It all began in the year 1969. The sun was shining and there was a light breeze outside. Mmane Moditja was pacing up and down inside the house in anticipation of her first day at school. She was starting grade five at Morotoba Primary School, which was fifteen kilometres away from our home. She waved when she left the house to go to school. I cried because I didn’t want her to leave me behind, but I said nothing. Mmane Moditja left in a hurry because she didn’t want to be late for school. Koko Mmaphuti, my maternal grandmother calmed me down.
“Matome, nkane o apere borokgo bja go ya kerekeng?” She asked with a cheerful laughter.
“Mmane Moditja told me that my time has arrived to begin school. I guess she was fooling me again,” I replied with tears in my eyes.
“Don’t worry my son, nako ya gago e tlo fihla,” Koko said.
“But, when Koko?” I asked with a frustrated frown.
Going to school with Mmane Moditja was always a dream of mine. The reason behind my impatience was that Mmane told me about all the fun I was missing out while I was at home with Koko. Koko took care of me while my mother worked as a maid at the Van Vuuren’s household, in the city. I seldom saw her.
Mmane’s friends would take turns in telling tales and pretending that they were teachers, when they played at our house after school. Dancing and singing was their favourite hobby. One of their most popular songs was ‘Kgogo yela yaka, thankge’. That was my favourite because I liked the last part of the song. We joined in the song moving our hips side by side and sway in harmony.
During winter vacations, our home would be more fun because Malome’s children, Sesi Mokgadi and Makgatha would visit us. We would stay up till late as we recounted the things that happened since last we saw each other. Makgatha was the same age as me, but he was taller than I was and attended pre-school. Malome worked as a teacher at Dithabanene High School. Makgatha would brag about the games they played at school and I would always feel like I was missing out on the fun part of school.
In 1971, early January, it was back to school time. Mmane Moditja was going to the seventh grade which made her a senior at school. She woke up around 5.a.m that morning and stoked the fire. I heard her and Koko whispering outside our bedroom window. I couldn’t hear what they were saying because they spoke softly. Eavesdropping was not really my thing, it was considered rude. Koko then came into our bedroom a while later carrying a basin, cloth and soap in her hands.
“Matome, tsoga ke go hlapise. I don’t want you to be late on your first day to school,” Koko said as she poured warm water from the pot into the basin.
“Did you say school Koko?” I asked with disbelief as I hurried out of my night clothes.
Finally I was going to school. I was going to grade A. My day had finally arrived. After bathing me, Koko rubbed Vaseline all over my body and face and then she helped me button up my khaki school shirt. I was so excited, but nervous too. I kept looking at my bare feet with sadness.
As if reading my mind, Koko said, “Your mother promised to get you school shoes very soon.”
“Ga re sepele Matome, ke nako,” Mmane Moditja called out impatiently.
Koko looked at me with absolute delighted. “Goodness, you look so amazing. Now, go out there and make us all proud,” Koko said with tears in her eyes.
It was a pity that my mother wasn’t around to see me on my first day of school. Regardless of that, I was excited. I told myself that I was going to do exceptionally well.
“Here’s a shilling, buy yourself mangwinya and ice pop during break time,” Koko said.
“Thank you Koko. See you after school,” I said waving her goodbye.
Mmane Moditja and I arrived at school on time. Even though I was nervous, the school yard and pupils made me feel like I had entered paradise. The pupils were running around, shouting, talking, playing; they seemed happy to be at school. The first bell rang; it was for the morning devotion. Everyone made their way to their positions, but I was still standing there holding Mmane’s hand tightly.
“Matome, let me take you to the grade A’s position then I’ll see you during lunchtime. You’ll make friends with your classmates,” she said walking me to the sub A’s line.
“Good bye Mmane,” I said feeling a little scared.
“Bye Matome,” she said with a smile.
After singing and praying, we made our way to our different classrooms. On my way to class, I heard a voice behind me, “Hey are you going to the grade A class?” Asked a boy who seemed to be the same age as me. He was bare foot too and held a pencil in his hand.
“Yes I am and you?” I replied hesitantly.
“Well, le nna, by the way my name Matome Hlapudi. What’s your name?”
I giggled and said, “I’m Matome Naku.”
We both laughed and made our way to the grade A class.
I was determined to work hard and enjoy every day of school because I had hungered to have education for a long time.
Tell us what you think: What was your first day at school like? What do you remember?