The way I remember 2006 Christmas day is different from what might other people remember that day. The day before Christmas I was excited, and everyone was too. Christmas day is very important in my family – though we might be less fortunate, every gift was sure special. From the wrapped pairs of socks, to the one-legged doll my mother would receive from her domestic employers. No! I never played with dolls, but it was enough for the day.

My mother has always been the pillar within our home. My father didn’t abandon us, but somehow I felt like he did. I would miss his smell, the strong scent he would carelessly leave around the house. I missed holding his hand, those hands that would spank me when I’m wrong, yet I missed those same hands. I know he missed us too.

“Protect your mother,” he would say, “Make sure to always respect her.” Those words would always be engraved on my soul. There was a time I didn’t – my mother is afraid of rats, and I know I am too. This day she was preparing to close the door, a killer rat came rushing in, charging at her. I don’t know how she managed to get on top of the kitchen cabinet, but she did. “Rat!” she screamed. I didn’t need to hear more. I vanished.

My father was in the army. Those camouflage clothes he wore so as not to be seen by national enemies to the state were the same clothes that made him disappear from his family. But even so I was proud to have him in the army, and watching those US Army and Navy action movies made me even more proud of him. I wanted to be like him.

The day of Christmas, I remember being so excited. I didn’t sleep that night before, how could I. It’s not because I wanted to see Santa, that man didn’t exist in my world, but I was excited for the gift I had asked my mother to buy for me for almost two full years, and she had promised to spend her last cent if I did get good marks at school, and I had. The gift was a must-have to every boy in my hood, it included a full wearable camouflage T-shirt, a plastic Rambo knife and a plastic rifle, and of course three small plastic grenades.

The smell of freshly roasted chicken didn’t matter that day, I couldn’t wait any longer. I was brought back to reality when my mother told me to wait for the meals to be finished, I couldn’t. I sneaked up to her room, looked under the bed. I knew it would be there, my mother – she’s not good at hiding things. The search was fast and satisfying.

Outside, the streets were buzzing with activities, everyone in their most Christmas spirits. But darkness is never too far away… I was already in my army attire, armed with plastic weapons. I still remember that feeling till this day, the feeling of serving and protecting, that was the feeling I shared with my father, I believe.

The sunny mid-day temperature was welcoming, and I was geared up. I went to the swimming pool palace, I knew very well that’s where families gather at to spend the day. While I was approaching the pools, I saw Lwando, one of the most notorious kids on our street. He and his friends were bullying someone at the game shop for money.

I charged toward them and took out the gift knife as I was approaching. Lwando was twice my age, but it didn’t matter – that day I was the protector. “Give it back,” I said, “all of it,” pointing the knife to his face.
I heard his friends laughing, I moved closer to them. I remember trying to grab his chest with my hand, but I couldn’t, he was tall. He took something out of his pocket, something shiny. The reflection of the sun on the blade made me close my eyes for a second, and that second was enough. I felt something metallic piercing through my rib cage, then I felt my clothes wet. I looked down and touched, saw blood on my hands. I knew I needed to go home, I had to.

On my way home, an old man who noticed I was bleeding rushed toward me “Boy, are you okay?” he asked, “What happened?” He held my hand, asked again. I pointed to my chest. I could feel I was getting weaker. He took my weapons and vanished, I never saw him. He didn’t help, I believe he robbed me, but that didn’t matter too, I had to get home.
I came home bleeding and weak, crying out to my mother as I fell to her arms. The look on her face that day still haunts me, the sorrow in the eyes of a mother seeing her son dying in front of her eyes. I saw only that, and then my eyes closed.
I was later told Bab’ Mbhele’s bakkie was the only transportation available. I remember how we would make fun of that car, but ironically it’s the one that saved me. The ride to the hospital was not a smooth sail either, a minor breakdown did occur but that was quickly dealt with. I was unconscious throughout all that.
I woke up and saw a tube next to me that was connected to my arm. My mother was sleeping on the chair next to my bed and I called out to her. She too woke up and embraced me. “I will call the doctors,” she said as she went out. The nurse and Dr Mzimba arrived, checked my pulse, and did all other medical procedures.
He smiled and confirmed, “If the knife was pushed an inch higher, it would have pierced your heart,” he told me. “You are truly lucky.” I discovered I had been hospitalized for three days.
That was the end of my dream being in the army. I guess I learned the hard way, but I am still alive and well, I still have dreams to follow till this very day.
As for the kid that stabbed me on Christmas, my mother didn’t press any charges against him. But I don’t know what my father did or told him. He still can’t look me in the eyes. That’s the Christmas I remember, 2006, the day I almost died.