just thought the others might want to see it because we all worked so hard on it. 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. we’re not all really friends. working on a school project?” “Yes. “We could have won.” he said. Father Bill. 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 knew all the stages really well so we used her voice to discuss them.
they gathered around him and gasped and laughed and blushed as they each took turns holding it. I was thinking we should submit it to Dr Masemola anyway. We would have won if we hadn’t got into trouble. but it might still be worth submitting it to her. 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. We got nought that whole week we were suspended from school. I guess we didn’t think the whole thing through. even if it’s too late to get any credit for it. Father Bill.Spilt MilK The images are pretty good too. if we just have a quick look?” Father Bill had meant to protest against the watching 173 . Kind of embarrassing but pretty good. “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. When they realised it was the DVD that had got them all into so much trouble. Questions flew around the room.
smoldered. so he sat back. Notting Hill and Sleepless in Seattle. About who had actually won the biology project and how it would not have stood a chance against what they had planned to submit. could not speak. That’s so embarrassing.” Mlilo snapped at them and told them to be patient. Father Bill had never seen them so excited. is it any good?” “Wasn’t it weird putting it all together?” “Did you include all the images? Oh my gosh. I hope you didn’t put in any of mine. 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. 174 . Ndudumo stuck her tongue out at him and called him ‘sour pants’. could not act.Kopano M atlwa of this DVD. and watched them as they thought and spoke and acted. “So. They continued to pester Mlilo with questions. They chatted amongst themselves as they helped Mlilo connect the equipment. Zulwini and Ndudumo exclaimed ‘me too’ at the same time and packed up laughing. Ndudumo gave him a hug too. Zulwini came up to him and gave him a hug. Joking that she was his favourite. Mlilo. because she hadn’t expected Mlilo to bring anything. Moya protested that she was the favourite and gave him the biggest hug of all. Moya said she’d brought movies from home. they were about to see it for themselves. but he had no real reason. His mind was so smoked out. let his Bible fall to his lap. that he could not think.
He shook his head and chuckled silently to himself. There was so much she wanted to say. their genitalia. It was the strangest thing Father Bill had seen in his entire life. so many things she had stuffed inside of herself over all those years. He was impressed but tried not to look at the private parts of a bunch of overzealous. She had built an empire. a 175 . a failure even amongst his own people. in fact. folded into little pieces to make space for all of it to fit in. hid their faces behind their books and giggled in profound embarrassment. their pubic hair. there was no vulgarity to any of it. Although they covered their eyes. highly ambitious kids who had taken one school project a little too seriously. Mohumagadi marched towards his classroom. a school. though he tried to hide it. Sekolo sa Ditlhoro it was indeed. rolled in. The past fifteen years had been the best years of her life.Spilt MilK even Mlilo. It was really them on the screen. The film really did explain the developmental process well. their breast buds. She would take back what she had said earlier and tell him that. the past fifteen years had not been lost time. peeped between fingers. She would start by telling him how he was a nothing. She was finally going to tell him everything that she thought of him. she was determined to. a priest who had shamed the church with his sexual indiscretions. They all settled down to watch their biology project.
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. 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. “What is going on here?” Mohumagadi hollered. 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 school of giants. 176 . a vagina and then a penis and then a finger pointing at testicles appearing up on the wall. 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 vaginas. she saw Father Bill and the children sitting in the dark. baby testicles. Instead of a neat row of heads buried in work. 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. baby penises. a baby finger pointing at them all. the DVD machine’s blue light spinning. And the images were all of children. But when Mohumagadi got to the classroom she was not prepared for what she saw. suggesting that his disdain stemmed from racism and recommending that he be told to leave. huddled around the projector screen. throwing the door open.Kopano M atlwa school where no little black girl would ever have to cry over some foolish low-life dirty white boy.
