I entertained a thought and went too deep in it; a thought about life, a thought of sons of the soil. The day did not have much excitement to offer, only bruises and scars, in a village that nature must’ve chosen for people due to their circumstances.
A small village of people, who knew not the deep miseries of one another, but had poverty as the only common thing that related them, lived life in oblivion. Hand to mouth they lived and shared poverty amongst themselves. Among them all, was one with a heart of gold…
She opened the door of a three room shack, a bucket on hand and a baby on her back.
Mmapula, a sixteen year old girl, with her little sister suckling on her back, didn’t weigh much. Spending most of her time taking care of little Neo, in a long brown dress, was all she cared for. She usually woke up every morning to bath, cook for and feed Neo and then go to the nearby river. They were inseparable. You would often see Mmapula swinging a bucket in her hand, on the muddy and filthy street of Mmamabolo village in Limpopo, with little Neo on her back. She couldn’t pass you without greeting you.
Their mother had passed away after a long illness of TB, leaving them with a man that was supposed to protect and take care of them but did none of that. He did work; often you would find him carrying groceries but sadly his children were not allowed to eat any of the food. He would lock the food away.
“A man should be judged by the way he treats his children and the contents he possess towards their character,” those were the sweet words of a cruel-hearted man, mostly when he was drunk. Many judged him by the words he used and believed that he was a man who loved and cared for his children daily; a smooth talker indeed.
Only one woman knew the truth; a single mother raising a four year old son. She was close to Mmapula’s mother before she passed away. Due to an empty stomach and Neo’s needs, Mmapula had to work. She looked after their neighbour’s child while the little boy’s mother went to work. She worked on Tuesdays and Fridays only, which meant Mmapula did too. She was woman in her forties, who knew everything about Mzuzuwephi, a wolf covered in a skin of a sheep, and the false life he led.
One late night the rain was pouring and water was coming in the shack. Mmapula was awakened by wet blankets while they were sleeping on the floor. She quickly stood up and carried little Neo to her fathers bed; he was out having the sip of the future. She silently and calmly laid her on the bed, carefully tucking her inside the blankets.
With the rain coming in through the roof holes, she ran up and down trying to place buckets in place. Suddenly the door was kicked opened and he came in, with his muddy shoes and his clothes, dripping water on the floor. Kicking everything in front of him, he went straight to where Mmapula was standing with a candle in her hand.
He forcefully took the candle and went to his room leaving the little girl in the dark.
When he got there he realized that Neo was asleep on his bed, and that made him angry. He started to shout, “You don’t even know how much this bed cost! All you know to do is to lie down and roll over expecting everything to come to you. I’m not even sure that you are my children. Why don’t you both die just like your mother and stop invading my space?”
Mmapula painfully went and took Neo, who was now crying, and he continued to shout. She took a blanket and placed her on her back. She closed the door that was still opened and tried to calm her little sister down. After sometime, Neo went back to sleep.
She slowly laid her on the table, covered her with a blanket and made certain that it was comfortable for her. She took a chair and sat next to her, with a wet blanket covering only her shoulders, tears started to flow from her eyes.
The next morning when she woke up her father was long gone to work. She took the still sleeping from the table and placed her on her father’s bed. She took a bath and went to the river, leaving Neo fast and peacefully asleep.
While she was out her father came back. He went straight to the kitchen, poured water into the pot, unlocked the cabinet, took out and placed a loaf of bread on the table, and then took out a match from his pockets and lit the paraffin stove. It was set near to the window and the curtains were exposed to it. He took a wooden chair and went outside to sit under a tree.
“It’s no use to sit and think about it. It’s best to drink it away,” said a voice coming from the gate. He lifted his eyes from the ground and looked straight at the gate then shook his head.
“Who said I was thinking about what that old man said? I will find another job. But at least he did not fire me alone,” he replied laughing as he stood up and went to the door. He closed it and went to where Richard, an old man with a weak mind, was standing. They both went to the local tavern, approximately twenty-five minutes, away to drink their sorrows away.
The curtains caught fire, portion by portion, and the house burnt to the ground. The neighbours tried everything that they could possibly do to stop the fire but nature was stronger than the human hand. Someone informed him about the tragedy, he went home running.
“Was there anyone in the house?” one of the residents asked.
“I hope not. I only came back from work a few minutes ago and went straight to Richard’s house,” Mzuzuwephi said.
The neighbour that was close to Mmapula’s mother couldn’t hold back her tears. She had seen Mmapula earlier that morning, with her blue bucket swinging in her hand, as she greeted her with a smile, just like every day, but this time with no child on her back.
Everyone looked at her strangely as she walked barefoot on the muddy street of Mmamabolo village. She kept walking, with an uneasy feeling, staring back at those that were staring at her. As she was walking towards her home she saw a mob of people and there was smoke coming out of what used to be her home. She instantly dropped the bucket, pulled her dress up to reveal her knees, and ran as fast as she could with her tears flowing from her face. As she was about to get to them, her father shouted, “What did you do? Everything I have worked for is gone! Where is my little Neo?”
The pain was too much for the little girl. She just fell to the ground with her beautiful face covered in tears, and laid there with her tears flowing. The neighbour went and picked her up and carried her to her house, with Mzuzuwephi shouting and cursing behind them.
The little girl whispered to her, “I did not do it, it wasn’t me,”
“I know,” the neighbour said with a mother’s voice, as she continued to walk towards her home.
After the burial of little Neo, Mzuzuwephi moved to Gauteng and Mmapula was now living with the neighbour. Everyone in the village was blaming her for the death of her sister. Nobody believed her because Mzuzuwephi had an alibi. The village was now filled with rumours that the negligence of a filthy child killed her little sister.
Early one morning, a month after the accident, with no one at the river but her, she sat next to it. As she watched the water flowing, her tears started to flow. She stretched her hand and played with the water. Suddenly she heard Neo’s laughter. She quickly turned her eyes up; and there she was on her mother’s arms walking next to the river. She stood up followed them with a lovely smile on her face. She kept following them until she got near to where children were prohibited to get to; the heart of the river they called it, because most of the traditional healers performed their rituals there.
Her mother jumped into the river, living Mmapula standing and just watching them as they sank deep into the water.
Until today we could not find Mmapula anywhere. Some believe that she drowned because of pain; some say she is still alive but most of the powerful traditional healers call the river Mmapula. She is gone, living us with no explanations but a warning that no one is supposed to go to the river at around twelve o’clock during the day.
Most of the residents in Mmamabolo village never dared to do so. They continued their lives in oblivion, with poverty still being the only common thing that related them.