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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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” (Author unknown) .“Every book is a prayer.
” (Jeremiah 1:6–7) .“Ah. Do not be afraid of them. I am only a child.” I said. for I am with you and will rescue you. “I do not know how to speak. Sovereign Lord.” But the Lord said to me.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. “Do not say ‘I am only a child.
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 children were called in from a day full of play. when little pots of rice were washed of their yellow starch and the gravy turned down from 4 to 2. And even though it was only just her sternum and definitely not her breasts she’d permitted him and he’d attempted to touch … I vii . when black. square shoes were rested from their whole-day march and the rushrush was over with not much left to do.t was as the curtains were about to be drawn. when the hot sun had had its final say. It was as the darkness was about to fall. that they returned to where they’d been before. And even though they’d made sure their lips were curled tightly back as they took deep gulps of each other’s breath.
As he stood before the church tribunal. he looked up to God for a moment with eyes that stung of anger and betrayal. viii . 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. His bags were packed and soon he was on his way. knot his neck and spit it out and out and out until his throat was raw and all that remained was retching.Kopano M atlwa … to the tall Fathers with the heavy shadows that crushed them as they lay there in the afternoon grass. then it really did have another think coming. guilt was not one of them. where lines were straight and circles round. with all those grave creamy eyes sighing heavily at him. it had looked like something so much more ominous. As soon as he was out of view he would scowl his face. to away away. How was he supposed to have known that the feelings were false and the intimacy wrong. just as it should be. lying on the dirt road for large truck tyres to crush. so much more sinful. those frail gold-framed spectacles shaking their heads at him and those thickened bunion hearts tut-tutting at him. Of all the things he was prepared to feel. so much more depraved. And once out on the road and far far from earshot. the thick plug of sour guilt. And he would leave it there. when God Himself had been so encouraging? But that was that.
laughing with the sun. surprised at the scowling faces. when too much had already been lost.Spilt MilK God had actually had nothing to do with their disgrace. this was discovered only much later. but sadly. God too was rolling in the grass. ix . That day.
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 yelped in ecstasy. after they had sobbed in pure gladness. After packing up the room and moving into rooms. after they had torn down old street signs. after they had held hands and flung them into the air. after the celebrations. after the purchasing of German cars. after they had embraced complete strangers. after filling up 1 A . after they had lit candles in reverence of the time. after they had howled at the mastery of their success. after they had stood in front of the television flicking between the two channels hoping to catch it again. after they had exclaimed to all and sundry the victory they had won. after they had thrown their fists into the air. after they had snivelled at the beauty of it all. 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 finished with the laughing. after they had roared with triumph and screeched at the supremacy. the sweet tears of joy. after they had knelt down on their knees and kissed the ground. after the jubilation.fter all the excitement.
no friend. after shaking hands and swapping gifts. She had simply woken up one morning and realised we had been speaking for decades. Quite literally out of nowhere. There would be no more speaking. But perhaps that is why they looked up. after buying new wardrobes. she came. because no rational person would ever dream of doing such a thing. logos.Kopano M atlwa the cabinet. after the inaugurations and commemorations. Speaking and arguing. with no struggle. after sketching designs for emblems. no prison. no more arguing. no preschool teacher who could identify her. after no paper became green paper became white paper announced on the evening news. electronic notebooks and hands-free sets. no nothing. badges. MP3s. after the mounting of new statues where the old ones used to stand. no more 2 . no party. it was quite a risky thing she did. no neighbour. No place. after throwing out prima stoves for microwave ovens. after they had sat around round tables drafting new bills. and it was now enough. theorising and hypothesising. Out of nowhere. coming out of nowhere. complaining and moaning. and the irrational have always amused us. no person. She belonged to no people. shouting and screaming. as far as we knew anyway. after filling up leather purses with shiny gold and silver cards. after changing the neighbourhood and the neighbours. after it was all done. after rugby teams met quotas and companies had colourful CEOs. And at a time in this country when to get anywhere or anyplace one needed to be known. planning and deliberating. after BlackBerrys.
after excitement pierced the air and prospect ripped the sky. no more moaning. being charged with this and being charged with that. And who amongst us was not tired of defending them? She pointed out that after the elation. round men and women in sparkly suits who kept letting us down. accused of this and accused of that. no more deliberating. Deceit was found in the pockets of heroes. Came apart slowly. but came apart nonetheless. no more complaining. promising this and promising that. decay on the key chains of figureheads and disease tucked quietly into the bras of our legends. A time not for little round men and women in sparkly suits with quick speech and magic tricks. after the meat and the alcohol and salt and vinegar chips. no more theorising. under the 3 . no more hypothesising. no more. rot in the rucksacks of warriors. things came apart. greed in the closets of the ordinary. she said. There had been enough talk.Spilt MilK planning. in the boot. depravity in the shoes of champions. It was all so boring. no more words. It was now time to work. no more shouting. saying this and saying that. after the hysteria. so mundane. after it all. buying this and buying that. treachery in the notepads of leaders. after the heat and intensity. no more screaming. caught for this and caught for that. And even the Pale People realised that they needn’t ever use the just-in-case packed bags they kept underneath the staircase. after the scones and ginger ale and custard and canned peaches. She pointed out that it was now a different time. after the delirium and the drama.
to create change. well. no nobility left. the car they kept with extra fuel. Because as it so happened. there really were no great names. but a means to add something to the nothingness.Kopano M atlwa bed. not in the moral sense. Sekolo sa Ditlhora. “is that you are never forced to hold the mirror up to yourself.” she said. no funny dance. “The perilous thing about being the victim. because that was how she was to be addressed. A school of excellence. organise thinking and multiply results. the apartment they kept in Australia. in New Zealand. your motives. to compute debts and to add zeros to failing economies. A reminder of where we have been and where we no longer want to be. fill space. Sure there was money and plenty of money-makers. but no T-shirts. A place where Mathematics would not simply be a tool taught to tally mortality rates. war and hatred but would stand as a witness to all things overcome from all centuries gone by. in London. your intent. A place where History would not be a subject of chronicled post-independence dates of resentments.” And after uTata. extra oil. called for a school to be formed. no million-dollar smile. the Dark People became their own oppressors. extra tyres. and so you continue on with no points checked and no questions asked. And so Mohumagadi. No one ever asks you to evaluate your actions. no croaky voice. It would be a place where Geography would not simply be a means to identify sources of aid on the 4 .
a centreing. And if one walked far enough there were little streams to stand around where statues of Cleopatra. but a pursuit of the understanding of the earth itself. She said it would be a place where the begging bowl was overturned and used as a stepping stone. and poverty would be left outside the gates. A place where the elderly listened to the young and the young took the podium and led. Behind them lay space. She said it would be a school where circumstance would not divide us. thick leafy gardens. For how else could things change if not at the very beginning? And if we didn’t believe it? We could fuck off. And so Sekolo sa Ditlhora was opened. space in which to breathe. a way to find place and meaning and thus perspective. kings and queens who were left out of the history books were placed on the doors of classrooms. wide open space. 5 . A place of truth. to create. 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. and what a mighty structure it was. The gates were soaring and ebony and plated with gold. Old scrolls were recalled and the names of great emperors. Where umntu omnyama could be something great. gardens with fruit trees interrupted only by long corridors of light. Makeda and Tiye looked to the sky. and Nehanda and Nandi housed grades One A and B.Spilt MilK map of the world. to think. distinct striking gardens. There were gardens. a means to connect with our ancestors and those to come. So Shamba Reading Room and Khama Place of Study could be found on the same floor. A place of pride.
understood only by those she had worked with for years. Only a few years after the opening of the school. the Public Health and Epidemiology teacher. At least she was not Mugabe-angry. a predicament in the form of a bound report found its way onto Mohumagadi’s desk. well. 6 . everyone was thankful she was focused on making the school great. their minds were made up. It was written by Dr Tshivhase. encourage a pursuit of knowledge and instil a sense of ambition were chosen. The children were working.Kopano M atlwa The teachers were carefully selected. and even though she appeared to have to try hard to be politically correct. Everyone agreed that it was indeed a school of excellence. And even though Mohumagadi seemed like a tormented. even the white newspapers. 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. 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. at least she was not that. angry woman. agreed that it was a good thing. And as the gates were closed each morning. and everybody. it was clear to all who stood outside them that these people were done with being objects of curiosity. only those who were believed to have the ability to inspire growing minds. 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.
had no place in this school of change. Public Relations Officer and Media Liaison. so why only now does God want to involve Himself when it appears that we are winning?” No.Spilt MilK who had led an afternoon field trip to the Nkosi Johnson Inaugural Lecture. when we were cheated and beaten for all those centuries past. religion was certainly not one of them. 7 . when we were raped. panties around ankles and school trousers around knees. Whilst redoing a headcount on the return journey. Dr Mahlangu. 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’. God and His Bible. They had no reasonable explanation for their behaviour other than that they had wanted to see. where it was reported that the children of Sihle Dladla (CEO of Maatla Power House). Ntombovuyo Pooi (author of Sexual Consciousness). The whole idea of religion irked her. In response. The way she saw it. the rituals. But who to call and where to look? Of all the things Mohumagadi cared about. suggested that perhaps a little divinity might do the kids (and the school’s now sullied image) a bit of good. he had happened upon four Grade Fours at the back of the school bus with their buttocks exposed. The story found its way to the weekend’s papers. to Mohumagadi God was solely for weddings and bedtime stories and certainly not for work. the candles that would damage the classroom carpeting. which suspiciously held servitude in high esteem. “God was not there when we were chained.
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.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. convincing daughters to adopt strange attire and insisting that their families change or disappear. 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. she approved the idea proposed by Dr Mahlangu and seconded by Dr Ntsoko (member of the Board of Directors). splitting families. They made her terribly. There was much too much invested in this school. But nonetheless. All of the priests Mohumagadi had ever known were of the lighter shades with theologies tainted by European influence. too many lives that had put their hope in it. 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. taking sons severed right off their umbilical cords. It all left a bitter taste in Mohumagadi’s mouth. albeit with a little perspiration prickling her armpits. Of course. terribly uncomfortable. 8 . there was the question of race. collecting whole nations for decades.
no.” Mohumagadi announced in the executive meeting. He wasn’t visiting as such. “could be a better example for the children.m. just told to come to Sekolo sa Ditlhora. How perfect to bring in a banished white priest! None of the haughty holiness. but he wasn’t exactly sure how long he would be staying. Mohumagadi rejoiced. 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’. just a simple man brought back down to earth by his own sins. at 7. not sure if there would be a parking space for him.” He arrived on a Monday morning. no condemning bow. He had his landlord drop him off at the school. who taught Indigenous Belief Systems. Grey Lourie Gardens (close to Trucks for Africa). and not wanting to be presumptuous.30 a. “No one. no grand robe. 9 . 6 Ray Street. He had not been given a letter or a note or a number to dial. What was he there to do? The bishop had said he needed to reflect and rest. the word ‘visit’ suggested he was there to see someone specific and would shortly leave.Spilt MilK So when Mohumagadi was told in confidence by Dr Zungu. When the security guards who stood at the gates asked him the purpose of his visit. he wasn’t sure what to say.
that he had come hustling for some kind of job. “Identification please. 10 . “I am afraid I do not have any identification.” others pointed out. sir. waiting for someone who could perhaps do something and not because. who had heard him clearly and appeared insulted.” the third guard said. we are afraid you cannot come in. Mohumagadi had not noticed that the priest had entered their school hall until she heard the children and some of the teachers gasp.Kopano M atlwa “I am here to rest. 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. “He is so pale.” And that is how he ended up sitting on the curb outside the school gates.” they whispered.” “Well. sir. sir.” some murmured. “Uthini lomntu?” said the other. “To rest?” asked one. “His white skin. taking over. “How peculiar.” is what he told the security guards.
And never ever so poorly dressed. but it was hard to make it out with all the excitement in the hall. She looked at her watch. Some of the kids right at the back were standing on their chairs to see.” “The symposium on Lessons from Zimbabwe has been postponed until further notice due to the recent arrest of one of the speakers.” “Those Grade Sixes leaving for Geneva for the green week are to meet after this assembly to receive their reading packs. His face looked a little familiar.” “His hair. He was very late. so that Dr Ngwenya had to get up and seat them back down. Morning assembly was halfway through and he was only arriving. he is so pale. let alone to teach. Announcements were made.” But no one was listening. Responses are encouraged and should be sent to Dr Kgwadla. It really was quite a spectacle. It was not often that white people came into this school.” But the children could not focus.Spilt MilK Mohumagadi frowned as she watched the man trying to wiggle his way quietly onto the stage where she and the rest of the staff were sitting. or to fix. or to speak. “His skin is all pink. not to clean. “The man. 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. who will forward them to the author.
or tell him privately that he was in fact no longer needed and that there had been a terrible mistake. Even after fifteen years he could recognise that voice in a room anywhere in the world. It was William Thomas. He knew that voice. That voice. a note was passed across the stage urging her to introduce the man so that the school could carry on with their assembly. Bill Thomas. Father Bill had fallen into a dark hole in his memory. exasperated at the mumbling and finger pointing that was going on. It was her and he knew it for sure. now of course Father Bill Thomas. He had not noticed that all the children. Heard the locks and bolted doors within her fly open and old demons that she thought she’d finally put to rest. “Ri thuphiwa zwinzhi Fhedzi ri si pwashekanyiwe Ra tovholwa. could not keep their large eyes off him. And it was only then that Mohumagadi caught a clear view of his face. but he knew he wasn’t. reclaim her. they were all standing up and singing the school song. Oblivious to the consternation he was causing. try as they might. fhedzi ri si shae Moya 12 . Before he could think it through. or plan an escape of some sorts. Mohumagadi felt herself crumble immediately.Kopano M atlwa When the speaker stopped abruptly. Before she could think. He hoped he was wrong. the man looked up.
” 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.” 13 . Sekolo sa Ditlhora. Sekolo sa Ditlhora Destined for Success! “Siyabandezelwa ngeenxa zonke Singaxineki Siyathingaza. 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. singancami Sitshutshiswa asiyekeleli Sikhahlelwa phantsi Asitshatyalaliswa.Spilt MilK Ra tsimbeledzelwa fhasi. Sekolo sa Ditlhora. hone ri shi lovhe. Sekolo sa Ditlhora.
Sekolo sa Ditlhora Destined for Success! Mohumagadi hurried back to her office. but everyone was still a little anxious about the implications of having this man in their midst. She was sure they would see that she was rattled and could not afford to let her staff see her that way. She needed to think. just past ‘1994 in Pictures’ and round the giant glass trophy cabinet and she’d be in her office. Sekolo sa Ditlhora. They had had numerous meetings pending his arrival. Taharqa Lego Room. she was nearly there. behind Makeba Music Room. she needed to get to her sanctuary. Her black and red patent heels hammered their way down the corridor. Kilimanjaro Climbing Wall. quickly down the staircase they’d nicknamed Victoria Falls and around the Timbuktu History Centre. 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. 14 . Tenkamenin Model Court. Sekolo sa Ditlhora. She did not think she would be able to hold it together if she had to face any of them. She would take the most obscure route she could think of. But she couldn’t talk now.Kopano M atlwa The world awaits the coming of us Here we go with wholeheartedness Bold enough to carry the cross Destined for success.
been denied entrance. The four children. Dr Liyema. she would make sure of that. in the crowd. A whole congregation of people was waiting for her outside her office. All three security guards stood waiting too. And now this. the Music History teacher. It changed nothing. sat on the bench outside her door. hadn’t cared to know. It would not be a problem at all. 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. fifteen years was a really long time. 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. that the priest was probably sitting inside her office. was. She immediately sensed from the way they were all standing. faces animated. arms gesturing. ready to report the morning’s incident of the white man who had mocked them upon his arrival. She would simply pretend she did not know who he was and in fact she wouldn’t be faking.Spilt MilK How could she have been so careless? She should have asked the bishop for a name but she hadn’t thought to. and then proceeded to sneak into the school when their backs were turned. It was a long time ago and they were both different people now. She knew she was often quietly criticised for not involving the staff in her decision making but 15 . His lessons only began after lunch and he was at the scene of anything intriguing happening in the school. excited. as usual. Mohumagadi felt her core collapse. she told herself.
“Molweni. “Molweni. 16 .” “That is wonderful to hear. Mohumagadi.Kopano M atlwa this time she had. She had meditated on the matter for days before sending her letter of acceptance. It’s a beautiful day. Had she made an error in judgement by bringing this man in? She did not make mistakes often. She sighed. This time she had allowed them to decide jointly how best to discipline the children. she closed the door behind her. a beautiful day for teaching and learning. isn’t it?” “Yes Mohumagadi. Mohumagadi. “Ninjani namhlanje?” “Siphilile. it was one she was going to have to live with. If the whole thing was a mistake. and look what it had brought the school: absolute chaos.” they all replied together.” “Well.” she greeted them with her biggest grin. then. if there is nothing else.” Giving then no chance to reply. I will see you all at teatime.
making the mistake of over-emphasising the point. ‘Some juice or water. She asked what he would like to drink. He had been shown into the office by a Miss L. making small talk and laughing politely as they walked. The circumstances made it all very complicated.” “No. Priests were allowed to drink and it wasn’t as if he drank very much anyway. Hadn’t needed to feel embarrassed or ashamed. 17 . She had been very kind. He hadn’t needed to lie. sir? We have everything. kneading his thoughts in his hands. “What is it you would like to drink. even alcohol.” he lied. But the circumstances. No.” 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. Father?’ He had never been offered the opportunity to wet his throat with anything his mind could conjure. He wondered what the people at the school had been told about him. if that’s what you would like. The question stumped him. “No. He was used to only having two options from the tea ladies at the church: ‘Tea or coffee. She repeated the question when she saw the confusion on his face. who had been waiting for him with a clipboard and a smile at the exit of the school hall. Father?’. I never take alcohol. She told him Mohumagadi would join him shortly to brief him on the next few weeks. 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.
It was her. and he soon forgot all about the foul tea. very professional. tea is tea. He appreciated that. but 18 . sir?” She really was very sweet. chuckling for the first time since his arrival. His thoughts drifted off as he tried to work out what he would do or say if it really was her.Kopano M atlwa “What kind of tea will that be.” she said. “Any tea. slamming the door behind her. right?” he said. Perhaps with a bit of sugar in it he could try to swallow some. but it was pink with straws of cinnamon and soggy chunks floating in it and made him want to gag. “Sure. especially because he had asked for it. He had tried to drink it. He had really hoped it wouldn’t be. almost. When Mohumagadi came in. Father Bill. But all tea was certainly not tea. he really did not want to be impolite.” were her first words to him. as she placed the cup down on the wild cherrywood coffee table with a plate of equally peculiar green biscuits alongside it. But there was no sugar on the table. ma’am. smiling that smile again. he had still not touched it. It still sat there on the table with its bits of what tasted like ginger floating to the surface. Tea is tea. not wanting to be rude. but not quite. “Mohumagadi never starts a day without a cup.” Miss L had said jovially. The tea tasted like the stuff his doctor had made him drink the night before he went for his bowel scope. “I gather you do not like our tea.
looking for a pen. just carried on. pulling out notebooks.” Perhaps he was wrong.m.” 19 . “You are not expected to teach them anything as such. which they will have to hand in at the end of the six weeks. every day. She didn’t wait for a response. 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. But there was no sense that she knew who he was. Father Bill. switching on her laptop. personal restraint. so I will ask one of the pupils to give you a little tour. in fact we would prefer it if you didn’t. opening up her briefcase. She looked at him briefly whilst rummaging through her desk. and then use what they have learnt to work on a series of exercises. et cetera et cetera. appropriate conduct in public places. “As per discussions with the bishop.Spilt MilK it was. you will host the afternoon detention class from 3 to 5 p. “I understand you will be with us for the next six weeks. he was almost certain. I would love to take you around myself but am unfortunately quite tied up this morning with a series of meetings.” It was her. During this period the children will be required to read a variety of texts by different authors on selfdiscipline.” Was that a question? He wasn’t sure.
Welcome to Sekolo sa Ditlhora. and go to great pains to ensure that they know exactly what is expected of them. “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. It was her. but hers. older. but there was no recognition. Father Bill. harder. “Thank you very much for having me here at your school. I do understand. I am sure there will be much you will be able to take with you from your stay. I’m sure you know the circumstances under which I was sent here and—” but she did not let him finish. looked at him.Kopano M atlwa Did she not remember him? Had he changed that much? Her voice was exactly the same. This is a great place. Um. “So I hope you do. Father Bill? Understand what is expected of you?” “Yes ma’am. and asking if she would let her know when she should allow them in. we are delighted to have you.” No.” he continued. the sweet Miss L who made the vile tea.” She stopped.” She looked relieved when the phone interrupted her. thank you. right into his eyes. thank you. “Send the first one in now please. she did not remember him.” 20 . “I feel very privileged. reminding Mohumagadi that the four pupils she had requested to see were still waiting for her outside her office. Perhaps he would remind her. Sisi. It was the secretary. “Yes.
