Tears fell from my eyes, sending my greetings unto the newborn day, just as they bade the night farewell.
The birth of a baby brings joy to the parents, family and friends, but the birth of that day brought only sorrow to me and happiness to everyone else. There was not much difference between day and night though. However, at night I could at least not see how happy everyone was. Unlike the weather that changes in the blink of an eye, my face reflected only one expression from morning to night, anger! My lips formed a negative parabola shape the whole day. He was the behind all this misery.
That night I couldn’t sleep.
The following day was the re-opening of schools after a three week winter holiday. Mom wasn’t there to wake me when it was time to get ready for school. I woke up and got dressed in my improper uniform, grey unzipped shorts, a white two buttoned shirt that revealed my polo-neck, grey socks and old shoes or should I say ‘slippers’.
He had a briefcase, but taking it would be endangering my life. A combination of two plastic bags became a school bag I carried my books with. I did not want to take a bath (or should I say ‘Vaskom?’) and couldn’t even take the taxi fare money Mom always hid under her bed, all because I would be disturbing his imitation of death. He would probably take that money from me anyway.
Once I had filled my stomach with pap and sweet water, it was time for me to step into the breeze that at night like an unannounced thief broke into that shack I call home and pierced through my thin blanket, injecting me with all cold related sicknesses. Even through the chilly morning, I had to go to school, because I could not put up with the sight of him. And mainly because unlike him, I wanted to get an education and a cold day was not going to stop me from doing so. Besides, had I stayed there he would have beaten me up and insulted me for invalid reasons.
I was running late. I had to hurry, but the wind slowed me down. My tiny body was a tennis ball hit from one to the other end of tennis court. The shortest way was crossing through the river instead of walking by the freeway. The river divided our township and the one where my school was located. At the river, I took off my clothes, carried them up high with my books, and walked through the violent, ice cold water.
Once I was on the other side of the river, I dried myself up and got dressed. While cutting through the bushes like a knife through bread, I could hear the school bell ringing. I then made the decision to run with all my might, but this did not help me either.
Imagine not taking a bath, walking through the extremely cold river and running a marathon from the shack to school only to be late. The gates were already locked. The principal was standing at the small visitor’s gate with a hose pipe on his hand. As I walked past him, he did not hesitate giving me what used to be my daily bread, three lashes on my buttocks. He then complimented me by saying, “Aah! You are back to your wicked ways!” Even though, I did not understand what he said, I answered “Yes, Sir!”
I ran into my classroom and sat down with my hands brushing my behind.
The pain was so enormous that I couldn’t even speak. All this took place while the teacher was busy with the day’s lesson. I could see by the way she looked at me that I had done something wrong. She silently walked up to me with her hands behind her back. I stood up. Out of nowhere came three of the best lashes that hit the exact part of my behind that was hit earlier that morning.
I stood there weeping.
“Sit!” she shouted.
With a side of my buttocks, I sat and buried my head under the desk. I could not hold my tears. As if she had not done enough damage. She pulled the trigger by asking me questions related to that day’s lesson.
“How is relationship with your parents?”
I did not answer.
“How is your mother doing? Where is your father?”
Still I had no answer to her questions.
“Is he still in prison?”
Part of me wanted to answer her interrogative remarks, but my fragile heart did not allow me. After what he did last night, I thought he was not worthy to be on my mind. Now, Miss brought him back into it.
A few seconds later, I saw myself running at a high pace. When I sat or walked, all I did was to think. But how can you run and think at the same time? Instead of sniffing glue or drinking alcohol, intoxicating myself in order to get my mind off things, I ran. I ran as fast as I could. I ran so that Miss that she and her allies could not catch me even if they tried.
I ran, not knowing where I was running off to. I ran till there was no oxygen in my lungs. There I was standing in front of a house made from zink and planks. A house built ages ago, hit by wind, rain and the blazing sun. A house that was cold when it was cold, hot when it was hot and flooded during the raining season. That house was the shack I called home. That shack was my shelter.
Shelter is built to protect everyone and everything in it. But instead it became the streets of Hillbrow and Cape flats. It also became merely a reflection of weather. Just like a man looking in a mirror. What he sees is what he is. The weather inside that shack was exactly as it was outside of it. Besides drinking, sniffing and taking what belonged to Mom, he did nothing.
God said the man shall eat of his sweat. He didn’t have to sweat to have money on his hands.
I saw him through the window. I angrily opened the door. With tears rolling down my checks, I looked deep into his eyes. I looked to see if he had a heart and I saw none. He had none. He just stared back for a while and then carried on searching through the house. In his back pocket was the twenty rand note Mom had left between the bricks that Mom’s bed stood on. Already there was a garbage bag filled with me and Mom’s belongings. My heart was pounding.
I wasn’t running now, so thoughts rushed through my head. Feelings of malice transformed into words and wanted to come out my mouth like vomit. I wanted to tell him that I despised him for what he had done the previous night. For beating Mom up and calling her names, reason being she spent all the money (which she worked hard for) on food and clothing – allegedly- with her concubines. For chasing her away saying he did not know what demon possessed and told him to take Mom as his wife.
I hated him for selling our belongings, for Nyaope and alcohol, especially my new Ben10 T-shirt.
I hated him for what happened on my way to and at school. But most of all I hated him for being my father. All of this, he had to know. As much as I did not want to blame Mom, but the truth was that everything was fine before she invited trouble. On uncountable instances, she had either sent him to rehabilitation centers or bailed him from prison and brought him back into our lives. Just as I was about to open my mouth, a fat lady’s shadow appeared at the door.
It was Mom.
I ran and hugged her. She said swiftly, “Son! Come, we are leaving.”
Those words softened my bitter, rock solid heart. Finally, after many days the storm had weathered down. The sun shined on my life and I found myself smiling. The feelings of hatred fled my heart and were replaced by feelings of happiness and rejuvenated joy. The only words I said to him were, “I will be a better man than you.”
It is amazing how one day can change one’s life.
It is said that one does not choose one’s family, but my father chose to be with us, his family and we also chose to be with him. At first I did not choose a profligate man for a father, but recently I chose a responsible man to be my father. I accepted that he would change and he did more than that. A new life has begun. The old selfish father that I had is now dead. Today, as we are celebrating their fifteenth anniversary in union, I am proud to call him my father, for he is a father to me and a husband to Mom.
Tell us: Do you recall a day that changed your life? How did your life change?