coarser.Spilt MilK The children jumped up. as you can see in me. initially with just sparse hair. flipped through the pages of the books. shaking. “Who brought this 177 . She marched around the classroom. “What is going on in this classroom?” she asked again when she had regained her breath. began to greet her in chorus and then stopped when she turned to look at them. They had not moved. “King Kong? Australia?” She opened up their school bags and overturned them. threw the contents of their chair bags onto the floor. She could feel herself rattling. Pretty Woman? What is this garbage?” she screamed.” Mohumagadi was rabid with rage. as you can see in Moya. The areola then regresses as demonstrated by my breasts. saw the DVDs on the table. And when she was out of breath she stopped and glared at them. “What is this?” she yelled pulling the cord out of the wall. “Puberty in girls starts at an average age of ten-and-a-half years. curlier hair. The contours of the papilla and the areola then become separate from the rest of the breast. Her eyes dared them to. She kicked down the bookshelf. quivering. pushed them out of the way. and later with thick. She ransacked the room and searched everything. It begins with the development of the breast bud. She heard Ndudumo’s voice on the screen. quaking. Casablanca. The pubic hair begins to develop at stage two of breast development. “Notting Hill. as demonstrated by Moya’s breasts.
Bill?” “Oh come on. white romance.” Mlilo whispered. aren’t you. “What is going on in this classroom? What is this trash?” she screamed holding up the DVDs. The only dark skin you 178 . “You are bent on polluting my children’s minds. Bill? Was it you? Did you bring pornography into my school. 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. Bill? Is that what you did? Is that what you have been planning all this time?” She looked at him. shake him. Mohumagadi’?” “It’s not pornography. “They are just movies. white sorrow. “Was it you.Kopano M atlwa filth into my school?” she screamed.” “Don’t you ‘oh come on’ me Bill. Mohumagadi. smash him. waiting for an answer. Mohumagadi. pointing at the projector screen. “Just movies. “What is it Bill. These movies humiliate us with their depiction of white history. crush him under her foot and spit on him.” she heard the man reply faintly. Mlilo? Did I hear you say ‘just movies’? Are there any black people in these movies.
These children. Mohumagadi. Children should be allowed to be children. It’s all been a big misunderstanding. We don’t need your advice. what do you think the skinny. Honestly.” “It’s not pornography. 179 . Bill. We were just fine until you arrived and if anybody needs fixing. spinning around to face the children. Bill. it’s you.” “We don’t need your help. What do you know. Mohumagadi. I don’t think Dr Tshivhase understood what was actually happening that day on the bus. Father? As they fall in love with the man and cry for the girl. Mohumagadi. Mohumagadi. Mlilo.” “Please. there’s been a big mistake. What do you think that teaches the children. Bill! You are in no position to help anyone. I meant no harm.” “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. insignificant shadows in the background do to their minds?” “And all of you?” she said.Spilt MilK see is picking up the trash in the background. I’m only trying to help fix things.” “We didn’t ask you to come here to fix us. “All of you? Don’t you know better? Especially you. just hear me out. other than lies and deceit?” “Please. I really was just trying to help. especially you. they are just children. Mohumagadi.
examine us under all sorts of microscopes. it happens to be a great big suppository that gets shoved up your rectum. do you Bill? I want you out. 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. “You have had your chance. You people are so used to having us apologise for our opinions. generation after generation and enough is enough. is no Smartie. Bill. a regrettable human being. Mohumagadi. A whore.Kopano M atlwa your counsel.” “Life hurts. there were so many words coming out of her she had forgotten to breathe. Father Bill. I had no intention of— “You never have any intention of doing anything.” “Mohumagadi. Well I’m not about to do that. “The truth. I want you out of my 180 .” “Your words hurt me. We are not some charity organisation. Bill. You are a male whore.” Her breath was coming out so fast. we do not need anything you have to offer. sugar coating the truth for you so it is easier to swallow. 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.” She needed to breathe. it went in before the last bit came out and went out as the rest was coming in. your anything. a mistake. Bill. years to study us and pick us apart.