Spilt MilK Mohumagadi realised she had overreacted. in the first place. his cracked lips. back in her world. carefully writing down everything he told her. she felt no anger towards him. ‘Ten years old and sexually conscious’ is how Ndudumo liked to describe herself. and perhaps she was wrong. She walked into 21 . Surprisingly. The man did not remember her. lost in it. the crustiness at the creases of his eyes. She stole some moments between words to observe him. Just complete and utter indifference. A confident knock on the door wrenched her from her thoughts and reminded her why the priest was in her office. The way he grasped his pen. Everything he represented bored her. daughter of Ntombovuyo Pooi. She needed to focus on what up to this point she had done so well: run the school. the freckles on his nose. his skin. no hatred. what the school would not tolerate. “Come inside please. She had completely overreacted. He bored her. This man was a joke. in her school. perhaps it wasn’t even him. swallowed whole. Why do white people not moisturise? He was like a child. She watched him as he sat across from her. fingers wrapped awkwardly around it. not even irritation. so clumsy.” It was Ndudumo Mazibuko. A small boy in a big man’s body. what was expected of him. a yellow blister at the corner of his mouth.
the gold string of the black school tunic hanging loosely around her buttocks. “Molo. “Molweni. We are so delighted. greeting them both whilst carefully seating herself on the chair across from Mohumagadi’s. “I understand your mother is overseas. “Are you well today?” “Very well thanks.” In the early years Mohumagadi would have told her to leave her office and return only when she looked appropriate. Mohumagadi. a thick layer of gloss smeared onto her lips. but she had learnt over time that some battles were not worth the fight.” the young girl said.Kopano M atlwa the office.” she replied quickly. national pride. Mohumagadi. 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. Children always found a way around every rule and she could not keep making new ones. Molweni. her head held up high. Ndudumo.” Ndudumo turned round in her chair and looked over 22 . Tata. the response it has received has been overwhelming for us all.” “Yes. There was too much else to be concerned about: economic independence. Mohumagadi bit her lip and just smiled. social integrity. Take a seat. clear nail polish shimmering off her fingertips. Mama has been very busy since the launch of her book.
She should probably have asked him to leave her office before the girl came in.” Mohumagadi watched the girl’s face fall and smiled silently to herself. Ntombovuyo Pooi. my mother. a sexual awakening of sorts.” “Yes. timely book that has really just liberated so many of our African sisters. “You might have heard of my mother – Ntombovuyo Pooi? We have different surnames because she chooses to write using her maiden name. She directed the next bit to him. feeling her patience wane. She would have to continue with him sitting clumsily in the corner jotting down every spoken word like a court stenographer. wrote a book on the sexual emancipation of black women. a wonderful. let us address the matter at hand.” Mohumagadi said. thanks for that. Ndudumo. She added that if we experienced any resistance from you we should contact her without delay and she would ensure your full cooperation. Anyway. 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. she believes that is where she begun and thus that is where her writing should begin. She could not help but shake her head as she watched the man scribbling away in his chair. “Ndudumo.Spilt MilK at Father Bill who was holding a small piece of paper and pen in his hand. but it was too late now. She had been head of the school 23 . But perhaps before we get a little derailed.
Mohumagadi had been careful to report the incident to the child’s mother before the girl could tell her herself. especially the moneyed ones. they could weasel themselves out of any situation.Kopano M atlwa long enough to know all the little tricks children like Ndudumo tried to pull. who was very particular about her public image. Ndudumo?” Mohumagadi asked her. that’s why they were here. but she was smarter and had much to teach them. So Mohumagadi picked up the letter and began to read. making sure to emphasise that the story had gained some media interest which she knew would be very upsetting to Ms Pooi. “I beg your pardon?” Mohumagadi was taken aback. “I don’t believe that my mother would ever agree to me being punished for exploring my anatomy. The girl did not respond. her eyes avoiding Mohumagadi’s.” Ndudumo continued her protest. all the kids in her school were. They were smart kids.” “Would you like me to read the letter from your mother to you. just sat there in her chair saying nothing. They liked to use their mother and father’s influence to throw their weight around. “You’re lying!” Ndudumo exclaimed. beginning to fume. by manipulating their high-flying parents’ guilt about their physical or emotional absence. “Dear Mohumagadi 24 . her arms folded across her chest. They thought that. “I don’t believe that.
Your commitment to these children is greatly appreciated. did not move. Ntombovuyo Pooi” Mohumagadi handed the girl’s own letter from her mother to her. Yours truly. I have attached a letter for her. “Well then. Please do whatever you think is best to keep Ndudumo in tow. Mohumagadi. I will stop by the school as soon as I land back in the country. She worries me that girl. ‘Dear sweetheart I’ve heard some distressing news that you have found yourself in a bit of a pickle. but she made no attempt to take it and still sat there with her arms folded. 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. sweetheart. Ndudumo did not say a word. I shall read it to you myself.Spilt MilK I apologise deeply for my daughter’s behaviour. Please. and I do not know what any of us would do without you. “Would you like to read it?” Mohumagadi asked her coolly. mom is having a strenuous time here with all the work and the 25 . I do not know what it is that inspired her to behave so appallingly. and would be grateful if you would pass it on to her.
Will call you when I have a moment.’ I do not lie.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. sweet pea. I have given her all she needs for groceries so don’t let her convince you otherwise. This is what Mom has been waiting for for so long baby. I believe that the incident involved some sort of sexual indiscretion. kiss. Are we clear?” There was silence. Ndudumo?” “Yes. Miss you. so I know you will understand. I really do not have the time to be pestered by the school. Please sweetheart. 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. You are 26 .” she muttered. “Are we clear. Kiss. and I will not tolerate such obstinacy in my school. “Your detention sessions with Father Bill will begin tomorrow afternoon from 3 to 5 p. try to have more self-control.m. Don’t let Auntie trouble you for money. Mohumagadi. 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. This kind of stuff all comes back to me and does nothing for the public image I am trying to maintain. Ndudumo.
had been a strain since their arrival. was ridiculous.Spilt MilK expected to be there on time and to fully cooperate with Father Bill. Mohumagadi had been tolerant initially. But these were the times 27 .” Mohumagadi put the letter down and looked at the girl. That is all. 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. She had not intended to humiliate the child. Her straight little back was now slumped over. her eyes downcast. Both her and her flamboyant mother. Ndudumo. 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’. in fact. Ndudumo had only joined the school at the start of the current academic year. in much the same way as her mother describes at length in the second chapter of her book. The whole book. when her mother had sealed her publishing deal and moved to the neighbourhood. or any child for that matter. If you could return to your lessons please. a former graveyard disc jockey for a local community radio station. but Ndudumo had pushed her too far this time. to speak in a disrespectful manner. These sessions will continue for the next six weeks and you are required to attend each and every one of them. But this understanding did not extend to Mohumagadi allowing her. 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. The whole thing was absolutely ridiculous.
That is all. I suggest you leave my office right now before you irritate me any further.” But Ndudumo continued to sit there. a little chubby round boy. Ndudumo?” “I just wanted to ask if that was it.” “Are you sure there is no other part to it?” “Ndudumo. Ndudumo. Mohumagadi thought to herself. Father Bill had seen the young girl’s heart fall to the bottom of her shoes when that letter came out. “In where. The next pupil walked in. “Why are you still here. Mohumagadi.” “Yes. motionless. when everybody had something to say. the strut she had come in with noticeably missing. had seen her little body fill with sadness when 28 . if that was all that was in there?” she whispered. Mohumagadi was losing her patience.Kopano M atlwa they were in. “You can return to your lessons now. in this country.” The girl got up from her chair reluctantly and walked towards the door and out of it. Ndudumo?” “In the letter.
But it was too late. He decided he would summon up a little bit of courage once he was sure of what exactly was going on. emotion too big to pretend away glistened in her eyes.” the boy responded as he plonked himself down onto the same chair Ndudumo had previously perched gracefully on. Father Bill was startled when the chubby round boy came right up to him.” Father Bill caught Mohumagadi frowning from behind her desk. wrapped his arms around him and gave him a tight squeeze. “Zulwini. It was a typical case of miscommunication. Mohumagadi had misunderstood. Father.Spilt MilK Mohumagadi read that her mother would not be returning home for her birthday. He had tried to catch her eye as she left the room to offer an encouraging smile or sympathetic shrug. Perhaps 29 . and Father Bill immediately felt afraid and wished the little boy hadn’t done what he did. but she had avoided his gaze. and would ask Mohumagadi for the letter and give it to the girl. eyebrows raised to try and hide how she felt. had watched her cross her fingers under her lap when she asked Mohumagadi if there was perhaps more to the letter. The girl was not being bad mannered. Mohumagadi. “Forgive me.” she snapped. “A man of God. I am honoured to meet you. she was simply disappointed that her mother was not returning home any time soon. He suspected she would be happy to have it. take a seat please. he thought. “I am just ecstatic to have this man of God in our midst. Lost in thought.
whose spectacles made his eyes so wide behind them that you couldn’t look anywhere without feeling watched. very uncomfortable. her voice taut. Zulwini. “Alone?” Father Bill asked. Perhaps it wasn’t such a bad thing after all. 30 .” the boy murmured. He was not sure how he was supposed to respond. Father Bill felt a little embarrassed by this sudden attention. Mohumagadi. “Well I’m the only active one. Father Bill. “The only Christian. Father Bill opened his mouth to add something to the conversation but nothing came out. please. This boy. It has been hard here alone. made him very.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. putting his knees on the chair so he could turn around and face the priest properly. a little puzzled. revealing a pair of deep dimples.” the boy responded matter-of-factly. Mohumagadi.” he said laughing. “I am glad you have come to join us. or if he was supposed to respond at all. And sit back down properly. especially with Mohumagadi frowning the way she was. “You are not the only Christian. whose face looked like it had been smeared in Vaseline.” the boy said.” Mohumagadi said.
I have some ideas I have been playing around with in my head for some time now. well anything is possible. The deed had to happen for you to come Father. and I’m sure you have some dynamic programmes of your own. bobbing up and down boisterously in the chair. A struggle I happily took on for God.” he said. but could never really put into action because of the solitary path I was on. Zulwini. I have been trying to instil some spirituality here. Father.” the boy continued. but I just wanted you to know from the outset. “Imagine a Christian Café during break times where praise and worship would be what we fill our stomachs with. “I know I’m being a little forward and talking all over the place. alone. But now that there are two of us. before you got busy doing God’s work in this place. “In fact. that I am behind you all the way. “Sorry. We could call it ‘Feeding the Spiritual Hunger’. and it has been a struggle.” This sent him into peals of laughter.” is all Father Bill could think to 31 .Spilt MilK “Forgive me for being so bold. “but I do believe you were sent at the right time to this school.” “Thank you. A comrade in the war against sin and the devil.” Father Bill was stunned. I am no longer ashamed because I understand the why of it.” The boy was back on his knees. but a struggle all the same. trying to catch his breath between the chuckles. Well at least at the right time in my life. At last God has sent me a spiritual mentor. now seated back on his buttocks and having to peer at Father Bill from over his shoulder.
he’d meant history history. but to give you the details of your punishment.” Mohumagadi broke in. When she saw him looking at her she looked away.” “Ah. smiled a great big hearty smile and gave him a thumbs up. “I sadly do not have any grand plans as yet but if I were to think of a good place to start. Father Bill felt a little unsettled by the boy’s explosiveness and looked at Mohumagadi for some sense of what to do. Excellent!” And at that Zulwini clapped his hands. making no attempt to hide her agitation. awkwardly twisted in the chair at Mohumagadi’s desk. feeling very overwhelmed. but this child … “I think that is quite enough. staring at him. Zulwini. Am I understood?” “Yes. church history. I would say History.” The boy looked over at him.m. Anything outside of that you must arrange in your own time and not in the time allocated to the detention sessions. Your sessions with Father Bill will begin tomorrow afternoon from 3 to 5 p. Whether you feel ashamed or not. 32 . That was not what Father Bill had meant.Kopano M atlwa reply. “I have not called you in to hear about your evangelical plans. The boy continued to smile expectantly. Mohumagadi. you and the others will be punished nonetheless. or think this was God-sent or not. It was clear that he wanted him to say more. and I would appreciate it if you would allow Father Bill to do the work he has been brought here to do.
It’s just such an annoyance in the mean time though. The whole thing was clearly a big mistake. as in the case of Zulwini. On land. your perplexity. Watching Zulwini almost begin to fit with excitement at the presence of Father Bill. the R550 you spent at the hair salon a waste because your hair got all messed up. not this fallen priest who wanted to fill the children’s minds with church history. It was like the contempt Jo’burgers had for the sea. the sand. We encourage them to be passionate about whatever it is that excites them but sometimes it is to our own detriment. with the waves. messy. dunk your head? Worse was masking your confusion. sure.Spilt MilK “Zulwini.” 33 . but in those deep. unruly waters what chance did you stand? “Forgive our children. the dirt. you had it in check. 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. Mohumagadi wondered if it was too late to get rid of the man. She could not remember the last time she felt so out of control. She should have asked for the help of an ordinary psychologist. She could not shake the feeling he gave her.” He jumped out of his chair. Father Bill. went over to Father Bill. jump. And what to do once you got into the water? Stand. spread his arms around him again and then ran out the door.
It is well in my soul and everything is just all right. 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.Kopano M atlwa There were two more children to be seen. Miss L. The girl had said many times that she was only at the school because her mother wanted her to be there and that she would leave the country the first chance she could get. It is well in my soul.” she said into the phone. She felt acutely sad that he was a part of all of this. As for Mlilo. She wanted to be done with it. And the day had only just begun! 34 . Mlilo walking in step behind her. more so than she felt for any of the other children. please. Mlilo just pained her. and that that wasn’t the same. She wanted him gone. just one favourite. his hair stuck to his face with perspiration. With him. “Send the last two in together.” It was Zulwini. She knew she shouldn’t have favourites and she kept telling herself she didn’t have favourites. breathing loudly. She did not know what to do with Moya. Moya hiding behind her height as usual. Outside the door she could hear some singing: “It is well in my soul. She looked at him again. sitting there. The children walked in. filling up her office with a strange smell.
Were you not at the assembly this morning?” Mohumagadi snapped. “Him?” Mlilo shouted. 35 . 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. and wondered what he was up to. You will attend these sessions every day from 3 to 5 p. but the reputation of this school has been called into question. starting tomorrow afternoon. Any questions?” “Excuse me. to date. The school has brought in an external person to oversee the very structured detention programme that has been drawn up for you. But your actions have brought us all to this point. Mohumagadi. 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. exempted us from getting too involved in such banal activities as the drawing up of detention programmes.Spilt MilK “I have called you in here to tell you both that I have spoken to your parents. The calibre of pupil whom we accept has. “Father Bill here. for the next six weeks. while the girl in the chair next to him sat staring into her hands. Not only have you disgraced yourselves and disappointed your parents. Mlilo. but who has been brought in for the detention sessions? Who will be taking them?” Mlilo asked quietly. ‘Punish’ is not a word we like to use here at Sekolo sa Ditlhora.m. She knew the boy knew. It has never been something we have had to do.
How could they have justified that? The more she thought it through the angrier she got at having to think it through. Mohumagadi looked sternly at Mlilo. she needed to get out of the room.” Mohumagadi felt her stomach knot as she said it. my boy. The priest jumped too. knocking the teacup off the table and all its contents onto the carpeted floor. It infuriated her that for a moment he had made her feel defensive. including Mohumagadi. warning him with her eyes that he had better behave himself. She was enraged by Mlilo’s impertinence. 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. “Mohumagadi. needing to explain that it wasn’t her but the other teachers who had suggested that the school bring in a priest. A decision had been made and everyone was 36 . You will be out before first break. thanks. but no thanks. we were really only looking for black priests. How dare he question her authority? Her bladder suddenly felt full. She picked up the phone and pressed 1. I accept that what we did was wrong. 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. How could they have said to the bishop.Kopano M atlwa Everyone in the room was startled. and that it wasn’t them but the bishop who had sent them a white one. just carry on the way you are doing. a hard-headed child. But Mlilo was a child.
why he’d done what he did that day. green eyes. He’d knocked the teacup off the table earlier because he had been jolted out of his thoughts by the boy’s shouting. Why he’d stayed on after the service to help Sibongile wash the teacups. how he had managed to get himself sent away.Spilt MilK going to have to respect it. Why had he done it when he didn’t need to. why he’d pulled down her pantyhose that smelt like Zambuck. you may both leave and return to your lessons. Mohumagadi. “Unless you have any other questions. why he’d lifted up her seshoeshoe skirt. but they were terrifying too. They were beautiful eyes. Father Bill saw the boy glare at him with absolute contempt as he left the room.” they said in unison. Do we understand each other?” “Yes. when he wouldn’t have missed it if it hadn’t happened. He had never seen eyes so green in anyone so dark. He’d been thinking about how he came to be here. again. and he looked away. when it was completely meaningless? He’d been thinking why he did anything he did when he’d knocked the teacup 37 . I expect you both to cooperate fully with Father Bill and I do not want to hear about any trouble making. She would not allow a tenyear-old to unnerve her in her own office. why they’d not thought that someone might hear the teacups falling from the sandwich table.
seen the mess on the floor.Kopano M atlwa off the table and tea and green particles spilt onto Mohumagadi’s carpet. 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. Poor Sibongile. No. He’d messed up too many lives as it was. they’d never even spoken before that morning. They had probably dismissed her. Miss L had come in halfway through it all. 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. gently. looked at him. returning minutes later with a lady carrying a bucket and a sponge. 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 had not even said goodbye. 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 had never heard a ten-year-old speak in that manner. Nor was he sure of how many second chances he had left. The boy 38 . but dismissed her all the same. “Sibongile. other than a few general greetings in passing. what are you doing?” He did not know what had happened to her. smiled an empathic smile and then left the room. he had packed his bags and left before they could even speak. he couldn’t do that. “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.
m. You are welcome to wait in the lounge until then.30.30. I have to hurry off.” He glanced up at the wall clock but could not make sense of it. He would commit. Mohumagadi did not remember him and that is how it would remain. 11.30 for your tour. every day and I expect you to join us for the procession each morning. He had six weeks here and he would spend them staying out of everybody’s way.Spilt MilK was right. “We start promptly at 8 a. he could add no value to this school but he would make certain he would do it no harm. Father Bill?” Mohumagadi asked.30. When he went back he would be different. He panicked. getting up and hurriedly placing the items on her table into her bag. “I’m quite sure you are as worn out as I am. I will arrange for one of the pupils to meet you outside by the Plaatjie Fountain at 11. He looked down at his wrist and realised he had forgotten to put on his digital watch. so you are free to leave as soon as you have had your tour. we’ve had ourselves an eventful morning haven’t we. 11. Why couldn’t he remember which way that one looked? 39 . but either way he’d live right. or maybe he wouldn’t. It’s just around the corner. you can’t miss it. Maybe he’d find someone. 11. “Well. and it will also give you an opportunity to meet with the other teachers.” 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. the arms were everywhere.
Kopano M atlwa “When the long arm is on the 6 and the short arm is between the 11 and the 12. fifteen years and she remembered. She remembered him! Nobody else in the world knew he couldn’t tell the time but her. 40 . and she remembered. Did she remember him? She must if she remembered that. He was blushing.” she said as she walked out the room. boiling. His face turned hot. burnt. blistering. He couldn’t remember the last time he had felt that happy.
Reflect like they make schoolchildren do. I am exhausted. just sorry for them because it is not a lack of reflection that is the problem. I was strongly advised to write in it daily. I am not offended by the suggestion.12 March Dear God The bishop has given me this journal to help me reflect. so why am I so tired? I have just eaten. How was Yours? Bill . so why do I feel so empty? Should I eat again? Am I still hungry? Was I even hungry before? My day. But I will reflect nevertheless. I will reflect to you if you don’t mind. It is strange writing to no one. Lord? My day was as tricky as closing an ironing board. I went to bed really early last night and slept well.
Her head felt stuffy and her eyes swollen. have some lunch and sit at her desk to work out how best to deal with the man.ohumagadi woke up and stared at the shadows on her wall. she was too hot for tea. heat up her supper.m. chapters and chapters of conflicting thoughts churning in her mind. she was tired. When she got home she was not hungry. watch the evening news. She sighed. But there had been an accident on the road and she’d sat for an hour longer in the midday traffic. She’d fallen asleep with what felt like a whole thesis in her head. check her diary and prepare for the following day. read the paper. read her emails. Watched them as they watched her. heavy. That was the plan. hoping it was not yet time to wake up. her usual routine. She did not believe in using analgesics and had gone to bed with the headache she now felt returning. She’d left school early the previous afternoon hoping to come back home. she’d left her laptop at the school in her hurry to leave and her diary 42 M . She found the phone. it was 4. She groped around the table next to her bed for her phone. Then make some tea. Twenty-five minutes until she needed to wake up. she’d forgotten to stop and get the paper.35 a.
why. climbed into bed and inhaled the smell of warm Low Fat. and even if she did. helped her sleep.Spilt MilK was in her car boot and she did not care to go back out and get it. surely should have been medicine enough to open her eyes to the regrettable character he was. The children might be fascinated by him for a while.m. “Just get up and go. So she heated a mug of milk. Even managed to put together a Sloui Martin skirt. irrelevant man who belonged in another time when things were very different from the way they were now. she was sure they would move on.” she told herself. but as soon as they realised there was very little of worth they could learn from the man. The priest was a pathetic. sitting there in her office taking up space. pearl necklace and Alfindo ruby earrings. just hot. reminded her of waking up at 4 a. She needed to get up and pull herself together. So why. sheer pantyhose. why was she so edgy? She got up and went just fine. Parana skirt. placed it on her chestnut bedside table. He was certainly not a threat. just get up and go. Hot and humid lying there in her Vicky and Vincent blazer. It was not such a big deal. What was it that made her feel so uneasy? She couldn’t possibly still have feelings for him. when bo Mama would boil them some milk in a pot for their breakfast before they went to school. poured it into a bowl. don’t think. Baleri scarf and white 43 . But that evening it did not make her any calmer. staring at the shadows on her wall. But today was a new day. seeing him the day before. as children always are with something new and strange. It usually soothed her.
