On the third and final day of camp everything was perfect. The breakfast was served buffet style, just the way we all liked it, with an assortment of meats and very little cereal. This day fell on a Friday, which made me very happy. After two long days of playing ‘big brother’ to the soon-to-be-university-students all I needed was to spend the whole weekend by myself so I could get some rest.
When breakfast was over, the students were given a few minutes to pack their bags before the commencement of their final pre-tertiary session. As we were making our way to the dorms a group which had congregated just outside the dining hall approached my friends and I – the mentors – like an ambush of tigers.
“Sorry,” a girl who had been very active during the past two days’ sessions said with a nervous smile on her face. “We were wondering if we could have a few minutes of pool time before we leave.”
This issue had been addressed earlier and the camp leader, Mrs. Botes, had responded with an adamant, “No”.
“Please,” another girl in the group added. “We even brought along our swimming costumes just as the information package had instructed us to do.”
Looking at their faces, I knew that we (the mentors) were all thinking the very same thing. We had been there once. Fond memories of how we had had fun, three years prior, in and around the pool came flooding into my mind.
“Okay,” I felt obliged to try for them just one more time.
“We’re not promising you anything,” my friends and I said repeatedly, interjecting one another at random.
“But I understand,” I continued. “I understand how it was unfair on you guys to be given false hope in the information package.”
I and two other mentors volunteered to go do their bidding.
We came across a group of middle-aged women as we were making our way to Mrs. Botes’ cottage.
“Sanibonani,” I said, trying very hard to raise my voice above their cheerful banter.
“Yebo,” they responded in unison.
“How are you boys doing?” I recognised the lady from the breakfast buffet. She explained to us that she and her group of friends had come to the resort for breakfast and then she enquired about our group’s purpose for being there. She seemed genuinely interested in our activities but we would know her true motive very soon.
“Would you mind if we prayed with you?” The lady who seemed to be leading the group asked.
I was quick to express my disinterest, “No, thanks. I am not comfortable with that.”
I stepped back from the group.
“Come, come, come Bandile,” one of the other ladies began to beckon me impatiently.
“Leave him alone,” the leader said. The smile that had once lit up her face completely erased. “He is deflecting his own blessings.”
Everyone held hands and a prayer circle was formed, with everyone’s back towards me.
“Dear Lord, Jesus,” the lady began to lead everyone in prayer.
“Dear Lord, Jesus,” everyone followed immediately.
One of my friends began to wiggle his hands free from the women who stood at his sides.
When the prayer was finally over I received the leader’s full wrath for “leading my friend astray”. I just stood there in silence, staring at the ground.
“Would you like some literature?” She turned to my one friend who had endured the prayer’s length and invited him to follow them to their car.
Mrs. Botes’ chalet was secluded behind the resort’s main office. I walked ahead, bravely, and knocked on the door. I was trying to avoid any discussion about our recent encounter with the ‘praying ladies’.
“I’ll call you later, I think there’s someone at the door.” That’s what I heard while standing at the door. Mrs. Botes opened the door and welcomed us in with a smile on her face.
“No” was the simple and plain answer we received after stating the students’ petition. She made it very clear that she wasn’t going to violate the school’s policy just because of a typo on the information package.
A cell phone on a table nearby began to ring and saved us from the awkward silence and nodding of heads that was already starting to grow stale.
“Is that your phone?” I asked Mrs. Botes, imagining that whomever she had been speaking to on the phone before we came in was already calling back.
“No, I think it is the phone that you picked up at the dining hall in the morning. The staff gave it to me to keep until the owner came for it. They thought that it might belong to one of the students.” She said to me.
The phone turned out to belong to one of the ‘prayer ladies’. My friend, the one who had prayed with them, was the one who answered the phone and delivered it to the rightful owner. The ‘praying ladies’ will never know that I was the one who picked up the phone. They will never know that I went to every table, but theirs, trying to find the rightful owner. They will never know that I shared the same values and principles that they lived by and only our beliefs were different.