Mohumagadi. They were having some kind of debate. just listen to me. You’ve done enough damage. Don’t kick me out. He did not know what it was about. don’t you dare. please. people who did not mind talking to him.Spilt MilK school right now. Mohumagadi. could have the privilege of feeling sorry for people like you. Something you could never be a part of. bigger than anything your pathetic little mind has thought of imagining. like there were people out there. I want nothing to do with any of your sympathy.” “Oh no. Please. It was a mistake allowing you to come here. You know why I created this school. There’s a reasonable explanation for all of this. Tshokolo. I’m sorry. We are doing something here. so sorry.” “Please. did not care. Bill. I don’t want your sorries. just 181 . the talking… it felt alive.” “Get out of my school.” That night he lay on the floor in the dark listening to the radio.” “Please. I think it’s time that you go. but the voices. Father Bill. I didn’t know. Father Bill? I created this school so that we. for a change. It was the first time he had listened to it since his arrival. Bill. Please. I love you. did not even know which station it was on. If I’d known— You do not belong here.
fucking crime. Fucking terrorist attacks.” the caller on the line said. Father Bill turned to God. masquerading. punk-ass lying motherfucker taking poor people for every penny they have. then some religious bullshit. fucking poverty. “This world is stupid. looked him in the eye and with pain in his heart asked Him. “It pisses me off. 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. It’s fucking ridiculous. but at the core the same bullshit.Kopano M atlwa lay there quietly and listened. and then Africa TV. I want no part in it whatsoever. Has the world always been like this? It’s been around for so damn long and it’s like nothing is changing. It fucking pisses me off. 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. I do not want to be a part of it. where broke actresses with chipped nail polish and ashen knees play out meaningless stories. “Were you angry when you saw her do that to me?” 182 . masking. Just shifting. drives you to insanity. Fucking drives you mad. fucking violent bullshit all the fucking time. What is the fucking point? How are you supposed to be happy.
to pump blood around our bodies.21 March Dear God It makes sense that you don’t require us to will ourselves to breathe. Bill . because many of us wouldn’t bother if it was up to us. to beat our hearts. And maybe there is much more to it than what we want at any given time.
when black. because after this entry the world seemed to turn upon itself and everything that once rang true no longer did. the last time it made sense to write anything at all. square shoes were rested from their whole-day march and the rushrush was over with not much left to do. It was as the curtains were about to be drawn. that they forgot about where they’d been before. A At this point the author must take over and speak for those for whom this is more than just a story. when little pots of rice were washed of their yellow starch and the gravy turned down from 4 to 2. It was as the darkness was about to fall. for they 184 .nd that was the last entry ever written in Father Bill’s journal. when the hot sun had had its final say. when children were called in from a day full of play. that they locked the doors once open before.
like all the other mornings since his arrival. He remembered he was in trouble but could not remember why. remembered she had said not to sneak back home. The woman. the one called Zulwini. forgot that he was no longer a part of the school. the one called Mohumagadi. woke up that morning cold. how she had been deceived. the one who was always angry. forgot she had said not to return at all.Spilt MilK do not know how to share the rest of it. the one who was the principal. 185 . the one who believed deeply and fearlessly. The man. the one called Father Bill. how she had been humiliated. He remembered he had done something wrong but could not remember what it was. the round one. and got ready to attend the morning assembly. the one the girl grew up knowing as Billy. the black one. woke up that morning and cried. the one who slept with his Bible under his pillow and his rosary in his hand. the white man. forgot that she had also said not to come back. the one the boy grew up knowing as Tshoki. how she had been targeted and destroyed again. The child. He remembered her instruction to wear his priestly garb. shivering. how she had been undermined. the priest. stiff. the one with a pair of spectacles and a pair of dimples. woke up the next morning. how she had been ridiculed. remembered she had said to learn the school song. how she had been attacked. how she had been disrespected. She remembered everything that had happened the day before. the one with itchy blisters on his lips.