Miss L had always said it was unnecessary for her to do it herself. There was no traffic and she arrived at the school at 7 a. But reading the paper every evening with the children in mind was a simple pleasure Mohumagadi treasured. Now she could watch them with a sympathetic smile because she believed the school held the secret. when what was thought to be certain no longer was. and there was nothing. She cut articles out of the paper every day. She had not even remembered to buy a paper to find the articles in. Miss L.m. when so much had changed. She knew it would take time but nothing 44 . She had not remembered to cut articles out of the paper for the children to read. on the dot. as she always did. and she had the notion to switch the engine on again and duck home. threatening to flatten her. every day there was an article for the children to read on the noticeboard. But she was confident that these kids would be the difference. particularly in the past year when so much had happened in the country. a wild fruit breakfast bar and homemade orange juice. All the heftiness she had felt the day before came plummeting back. Her whole existence revolved around the school and the children in it.Kopano M atlwa shirt that surprised her in their combined beauty. could easily arrange to have a daily article emailed to the children. She had a good breakfast: bran bayou bricks with plain yoghurt. that it was menial work and that she. 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. She was no longer even aggravated by the headlines that used to make her switch off the TV.
He tried to push it open gently. People found it hard to say no to one ordained. Women found it hard to say no to one ordained. And so there had never really been time to think of her own life. That is why she could not bear it. Perhaps it was the bishop’s idea: ‘An idle mind is the devil’s playground’ was his favourite saying. for these things that she was a part of were much bigger than herself. He arrived late. but he knew his collar would make it easier. patiently developing a group of young people who would make the change.m. He put his ear to one but could not tell if there were people inside or not. They would build the roof. She was patient.Spilt MilK good was ever made quickly. Why he had to arrive at 8 a.? Was she serious? He had to try and borrow a car. He did not like having to resort to it. 8 a. It was heavy and made a loud 45 . The children were only scheduled to come to him in the afternoon. Idle? He laughed to himself at the thought.m. from his landlord maybe. 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.m. He hurried to the hall and found the doors forebodingly closed. or from someone else. How he wished his mind could be idle! By the time he entered the school gates it was 8. every morning he did not know.30 a.
Even the corridors 46 . He’d tried to start some conversations with a few of the teachers after assembly. He could not remember where exactly in the vast school his classroom was. He scurried down the aisle to the stage. They slowly began to stink. experiments that needed to be set up. “Dear Lord. He was the only one alone with nothing to do. no one else had a sheet of words in their hands. mumbling apologies for his tardiness to everyone as he scuttled past. His palms were wet and he could feel his vest sticking to his armpits. Like the few interactions he had had thus far. his tour the day before had been brief. On the chair was a printed sheet with the words of the school song on it. 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. He wished he had not arrived late. One of the teachers pointed to an empty chair on the stage where he could sit. please get me through this day. Perhaps if he had come earlier. The teachers were all on the stage. Presentations. cross-continent video conferences between pupils that were beginning imminently. Mohumagadi seated before a petite podium. so there were one or two corners he was happy to see again.” he prayed silently. They were all in a hurry.Kopano M atlwa screeching sound at the smallest nudge. Mohumagadi gave a very loud sigh and continued with her speech. He looked around. He was sure his face was as red as the fury he thought he had seen in Mohumagadi’s eyes. He tried to do it as quietly as possible but his footsteps were deafening hooves galloping in his head.
At the back was a room for coats and bags and to the side of it a table with mugs. Who were these children 47 . connected by stone pathways which were lined with large east African painted pots that birds would periodically perch on. ‘Expensive’ followed. others not. it would be his companion during his stay. some areas roofed. The walls were lined with compact discs. He ran his thumb over the journal’s pages. an electronic pointer instead of chalk. The classroom was very different to those he had grown up in – a projector screen in place of a blackboard. running his hands over the fabric of each chair. the walls round with tiny spotlights set in the ceiling like stars.Spilt MilK were beautiful. They had said the school provided lunch for all staff and pupils. 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. so he hadn’t worried about that. There were a lot of windows and a lot of sunlight. He zigzagged between the chairs. He had brought nothing with him other than a pen and the journal he had in his hands. That would have looked right. He eventually found his way to the classroom. It was empty. The chairs and tables were not in rows but arranged in a semicircle and seated only ten. tea and coffee. glad he had decided to bring it along. feeling the wood of the tables. The ports for Internet connection at each table put to shame the dedicated ruler and pen grooves on his former school desks. the suede cover of which was now damp from his sweaty palms. ‘Plush’ was the word that came to mind. but perhaps he should have brought a Bible.
She had been obsessing over that hour the entire day. Three o’clock had taken forever to come and now that it was here Mohumagadi wished it wasn’t. He did not know for certain that many others sat learning under a tree. when many other children in the country were sitting learning the alphabet under a tree? He disregarded the thought as soon as it entered his mind. This was a good place and who was he to criticise what he had little understanding of? He decided that from then on it would be better to restrict his thoughts to only the few that were necessary to get him through the next six weeks. It was embarrassing really. The school was doing some outreach. he wondered. She had had a breakfast meeting with the Ministry of Education that had gone terribly because she could not keep her mind off the man in her school and three o’clock. it was just something commonly heard. 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.Kopano M atlwa who attended this school. 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. of Injecting 48 . 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. Anecdotal.
She would dismiss him immediately if she did. Would it be appropriate to go to his classroom and see how the session was going? It was.m. or had started and saved in drafts. She hoped nobody had noticed.30 until now? She hated the fact that he had her so preoccupied. after all. Her inbox was full of emails she had not read. but then again they were appointed by the Board. Playing in the fields like a child. But he was nowhere to be seen. his first day and he was new. 49 . who had updated her on the Winter Warmer Children’s Opera that would take place at the Khamisa next term. It was not the same. Mohumagadi sighed. She never did it with her other staff members though. Surely he could not have sat in that classroom from 8. And now that three o’clock was here she was not sure what to do. had extensive and reputable track records and attended a series of interviews before they set foot in the school. She had so much work to do but could not focus. had opened and marked to read later. not even when she stuck her head into the lounge on her way back from lunch with uMhlekazi Tshwete. 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. He was not the same.02 p. Perhaps he would need some guidance. She looked at the clock: 3.Spilt MilK Innovation. she looked around the gardens half expecting to see the man wandering around. 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).
He jumped up from his chair and looked at his watch: 3.” they said in unison.” He felt a little embarrassed about having fallen asleep and said so. I mean. “I’m Father Bill. hi. “Okay. now that we’ve got our first impressions out of the way. “Hi. laughing nervously as he approached them to shake hands.02. so who would like to start?” Nothing. “Well. I briefly met each of you in Tshokolo’s. He’d been out for nearly two hours and had completely missed lunch. Not a sound or a whisper from any of them. Mohumagadi’s office yesterday morning. He wondered if they had noticed his slip up with her name. “How are you guys? Nice to meet you all. He would have to get used to calling her Mohumagadi. getting out from behind the desk to where they were standing. Father Bill. but I thought perhaps it might be nice if we introduced ourselves again. “Molweni.” he said.Kopano M atlwa He’d been asleep at his desk when the children walked in. 50 . chuckling and feeling his face for sleep lines.” he said quickly. 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.” They were silent.
“Please do sit. and in came the round one.” said the boy. That’s when I noticed that there was not a single Bible in this classroom. carrying a heap of Bibles in his arms.Spilt MilK “How about you?” he said. trying to lighten the mood. but you were asleep and I didn’t want to wake you. the one he remembered hadn’t been happy he was there. the one with the gripping green eyes. “May we sit down now. The door swung open. So I went to the Mphahlele Library to take a couple out for us to work with for now. is that it?” he asked warmly. pointing to the girl who stood closest to him. Father Bill laughed awkwardly and pretended not to notice the animosity in the boy’s voice. please?” was her response. the one with a pair of dimples and a pair of spectacles. so sorry I’m late Father Bill. I couldn’t believe the school could be so negligent as to not provide our priest with some Bibles he could teach from. “I’m so. You stand until the teacher tells you to sit.” “It is for respect. right!” he said going red in the face again. We can always 51 . Why the teacher could decide when she sat and we couldn’t. I forget classroom protocol. I was actually here before three o’clock to see if you needed any help preparing for this afternoon. “It’s been a very long time since I was a schoolboy myself and I’ll admit I never did get those funny rules. “Oh right. They never made any sense to me.
I’ll go first. “Pleased to meet you. “I’m Zulwini Dladla.” Father Bill could not believe this child. names please. and silently chided himself for the oversight. “Yes. so shall we try that again then? Names.” Father Bill wanted to remind him that this was detention. “Should we open up in prayer?” “No.” Father Bill said. not Bible study class. but in the meantime I tried to get as many different versions as the library had.” he said. 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. there was no need for hundreds of different Bibles. son.” the boy continued. let’s just start with names. feeling a little overwhelmed by his eagerness. and that even if it was. Instead he thanked the boy and asked him to take a seat. without any prompting. “Okay. “And who are you.” He turned to the girl he had asked in the first place. names. Zulwini. son. But he didn’t. 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. madam?” 52 .Kopano M atlwa get some more at a later stage.” he said with a smile. a little giddily.
I prefer being called by my full name.” Father Bill was only trying to be friendly. not sure what to do next. especially Father Bill. sir? What is your name?” “Mlilo Graham. “And finally you. 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. thank you. what is your name?” “Moya Mntambo. exam pads and 53 .” the boy who was not trying to hide his hatred for Father Bill immediately said. But they seemed to know exactly. Everyone in the room was surprised. Can you manage that?” he responded sarcastically. pleased to meet you all.” she said. ma’am. “And you. “No. as they pulled out electronic notebooks.” he said ignoring the boy’s animosity. before saying to Father Bill. rolling the names out slowly.Spilt MilK “Ndudumo Mazibuko.” the girl said quietly. “Pleased to meet you. Moya. daughter of Ntombovuyo Pooi. “Pleased to meet you. Can I call you ‘D’?” “No. looking at her feet. Father Bill took a deep breath. pencil cases. Ndudumo turned to the boy and half smiled with a question mark on her face. M–L–I–L–O Graham. “Pleased to meet you.” He walked back behind his desk. Mlilo.
Women had always loved that about him. the one who made him very uncomfortable.Kopano M atlwa began to work. they did not mouth 54 . He was a little thrown. he thought. especially if the teacher taking the detention class was somewhat fickle. That is good. Zulwini saw Father Bill looking at him and smiled and gave him a thumbs up. Ndudumo was the one who always spoke about her apparently famous mother. Childlike chaos but chaos all the same. but it was not that. and definitely not what he had in front of him. and immediately felt silly for doing it. He was good with names. the reeling cheerfulness. the humming. What was he supposed to do now? He looked at each of them and practised their names in his head. He looked at his journal on his desk. Mlilo was the one who did not like him. He remembered detention in his school days. the stack of Bibles on the table and the children before him working very seriously. who could forget him? He was the one with the Bibles. So they have their own materials to keep them busy. They would climb on the tables. they obviously have some work to keep them busy. Moya was the one who did not say much. that was clear. Father Bill gave him a thumbs up back. find pieces of gum from under the tables and chew on them. He slumped into his chair. put their heads out the windows. They were told to sit around silently for about an hour but it never worked out that way. he thought. the pen. he always had been. pea shoot. They passed no notes to each other. Only needed to be told a name once and he’d never forget it. and Zulwini. it was chaos. Okay. the two girls did not giggle. He did not know what he had expected.
He looked at his watch. Only thirty minutes had passed. They all looked up at him. He thought perhaps he should get up and fetch a Bible to read. He felt a little disappointed. He’d sat and waited the whole day. He smiled apologetically. foolish for having hoped for more. He felt disappointed and angry and then foolish. only to find himself sitting and waiting again. except it was the worst detention he’d ever experienced because as the teacher he could do nothing but be quiet. That meant another hour and a half to go. How sad his life was. Six weeks of presiding. and presiding was exactly what he was doing. he thought to himself.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. and then thought against it. Zulwini gave him another thumbs up. angry at himself for expecting anything else. that the highlight of his day was looking forward to sitting around with some kids he didn’t know. like he was the one who had been sent to detention. He gave him one back and hoped they would not continue in that fashion for the next six weeks. He 55 . 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 would he survive that? He felt like he was the one who was being punished. half of whom hated him anyway. He sighed loudly. 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. Perhaps he was sent here as punishment.
laptop and stationery to his backpack. Father Bill was pulled out of his daydreaming by the unzipping of a bag. He sighed again. guys?” Father Bill suddenly asked heartily. The boy was not going to smile back.Kopano M atlwa had never thought about it that way. then looked away. always forgot. He did not want to disrupt the children again. The other three were still busy. They were never condemning. hoping to relax the taughtness in the air a little. Mlilo continued to scrutinise him mercilessly. 4. Perhaps they were fed up. but quickly clasped his hands over his mouth and caught his breath as soon as he realised it. Perhaps the bishop was fed up. Moya puzzled. The two girls dropped their pens and looked up at him. Father Bill looked at his watch. “Oh come on. Mlilo folded his arms across his chest and sat glaring at Father Bill. None of you has a favourite movie? 56 . Zulwini put a finger to his lips and warmly mouthed a shush. Mlilo was returning his books.30 p. always forgave. When he was finished packing. “What are your favourite movies. Ndudumo amused. But Father Bill was not deterred. 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. Father Bill half smiled at him. the church never condemned. Father Bill tried to find other subjects for his own gaze and did his best to ignore the boy. There were still another thirty minutes to go.m. Mlilo shook his head. never punished.
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.”
Spilt MilK Mlilo apologised and thanked her for pointing out where he had erred. He would just have to get over it. And if he thought he could come here and throw his colour around. She looked at his door again. After they had gone. then he was mistaken. then he would make sure the priest knew it. but she secretly felt a little pleased that the boy had given Father Bill a bit of a hard time. 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. 61 . give a small bow and then hurry down the corridor towards the soccer fields. He did not. She perhaps should’ve told Mlilo to go back and apologise. This was no ordinary school and these were no ordinary children. He was an African child brought up in African ways. Still she felt nothing. But Mohumagadi also knew that if Mlilo had made up his mind that he did not like Father Bill. She gave him permission to leave and watched him place his hands together in appreciation. she looked back again to see if the man would emerge too. They both knew he did not mean what he said. still there was nothing. She looked back at the classroom and saw the other three children walking out. so she did not expect any Western theatrics from him. but would say it graciously anyway. As they passed her they stopped and greeted her. She asked after their day.
Goodnight.13 March Dear God The children at this school are full of crap. Bill .
at his age could still not tell the time. stared back at him. He looked at the clock on the wall. The sun was pretty. trucks. found his journal and a pen amidst the mess and scratched out what he had scribbled in it. switched on the light.m. It was too late. the long arm. He could hear cars driving past on the main road across from where he was staying. the short arm and the thin arm that moved really fast. just not on stupid analogue clocks. but now he didn’t care. He quickly covered his head and tried to fall back sleep again before it was gone for good. He had gone to bed angry and that wasn’t good. listening. too early. the curtains ugly. Cars. busses. A big 5. Probably why he 63 F . He felt around on the floor for his watch. It was too. He could not understand why they did not make all clocks digital. taxis hooting. He felt bad about what he had written in his journal the night before. He could tell the time.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. It used to bug him that he couldn’t work it out. He slunk out of bed. why they made them so difficult to understand. He lay there with his eyes wide open.30 a.
he concluded again. He would arrive early. eat breakfast and ask the landlord if he could borrow his car. laughing at the moon. the busses bussed and the taxis hooted in the distance whilst Father Bill lay in bed waiting to wake up.m. She did not expect anyone to be in the hall at that time of morning. he reminded himself. Yes. He would make it work. sleeping next to him under the clouds. let alone him. There had never been a staff member who arrived at the school before her. be the first on the stage and be awake when the children came to him at 3 p. But all his mind managed to dredge up was images of her. running in the rain. walking on her hands. He would try harder. saving ladybugs. they were only children. They were just children. jumping into puddles. He tried to remember what he was like as a child. Mohumagadi almost jumped out of her skin when she walked into the hall and saw the man seated on the stage.Kopano M atlwa slept so badly. the trucks trucked. He would try again. It was simply the way things had always been 64 . dancing for the stars. Probably why he was awake now. doing handstands. if he would have been as mean to a stranger. If things were sour it was because he was not trying hard enough. He would have behaved the same as them at their age. He would get dressed. rolling in the grass. They didn’t know him and so were only protecting themselves. The cars carred.
Before he could get down the steps and any closer.” she said. “Good morning. She had come in so calm and cool that morning and now had lost it again.” the man said with a large smile on his face. Father Bill. she placed the notes on the podium.Spilt MilK and she preferred that they remain that way. in the morning? Did he really need to be there twenty-four hours a day? Mohumagadi hurried back to her office. walking towards the podium where she wanted to leave her notes for the morning’s assembly speech. Father Bill. There was absolutely no reason why he needed to be there so early. Had she suggested it? She could not recall. She liked to walk all the way past the tennis courts and the soccer fields to the induli. “The staff procession begins from the gallery. together where the sun shone its brightest at that time of morning. “Good morning. When she got to her office she pressed 1. She liked being there first to watch the school transform from peaceful stillness to vibrant life. where the school’s flag and the country’s flag stood together tall and proud.m. quickly turned around and dashed down the aisle and out the hall. I suggest you wait there rather than on the stage. 65 . Mohumagadi. Did the man have nothing else to do with his life? Could she not ever get away from him? Not even at 7 a. She needed milk.” Mohumagadi said. getting up from his seat to come towards her. She was annoyed.
“Sorry I did not knock.30 but his bladder felt full again. If he went to the toilet right now and got back to the classroom with them already there. forgetting all about his bathroom dilemma. he thought he was at least a step closer to making friends. they would think he was late again. He stood up and waited as the door was slowly pushed ajar and in poked a little dreadlocked head. “I thought 66 . It read 2. He had even gone to the teachers’ lounge during lunch. The day had gone so well so far and he did not want to spoil it. and although he had not spoken to any of the teachers because they had all looked very preoccupied working on their laptops. come in. 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.50 p. It was Moya. He needed to go to the bathroom but did not want to be missing from the classroom when the children arrived. but it was the kind of thing a good teacher did not do and today was his day of making good impressions. The doorknob suddenly turned. “Come in.Kopano M atlwa Father Bill sat staring at his watch as three o’clock approached.m. He had been to the toilet at about 2. No one had told him that he shouldn’t leave the children alone.” he said excitedly. He did not want that.” she said softly.
you don’t need to be so formal in this classroom. He looked at his watch. and then went back to his seat. He smiled. His heart sank a little. pulled out her books and put them on her desk. You are welcome to come here as early as you like. sit down. He thought she needed to do something else. He sighed. She looked up at him and their eyes met.” he said kindly. for just a short while. He stood there gaping at her for a minute. placed her bag on the floor and stood behind her chair. “Oh. please Moya.” she explained. but she quickly looked back down and continued working.55.” He looked at his watch again. She walked towards her seat. it was still 2. He had not spoken to anyone all day. standing there behind her chair. “My assignment.” he said smiling. then realised that she was waiting for him to tell her to sit. “What are you working on there?” he asked. before the others came. 2. He was about to say something else when he saw her instantly begin to scribble away. He had hoped they might talk a bit. “No.55. don’t be sorry. 67 .” she said softly. I finished Global Health and Public Policy early. hoped he wouldn’t later regret what he had just said.Spilt MilK you might be asleep again. and then. “Sit down. remembering Mlilo’s icy words.
” She held up a wad of stapled documents. the day we met you in Mohumagadi’s office. “It was emailed to us. the cross on her forehead growing deeper. I was just curious.” he said after thinking about it for a while. The cover page read ‘Journal Articles on Self-discipline. I mean. Father Bill said. the assignment for this class. He hadn’t given them an assignment to do. He got up to see what she was holding in her hand. your class. Her thick eyebrows knotted in a cross of confusion. I’m sorry if I confused you.Kopano M atlwa “So. The one you gave us to do. Father Bill. “No. This one. I’m sure you can work on whatever homework you have. An assignment he gave them to do? “But I didn’t give you an assignment to do. She looked like she was too. I thought that was what we were expected to do.” she said. he was sure of that. Two pages of questions followed under the heading ‘Week 1 to 6 Study Guide’ and then article after article on topics ranging from ‘Learnt Behaviours: to do or not to do?’ to ‘Choosing to Lose vs Choosing to Win’ and ‘Sex 68 . I was just wondering what assignment you were working on.” Realising he was worrying her. no. “Are we not supposed to work on our assignment during this time? I’m sorry. Miss L emailed it to us.” “Well. Self-control and Self-awareness in Puberty’. Father Bill was puzzled. what’s the assignment for?” She looked at him and was silent.
not sure what he expected them to say or what he would do with their responses. She thought the assignment was from him. She looked up at him. guys?” he asked. is it?” he asked them. Moya got up again and they greeted him in chorus. He could not believe it. and apologised again. not to fuss with all the formalities.” and gave a weak chuckle. “Where is Mlilo. It was only Ndudumo and Zulwini who came in. she said. None of them answered him. He looked to Zulwini but all the boy could offer was a face lined with deep regret. Zulwini shook his head vigorously. The two stood behind their chairs.” he mumbled as the others walked in. 69 .Spilt MilK in the Modern Era’. “Oh.” “Well. Ndudumo said nothing. Mlilo was not there. It was a detailed work programme for them to do over the next six weeks. “Not to worry. “As long as we are keeping your growing minds busy. Moya looked down. “He said he is no longer coming to this class. 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. obviously confused. okay. Ndudumo finally spoke.” he said walking back to his seat. He again told them to sit down.
