The congress of hundreds cheered after Themba shared his story during testimony time. The clean boy spoke with trembling. No sooner had he brought his mother into the picture than he was overflowing with tears. Praise the Lord! Jehovah! Messiah! and Hallelujah! were only some of the loud cries discernible from the flock in front of which Themba, now foetus-like on the blue-carpeted stage crept, weeping, trembling, covering his face with his hands.
Meanwhile a woman in the crowd, recognised to be his mother since she was shouting, re-repeating exhaustingly the words: “My son – Father you saved” was shaking and tossing about those seated around her with the penguin-like flapping of her extended hands. “My son – Father you saved – Glory!” she repeated with tears running down her sweat-glistened cheeks. The crowd was equally moved.
Themba’s arrival at this day was what one would call a miracle. Perhaps he knew it too. It had been only recently that he was reunited with his mother. Knowledge of his whereabouts first came in the form of a telephone call from a relative that a thing thought to be Themba was seen at the taxi rank far from home, living the life of a pispot.
It was to be expected from boys like him – who with their first erection reached the climax of their already-welling fatality of adolescence. How he lived to see his twentieth birthday, only the gods knew. Like many in this place he was a troubled child. His mother sensed his looming doom the first time he raised his fists at her, demanding a hundred rand note from her. He was only twelve years old at the time and in the typical ensemble of boys who grew up without fathers in the hollows of the shanty Diepsloot- playing their life roles.
He had just recently started smoking dagga and then Nyaope, and judging from the thing that was thought to be him in the chaos of downtown Johannesburg, there had been plenty more. His social grant and that of his two sisters, one fourteen years old and the other only ten, was the only source of household income. It was this that he fought his mother over. She looked worn-down, older than her years and Themba was already towering over her – body, strife and spite all together. She was scared of him.
“Mamazala, I’m waiting, I need that money!” he announced, as if a captain compelling his men to anchor the ship.
“No I… Eish, don’t start with me,” she said, cowering.
“I need that money! Give me a hundred and I’ll go,” he said, approaching his mother as she unhung articles from the line. The older sister helped her mother up from the ground and thereafter picked up the clothes scattered about the yard. No sooner had he grabbed his mother- screaming for help- by the chest and got what he came for, he threw the black and blue granny purse at her feet and ran off with an older boy, taking with him and leaving behind what he pleased. An incredulous crowd had witnessed the brisk calamity unfolding, but soon believed.
As he stood trembling on the faded blue carpet of the church, Themba revealed how when he came back home that day, he saw a police van with headlights full on bright positioned outside his yard. His neighbours had called the police on him. He figured then that the time had come for him, much like his boys before him. The time had come for him to jump ship and make his own way – the time to run from home. And he did just that.
For a long time, no-one bothered to look for him. After the rumours of his whereabouts surfaced – some seven years later – the time had come to bring him back. They found him a week after his uncle started the search – weathered, torched, scorched, skin tight and grey.
He came to this church on the outskirts of Diepsloot some twelve months ago, his decks had been worn out, another prodigal son. The priest prayed over him that day and he was placed in the Light of God Rehabilitation Centre sponsored by this very church.
Under-resourced as it was – is; it remains a lifeline for the community. His news that he is now six months clean sends the congregation chanting and honour rages in his soul.