She remembered the day before. the one who spoke like she knew. the one who was planning to leave anyway. remembered her mother telling her she should stay out of trouble. the one who liked to paint her face and her heart. she remembered everything that had happened. remembered how far away some day was. He remembered thinking he should pray but wasn’t sure for whom. the one called Moya. the small boy. the beautiful clever boy with 186 . The other girl child. woke up that morning and cried. remembered the cracked DVDs on the floor. remembered the words. The boy. the thin one. the forward one. woke up that morning and cried. remembered her mother not being there. She remembered the shouting. remembered wanting to pick them up but feeling too afraid. the one called Ndudumo. the one who tried to hide her hurt. The other child. the quiet one. remembered not being able to hear. remembered not understanding why they didn’t. remembered it was her fault. the one who never wanted to be here in the first place. remembered never feeling it before she came here. remembered wanting to explain to her mother. remembered fear. remembered not understanding what they meant. remembered thinking they would get a good mark. remembered she would escape some day.Kopano M atlwa He remembered being shouted at but could not say what for. remembered being confused and afraid. remembered thinking it was only because she wanted to impress her and her teacher.
Instead. like someone had snuck in in the night and plastered his entire body. “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. the one who was bold. too bold. his head buried in his knees. not like this. He tried pushing his hands against the mattress. He had ignored Zulwini. smashing onto his big toe.Spilt MilK dark-dark skin and green eyes. He began to panic. 187 . the one called Mlilo. what if someone had? What if someone really had come in in the night and hadn’t seen him. the bricks were heavy and when he did finally stand up they came tumbling down.” Zulwini had told him that in heaven people were always happy. perhaps they would lift his arms a little. he lay with his eyes wide open in his bed. not directly. a throbbing toe and a pile of bricks around him. His chest felt like it had bricks on it. could not get his body to follow the instruction to get up and go. “What is it like up there. He wanted to climb out but could not. the one they thought was testimony to the success of the school. He dug his elbows into the bed. perhaps they would succeed in at least sitting him upright. woke up that morning but did not cry as little children should. So there he sat. making him trip and fall. God?” Mlilo had never spoken to God before. 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. There was no use pretending. but still he did not cry. He wasn’t even sure if God was available and when one could consult with him.
I can’t explain it. but it goes away too quickly so I can’t really explain it. “You can take me back if you like. though. Because there was this one spelling test and I forgot a word. God. bad. and sometimes I think that’s what Zulwini is talking about. what we used to speak about. bad. just to see how it is doing? Do you speak to it? Do you ask it how it feels? I did that once. I’m a hard worker. So maybe it’s like that. Sometimes I get these feelings though. I don’t remember. It’s weird because I have a pretty good memory. Zulwini said we all came from you. “Do you sometimes go and sit at the beach and watch the ocean. “I’m sorry. I’ve 188 . like I feel warm.” he said to God. I think I could be quite useful there. a funny touch. like a touch. I just mess things up for everyone.Kopano M atlwa Zulwini was stupid and stupid people irritated him.” he whispered. He was bad. I wouldn’t mind coming back. where we ate. one teacher told me it’s a photographic memory. and he remembers. I’m sorry for being so bad. I’m no use here. “If you guys need an extra hand or anything. It felt like something you would do. He immediately felt bad for his thoughts. Things pretty much stink down here and I’m just making it worse. what it smelt like. But Dr Kgomo gave me the mark anyway because she said she knew I knew it. I was lying. so I told Zulwini if I didn’t remember it then it wasn’t true because I remember everything. I don’t remember anything – where we slept. I don’t remember any of that. bad.
God. anything. I want to come home. I don’t even have to do fancy stuff. I don’t like it any more. I don’t know why I have it but I do. even cleaning. And Dad. God. “I’m always sad. but still God said nothing. that’s fine. Please. and waited.” He waited. I can’t concentrate. I miss you. I’m pretty good at everything. It’s Greek or something. I’m lonely. Even if I came for a weekend. God. But even if I don’t. I don’t want to be here any more. I wouldn’t mind. take me back. She’s so tough and she’ll still have Manzi. It’s called anhedonia. that would be okay. and waited until the sun came up and he was late for school. well you know him. I don’t think he’ll even notice and when he does he’ll just make another baby someplace else. and waited. and even then he waited some more. I don’t understand anything. “I’m just saying that if you needed just a little bit of company or something. If you miss me. And I miss you. I don’t want it. I can do filing.Spilt MilK been top of my class since Grade One. Just a weekend. God. I looked it up. that’s all. And I promise not to get in anyone’s way. but I don’t want to play with the other children. “I know you’ll worry about Ma. I don’t mind. I keep thinking too many things. and maybe if I’m good. but she will be fine. please. some day I can work my way up to helping with the decision-making stuff. 189 .