Yes it is. He caught her eye and she swiftly looked away and hurried off. She stopped dead in her tracks.Kopano M atlwa “Is it. He wasn’t even sure what he had stopped her to say. “Yes. Father Bill. guys? Is it a joke?” he asked again. I just wanted to catch you before you disappeared. you did not know?” “No. As Father Bill sat back down in his chair he saw Mohumagadi standing at the window. “Well. “Father Bill. won’t we?” He hoped they would not ask him what that something would be. “Until we do. please continue with your assignments.” He was out of breath and now regretted his impulsive bolt out of the classroom. You were told on your arrival. “I believe the children were given an assignment to do for the next six weeks. watching them.” he muttered. He got up from his chair and went out after her. “Yes.” “Perhaps you do not remember.” Ndudumo said. we do not yell at this school. we’ll have to do something about that then.” she said coldly before he could say a word. I was not told. “I’m sorry. She was pacing down the corridor when he called out her name.” And they did.” 70 .
She was right. “We prepare well in advance at this school.Spilt MilK “It’s not that. He had not even known he wanted to be involved until he said it.” And he knew to leave it at that. “Everything has already been done. If you were interested. His head raced. It’s terribly boring work to compile such a thing. 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.” “Oh. Create tasks that can best assess how the learners have engaged with the various texts. Father Bill.” he managed to stammer. you should have notified us long before your arrival.” 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. One has to read all the literature on the topic. Leputlaputla le ja pudi. He thanked her for her time and apologised again for shouting and running down the corridor. he was silly to think they would have let him get involved.” she said. and we know you have a lot of your own …” and she paused. shrugging matter-of-factly. Choose appropriate articles. Mohumagadi. so we didn’t want to inconvenience you. modikologa o ja namane. Father Bill. I’m sorry. We did not think you would be interested to know the details. it’s just that it would have been nice to have had some part in it. A tremendous amount of work. “… things to work through. 71 .
put that ball down and come here right now. 72 . “Mlilo Graham. all three of them. So how about we have a bit of fun.Kopano M atlwa Then he returned to the classroom. Mohumagadi found Mlilo playing soccer with the Grade Seven boys on the field. “Good. It was to be expected.” they said in chorus. Father Bill. cupped his chin in his hands and waited for five o’clock. Mlilo liked to think he was older and bigger than he was. He wasn’t very good at being strict with anyone. then?” They laughed. So he sat back down at his desk. 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. Zulwini was reading a Bible. 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. but wasn’t even given a chance to try because they were all sitting quietly when he walked in. and continued with their reading. “I’m guessing you have all finished your allocated assignment work for today?” “Yes.” Mohumagadi made sure she did not shout. She shook her head when she saw him.
“Good day. “Six weeks of work. “Pick up your things and follow me. it is just this one I want to speak to.Spilt MilK Shouting made it seem like she was not in control. no. How is Mohumagadi today?” he said between breaths. Mohumagadi. was not surprised. Continue playing boys. Mlilo?” She could not believe this boy had such a nerve. Why are you not in your session?” “I have completed my assignments. Make sure you keep up because I have wasted enough time on you as it is. Mohumagadi stopped. “No. Mlilo. Mlilo came running. All the boys around him stopped and came over to great her too.” he muttered.” She turned around sharply and began to walk back to the school building. she began. 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. knew he was 73 . struggling to keep up as he attempted to pull his soccer boots off and put on his school shoes at the same time. “Do not push me.” When he approached and was close enough to hear her without her having to raise her voice. She waved her hand.
turned his head towards her and asked him again.” she said. He would not look at her so she took his chin in her hands. “Motšhaba-pula o tšhabela matlorotlorong. “Hate is a stupid emotion. Mlilo. You will redo all of those tasks. when I speak to you. Mlilo?” “Last night. Mlilo. This child refused to cooperate. 74 . but they are working the way the have been told to. Mlilo? Do you think you’re clever? Bo Moya. Do you think there is something special about you. Zulwini and Ndudumo could do it too. “Look at me. Mlilo? Do you think this behaviour is noble?” He said nothing. just could not believe he had such a nerve. She stopped once more. Mlilo?” She was not even angry any more.” he muttered. Mlilo. dropping his face and walking away as she felt herself grow heavy. Just exasperated. Mlilo?” she asked him again. “I hate him. Mohumagadi.Kopano M atlwa not lying.” “Why. She saw his eyes well up. just scrunched his face up and looked down on the ground. Mohumagadi. “Why.” “When. “Yes. 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. he wouldn’t dare. realising she was not finished with him.
” He did not say a word as she returned to the school. He was everything the school sought to achieve. there would be no need for him to be attending Father Bill’s sessions. And then tried to slow her breathing. She shook her head and screamed into the nothingness again. His work ethic and his relentless determination to succeed at everything he attempted made Mohumagadi beam like a doting mom. Why had he got involved in all this mess in the first place? It was so unlike him. Yes. in the order they are supposed to be done. 75 . you will be the first one there and the last to leave. Day by day. Her heart drummed in her ears. And you will be in that classroom tomorrow. She wanted to tell him that had he behaved as he was supposed to. He did not even know Bill. she did not particularly like white people either. but what else was she supposed to do. She had always secretly put her pride in the boy. He had brought all of this on himself and had only himself to blame. But to get himself mixed up with the likes of Ndudumo. Mohumagadi let out a yell into the emptiness when she was out of earshot. sure. But Mlilo? His father was white. In fact there would be no need for Father Bill to be at the school at all. week by week. But she knew he had heard her.Spilt MilK One by one. 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. She hated having to be so hard on him.
another dollar. What are you still doing here so late?” 76 . She was still as beautiful as she was then. It was Mohumagadi. another dollar. another dollar’. back straight. let alone what they meant. At first he could not remember where the words came from. ‘Another day. another dollar’.” he lied. “Another day. but still as beautiful. Like a peacock. 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. “Father Bill?” she called down the corridor as he drew closer.” he said again and it made him feel a little drunk. Long strides. “Scare me in my own school? Please. And then he recalled the rap music he had heard coming from his landlord’s son’s room that morning. A colourful summer coat doing pirouettes at her feet. He walked quietly behind her. not wanting her to see him. As he walked down the corridor he saw someone walking ahead of him. “Sorry. Scarier. It must have stuck in his head from then. He had nothing to be happy about and the best he could come up with was ‘Another day.Kopano M atlwa “Another day. He laughed out loud.” Father Bill said to himself as he closed the classroom door. Father Bill. He watched her walk. I didn’t want to scare you.
Turned around quickly and carried on in the direction she was going. have a good evening. what?” he asked. “Why. “Not like I’m rushing off to anything anyway. She turned around hesitantly. “Thank you.” She frowned when he said that. wait. he heard her stop again. walking away and waving her hand dismissively. Father Bill. Father Bill?” “Why. Mohumagadi. See you in the morning. that. “Well.” “Oh. If I still have it. “Father Bill. He could see he had embarrassed her and felt bad for doing it.” she said. so he turned around too. “What letter?” she snapped at him.” But as he was about to go out into the staff parking lot. yes. 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. if you think—” But he only wanted the letter from Ndudumo’s mother. good evening then. come get it from my office in the morning. 77 .” “Mohumagadi. his heartbeat quickening.” he shouted before she got away.” He really hadn’t.Spilt MilK “Is it late? I hadn’t noticed.
bracelet around his wrist. Father Bill. She looked at him for a moment longer.” is all he could think to reply. then. “Come fetch it in the morning.” And left. He remembered it was the first time in his life he’d been away from Mamelodi. As he climbed into his landlord’s car he again wondered how he had gotten to this place. He remembered. the one he had worn his whole life and had never needed until then. something true.” “She would have asked me if she wanted to have it. that day when the Fathers had made him pack his bags. they were being pulled apart. How ironic that when others were coming together.W. then said.” “Yes. Shook her head. He had looked with desperation at the W. How they had gotten to this place. other than that Jesus had never had a girl? It was a time in the country when people were celebrating. from the church. the end of what was supposed to be just the beginning. vividly. How fifteen years had flung them round and managed to scatter them here. when it was said to be the beginning of something new. But for him it was an ending. But what could it tell him.Kopano M atlwa “Why do you want the letter?” “Oh. Mohumagadi. something beautiful. Because I think she might like to have it.J.D. from 78 .
But that was exactly what he feared the most. he told himself that even if he had to force it. He knew that there would come a time when he would forget and would stop crying. to lay his head in her lap. He was told to fetch his things. He’d never thought he’d see her again. a man of God. just as he had feared. He was young. Of course it got better. to smell her hand. She was sent to her room in the servant’s quarters and the mamas were told to keep her there. People told him later that when you hurt like that you feel as if you will never be the same again. One day you find yourself laughing again. They were not allowed to speak to each other. women were plenty. And after fifteen years. 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. That was life wasn’t it? Naive. He had not wanted to forget how it felt to be with her. Had not wanted to forget why their being torn apart made him. Of course he forgot and smiled and laughed again. wail like a little boy. As he left the place of his upbringing. He knew that. a man. foolish love when you were young and then just a bunch of entanglements to get you by for the rest of the way. for what was once new and beautiful and true and had now been lost. It was only in the movies that they waited forever. Of course that only lasted a week or two. He had not wanted it to get better. what were the chances? That’s why he had never 79 . to rest his heart against her shoulder. but that with time you do. for what they had. a grown man.Spilt MilK her. he would cry for her every day.
Because what were the chances? And yet here she was. 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. They loved that church more than they loved the God it was built for. ‘Another day. hoping and praying she’d spot him walking up the driveway.Kopano M atlwa bothered with all that intense emotion and longing. Mama Twiggy was different from the others. She remembered Mama Twiggy and immediately got a chill up her spine. never put jam on her bread. waiting for Bill to return. He laughed. fifteen years later. 80 . always kept to herself. another dollar’. back in his life and as beautiful as ever. she was reminded of the words of Mama Twiggy at the church she had grown up in. Said she did not want to eat what she would never have the privilege of getting used to. The priests had left a long time before. As Mohumagadi got into her car and saw Father Bill drive away. 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. but the women stayed on. And now it was too late.
And there’s nothing you can do about it. Mohumagadi thought to herself as she switched on her car engine and drove home. greedy. her cheeks dry and chapped from all the tears. They are here for just a moment. they won’t ever love you as much as they love their God and their church. 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. worse. they die young. God can have him then. by falling in love with these ones. Mama Twiggy often just rubbed her back with her knobbly hand and moved on. 81 . and then are gone as if they never were and only you are left with the painful memory of their existence. like a beautiful sunset. It’s us selfish. And. dirty people who live long miserable lives. moody.Spilt MilK One night she fell asleep there. “You are doing yourself a disservice. All these Christian ones.” Well. my child. her forehead pressed against the window. but that night she whispered into her ear. floating in the light sleep that she had become accustomed to. they often die young and it’s just the way it is.
Bill . God. There is nothing you can do. I think it’s because you realise it’s over and this is how it’s going to end.14 March Dear God The evenings are hard. Goodnight. again. nothing can happen between now and dawn. You realise that your hopes were foolish and that life has proved you and your dreams wrong.
Take a seat.” he said. Mlilo. But Mlilo just stood there staring at him. of course. “May I sit. 83 . of course. realising he was in the boy’s way and was preventing him from getting to his seat. hoping that this might be the chance to crack the glacier between them. Mlilo. After he had not shown up the day before. Eventually he spoke. “Did you finish early today? You are here very early. please?” “Yes. at a loss as to what to talk to him about next.” he said gently. The boy looked at him with an icy cold expression on his face.” Father Bill was surprised to see the boy suddenly appear at the classroom door. Father Bill laughed but the boy did not laugh with him.“H ello there. he did not expect him to be the first one there today.” “Not out of choice.” he mumbled. getting up from his seat to move closer to him. “We missed you yesterday. “So …” he said.
” Father Bill replied softly. His heart was beating loudly in his ears.” What? Father Bill was completely taken aback. dumbfounded. only this time much slower and with more emphasis on the words. “I’m not certain what I have said to offend you. What had just happened? What was going on? “I beg your pardon?” He had never been sworn at in his life. I need to get some air.” Father Bill stepped outside. his face lined with concern. “I’m sorry. “Fuck off. especially not by a child. Mlilo?” Father Bill asked. “but I’m quite sure that whatever it is. Please excuse me. it does not justify such behaviour. “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. “Father Bill. He saw the other three children approaching the classroom and raised his hand in greeting as they neared him. are you okay?” Zulwini asked. where are you from.” “Fuck off.” the boy said again. Mlilo. did I offend you in some way. All you children speak so beautifully. ‘Fuck off’? He battled to even repeat the words to himself.Kopano M atlwa “So. Mlilo? You speak English so beautifully. 84 .
It was a group of Grade Ones wearing gumboots and carrying spades and packets. please.” Moya greeted. smart ass.” he nodded and instructed them to enter. getting up. “Continue with your assignments. Be quiet children. Please. 85 .” their little voices sang.” He walked as fast as his feet would carry him. Father Bill. Molo. Father Bill is praying. “So you’re back. “Molweni. We are going to plant vegetables today. “Ssshhh. I am done. past the gymnasium that read ‘Shaka the Great’.” Ndudumo said to Mlilo as she entered the classroom and saw Mlilo sitting there. yes. each holding the hand of the one in front and the one behind them. Before he could do or undo any more he heard singing coming from behind him. Down the corridors. as she walked past him too. Father Bill. picked up a rock and threw it at God. “Good day. out past the Khoi Khoi gardens. What are you children going to plant?” Father Bill asked. Father Bill stuck his head in the door and tried to force a smile. I’ll be back in just a moment. over to the Grade One vegetable patches and into the shade where the long distance runners trained he went. Here he dropped to his knees.Spilt MilK “Yes. Father Bill. “No. feeling very embarrassed.” the teacher leading them said warmly.
86 . let me not slow you down. peas and beetroot!” they exclaimed. They looked straight at his knees and it was only then that he noticed they were covered in soil. Father Bill tried to sit back down at his desk. into the corridors.” one small little girl proclaimed confidently.” Father Bill said jovially.Kopano M atlwa “Onions. lying. When he got back to the classroom there was quiet. away from the green grass and giddy gradies. so with his heart still thundering in his ears. He thought that if he could focus his mind on something else he could rid himself of the rage he felt rumbling inside. “Thumbs up or down?” Zulwini mouthed quickly. “And mine will grow the biggest. trying to hide the anguish he felt within as the chain of small bodies moved past him. Never easily succumbed to hostility. All four were working and all but Mlilo glanced up when he entered. he walked out the classroom again. This time in the opposite direction. “Well. He wasn’t really one to get enraged. But to be sworn at by a child was even more than he could bear. Zulwini’s eyes grew wide. Relief rushed back into Zulwini’s face and he gave Father Bill an enthusiastic thumbs up and continued working. “Thumbs up.” Father Bill smiled back.
He filled his cup with ice. “A sandwich. Zola Mbambe. He walked in. “I had one of the egg ones earlier. Some sandwiches. “What are you eating there. I don’t know. “Isn’t that an egg sandwich in your hand?” she asked.” was his curt response. He picked up what was closest too him and sat on the opposite side of the room. 87 . muffins and croissants were laid out on the coffee table. Father Bill.” the girl said with a smile. On the couch sat two of the school’s sports coaches. so he mumbled a quiet hello and walked over to the ice machine.Spilt MilK The door to the staff lounge was open and he could hear laughing. He was surprised at her friendliness. They looked like they were in a very heated debate. he had become accustomed to being ignored in this school. Father Bill?” the young man asked. they’re pretty good.” the girl said brightly. “Oh.” he replied. hi there. “Oh. He did not expect them to know who he was. a puzzled look on her face. and Vuyo Mkhize. “I hate egg.” he muttered. former captain of the South African squash team. I didn’t look. He recognised them both from television. captain of the under 19 national basketball team.
It’s all pretty mindless. The rest is just philosophical bullshit.” 88 . I think that is just rubbish. It is weak. “So. eyes vacant. We continue to find more ways to do evil. 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. Those who hurt are the stronger ones. To love is to fail. It’s foolish to get your heart stuck into that kind of stuff. So many alive.Kopano M atlwa The two coaches looked at each other. Words are empty. generation after generation. You just need to make this world comfortable for yourself and maybe a couple of people around you. smiles programmed. And even if there is. it is pathetic and needy. It’s crazy to think there will be a time when there is no poverty. It is better to hurt. no hunger. and then back at him. We save the children from hunger only to kill them with obesity. a soul to dance with yours. there will be other things equally as evil. I think that is a false hope. Just live.” the young man tried again. a hand to hold. the ones who will survive. no violence. Father Bill. I don’t think this world was made to be fair. A lie. no fighting. We stop one war to start another. perplexed. so many around and still not an ear to listen. He didn’t care.“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. I don’t think it will ever happen. a heart to share.
but he threw his head back anyway and howled with laughter. bullies blackmailing us with their money. ‘Bullshit’. had not understood what he had said. Did such a word even exist in his vocabulary? But it had slipped off his tongue so easily. help with food packages. The West has done too much damage and the rest of us are too damaged. had not understood what he himself had said. too fed up to be interested in any kind of hippy happiness. want to help us. help with foreign trade. pounded within his head. 89 . you are right. excitedly jumping up from the couch he shared with the girl.” The boy laughed raucously. helping us only as long as we can serve them. They are forever telling us they only want good for us. for a bloody priest. his feet cramp. Help with our elections. like it had always been there. So he said it again. There will never be a time when there is no suffering or misery. made the ice in his hands hot. only looking out for themselves. the egg sandwich in his stomach churn. “Bullshit.” “Yeah. Father Bill – you’re pretty messed up yourself. absolute bullshit!” the boy exclaimed. But we all know they are bullies. But the laughing hurt. Just look at you. “That’s what I have been trying to tell uZola here all afternoon. stung him behind his eyes. too angry. He had no idea what the boy was talking about.Spilt MilK Father Bill’s fierce words surprised him. The girl joined in and Father Bill did too.
molweni.” Zulwini whispered.Kopano M atlwa Mohumagadi knew it was silly. She walked slowly to the window. Mohumagadi immediately looked at Mlilo. perhaps in the cloakroom. didn’t even know she was going to do it until she was halfway down the corridor headed towards his classroom. children?” she asked impatiently. “Yes. Where is Father Bill. and they all greeted her in chorus. She reasoned it out on the first day: he was new. Then the next day she told herself it was only his second day. it was acceptable for her to go and see how things were going. but the 90 . She slowed down when she heard absolute silence coming from the room. she didn’t even get it herself. Not only acceptable but expected. she reprimanded herself every time she did it. but could not see from the angle she was at. Every day around 3. In fact. sit down please.34 p. Zulwini hurried from out his chair and came round to her. yes. The four children were working. He did not say where to. “He just left. but she could not see Father Bill at his desk. When the other three looked to see why Moya had gotten up they quickly got up too. molweni.m. He seemed very upset. Mohumagadi. 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. She poked her head in the door and was immediately spotted by Moya who rose to her feet. she would get up from her desk and head towards Father Bill’s classroom. Maybe he was somewhere else in the classroom she thought.
everything is all right. so she told them to continue working quietly and reassured them that Father Bill would be back shortly. She knew this had something to do with him but had no reason to confront him. Zulwini giggled. trying hard to sound calm.” Father Bill said. “I happened to be walking this way and saw your door open. sending Zulwini into hysterical giggles. and I wondered if anything was amiss?” Mohumagadi replied.Spilt MilK boy did not look up. She took a breath. I am not finished. His knees were all sandy but other than that she could not make out what the man was up to. “Well. But there was nothing. “You joining us. Mohumagadi. She did not know what was going on but did not like the feel of it. As soon as the words left her mouth. the man walked in with a cup of ice in his hands and a plate of confectionaries. The 91 . “Oh no. scanned the room looking for evidence. evidence of anything. Mohumagadi looked him up and down very carefully. Father Bill. she shouted in her mind.” he said. Mohumagadi was immediately annoyed with the excitement around her. everything is just double thumbs up. if everything is all right then …” “Yes. He just continued working as if he could not hear what was going on. leading her to the door. Mohumagadi?” Father Bill asked with a smile.
He had no reason to shout from the top of a table but he wanted to. in the kitchen of the hall after a service at which I gave the sermon.” Father Bill said. So close your books and pay attention. He had no reason to stand on top of the table. “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 came to him as he approached it and he did it. putting the plate and cup down on his table as he climbed on top of it. He laughed as he watched their eyes expand. did not know and did not care to know.Kopano M atlwa children all sat there looking at her. She did not like what was going on one bit. I am a priest. so people call me Father Bill. “Close your books please. I was sent to this school because I had sex with a lady I was not married to. “My name is William Thomas. She did not like the look of it but nodded and walked out the door. It was a small classroom. Father Bill stood there smiling. I understand 92 . back towards her office. few children. Whatever was going on in that classroom made her very uncomfortable. 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 am Mlilo.” 93 . That’s where I come from. not even to me. It made no sense. He was deadly serious.” the boy mumbled. because I have done it before and always feel terrible afterwards. Now get up on your table and tell us who you are and where you come from. Mlilo who?” “My name is Mlilo Graham. speak up. so I presume I can speak plainly to you and you will not be alarmed. Father Bill watched the boy as he hesitantly got up. The room was silent as everyone waited for Mlilo to climb onto his table.” “And where do you come from?” The boy paused for a minute and then said. “You wanted to know where I come from. “Braymow.Spilt MilK you are some kind of special children at this school.” He climbed off. “We can’t hear you son. son. his usual confidence evading him as he stood on the table with everyone in the room watching him. I felt terrible afterwards. Perhaps it is in my blood and beyond my control. I had no reason to do what I did.” And now he looked directly at Mlilo. The bishop thought I would benefit from some reflection. He was trembling. but Father Bill looked him right in the eye. but I guess that changes nothing. So that is why I am here. He could see that Mlilo was not sure whether he was serious or not.
No more pretending. the boy didn’t. Anyone else want to share where they are from?” He looked around at all of them. “Okay then. Mlilo? Like why you have a carrot stuck up your butt?” The other three laughed. He nodded to himself as he sat there at his desk. Anything else you would like to share with us. She’d sat doing a lot of thinking in her office that afternoon.Kopano M atlwa “Oh. about Father Bill. sit down. it revved up too many forgotten memories. herself. But the boy stood silently on the table. He felt a little drunk and hoped he still had this courage once whatever it was that had overtaken him over had worn off. swirls. The thoughts always lead her down the same treacherous path. Things were definitely going to change. He waited for Mlilo to say something back. In this classroom we say what we think. She did not want to go down that way. not from me. It 94 . that’s very nice. the children. crazy loops. Not from any of you. They said nothing. Mohumagadi arrived home late that evening. twirls.” And he sat down. the boy did have a carrot stuck up his butt. Father Bill felt no remorse. daring them to push him further than he’d already gone today. the school. the very one she wanted to avoid. staring straight ahead at the wall. “Things are going to be different from now on.
his fault? Would it have worked if he had stayed. To open yourself up like that. Had settled with trying to forget. She just wished it smelled of something. Not that she wanted any of that. She knew there were some who worried about her. you are intelligent. relax your jaw. She knew she had never recovered. you insist on living 95 . would never recover. and then she got into her routine. She remembered her dead mother’s words: “Why are you so different? You have everything going for you. She checked each room to make sure nothing was missing as she did every week when Lee Anne had been to clean. Were they to blame? Was it her fault. brought up questions she could not answer. not of children jumping on a bed. you have no reason not to fit in. men. tired and confused each time she ventured in this direction. only to fall on rocks that crack your skull and pierce your heart. not even of the sun. open your palms. Some of the female staff with their husbands and large families often tried to introduce her to people. you are beautiful. make yourself completely vulnerable.Spilt MilK made her angry. gravy and pap cooking on the stove. but you don’t. not of Domestos on clean tiles. Not of sebete. She hated the fact that her house smelt of nothing. What did she want to remember for? What good had remembering ever done her? She closed her briefcase and left the office and headed home. come back? Were all the promises they had made to each other in 1994 a lie? She felt weak. release your toe grip and jump. close your eyes.
a husband and ousie. 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.Kopano M atlwa on the periphery. 96 . a school full of exceptional children. and no man to slow her down. a column in the newspaper.” But they didn’t understand there was no other alternative for her and not everyone was made for the three children. and that it was a labour of love. She had a white maid. We all choose. They didn’t see that some people needed to sacrifice their personal lives for something greater than themselves. She just chose differently.
happy or sad. this is not that kind of place. getting up. I wanted to be in a place where I would be separate from the kinds of things that keep you up at night. I am not certain that I will be able to maintain the distance I had hoped to when I came to this school. I have been for years but it only just occurred to me today. . None of the ‘I hate you for making me need you when I don’t even like you. Sadly. I thought that at least with children it would be simplified to good or bad. 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. make your head feel full.15 March Dear God I am dead inside. breaking bread. I realise I have just been going through the motions. your shoulders stiff and your stomach cramp. drinking wine. If I am not dead then I am certainly dying. I am doing a lot more thinking than I would like. big or small. drinking wine. the distance from people and all the emotion that constantly gushes out of them. pretty or ugly. getting dressed. drinking wine. Father!’ that still reeks from where I came from.
but of what they are bringing out in me. I am not scared of them. Bill .They think I am scared of them.
“Molo. I prefer to have my mornings to myself. 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.” “Oh. She frowned. She put her briefcase down on the table. bent on reclaiming her territory from the invader. Father Bill.” she said loudly as she made a dramatic entrance into the room. “Good morning. You look beautiful today. Mohumagadi. showing no signs of anxiety at her obvious dissatisfaction with his presence. I’m so sorry Mohumagadi. The ‘you look beautiful today’ had thrown her off. Father Bill.” Father Bill responded with a smile.hen Mohumagadi arrived at her office the next morning. 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.” W 99 .
That’s. of course. I just wanted to ask if the school could lend me a DVD player and a projector. not for me.” “For your personal use? No. to her dismay he finally caught up with her. The rules were not going to change for this man.” 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. She purposely walked faster when she could hear he was struggling to keep up.” he said quickly. Let’s walk. now that you’ve taken my quiet time. “Well. you’ll have to talk to me on the way to the school hall. “Mohumagadi. priest or not. and she hoped Miss L knew better than to be intimidated by his skin. 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. if the school has one. not looking behind her to see if he was following. When she got to the gallery where some of the teachers were drinking tea. for the classroom.” Had he completely lost his mind? “No. and please do try to keep up. She marched into the corridor.Kopano M atlwa Mohumagadi would have to speak to Miss L. Most certainly not. 100 . I cannot be late for my own assembly.
But there’s this Bible series I’d like to watch. He wasn’t even her type! She had been a child. Mohumagadi. 101 .” “I’ll have to think about it. this time at herself for ever having being in love with this person. Simple. It’s on DVD. and I just thought the mornings would be a good time. it’s just quite a long time to sit around with nothing to do. While seated on the stage Mohumagadi couldn’t help but chide herself for being so hard on the man. So I was just thinking.” “Okay. It was sweet. a foolish child in love with the first white boy who had ever given her attention. He wanted to pass the time watching a Bible series. “I get here quite early every morning. as you know. If it’s at all possible. I promise to take very good care of it. Why on earth would he want a DVD player for the classroom? “Why?” she asked. But the children only come at three o’clock. when all he wanted to do was watch a Bible series! She chuckled.” She indicated to him that he needed to join the procession as they all entered the hall and the children rose. There she was worrying about what he was up to. I mean it’s completely fine if you say no. Shame. Thank you. but cute. She laughed again. You don’t have to.Spilt MilK She looked at him carefully up and down. checking up on him every hour. She had been young and confused and could not be angry at herself for that. Cute. For the assembly and all. very simple. It’s not that I mind coming in so early.
” Child of a diff’rent providence In our hearts truth is prominent Believing in our competence Destined for success. things would be fine after all. fhedzi ri si shae Moya Ra tsimbeledzelwa fhasi.” We are the school of excellence Despite the time of turbulence Unafraid of impediments Destined for success. Sekolo sa Ditlhora Destined for Success! “Re dikilwe thoko tsohle Mme ga re pitlaganywe Re a phoraphora Mme ga re gakanege Re a tlaiswa Mee ga ra lahlega Re digelwa fase Mme ga re senyege. Sekolo sa Ditlhora. Sekolo sa Ditlhora. 102 . Mohumagadi thought to herself. “Ri thuphiwa zwinzhi Fhedzi ri si pwashekanyiwe Ra tovholwa. Yes. Sekolo sa Ditlhora. hone ri shi lovhe. Things would be fine.Kopano M atlwa The orchestra began to play and they stood to sing the school song. Sekolo sa Ditlhora.
Father Bill felt loathsome for lying to Mohumagadi. There was a note attached to the projector: ‘Dear Father Bill All of the school’s portable projectors are in use this morning. so one of the drivers went out to buy one. 103 . Sekolo sa Ditlhora Destined for Success! Later in the morning. Sekolo sa Ditlhora. Please let us know if it is not suitable. Sekolo sa Ditlhora.Spilt MilK Sekolo sa Ditlhora Destined for Success! “Siyabandezelwa ngeenxa zonke Singaxineki Siyathingaza.” The world awaits the coming of us Here we go with wholeheartedness Bold enough to carry the cross Destined for success. singancami Sitshutshiswa asiyekeleli Sikhahlelwa phantsi Asitshatyalaliswa. 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.
messed up his shirt and dirtied his hands? At least he would have won a marble. Which was absolutely awful because he had not given his request any thought either. nor his lie. and considered going to her office. Mohumagadi must have relayed the message even before assembly was over. There was nothing to gain by clinging to his Grade One rule book. jumped over the highest pole. 104 . expensive-looking X Tech projector frowning at him from his desk.Kopano M atlwa Warm regards. there was no Bible series. which meant she must have agreed to his request only minutes after he’d made it and not given it any thought at all. at the DVD player barely used. tore his socks. So what if he nicked his school shoes a little. Heaven knew he wasn’t doing any living sitting in that classroom all day while everyone else was out on the playground. He would tell her nothing. She should have said no. 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. giving her back the equipment and telling her that he’d changed his mind. spun around a wheel and touched his legs near a cloud from a swing. And then he decided against it. and now he had a brand new. 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.
105 . As Mohumagadi put on her warm school principal face and greeted Ndudumo’s mother with a hug. Say something a little out of the ordinary. she could not help but marvel at the 360 degree transformation the woman had made. a little risqué.Spilt MilK Ndudumo’s mother was back in the country. delivered at a small venue to a few fringe people. It was stupefying. A single phrase from a tiny speech. true to her character. She gave Miss L a razor-sharp look as she entered her own office and found Ms Pooi on the phone. motivational speaker and face of Kinky Hair. just once and have one interested reporter from one biggish newspaper there to record it. something to do with liberal views on sex changing mindsets on HIV. God loves to see us fuck’. bright pink crocodileprint heels. silver bangles crawling up her arm. she had done so unannounced. she had come to the school and. and there it was: your whole life shaped out for you in the media. fishnet stockings. True to her word. She remembered the woman’s infamous words on the evening news: ‘God loves to see us happy. but the sentence was radical enough to catapult her from her obscure five-thousand-rand-amonth radio job to international publishing sensation. It was a week of unexpected figures on Mohumagadi’s couch and she was getting quite annoyed. From struggling graveyard show disc jockey to overnight celebrity.
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 prefer not to fill our minds with candyfloss and chewing gum.” And he climbed down from the table. “Okay. 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. Maybe they were upset about his outburst the day before.Kopano M atlwa have watched them all already?” Father Bill searched their faces for an answer. We’ve all said things in this classroom that we did not mean. but no eyes were willing to meet his. 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. Movies about white people’s fantasies. which it never is. We do not watch stupid movies. And don’t get it twisted. Father Bill. I didn’t mean to hurt anyone. Father Bill. 110 . I just wanted us to start being honest with each other. So let’s just forget yesterday. we are not interested. It had been a taxing week and he’d come somewhat undone. “Here’s some honesty for you. maybe you are upset about yesterday. but let’s put that behind us. we are not your friends. their minor problems and crises. Father Bill looked at him and for a fleeting moment felt a pinch of anger. but he had been ruffled. Unless it is African history. guys. be friends and begin our movie fest!” Mlilo chucked his school bag onto the floor and climbed onto his desk. making Mlilo stand on the table.
” Zulwini whispered. Who’s next? Come on.” “Leave him. They could do what they liked. Father Bill had already set up the projector. then let’s get this show on the road. Thank you for that. none of them moved.” Mlilo hissed.Spilt MilK “Excellent. that it was only the man’s first week and that he had never 111 . Father Bill walked to his table. told herself that she would stop checking up on them when things had settled but that they hadn’t yet. No one else? Okay. he thought. get up onto your tables and speak your minds. one for himself and one for his feet. Mlilo was breathless. pulled out the first DVD his hands located and slotted it into the machine. “Don’t. She considered it. 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. and sat back. He was watching King Kong. Father Bill.” He looked around. so he walked to the wall to switch off the lights. his eyes filling with tears. “You’ll get kicked out. pulled up two chairs. Three o’clock came and went and Mohumagadi sat at her desk and did not move. let him get kicked out. his little chest heaving up and down with each pant. picked up the old tog bag he had brought along.
that she was responsible for all the minds within those walls and what went into them. that he could not be allowed to come to this school and do as he willed. It was an effort of will. though. that with urine dripping down her leg she wouldn’t be able to go by his classroom even if she wanted to. In an attempt to keep herself on her seat. This time a frustrating kind of anger. For the first time since the man’s arrival. for whom was she to direct it at? Her body that had allowed her bladder to give in so easily. she let him have his three o’clock undisrupted. Not even her Grade Ones did that any more. her planet. a desire so strong she ended up urinating on herself in an attempt to contain it. A large. It was not the first time that her body had rebelled against her mind. that these were no ordinary children. She did not want to fight the deep desperate desire to get up and go out her office and back down that corridor. It knew that she would be forced to go home and change. a threat to her world. She was angry. her universe. anxious. 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 . angry.Kopano M atlwa been a teacher before and should not be left alone with children without some sort of supervision. A grown woman wetting herself. Again. that it was for their sake and not her own that she went by that classroom every day. moved freely within her school. But she didn’t. afraid part of her did not want to just sit there and do nothing while he.
m. the louder they snore. I resent it. can’t get around it. but it.16 March Dear God All I can hear is snoring. the angrier I get. Why can’t that be me? Bill . Why can’t I ever sleep like that.. not them. landlord and son. makes me clench my teeth and I feel itchy all over. contented sleep. Such peaceful. my mind racing with pretend answers to pretend questions? As if to mock me. through the night with no burden on my shoulders. no figure of eight in my stomach? Why am I always the one who wakes up at 1. It makes my skin crawl. gets up my nose.19 a. I can’t get above it.
He looked at her and she showed him the DVD. “It’s Finding Nemo.“F ather Bill. figured he’d work it out when they arrived. He’d arrived late. When he opened his eyes it was Ndudumo standing at his desk shaking him awake. “I thought we could watch it. Father Bill.” she said. holding the colourful box right up to his eyes. I’ve brought us a DVD from home to watch. He took the box from her hands and contemplated it. 114 . His mind was still trying to adjust to the abrupt transition from bottomless sleep to wakefulness. He’d had very little sleep that weekend and was too exhausted to pretend.” she said. eaten too much junk in the staff lounge.” He’d dozed off at his desk again while waiting for the children to arrive. and could tell he smelt funny. He hadn’t thought of a plan for the day. Excuse me. her eyes studying his face intently. I hope that’s okay. was tired of trying with these kids.
I’m sure you already have something planned. She smiled. already walking towards the table at the back of the room where he’d shoved the boxes and their contents on Friday.” he said. I was quite chuffed with myself actually. He was excited too. seemingly oblivious to the tension in the room. finally finding his mind’s ON button and hurriedly getting up. “Hi guys. Father Bill. enjoying this shift of rhythm. no. 115 .” he said. please put it in. but I managed to work it out on Friday. Friday’s chill still lingered between them. “I used to always watch it at home with my mom. It was nice that for a change it wasn’t him having to take the initiative in making conversation. we don’t have to watch it.Spilt MilK He felt a little disorientated and before he could respond she spoke again. smiling too. “It’s okay.” he said quickly. “It’s a little tricky. before I came to this school. We loved Finding Nemo.” she said. How was the weekend?” In his delight at Ndudumo’s enthusiasm. Father Bill could tell she was excited.” Ndudumo continued. Well. but a bit worried about the other three sets of eyes that silently followed their every move. “No problem. beaming. “I’m not sure how to put the DVD player together. The three stood up as they always did and greeted him in chorus. especially for an old-school guy like me. he’d forgotten that they hadn’t even greeted each other that afternoon.” “No.
it’s not just a movie Ndudumo. Ndudumo? He is trying to get inside our heads. but Mlilo immediately sat him back down. “Mlilo and Zulwini. it’s never just a movie. Ndudumo?” Mlilo shouted from his desk.” he said. You know movies are not allowed. it’s just a movie. Father Bill felt numb.” Zulwini said softly. “Ndudumo. “No.Kopano M atlwa “It’s the only one we ever bought. “Oh relax. won’t you please get the projector ready? And maybe you can think of something we might watch tomorrow. Maybe if he involved the others the mood would relax a little. completely ignoring Father Bill’s instruction. He’s trying to fill our minds with meaningless fluff!” Mlilo yelled. Mlilo. you are going to get us all in trouble. We didn’t have much money back then. Moya.” she continued. Zulwini made an attempt to get up from his chair. “What the hell do you think you are you doing. “Can’t you see what this man is doing.” said Ndudumo and she walked across the room to fetch the projector herself. Mlilo grabbed her arm. putting as much festivity into his voice as he could muster. as they carried the DVD player to his desk together. What is happening to you?” Mlilo said holding on to her arm. They had left one of the cords back at the other end of the room. 116 .
The scream startled Mlilo.” Zulwini answered. a look of profound irritation on her face. shot him a grin as she walked past him and began setting it up. “Besides. “Oh for God’s sake Mlilo. picking up trash and wiping little white boy’s turds off toilets? That’s exactly what they want you to do Ndudumo. clearing tables. Mlilo. “What?” Ndudumo said turning to Zulwini. “Oh shut up. a little more boldly. But Mlilo was not giving up. and he let her pass.” Zulwini muttered. And … more fish!” “Don’t say that. “Relax man.Spilt MilK “Let go of my arm Mlilo! Have you lost your mind?” she screamed. it’s animated. now smiling again. this conversation didn’t even involve you so I don’t know why you think it’s 117 .” she said. Zulwini. It’s a really cute movie. how much more trouble can we possibly get into? We’re already in detention and that’s never happened before at this school. Even a hardhead like you might just like it. relax. About fish and more fish. “How is it cute when we are depicted in the backgrounds of these movies sweeping floors.” She picked up the projector. but it’s the minute you relax that they—” Ndudumo threw her hands in the air. “Do not use God’s name in vain.
” Zulwini mumbled. “How could you say such a thing?” “My mother is not a slut!” Ndudumo shrieked. Father Bill had not moved from where he was standing when Mlilo first pushed Zulwini back into his chair. the words were out and everyone had heard “What?” Ndudumo gasped. Zulwini quickly covered his mouth with his hands. “Well at least my mother isn’t a slut. trembled. as if suddenly realising that walking would not 118 . “What did you just say. a question mark on his face. pious.Kopano M atlwa necessary to involve yourself.” Ndudumo spat back. “Zulwini?” Mlilo said softly. Bible-bashing piece of nothing? What did you just say about my mother?” Zulwini did not respond. but it was too late. not sure if he should go to Zulwini or Ndudumo first. The silence grew thick and Father Bill was certain that if no one said anything to fix what had just happened. then sat back down. Father Bill tried to walk over to him but stopped midway. “My mother is not a slut!” She made an attempt to walk out of the room but then. you little narrow-minded. the silence would suffocate them all. shuddered. He got up. The room was quiet. quivered.
When she did get up she went straight to Father Bill’s desk. when he had never so much as heard the boy raise his voice? Moya had not moved once. Monica’s Primary School listening to pupils recite poetry. picked up the DVD and placed it into the machine. debate issues around the topic ‘Global Warming: whose fault is it anyway?’ and deliver speeches on ‘New Forms of Leadership in Africa’. 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. 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. It was the interschool Khuluma Festival and that morning she had been at St. That day Mohumagadi forgot all about the man in her school and the children who had brought him there. Zulwini buried his face in his hands. It was a good exhausted though. for a change. had heaps of paperwork to do. The festival had 119 .Spilt MilK carry her away from them as fast as she would like. By the time it was three o’clock she was exhausted. It was clear that he was utterly ashamed. and. Father Bill wondered. was not distraught about deciding whether or not to go to that classroom. a good heap of paperwork. she began to run. Where could such words have come from.
“Thank you. on point.Kopano M atlwa gone very well and. the children of Sekolo sa Ditlhora had taken home most of the prizes.” She took it from him. She felt safe and warm inside. He handed her the letter saying. the one he had asked Mohumagadi for on her behalf. simply happy. on time but seldom happy. on target. 120 . Mohumagadi happy. she had stopped crying but sat without moving. opened it. It was a rare event. The kind of happy one gets from sucking on a little segment of naartjie. 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.” she said. Father Bill sat down. as usual. twice. I thought you might want it. When he returned. For a change. a good place to be. then folded it up neatly and put it into her school blazer pocket. read the entire thing. He turned around and walked back to the classroom to get the letter he remembered lay in his desk drawer. She actually felt happy. “I asked Mohumagadi if I could have this. She was usually on schedule. exactly as he had left her. It was a good thing. It was strange. joining her on the hard floor. Sorry I’m only giving it to you now. Father Bill hurried after Ndudumo and found her in the girl’s restroom weeping soundlessly.