Emails were sent out. the green ones streaming with tears. no note. to away away.Kopano M atlwa It had already been announced at the school that he would be leaving. And as he was about to set off again. the staff lounge to his right. there came a thundering down the corridor. the cracked DVDs too. The boy looked up into his eyes. no number to dial. where lines were straight and circles round. but you are nothing like him. so tightly and so abruptly that a gush of air leapt from the priest’s chest and he couldn’t speak. his green eyes into the man’s blue eyes. No letter. They had found each other again after all. “Father Bill! Father Bill!” The boy nearly bowled Father Bill over as he grabbed him and flung his arms around him. running fast.” Mlilo sobbed. “Father Bill! Father Bill!” It was Mlilo. almost exactly. He walked out into the corridor. the gardens to his left. but the message was very clear. You look just like my dad. her scent everywhere. 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. and smiled. “Father Bill. Mohumagadi had not wasted a moment. There were no tables and no chairs. 190 .
felt his shirt dampen from the little boy’s tears. “Mlilo Graham. She warned him. felt his head pressed into his chest. but the boy did not budge. she started screaming. told him that if she had to say it one last time then that would be it. “Mlilo. She would be finished with him if he didn’t move that instant. saw them.” But Mlilo did not move. Mlilo did not move. He 191 . Father Bill and her Mlilo. When Mohumagadi saw him. that he had left no reminder of his ever having been there. it was over. Were you not supposed to report to my office this morning?” The boy was startled by her voice and dropped his arms. Mohumagadi said it again. She wanted to make sure that the man had taken everything out of the classroom. it was done. the last straw.Spilt MilK Father Bill felt the boy’s arms tighten around him. “Mlilo Graham.” is all he could manage to say. Mohumagadi went berserk and came running for him. Mlilo slowly backed away and then began to run too. allow Father Bill to leave and come here right now. She screamed and screamed after him. What would words change anyway? And it was at that very moment that Mohumagadi came round the corner. She had put up with enough and she was done.
watching cars slow down around them. running and running and running. not even from the eighteen-yearold soon-to-be mother watching two true stripes of venereal disease appear before her. Of course it did.” But the world had never. their painful memories. watching Dr Booi push the children back into the school. along Masai Mara. Right into the road. out past Nehanda and Nandi. but it was a different scream now. further away. wait. too fast. What with all that noise. swiftly. They all watched. gone. The world never waited. quickly. Even as she cried those words watching Father Bill run across the road. their pain. behind the gate. Watching him climb the fence. Past their anger. never ever in all its years of existence. the one that large trucks with their huge tyres came trundling down. Mohumagadi screaming and screaming all the time. across the Pyramids of Gaza and through Fes. she already 192 . She watched him. She screamed his name. there was always a truck coming down that road. running away. faster and faster. too far. Running fast. responded to that call.Kopano M atlwa ran. He ran right into the middle of the road and a truck came. Not from kings who had stood at the head of their empires watching men in great numbers torch their homes. Down the corridor. that big road. as quickly as possible. behind the cloud above Table Mountain. as fast. their suffering. over Plaatjie and under Shaka. far away from their struggles. their hardships. as far. “Wait world! Please world. not from leaders of countries who had woken up to find their careers destroyed in the morning papers. watching him run faster. He ran as fast as his little legs would carry him.
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. They were such a treat to work with in the writing of Spilt Milk. Here's to milk! Proverbs are taken from Ntate Nape ’a Motana’s Sepedi Proverbs. Thank you to my family and friends for your support once again. reader.Thank you to Ntate Nape ’a Motana for compiling our Sepedi proverbs for all the world to see and enjoy. and to you. . for encouraging me on. Re a go leboga.
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