Ndudumo. studying his face to see if he was telling the truth. It’s not.” “No. huh?” “Yep. A priest is not supposed to lie. with eyes that knelt down in 121 . Sex is not a sin.” She looked at him. Ndudumo. Where did this ten-year-old get all this stuff? “I’m waiting.” “I am not lying. That’s all my mom is trying to say.” she said coolly.” “Don’t lie. You set rules that you can’t even keep yourselves.” Ndudumo said quietly. I don’t think that. “Not everybody thinks that. “Just barely. He looked at her too. Father Bill. I think you are all lying. He was still stuck on the word ‘hump’. I know that is what everybody thinks but she is not.Spilt MilK “My mother is not a slut. to see if he meant what he was saying. Why does that make her a slut?” He didn’t answer her. Ndudumo. just barely. but just barely. 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. and I feel no shame.
what they were thinking. He sat there on the cold tiles and hoped that nobody would come in. switched on her engine and was on her way out when. She did not move. They had gone back into the booth so she could not tell. so she had learnt to laugh it off. Mohumagadi walked out into the parking lot not expecting to see any other cars still there but her own. he was afraid. And then she kissed him. wondered if they were watching her and if they were. She looked through the rear-view mirror to see if the security guards could see her. what was she doing? She did not let go of him and he wondered if she would stop to breathe. He felt her tears on his face and he decided that it was better to let her do it. she kissed him like she was strangling him but there was no disputing it was a kiss. People loved to tell her what they read about her. whether it was nasty or nice. She climbed into her car. but could not convince the emotion out. whether she wanted to hear it or not. for no reason at all. she pulled up against Father Bill’s car. But there was Father Bill’s. Petro and Winston. He wanted to push her away. 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. the three security guards who did night duty.Kopano M atlwa prayer for this confused little girl. She picked herself up from the floor and ran out. She greeted Vusi. and then thought that 122 . She asked after their families.
“He is a past page in your life Tshokolo. so she wound down the window and fiddled around in her bag. Still she could not see them. switched on her engine and drove away. so what was she doing? She kept glancing nervously in her rear-view mirror. She looked at her rear-view mirror again. She stuck her hand out and ran it slowly across Father Bill’s car.” she said out loud to herself. she couldn’t go back. “A past page. back to where they had been.” 123 . rolled up her window. she quickly pulled her arm back in. back to where they were. She felt so pathetic. As soon as she did it. foolishly afraid that someone had seen her and was following her to stop her and tell her that they had. How pathetic. What was she doing? Even if it was possible.Spilt MilK not moving was even more suspicious. and nobody reads a book backwards.
Bill . so that others could see them too? So they wouldn’t just sit inside of us necrotising. Lord. Such pain and hurt and confusion all stuffed up in this place. becoming gangrenous and dying because people would see them and someone would know. 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.19 March Dear God How damaged and broken we are. Wouldn’t it have been easier.
m.hen he woke up the next morning he knew he would not make it through a full day of sitting in that classroom. on a trip to a mission school the Fathers were building in Simon’s Town. He would get up and get dressed. She hadn’t been to a beach since. He would put on the T-shirt he slept in. W Sitting in traffic that morning. but they would just have to wait. She drove past many every day. let alone gone to the beach. he would more than likely be late. The last time she could remember being at the sea was when she was much younger. He would attend assembly as was expected of him and then come back home. He would not shower. Mohumagadi impulsively decided to pull over at the next roadside ocean lookout point she came across. he would return to the school. but not once since her move to the coast had she stopped to look at the ocean. order pizza and watch movies. Ten minutes was cutting it short. At 2. 125 . He got out of bed and sat on the floor.50 p.
She laughed at herself. She wondered if it hurt. it was too late. It was such a cliché – the beckoning sea – but she indicated anyway when she saw the sign and pulled over. She felt so powerless. but she was still startled by its beauty. It felt good to step outside of the world for a minute. but could not. Would he do that if he knew who she was? He was probably just an unschooled. The light had turned green but she was so busy watching the man and the boat that she had not moved. pure. In the distance she saw a man putting a boat into the water. further and further out. the stress. could not trust it. stopping the frustrated driver behind her. 126 . Wasn’t he supposed to get into it? Someone behind her hooted. always felt like it belonged to someone else and that she was an imposter. the impatience. always felt forced. When she did. By the time she returned to her car he was standing shoulder deep in the sea. she just made it through but the light turned red again. It hurt her more than was reasonable. For a change it was not a part of her. still pushing. She watched him push it in deeper and deeper. She could hear the cars behind her.Kopano M atlwa It never felt natural. feather-brained. She wanted to love it completely for what it was. their engines running. But something about the ocean that morning beckoned her. pushing a perfectly good boat way out into the ocean. She wondered what he was doing. The ocean was its usual eternal blue. stepping into all that cold. She looked at him in the rear-view mirror intending to apologise but he pulled a finger at her before she could do so.
Even Mlilo. She wanted to push them deep. Pile them up in neat rows so she could fit in as many as possible and send them back to where they came from. She hated all of them. It took them a minute to notice he’d walked 127 . There was the laughing again. the room appeared dark. She hated him. Bill. He stood at the door and listened but all he could hear were muffled voices he did not recognise.Spilt MilK feeble-minded half-wit who didn’t recognise a woman doing great things for society when he saw one. the Fathers at the church. even if it stung. deep. which he now recognised: Uncle Rico and Kip. Bill too. of Napoleon Dynamite. all of them. Bill especially. deep into the blue. even if it was freezing. He stood with his hand on the door handle not sure what to do. She wanted to put them on a boat. He could not believe it. Deb and Napoleon. thinking he could waltz in and out of the school as he pleased. Mlilo was laughing. pile them up onto a great big ship. and stand there and watch them go until she was sure they were gone for good. choosing wigs on the projector screen. And the voices. Pedro. He swung the door open and there were his favourite characters. He was a whole hour late and he now regretted that morning’s bravado. The kids were laughing. They were all the same. She wanted to push the boat off the shore and run into that water and wet her knees. She hated them. The blinds were closed. Father Bill panicked when he heard laughing coming from the classroom as he approached it.
always agreeing to remain behind when he left the movie theatres. He once counted the hours a month he spent watching movies. which added up to twenty-one hours a week. so approximately three hours a day. “Of course it’s okay. he often cried in some of the sad ones. 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. that’s a mouthful. a month and a half a year.Kopano M atlwa in and when they did they all jumped up to greet him. that they had waited for him to see if it was okay. or prayer. pizza and popcorn. The emotions were real.” he said chuckling. 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. Time that would probably have been more appropriately spent in some kind of meditation. He watched an average of two a day. You’re missing the best parts!” Watching movies was a favourite pastime of his. Almost four days a month. and its unfailing knack of allowing him to forget. or quiet study. Moya began to explain that she had brought the movie like he’d asked her to the day before. and when he still wasn’t there and the movie had started. one he’d come to adore for its easy prerequisites. they had just left it and started watching and hoped he didn’t mind “Sjoe. 128 . but at least they were forgiving. This he knew. perhaps even confession. He was dragged out of his wool-gathering by the sudden silence in the room.
“I can sms my driver. kids!” 129 . man.” Father Bill exclaimed excitedly. waiting for his answer.” Zulwini said. “I guess I could sms my driver too.” Ndudumo added softly. “Okay then. “We could carry on watching and just leave a little later than usual. “I don’t know Moya.” Moya said in a small voice. He shrugged. Father Bill wasn’t sure.” Moya said. giggling.Spilt MilK “It’s five o’clock. “let’s get this show back on the road. They all looked at Mlilo. What about your parents?” “I can just sms them. ignoring the sudden prickle of unease he felt. Father Bill.” Zulwini giggled.” he mumbled. They weren’t supposed to be doing this in the first place.” Moya said quickly. “Ah. “And the rest of you?” he asked. “Me too.” Father Bill exclaimed playfully. “you guys haven’t even seen the dance scene yet.
Mlilo muttered that his driver was waiting and asked if he could be excused. which she very seldom was. 130 . feeling nothing. maybe rewind a bit and watch one of the funny parts again. no pangs of conscience. Realising that he was being a little irresponsible keeping the children after hours. Even if she was in the wrong.Kopano M atlwa When Mohumagadi arrived at the school and walked into the assembly late she did not apologise to anyone for her tardiness. Father Bill had hoped they could talk about the movie a little. She’d been done wrong before and those who had hurt her had carried on without a word. 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. leaving her forgotten. still waiting for an explanation. Father Bill told them all they were free too leave. Had moved on with their lives. saying something about his driver having been there since five o’clock. She did not apologise to anyone for anything. no self-reproach. her intentions were never to do anyone any harm. She gave no explanation even to Miss L. gave him a hug and dashed out the classroom. As soon as the movie ended. but Mlilo looked anxious to get out. Zulwini ran up to him. There were many apologies that she deserved but had never received.
” she said. 131 .Spilt MilK Father Bill began to pack the equipment away feeling the bristles of guilt again begin to brush at his insides. Ndudumo?” he asked. His hands were sweaty. her eyes welling up. Moya said she’d come back to help close the windows but needed to run to the bathroom quickly.” She was silent. What he minded was being asked if he minded all the time. the last of the lot that needed to be packed away. he told her with a smile. “Everything okay. Now that the children were warming up to him. “Are you going to tell Mohumagadi about what happened yesterday?” she asked him. Ndudumo pulled the extension cord out of the wall and handed it to him. She had avoided his eyes all day and. “I won’t unless you want me to. Of course he didn’t mind. but when she reached the door she hesitated and turned around to look at him. too. he wondered if he deserved their trust and whether he was using it in the best manner he could. he hadn’t made too much of an effort to meet hers either. “Do you want me to?” “I don’t care. The DVD player felt heavier than it had earlier and he struggled to carry it across the room. like they had been on his first day at the school. truth be told. Neither of them moved. He thought Ndudumo was about to leave. The girls must have noticed because they jumped up to help him.
but he didn’t get the sense that she hated him on a very personal level like he did with some of the others. When they got to the parking lot he was not sure what to do. He watched her as she packed her school bag. She was so careful and meticulous. He didn’t mind. “Not unless you want me to. Father Bill and Moya closed the windows together. very careful hands that made no mistakes. enjoying her company and not wanting to be the one to disrupt it. and turned off the lights.Kopano M atlwa “And my mom?” she asked.” She slowly shook her head.” Moya walked back into the classroom. Ndudumo quickly waved goodbye and hurried out. put the chairs on the table so the cleaning staff could sweep and mop with ease. She walked quietly beside him to the car park. He wondered if Moya was lingering because she didn’t have a driver or a parent waiting for her. She was guarded. Everything had its place in that bag and not a single piece of paper was crumpled in. but he said nothing. but she didn’t. Moya had been one of the easier ones from the very start. so he sat down on the 132 . She had very small hands for such a tall girl. His was the only car and he wondered if she was perhaps embarrassed to tell him her parents were running late. He said nothing and she offered no explanations. this time less courageously. “Then I won’t. He waited for her to run out the door. they were all guarded.
tell him more. Moya?” Father Bill asked. a laugh that was followed by a snort that made her smile. They did not need him probing them too. “Yes. offering her no way out. Perhaps she would go on. he remained silent. The silence that followed was his cue to drop the whole conversation.Spilt MilK curb and she sat down beside him. Knowing this school. “Because I misbehaved.” he said laughing.” “To see what Moya?” Didn’t he know? Of course he knew.” He waited. “What was the indecent thing that you did?” he asked gently. But despite his better judgement. 133 .” “An indecent manner? Well. Father Bill. “I acted in an indecent manner. Father Bill. “I lifted my skirt up for boys to see. well that does sound like a pretty serious deal. And after some time she said. waiting for an answer. He’d meant to start a light conversation about different types of cars. “You misbehaved?” She did not look up from her hands. She looked down at her hands and he immediately felt bad for asking. “How did you end up in my class. Father Bill. these children were probably in play therapy all weekend. comedies or cartoons but when he opened his mouth those were the words that snuck out first.” she finally said.
we agreed.” “Of what?” he asked. “I was scared.” “Whose idea was it?” “We came up with the idea together. He smiled too. Father Bill.Kopano M atlwa “My privates. but the others said we needed to make use of every little bit of extra time we had. Moya?” “No. 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.” she said quietly. Father Bill. He did the same. “I knew we shouldn’t have done it in the bus. She looked at him and smiled.” she finally whispered.” “All of you?” “Yes. Father Bill. no. they didn’t ask. not looking up at him. He was confused. yes. no. I mean. We just agreed to show each other. “Did they ask to see your privates. 134 .” “Agreed?” “Yes. so kept quiet and let her continue.” She stretched her legs out and swung them from side to side.
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. “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. Father Bill. It didn’t work. They were just kids and it was not like they were caught having sex. trying to keep his tone light. He tried to comfort her by rubbing her back. a place where no one wanted to be and those who had been there would make every effort not to do so again. “It isn’t funny. Wasn’t it a normal part of development? Pubertal curiosity? She had begun to sob silently. “You’re right. I’m sorry.” she said. it’s not. but honestly didn’t think it was such a big deal. He was a teacher whose role was to be feared and hated.Spilt MilK She shrugged. but it felt awkward so he stopped doing it. and then tried to see if he could make her smile again by swinging his legs like they had done earlier.” he said.” He hadn’t meant to upset her. I was just teasing. this time not smiling. 135 . 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. His was a detention class after all.
She didn’t say how.” “Ndudumo does. That’s just gross. “It just seems so lustful to me you know. Not that I was thinking about any of those things. Like once there was this HIV-positive man with the colourful hands who came to the school to talk to us about all that stuff and he asked whether girls do it and none of us wanted to raise our hands because what would people think? But Ndudumo did. and not so often. She just sat there with her hand in the air as if she was proud. ‘Sick.” 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. like that is all she 136 .Kopano M atlwa Realising that what she had said might have been offensive. She didn’t even look back to see who else had put their hand up. She stared straight ahead and raised her hand up as high as she could. Not good girls. but Ndudumo didn’t even look back.” “What kinds of things?” “All that sexual stuff. but said you would know once you tried. Ndudumo raised her hand up high. “It’s just that girls are not supposed to think about those kinds of things. “Like Ndudumo does. Moya tucked her arm into his and said.” “Maybe she is. you need to get a real boyfriend Ndudumo’.” She turned around and looked at him in the eye. Sinethemba said. huh?” “Ndudumo does all the time.
whose behaviour is a danger to society. but how do you pray with sticky fingers all covered in cookie juice?” He did not have an answer to that question.” He nodded. and almost never while he was with them. Her mom’s a psycho. They had noticed it. Psychopath. perhaps that was a danger to society. An antisocial person. Hardly a mother who has unconventional beliefs about sex. just like her dad. 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. who knew. It’s not her fault. That book you always carry around. Loosely defined as someone with a chronic mental disorder. “Yes?” “Don’t write any of this stuff in your book. It was getting dark and windy and Father Bill wondered where this child’s parents were. 137 . “Father Bill.” He nodded. it’s her mom’s fault. but then again. but he did not even write in it all that often. “Her mom even sometimes does it while watching TV and Ndudumo says she even sometimes puts her finger in there.Spilt MilK thinks about. Psycho.” she spoke again. My mom says that a girl should pray in the morning. Don’t write this stuff in there. His journal. Doesn’t she care for her? What if she becomes a slut and falls pregnant? That is what worries me the most.
She curled her back as she felt the shudder of warmth come down her spine and in between her legs. his feet pink in the cold water. that you are in your head and you are stuck. And with that. She got that feeling she used to get when she was a little girl. It made her frown whenever she thought about it because she couldn’t get around it and the more she tried. That this is you and all you are. threatened to unhinge and swivel backwards. that sudden sense that you are you and they are them. his T-shirt hanging loosely around his waist being gently tugged up by the wind. She switched on the radio. “How primitive. Tiny tingles danced in the depths between her thighs. the desire was gone. the more her eyebrows knotted and her eyeballs. and they have their own heads and you cannot swap. Turned the volume up when she felt her palms get damp around the steering wheel. 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.” she said to herself. So she thought about the man in the water and his boat instead. And sucked in the inside at the sudden pleasure of it. Father Bill with his jeans rolled up. looking up to the top right corner of her head. But each time she tried to imagine him she saw Father Bill.
It was the security guards.” the other said. “It is late for you to be sitting here. “Ndizam’fowunela Tata. “Ntombazana.” all three of them said simultaneously. “It is not safe for a young girl to be out here alone.” Moya responded sweetly. Father Bill could tell they were not satisfied because they lingered on. grunting at each other and shaking their heads vigorously. you don’t want us to call you a taxi today?” one of them asked Moya. Eventually they walked away. “You cannot trust no one these days.Spilt MilK Father Bill heard footsteps approaching them. “What is going on. eyeing Father Bill warily. “Your mom on her way?” 139 . “Not even the ones who look trustworthy. we were just discussing some work we did this afternoon. also ignoring Father Bill.” the second one said.” the one who spoke first continued. do not worry about me. forming a circle around them. “Molweni. Moya?” he asked. but not before shining their torches in his face. Thank you. I am safe.” the one who had been silent up until this point added. Whatever it was Moya had said.
What had he done? He grabbed her hand and pulled her towards the car. I just call a taxi. “Come. The torches from the security booth followed them too. Father Bill. let’s hurry.” She grabbed her bag with the other hand and followed him. She was gone for a while and when she finally did return she was accompanied by one of the men. “My mom doesn’t like to come out after dark.Kopano M atlwa She shook her head. We need to get you home. “You are taking this girl home?” “Yes. turning around and running back to where they had come from. Father Bill. “I need to go tell them you are giving me a lift home. I just wanted to watch the movie too. The guard shone the torch right into his eyes.” His heart started racing.” “Moya!” he said jumping up.” he answered. Father Bill could not see and his eyes began to water but the guard continued with his torch.” “So who picks you up then?” “No. until Father Bill 140 . “Why didn’t you tell me?” “I’m sorry.” she said. Father Bill.
Moya? This late? Is that even safe? Does your mom know you do this?” “I tell her I get a lift with a friend.” The security guard switched the light off. he did not know that area well. “It’s just easier this way. but she seemed to be used to directing drivers. Father Bill. Moya? I could have gotten you home earlier. Your mom must be panicked. she is safer with me than some cab driver.” “So why don’t you get a lift with a friend then?” She shrugged. “I am taking her straight to her house. “Why did you not say anything. And it’s not all the time anyway.” “A taxi? A taxi. Ma doesn’t like coming out after dark. “She makes excuses. please. I was going to call a taxi after you left. She lies to people about having meetings in the evenings. Father Bill.” They got onto the road. how she can’t see at 141 . it’s just when I end late. get in the car.” They drove silently for a while. muttered something and walked away.Spilt MilK shouted. Were you going to just sit there the whole night saying nothing?” He was upset and was struggling to hide it. lies to me about her eyes and the dark. “I’m sorry. “Come.
“It was better there.” “Of what?” he asked. walking to the car thinking.” “Everyone is scared. now I can finally eat’ and then she says 142 . and then I’m so relieved when they give me the box. We only came back from Switzerland last year. She always thinks there is going to be someone in the back. Father Bill. and I was just so hungry. She started locking her bedroom door after she heard that one in four women here get raped. “Ag. the crime and stuff. but I know she’s just scared.Kopano M atlwa night. So I asked her if we could stop at the Pizza Shack to buy pizza and we did. Ma says I’m not allowed to say that. It was better in Switzerland than it is here. She’s even more scared than white people are and she’s embarrassed of that or something stupid. And then she made me sleep with her when baby Tshepang was molested.” “But Ma more than anyone else. I was so hungry and starving ’cause Ma had had some conference overseas and she had come straight from the airport and had picked me up late and hadn’t even told me because I would have arranged a taxi or something if I knew she was going to be late. Just the other day. ‘Yay. and she hasn’t been the same since. checking the backseat before she drives anywhere. Moya. It was—” She paused and then said. She’s always locking herself up. still annoyed. But it’s the truth.” “Why were you in Switzerland?” “Ma is a diplomat. Father Bill. you know.
I’m leaving this country first chance I can get.” “I’m sorry. She says that only white people are afraid. but it won’t. I heard her once.” “I don’t care. it has to happen to someone right? And if not her. then who? Me? No ways. She said once even if it does happen we 143 . 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. tell the clouds that only white people complain about crime. right there in the parking lot. Father Bill? I’m not even the one who’s scared! She is. Father Bill. of all things. She thinks if she prays it will not happen to her. I can be black and proud in Switzerland. She thought bringing me to this school would change that. why don’t we just leave this stupid country? She turned around and slapped me in front of all those people. they aren’t interested in pizza. only white people immigrate. Moya. And you know what the worst part is. She’s always muttering to herself when she reads those headlines about ladies being dragged into bushes and having beer bottles stuck in them. all those cars. But if it is one in four. while she was standing on that balcony of hers. and said she would not have a snob for a child. So that’s when I screamed at her and said if she is that petrified of the so-called crime.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 just wanted to die.
But if He doesn’t have favourites. Not even to Knysna or George or wherever. then how can you expect Him to protect you? If every other girl out there is raped and God loves you all the same. thorns for trees. No. you must stay right here in the cities and endure it.” “She really said that?” “Not like that exactly. Write books or something. mighty structures within that looked impenetrable. 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. motion detectors following their every move.” Colossal walls with towering metal gates. she said. Father Bill. for the sake of the people. anyway. a moat around the property and electric wires. How come God protects some people and not others? Unless He has favourites. God’s got a big head. not if you are black. but that’s what she meant. then what does that tell you about His love? That’s just how it makes sense in my head. But being afraid is not an option. I know you are all Godly and stuff. Password-guarded entry to a boomed off area. I’m not spending my whole life begging God for something that He may or may not give me.Kopano M atlwa must just endure it and become activists or something. Father Bill. 144 . crawling up the walls. but some things just don’t add up to me. which He’s not supposed to. And I’m not sticking around for that kind of love. like creepers. Running away is not an option.
but when she looked at him with eyes begging for truth. watching him leave. he saw a figure standing up on the balcony. “Surely those innocent girls and boys who suffer pray. chiding himself for not having a single answer to some of the simplest of questions. In his head he knew there was a point. a big obvious point. the point slipped through the base of his skull and onto the ground and rolled away. Most probably more than me. so what is the point really?” He had nothing to say in response to that. As he drove away. too. Father Bill. 145 .Spilt MilK Before she got out the car she turned to him and asked.
20 March Dear God These children are nothing like we were. Bill . their own struggles pass them by. meanings to struggles that have long past. And while they are so busy printing Biko T-shirts and growing dreadlocks. They are filled with complexities. war against principles they have no understanding of. carry large loads. Their hobbies are finding causes and ideologies.
greeting them. In the dream she walked up to them with a smile. Bill and little Mlilo were there too.” she said.” she said sitting down. She just celebrated it. but she’d been asleep. waiting for her to answer. wearing the glitter dress that Mama Twiggy washed for her every night so she could wear it every day. like she celebrated all the other church holidays. the Fathers who were always there.” “What is Shrove Tuesday?” Mlilo asked her.ohumagadi had had a strange dream that night. But in the dream she was an adult. She did not know. M 147 . “Today is Shrove Tuesday?” Bill asked. at the church. A memory almost. “Yes. “Happy Shrove Tuesday. and the Fathers of course. She sat silently. All of them looked at her. “It feels like Easter has come early this year. A memory of a day when she was younger. always everywhere.
If it had been any of the other children he would have 148 .Kopano M atlwa “You know. Zulwini began to shout. Father Bill. “Father Bill.” she said quickly. Mlilo looked at her with a frown on his face. making as if he had not seen him. wait up!” So he slowed down and turned around. Nobody seemed to have noticed and if they had. The Fathers and Bill laughed and laughed and laughed. The Fathers laughed and Bill too. He picked up his pace. 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. pizza. they obviously did not care because no one had said anything to him. So she picked up a rock and threw it at God because all of it was God’s fault. popcorn and TV. shook his head and walked away. he had attended assembly then left to go home to his pyjamas. the day before Ash Wednesday. coming throughs’ catching up to him. His plan had worked very well the day before. But Zulwini was determined to get to him. He was moving faster and faster and Father Bill could hear the little boy’s ‘Excuse mes’ and ‘Sorry. Just before he could turn the corner and run down the corridor towards the exit. He felt bad.
his sweet plan to return home now thwarted. Father Bill. He felt guilty. where are you headed. of his faith perhaps.” Father Bill smiled.” Father Bill smiled sheepishly. the way of life he should be leading. actually. but Zulwini … What was it about the kid that made him so uncomfortable? Maybe he was jealous of the boy. I thought I wasn’t going to catch up to you there. Zulwini. “Always good to get in a little bit of exercise where you can. “So. Or maybe it was that the boy made him feel guilty. but how could he tell him that.” he said painfully. Zulwini really was a sweet boy. reminded him of the kinds of things he should be doing. Who knew really? The boy just made him uncomfortable and he preferred to avoid him. he had taken to sneaking off after assembly to sit on his couch at home watching movies he had 149 . Father Bill?” Father Bill felt a knot in his stomach. I’ve never thought of that.Spilt MilK been delighted by their eagerness to speak to him. his bothersomely blind faith. You walk so fast. He didn’t want to lie to Zulwini. Father Bill?” “To my classroom.” “That’s so true. Sheesh. “What do you do there all morning. He took a deep breath and then said. “Morning. I should start doing that.
” “Why not?” “Dr Semenya is an atheist.” Zulwini whispered. There would be no more sneaking about. please?” Father Bill panicked. He had forgotten that he had lied about that too. “Like reading scripture and stuff. He would have to buy some Christian DVDs now. the funnier he found it.” the boy retorted. Zulwini?” They had reached his classroom and the boy was still pestering him with questions. “Oh. “I do.Kopano M atlwa watched a thousand times before. “Ever heard the saying ‘Don’t cut off your nose to spite your face’. This is why he avoided this child. which was silly of him because of course she would have had to justify buying a new DVD player for his classroom. you know.” was his answer. didn’t think anybody would know but Mohumagadi. He was completely ridiculous. “Don’t you have a class to go to. but I don’t attend this particular class. this and that. That’s so cool. Zulwini?” “I have a tutor. and the more he shook his head and thought about it. Father Bill laughed despite himself. Can I come and watch with you. Miss L told me you are watching some Christian DVDs. Whatever ‘Christian DVDs’ were! He would have to find them and start watching them. opening the 150 .
“And Mohumagadi is okay with that?” “She has to be. He shook his head again. I hand in all my assignments on time and get good grades for my tests. They would all sit in the back and Uncle Eugene would make them sing hymns.” he said hooking Father Bill’s arm and taking him to his seat.Spilt MilK classroom door they had been standing next to and pulling up two chairs for them to sit on. My tutor is only 21 and she is a better teacher than he is. I have it at home and I don’t want to have it here. not sure what to think. It was praise and worship all the way from C5 to Naledi.” “Well. He’s worse than my mother. 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. sang a little too loudly. But Dr Semenya is always going on about it. He remembered the boy who had enjoyed it a little too much.” Father Bill was astounded. his classes are boring. I refuse to attend his classes.” “What about the other teachers? I thought you said you were the only Christian. And. besides. choruses and verses. “And the other teachers?” “More agnostic than atheist. not any more. You and I are the only active ones. the Billy who grew so bold in the spirit that he had taken 151 .
Mohumagadi. Mohumagadi.” the oldest guard began.Kopano M atlwa it upon himself to organise their little choir. When Mohumagadi returned to her office from assembly that morning. and wondered when along the highways he had lost him. He did not recognise the boy as himself. 152 . 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. “The evening shift were very unhappy when they left this morning. Once seated. the three security guards were waiting for her at her door. they started all over again with the greetings. had not thought of that boy in a long time. Mohumagadi asked after their families and their health. ripping out pages of the church hymn books and bringing them with each morning for practice. and they shared a laugh about the weekend’s soccer. seating the sopranos on one side of the bakkie and the tenors on the other. Mohumagadi invited them in. “They were very worried. because that was how things were done.” the other added. and Miss L took their drink orders. Only once the teacups were empty and the biscuits were crumbs did they finally get to the real reason for their visit.
“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.
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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.”
Even in churches all the paintings on the wall. Zipporah (Moses’ wife). I loved you immediately.” “No. afraid of where this conversation was headed. “Na-ah. Simon of Cyrene and the many others. there aren’t. Hagar (mother to Abraham’s first son). Pharaoh Tirharkah. shaking his head vigorously. Father Bill. and if I knew what was good for me. Zulwini?” he asked a little reluctantly. all the prayer books and Christmas cards. “Because she doesn’t go. Ebed-Melech. neither would I. You looked just like God. all the windows. 157 .Spilt MilK Father Bill could not recall the verse in the Bible that said go to church and wondered if there was one.” “Why doesn’t she go?” “She says that until they put black people in the Bible she’s not setting foot in a church. “Why doesn’t your mother want you to go to church. Zulwini. it had been a long time since he’d opened up his Bible.” “Yes. Then again. That’s why I was so excited when I met you in Mohumagadi’s office that day. said. you reminded me of Jesus and his friends and God.” “But there are black people in the Bible. the boy. all of them are pink just like you. there are.” Before he could name the Queen of Sheba.
Mama was just made CEO of Maatla Power House. for my birthday I would like you to come to church with me. red. He tried to think of ways to stop him talking and get him out of his face. But she knew she had said anything in the world. I don’t even think she was into politics or anything. baby? That means things are going to be good for us. Very good. ‘Zulwini my baby. I told her that it didn’t matter what colour Jesus was because ‘Jesus loves the little children. Father Bill. my Mama said. What do you want for your birthday. to get out of his sight immediately. and she couldn’t go back on that. it was probably just an old T-shirt she found lying around. “For my last birthday. Mama can buy you anything in the world. Green and yellow. because the whole thing was terrible. Jesus loves the children of the world’. ‘Mama. all the children in his sight.’ She was so cross. Father Bill. Do you know what that means.’ So you know what I told her Father Bill? I said. 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. but Mama was so angry. But I shouldn’t have forced her. baby? Tell me.” Father Bill wanted Zulwini to leave his classroom. One of the greeters at the door was wearing an old National Party T-shirt. she had promised. white.Kopano M atlwa “I tried to convince Mama once to come to church. She did not want to dip her fingers into the holy 158 . all the children of the world. I told her not even Chinese people are in the Bible and they are not angry at God. He felt an old headache returning. I love you.
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. kneeled when we sat. she started to get sick and threw up into her handbag. “But I’m not worried. And then. right onto the Praise for Daily Living and the English Hymnal. and when I got home she had eaten all of my cake. And if we were all praying to the same God. had left me out. Right there in the middle of the service. continued to leave me out. She wanted us to leave right in the middle of the service. 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. she did everything wrong – she sat when we stood. but I refused.” “You are not worried?” “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” 159 . It was the worst birthday of my life. just as we were about to share the peace. 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. She said it was dirty. She asked me how I could go to a church where we’re not praying for the same thing. And everybody turned around and looked. I was so embarrassed. so she left without me.Spilt MilK water either. I was happy she was gone.” Father Bill did not realise he had been holding his breath until the boy stopped speaking.
verse 27. my favourite verse in the Bible!” “So. that he was a counterfeit. In fact. Or just an idiot. “Because God sent you. that he doubted too.” “Yup. you don’t worry?” “Nope. “What situation?” “You kids could get kicked out of the school for what you did. I know God had His reasons for leaving black people out of the Bible. Matthew 6. “But we won’t. I don’t worry.Kopano M atlwa “Matthew 6.” Father Bill wept. he hated him.” “How do you know that. verse 27. Hated him because he was a liar and a fake and a cheat. wanted to show Zulwini that he was no different from anyone else. Zulwini?” Father Bill was almost shouting.” “You are not even worried about the situation you are in right now?” Father Bill didn’t believe him.” Father Bill knew they wouldn’t get kicked out but he wanted to scare him. after Zulwini had 160 . He wept and he wept and he wept like no man with any sense should do before a child. “Can I tell you a secret?” he said. Father Bill.
And then he added.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. continued to storm. You are still very young. Dr Semenya. It’s not honest. Father Bill. “You shouldn’t sneak in and out. you know. And you were running away from me. “I was going to sneak back home after assembly.” “But you are not sick. But you shouldn’t judge other people either. Zulwini.” 161 .” “It’s okay. Zulwini. There are things you don’t understand. try as he might to stop them. if you were sick you wouldn’t have had the strength to do that.” “I’m not judging you. whose eyes.” Zulwini said pulling his chair up to Father Bill’s so he was sitting right by him.” “I’m sorry. Father Bill laughed.” “Not me. “How did you know?” “I saw you go yesterday. I’m used to it.” the little boy said resting his head on Father Bill’s shoulder.” “But I could have been going to the doctor or something.” “I know.” “I know.
her statements.” Zulwini was silent. Mohumagadi had decided to try to catch Father Bill before his afternoon session with the children began. She stopped at the door and watched them. When last did she laugh like that? She could not remember. her knowledge. she and her rules. her nails. then felt ashamed. roaring hysterically. Father Bill. it was contagious. She was too embarrassed to disrupt them. her jetblack afro in a bun. As she approached his classroom. sticking out his hand. her authority.Kopano M atlwa Zulwini looked up at him and nodded. “Bet Jesus would. She was sure that he had only been trying to help by taking Moya home. “I promise to stop sneaking in and out if you promise to attend Dr Semenya’s classes. Why were they laughing like that? She giggled.” Father Bill said. she saw the man and Zulwini laughing. her three-piece suit. heads flung back. It would only be for a minute. She smiled.” Father Bill said with a large grin. “That’s just lame. Had she ever 162 . She began to laugh too. “Let’s make a deal.” And they laughed together. Father Bill’s whole giant body jived as he laughed. She was not angry. And Zulwini looked so completely and utterly happy.
She remembered. not Mama Patricia. needy. She turned around and went back to her office. She was the talented one who used big English words like ‘consequences’ when Bill and the rest of the boys came in hurt. She didn’t want to. So embarrassed. How could she? They had 163 . but she did. that wasn’t the way things were done. To be reduced to nothing by a boy. weak. Walked forwards but wished the whole time she could do it backwards. but nothing before that. Only the pain she had felt. unable to accept that such a thing could happen to her. She remembered all of it as clearly as if it was only a moment ago. regrettable character. a person who would not be missed by the world if he died. but one whom she would still take back if he changed his mind— He’d made her into a sorry. who was he now? A nobody. not Mama Rose. She had been stunned. She was the clever one who knew her times tables before he knew his. So rejected and unloved. And look. She was the one who grew up knowing she was different. she had told no one. still felt. set apart. an absolute nobody. none of the good. who didn’t deserve her anyway. What would everyone think? A school principal walking backwards along a corridor? Nobody ever did anything backwards. So. She remembered how pathetic he had made her feel. special.Spilt MilK laughed like that? Not in this life certainly. not even Mama Twiggy. Not Mama. Walk backwards. not Mama Puleng. the life after the church. embarrassed. He’d taken all the love she had inside of her and made her hate herself.
As long as books were involved they did not ask any more questions. And it worked out for her just fine. So she never spoke to people about things that did not concern them. that he had written but the letters had got lost. this gaaning aan about the ins and outs of things long gone. She was evolved. She would not do it. and then she left too. were enough for them. The reasons she gave. waiting and waiting. remembered the ice machine in the staff 164 . Father Bill felt thirsty. and how was she to tell them about the church without mentioning the Fathers. She waited for many days. bigger than. And at the other places she also said nothing. She waited and waited.Kopano M atlwa looked at her with eyes that warned it would not last. She asked no one a thing and they did the same. almost like all that emotion he’d been too hasty to regurgitate had scratched the skin off his throat and left it raw. told herself she was overreacting. studies and related things. days she remembered but could not bear to look back on. In time she began to see it as even a little narcissistic. that he had been stuck somewhere and would send for her. She was too proud to have them pity her. laughed some mornings. questions it was clear she was unable to answer. For how was she to tell them about Mama without mentioning the church. that he was waiting too. very thirsty. He wanted ice. and how was she to mention the Fathers without it all leading back to him. beyond such.
165 . stuck his head out and then crept right back in. The doctor had never seen such a thing either. ‘you have always been cold and distant. He stuck his head in the door slowly and was glad there was no one about. He stood up quickly and she waved her hand for him to sit. ‘Reluctant even to be born. she’d never felt such a thing. He smiled. He walked over to the staff lounge and got there faster than he expected. and birds that looked like M’s and smoke out of a chimney and a mom and dad holding hands and a child laughing. Certainly none of his brothers had done such a thing when they had been born. He knew that his ambivalence about interacting with people was silly and probably accounted for most of his awkwardness. His feet were light. threatening to let go of the grip they had on the ground and fly off. he had not heard her come in. “You like our artwork?” It was Mohumagadi. tingly. 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. His head had felt cold.Spilt MilK lounge from that day he had stood with a cup of ice in his hands eating an egg sandwich he had hated.’ his mother said. and had sucked him out with a vacuum. She said he had hesitated at his own birth. His mother had said he’d been born awkward.’ He sat down in the middle of the couch with his ice.
lost to his life again. he spoke up without giving what he was going to say any thought whatsoever. “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.” he said smiling He saw her face change.” He felt like such an idiot. “I meant us when we were children. Skin-colour-crayon!” He laughed. brown sugar.” he said. Those paintings remind me of when we were children. Reminds me of us.Kopano M atlwa “Yes. What I mean is that they remind one of being a child. trying to hide his nervousness. She walked over to the coffee machine and picked up her mug. ‘us adults when we were children’. Only she knew he couldn’t tell the time on a clock. picked up a sachet of sugar. and a stirrer. 166 . trying to correct his last statement. He had meant ‘us’ as in ‘us when we were children’. But maybe it was a coincidence or even a joke. maybe she didn’t remember him at all. He was sure she remembered him. She was done. Before she could leave. Not ‘us-us’ but ‘us’ being ‘adults’. had poured milk into her cup and he was certain she would walk out the door and back to her office. “I meant us adults when we were children. She probably didn’t even care any more. She continued to pour her coffee. But that sounded even worse than what he had said before. A large mug with a large spoon that only she used.
“We’re all just kids.Spilt MilK She sat down on the couch across from him. pray for this world. “You really believe that?” she asked him. Bill.” “Because I prayed. “But things are different now. The silence grew thicker. I prayed and prayed and 167 . Or maybe they are not. threatening to squash them.” He laughed again. Even if they go back home at night to a man who not only enters their beds but their privacy too. Maybe they are exactly the same and we’ve just found a way of complicating them. I’ve realised. looked at him but said nothing.” he continued. “We’re all grown up and now things are different. they will smile in the day and laugh and play just like the other little children. Why he’d brought up their past was a mystery to him. He didn’t know what he had expected her to say.” And again. pray for our children. pray for our country. “Yes. so he spoke again. Kids will smile regardless of what they are feeling inside. He could tell that he should have stopped talking a long while ago. she didn’t. Just kids trying to figure it all out. “What can we do but pray. didn’t blame her for her silence. pray for ourselves?” “Pray?” Her voice came out hoarse. looking him straight in the eye for the first time since his arrival.
” “Spilt milk?” she screeched. Bill. So loudly that he jumped and dropped the cup of now melted ice so that it splattered across the room. “Are you insane? You want to call fifteen years of pain. A figure of speech. but he heard her. pounding so fast he felt like it would fracture his rib cage. “It’s all just spilt milk now.” She whispered it. Tshokolo. What had he done? He hadn’t meant it like that. gutwrenching pain.” He couldn’t get the words out fast enough. fifteen years of madness. “Are you crazy?” she continued to scream. please. you clean it up. I should just forget them? I should just forget the fifteen years you took from my life?” “That’s not what I meant. “Spilt milk?” she screamed again. and you know what it brought me? Nothing but lost time. Tshokolo. no point crying over it. It was just an expression. ‘spilt milk’? So I should just forget everything. agony and rage. that wasn’t what I meant. fifteen years of lack of sleep. Bill.Kopano M atlwa prayed. is that what you are suggesting.” “Your prayers will be answered some day. fifteen years of fear. Tshokolo. Bill? All those promises you made in ’94. You don’t forget spilt milk.” 168 .” “Fuck you. “I didn’t mean it like that Tshokolo. His heart was pounding.
” she cussed through gritted teeth. He wanted to take it back. He tried to hold her.” She wouldn’t stop. Grabbed her around the knees. you coward. wouldn’t let him explain. It was just an expression.Spilt MilK “You clean up your own fucking mess. How could he fix this? He dropped to the ground. You pathetic coward. Bill. It was just a figure of speech. “Get your hands off me. Don’t cry over spilt milk. Wasn’t that how it went? He’d made such a huge mistake. you piece of nothing. 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 . clean it up. 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. “Spilt fucking milk. What had he done? “And get up from that floor. Maybe he had said it wrong. explain. You and your fucking ancestors. the veins on her forehead bulging. her eyes red.” Mohumagadi had wet herself again. stop her. He’d obviously said it at the wrong time.” Oh Lord. His soul was trembling.
to destroy whatever was left of her? What had she done wrong? Paulo Coelho was wrong. perfect world fifteen years on. the world conspired to bring you pain. It. he ignored him and continued scratching his lip. when Mlilo walked into the classroom “Good afternoon. have let it happen to her again? It wasn’t even fair. simultaneously rubbing the Bible against his breast. pressing Zulwini’s Bible against his heart. the world did not conspire to bring you happiness. He closed his eyes and tried to reach down to the peace 170 . Hadn’t even gone looking for it.” he replied. His head was throbbing. the gods. Them. “Good afternoon.” Mlilo said. When the boy said nothing more. not meeting his eyes. here to her new school and her new life and her new.Kopano M atlwa cold to sit on. How could it have happened? How could it have happened to her again? How could she have let it? And what about the universe. Mlilo. Father Bill was sitting with one hand inside his shirt. the other scratching the erupting vesicles on his lip. Had it followed her here. She hadn’t even deserved it. the whatever that was out there? How could He. Father Bill. She. the celestial beings. not bothering to lather the greeting in any niceties either.
“Look Mlilo.Spilt MilK he knew had to be inside. The best project would win a trip to the Human Sciences Museum. So we came up with the 171 . “Just the basics of the male and female reproductive systems and the changes they undergo during puberty. but could not find its hand to pull it up. Mlilo was standing at his desk. But not today. Father Bill was confused. 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. We never got to finish it because we got into trouble before we could. My mother and I take the school rules very seriously. okay? There’s nothing left of me to destroy so just give me my space please. Mlilo?” Father Bill did not like the sound of this and after all that Mlilo had put him through. He sighed.” He saw tears suddenly fill the boy’s eyes as he retreated to his desk. “Mlilo? I’m sorry. When he opened his eyes. “I know you asked me to bring a movie but we don’t have any at home. I know you’ve had it out for me since I arrived here.” He made a movie? “It’s the video we made that day in the bus.” Mlilo said putting a DVD onto the table. So I made a movie. he was a little wary of what the boy was up to. is everything okay?” “I brought this.
Kopano M atlwa idea of making a video of ourselves because we are all in different stages of puberty. That’s all.” “So that’s what you kids were doing in the bus. So I never bothered to edit it until last night. other than in here. So we started working on it. but then Dr Tshivhase saw us in the bus and we got into trouble and we never got to submit it. Also. we don’t spend a lot of time together. Ndudumo knew all the stages really well so we used her voice to discuss them. we’re not all really friends. We even went together to the university’s medical school library and got all the facts right before we started filming. I just thought the others might want to see it because we all worked so hard on it. It’s really good. after waiting for Father Bill to answer his question and realising he wasn’t going to. “We could have won. 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. I just wanted to show them. so I just thought because we are all here and there’s a DVD machine … I don’t even think it’s very long. Ndudumo said it would be okay to film ourselves because only Dr Masemola would see it and she’s a lady and a mom and wouldn’t care about our privates and stuff. We don’t have to watch it today if you don’t want. 172 . working on a school project?” “Yes.” he said. Father Bill. But she would care that we had been really innovative and we would win.
Spilt MilK The images are pretty good too. I was thinking we should submit it to Dr Masemola anyway. We got nought that whole week we were suspended from school. We would have won if we hadn’t got into trouble. but it might still be worth submitting it to her. “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. they gathered around him and gasped and laughed and blushed as they each took turns holding it. I guess we didn’t think the whole thing through. Questions flew around the room. even if it’s too late to get any credit for it.” 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. Maybe we went a little too far but we just wanted to win. Father Bill. When they realised it was the DVD that had got them all into so much trouble. if we just have a quick look?” Father Bill had meant to protest against the watching 173 . Kind of embarrassing but pretty good.
and watched them as they thought and spoke and acted. They chatted amongst themselves as they helped Mlilo connect the equipment. Mlilo.Kopano M atlwa of this DVD. That’s so embarrassing. could not act. could not speak. they were about to see it for themselves. Moya protested that she was the favourite and gave him the biggest hug of all. About who had actually won the biology project and how it would not have stood a chance against what they had planned to submit. I hope you didn’t put in any of mine. “So. Zulwini came up to him and gave him a hug. because she hadn’t expected Mlilo to bring anything. let his Bible fall to his lap. is it any good?” “Wasn’t it weird putting it all together?” “Did you include all the images? Oh my gosh. then jinxed each other at the same time for speaking at the same time and everyone packed up laughing again. Ndudumo stuck her tongue out at him and called him ‘sour pants’. Joking that she was his favourite. Notting Hill and Sleepless in Seattle. but he had no real reason. Mlilo remained silent and did not touch him.” Mlilo snapped at them and told them to be patient. that he could not think. Zulwini and Ndudumo exclaimed ‘me too’ at the same time and packed up laughing. smoldered. Ndudumo gave him a hug too. His mind was so smoked out. Father Bill had never seen them so excited. so he sat back. They continued to pester Mlilo with questions. Moya said she’d brought movies from home. 174 .
their breast buds. There was so much she wanted to say. the past fifteen years had not been lost time. she was determined to. a school. Sekolo sa Ditlhoro it was indeed. He shook his head and chuckled silently to himself. their genitalia. She would take back what she had said earlier and tell him that. The past fifteen years had been the best years of her life. rolled in. It was the strangest thing Father Bill had seen in his entire life. She was finally going to tell him everything that she thought of him. peeped between fingers. folded into little pieces to make space for all of it to fit in. They all settled down to watch their biology project. a priest who had shamed the church with his sexual indiscretions. so many things she had stuffed inside of herself over all those years. It was really them on the screen. hid their faces behind their books and giggled in profound embarrassment. She had built an empire. their pubic hair. She would start by telling him how he was a nothing. there was no vulgarity to any of it. though he tried to hide it. Mohumagadi marched towards his classroom. highly ambitious kids who had taken one school project a little too seriously. a failure even amongst his own people. Although they covered their eyes. The film really did explain the developmental process well.Spilt MilK even Mlilo. a 175 . in fact. He was impressed but tried not to look at the private parts of a bunch of overzealous.
suggesting that his disdain stemmed from racism and recommending that he be told to leave. A school of giants. But when Mohumagadi got to the classroom she was not prepared for what she saw. 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. 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. baby penises. Instead of a neat row of heads buried in work. Baby vaginas. a vagina and then a penis and then a finger pointing at testicles appearing up on the wall. 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. 176 . 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. the DVD machine’s blue light spinning. a baby finger pointing at them all. 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 testicles. huddled around the projector screen.Kopano M atlwa school where no little black girl would ever have to cry over some foolish low-life dirty white boy. And the images were all of children. throwing the door open. “What is going on here?” Mohumagadi hollered. she saw Father Bill and the children sitting in the dark.
saw the DVDs on the table. “King Kong? Australia?” She opened up their school bags and overturned them. pushed them out of the way. quaking. shaking. curlier hair. and later with thick. Casablanca. The contours of the papilla and the areola then become separate from the rest of the breast. It begins with the development of the breast bud. as you can see in me. initially with just sparse hair. The pubic hair begins to develop at stage two of breast development. Her eyes dared them to. began to greet her in chorus and then stopped when she turned to look at them. The areola then regresses as demonstrated by my breasts. threw the contents of their chair bags onto the floor. “What is going on in this classroom?” she asked again when she had regained her breath. They had not moved. as you can see in Moya. coarser. She kicked down the bookshelf. quivering. And when she was out of breath she stopped and glared at them.” Mohumagadi was rabid with rage. “Who brought this 177 . She heard Ndudumo’s voice on the screen. as demonstrated by Moya’s breasts. Pretty Woman? What is this garbage?” she screamed. “Notting Hill.Spilt MilK The children jumped up. She marched around the classroom. “Puberty in girls starts at an average age of ten-and-a-half years. “What is this?” she yelled pulling the cord out of the wall. She ransacked the room and searched everything. She could feel herself rattling. flipped through the pages of the books.
“Was it you. smash him.” “Don’t you ‘oh come on’ me Bill. white romance. waiting for an answer. Bill?” “Oh come on. art? Artistic Christian DVDs? Isn’t that what you said you needed this projector for? Christian DVDs?” She wanted to grab him. Mohumagadi. “They are just movies. pointing at the projector screen. The only dark skin you 178 . “What is it Bill. “What is going on in this classroom? What is this trash?” she screamed holding up the DVDs. “You are bent on polluting my children’s minds. Bill? Was it you? Did you bring pornography into my school. shake him. These movies humiliate us with their depiction of white history. “Just movies. Mohumagadi’?” “It’s not pornography. Mlilo? Did I hear you say ‘just movies’? Are there any black people in these movies.” she heard the man reply faintly. aren’t you. white sorrow. Mlilo?” “And what do you have to say Bill? ‘Just pornography’? It’s only ‘just pornography. Mohumagadi. crush him under her foot and spit on him.” Mlilo whispered. Bill? Is that what you did? Is that what you have been planning all this time?” She looked at him.Kopano M atlwa filth into my school?” she screamed.
Bill. spinning around to face the children. other than lies and deceit?” “Please. Honestly.” “It’s not pornography. 179 . Mohumagadi. What do you think that teaches the children. Bill! You are in no position to help anyone. It’s all been a big misunderstanding. I’m only trying to help fix things.” “Please. Mlilo.Spilt MilK see is picking up the trash in the background. I really was just trying to help. Mohumagadi.” “We don’t need your help. We were just fine until you arrived and if anybody needs fixing. Children should be allowed to be children. I meant no harm. Mohumagadi.” “We didn’t ask you to come here to fix us. Mohumagadi. there’s been a big mistake. What do you know. Bill. We don’t need your advice. they are just children. what do you think the skinny. Father? As they fall in love with the man and cry for the girl. “All of you? Don’t you know better? Especially you. Mohumagadi. just hear me out.” “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. These children. insignificant shadows in the background do to their minds?” “And all of you?” she said. I don’t think Dr Tshivhase understood what was actually happening that day on the bus. it’s you. especially you.
” “Life hurts. “You have had your chance. 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. I had no intention of— “You never have any intention of doing anything. your anything. do you Bill? I want you out. Mohumagadi.” “Your words hurt me. examine us under all sorts of microscopes. it went in before the last bit came out and went out as the rest was coming in. sugar coating the truth for you so it is easier to swallow. generation after generation and enough is enough. Well I’m not about to do that. You people are so used to having us apologise for our opinions. we do not need anything you have to offer. 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. I want you out of my 180 . Bill. Bill. a regrettable human being. years to study us and pick us apart. Father Bill. A whore. We are not some charity organisation.Kopano M atlwa your counsel. “The truth. is no Smartie.” Her breath was coming out so fast.” She needed to breathe. You are a male whore. Bill.” “Mohumagadi. there were so many words coming out of her she had forgotten to breathe. a mistake. it happens to be a great big suppository that gets shoved up your rectum.
You’ve done enough damage. Father Bill. It was the first time he had listened to it since his arrival. Bill. It was a mistake allowing you to come here. please. Please.” That night he lay on the floor in the dark listening to the radio.” “Oh no. I think it’s time that you go. Please. Tshokolo. did not care.Spilt MilK school right now. did not even know which station it was on. I want nothing to do with any of your sympathy. They were having some kind of debate. people who did not mind talking to him. don’t you dare. for a change. He did not know what it was about.” “Please. Something you could never be a part of. so sorry.” “Please. You know why I created this school. like there were people out there. could have the privilege of feeling sorry for people like you. If I’d known— You do not belong here. Don’t kick me out. I didn’t know. just listen to me. Bill.” “Get out of my school. We are doing something here. bigger than anything your pathetic little mind has thought of imagining. Father Bill? I created this school so that we. the talking… it felt alive. There’s a reasonable explanation for all of this. I don’t want your sorries. I’m sorry. but the voices. just 181 . Mohumagadi. I love you. Mohumagadi.
drives you to insanity. but at the core the same bullshit. masquerading. and then Africa TV. Just shifting. 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 . Fucking drives you mad. 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 pisses me off. 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. looked him in the eye and with pain in his heart asked Him.” the caller on the line said. I want no part in it whatsoever. masking. then some religious bullshit. It’s fucking ridiculous.Kopano M atlwa lay there quietly and listened. I do not want to be a part of it. fucking violent bullshit all the fucking time. fucking poverty. What is the fucking point? How are you supposed to be happy. fucking crime. Father Bill turned to God. Fucking terrorist attacks. “This world is stupid. Has the world always been like this? It’s been around for so damn long and it’s like nothing is changing. punk-ass lying motherfucker taking poor people for every penny they have.
Bill . because many of us wouldn’t bother if it was up to us. to pump blood around our bodies.21 March Dear God It makes sense that you don’t require us to will ourselves to breathe. And maybe there is much more to it than what we want at any given time. to beat our hearts.
It was as the darkness was about to fall. for they 184 . square shoes were rested from their whole-day march and the rushrush was over with not much left to do. when black.nd that was the last entry ever written in Father Bill’s journal. the last time it made sense to write anything at all. that they forgot about where they’d been before. when little pots of rice were washed of their yellow starch and the gravy turned down from 4 to 2. It was as the curtains were about to be drawn. that they locked the doors once open before. A At this point the author must take over and speak for those for whom this is more than just a story. because after this entry the world seemed to turn upon itself and everything that once rang true no longer did. when children were called in from a day full of play. when the hot sun had had its final say.
He remembered he was in trouble but could not remember why. woke up that morning and cried. the one the girl grew up knowing as Billy. and got ready to attend the morning assembly. The child. shivering. the one who was always angry.Spilt MilK do not know how to share the rest of it. woke up the next morning. forgot that he was no longer a part of the school. stiff. how she had been targeted and destroyed again. woke up that morning cold. the one called Father Bill. the one the boy grew up knowing as Tshoki. the priest. the one with itchy blisters on his lips. He remembered he had done something wrong but could not remember what it was. She remembered everything that had happened the day before. the one who slept with his Bible under his pillow and his rosary in his hand. He remembered her instruction to wear his priestly garb. how she had been humiliated. the black one. the one who believed deeply and fearlessly. the one with a pair of spectacles and a pair of dimples. The woman. the one called Zulwini. forgot she had said not to return at all. The man. like all the other mornings since his arrival. how she had been ridiculed. how she had been disrespected. remembered she had said not to sneak back home. how she had been attacked. the one who was the principal. 185 . the one called Mohumagadi. how she had been undermined. the white man. the round one. how she had been deceived. remembered she had said to learn the school song. forgot that she had also said not to come back.
remembered not being able to hear. She remembered the day before. the one who liked to paint her face and her heart. the one who tried to hide her hurt. the one who spoke like she knew. remembered her mother telling her she should stay out of trouble. remembered not understanding what they meant. remembered being confused and afraid. remembered thinking they would get a good mark. remembered thinking it was only because she wanted to impress her and her teacher. the small boy. woke up that morning and cried.Kopano M atlwa He remembered being shouted at but could not say what for. The other child. the forward one. remembered the words. the beautiful clever boy with 186 . The other girl child. remembered never feeling it before she came here. the one who was planning to leave anyway. woke up that morning and cried. remembered it was her fault. the one called Moya. remembered not understanding why they didn’t. remembered wanting to explain to her mother. remembered she would escape some day. He remembered thinking he should pray but wasn’t sure for whom. remembered her mother not being there. the quiet one. the one who never wanted to be here in the first place. remembered fear. the one called Ndudumo. she remembered everything that had happened. She remembered the shouting. remembered the cracked DVDs on the floor. remembered how far away some day was. remembered wanting to pick them up but feeling too afraid. the thin one. The boy.
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. He wanted to climb out but could not. could not get his body to follow the instruction to get up and go. the one called Mlilo. he lay with his eyes wide open in his bed. not directly. “What is it like up there. his head buried in his knees. smashing onto his big toe. 187 . So there he sat. He dug his elbows into the bed. “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. what if someone had? What if someone really had come in in the night and hadn’t seen him.” Zulwini had told him that in heaven people were always happy. like someone had snuck in in the night and plastered his entire body. perhaps they would lift his arms a little. His chest felt like it had bricks on it. perhaps they would succeed in at least sitting him upright. Instead. too bold.Spilt MilK dark-dark skin and green eyes. woke up that morning but did not cry as little children should. a throbbing toe and a pile of bricks around him. He tried pushing his hands against the mattress. but still he did not cry. He wasn’t even sure if God was available and when one could consult with him. not like this. He had ignored Zulwini. There was no use pretending. the one they thought was testimony to the success of the school. He began to panic. the one who was bold. making him trip and fall. the bricks were heavy and when he did finally stand up they came tumbling down.
one teacher told me it’s a photographic memory. Because there was this one spelling test and I forgot a word. God. He immediately felt bad for his thoughts. I’ve 188 . I think I could be quite useful there. “Do you sometimes go and sit at the beach and watch the ocean. I’m sorry for being so bad. “If you guys need an extra hand or anything. He was bad. So maybe it’s like that. and sometimes I think that’s what Zulwini is talking about. It’s weird because I have a pretty good memory. what it smelt like. It felt like something you would do. I’m no use here. I’m a hard worker. like I feel warm. though. like a touch. “You can take me back if you like.” he said to God. what we used to speak about. bad. bad. and he remembers. Things pretty much stink down here and I’m just making it worse. I can’t explain it. just to see how it is doing? Do you speak to it? Do you ask it how it feels? I did that once. I don’t remember. bad. where we ate. I don’t remember any of that. a funny touch. I was lying. but it goes away too quickly so I can’t really explain it. “I’m sorry. But Dr Kgomo gave me the mark anyway because she said she knew I knew it. Zulwini said we all came from you. I wouldn’t mind coming back. I just mess things up for everyone. Sometimes I get these feelings though.” he whispered.Kopano M atlwa Zulwini was stupid and stupid people irritated him. 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.
God. And I promise not to get in anyone’s way. and even then he waited some more. It’s called anhedonia. But even if I don’t. I don’t like it any more. If you miss me. please. Please. I don’t want it. It’s Greek or something. that’s fine. I miss you. I’m lonely. and maybe if I’m good. I looked it up. that would be okay. I don’t mind. Just a weekend. even cleaning. I don’t know why I have it but I do. God. I’m pretty good at everything. and waited. “I know you’ll worry about Ma. I want to come home. I wouldn’t mind. but I don’t want to play with the other children. take me back. Even if I came for a weekend. I don’t understand anything. I don’t want to be here any more. I can’t concentrate. “I’m just saying that if you needed just a little bit of company or something.Spilt MilK been top of my class since Grade One. but still God said nothing. She’s so tough and she’ll still have Manzi. I keep thinking too many things. and waited until the sun came up and he was late for school. well you know him.” He waited. I can do filing. 189 . And I miss you. God. some day I can work my way up to helping with the decision-making stuff. “I’m always sad. God. I don’t think he’ll even notice and when he does he’ll just make another baby someplace else. anything. I don’t even have to do fancy stuff. and waited. And Dad. but she will be fine. that’s all.
They had found each other again after all. no note. where lines were straight and circles round.Kopano M atlwa It had already been announced at the school that he would be leaving. and smiled. You look just like my dad. no number to dial. “Father Bill! Father Bill!” The boy nearly bowled Father Bill over as he grabbed him and flung his arms around him. He walked out into the corridor. the green ones streaming with tears. the staff lounge to his right. “Father Bill! Father Bill!” It was Mlilo. her scent everywhere. his green eyes into the man’s blue eyes. The boy looked up into his eyes. the cracked DVDs too. so tightly and so abruptly that a gush of air leapt from the priest’s chest and he couldn’t speak. 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.” Mlilo sobbed. but the message was very clear. No letter. the gardens to his left. And as he was about to set off again. Mohumagadi had not wasted a moment. Emails were sent out. There were no tables and no chairs. running fast. to away away. “Father Bill. but you are nothing like him. there came a thundering down the corridor. almost exactly. 190 .
but the boy did not budge.” is all he could manage to say.” But Mlilo did not move. allow Father Bill to leave and come here right now. He 191 . She screamed and screamed after him. told him that if she had to say it one last time then that would be it. felt his shirt dampen from the little boy’s tears. Mohumagadi went berserk and came running for him. Mlilo slowly backed away and then began to run too. it was done. She warned him. Mohumagadi said it again. “Mlilo Graham. Mlilo did not move. She would be finished with him if he didn’t move that instant. saw them. What would words change anyway? And it was at that very moment that Mohumagadi came round the corner. Were you not supposed to report to my office this morning?” The boy was startled by her voice and dropped his arms. it was over.Spilt MilK Father Bill felt the boy’s arms tighten around him. She wanted to make sure that the man had taken everything out of the classroom. “Mlilo. the last straw. When Mohumagadi saw him. she started screaming. “Mlilo Graham. felt his head pressed into his chest. that he had left no reminder of his ever having been there. She had put up with enough and she was done. Father Bill and her Mlilo.
Watching him climb the fence. Mohumagadi screaming and screaming all the time. over Plaatjie and under Shaka. their hardships. too fast. their suffering. but it was a different scream now. gone. running and running and running. across the Pyramids of Gaza and through Fes. there was always a truck coming down that road. Past their anger. She watched him. He ran right into the middle of the road and a truck came. Right into the road. The world never waited. Down the corridor. along Masai Mara. she already 192 . responded to that call. as far. far away from their struggles. too far. the one that large trucks with their huge tyres came trundling down. never ever in all its years of existence. watching Dr Booi push the children back into the school. watching cars slow down around them. Of course it did. further away. out past Nehanda and Nandi. behind the cloud above Table Mountain. “Wait world! Please world. They all watched. not even from the eighteen-yearold soon-to-be mother watching two true stripes of venereal disease appear before her. quickly. faster and faster. What with all that noise. Even as she cried those words watching Father Bill run across the road. their pain. as fast. running away. behind the gate. as quickly as possible. She screamed his name. Not from kings who had stood at the head of their empires watching men in great numbers torch their homes. wait. their painful memories. not from leaders of countries who had woken up to find their careers destroyed in the morning papers. watching him run faster. Running fast. that big road.” But the world had never.Kopano M atlwa ran. He ran as fast as his little legs would carry him. swiftly.
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.
Here's to milk! Proverbs are taken from Ntate Nape ’a Motana’s Sepedi Proverbs. Re a go leboga. first published by Kwela Books in 2004. . reader. and to you.Thank you to Ntate Nape ’a Motana for compiling our Sepedi proverbs for all the world to see and enjoy. for encouraging me on. They were such a treat to work with in the writing of Spilt Milk. Thank you to my family and friends for your support once again.
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