Summer days in Polokwane were always arid and the heat multiplied in the middle of the day. The weekend prior to that day, my aunt had plaited my hair into box braids and the sun was reflecting directly on my scalp. That day I got off the bus from school, scolding myself for forgetting my umbrella, as I hastily got ready for school that morning.
The walk from the bus stop to my house took less than 2 minutes, but it took me more than that to get there. My feet padded against the tar road as I crossed to get to my side of town. The roads were dusty and uneven, the air infested with the stench of sewage and right in the corner there was a car wash that served as a front for a crooked business, that was an open secret to the people of Zone Six. My polished shoes were starting to collect dusk as I strutted towards the red painted corner shop to buy airtime. I had been looking forward to this moment the entire day.
My steps became very hesitant as the scene before me became clear. Suddenly my scalp was not burning anymore and the R3.00 bus change in my t-shirt pocket was long forgotten. It wasn’t the commotion caused by the residents of Zone Six that stole my attention or the presence of police as that was a common occurrence. It was seeing a young man I grew up with getting arrested, his front flat against the wall of the shop with his hands cuffed in the back, along with his two friends. I was not naïve. I knew this day would come for him sooner or later, but I never thought I would witness it.
Back when I was wet behind my ears I had a crush on this boy. I would always rush home from school to be the mom and him the dad when we played mantlwane. Maybe that’s when I started to crush on him, whether it was because he was light skinned or because his little sister said we looked cute together, I would never know. Blinded by innocence and youthfulness I couldn’t comprehend. He was the first boy I kissed on the cheek. It was all innocent with a bit of curiosity.
They say the first step paves the way. In his early teen years, his favourite hobby took a backseat when he started to favour hanging out at the corner shop than to go to practice with his loafer friends. He would miss school and on days he didn’t they would walk him to school. It didn’t take him long to stop going altogether and start working at the car wash in the corner. His smoking became a too frequent habit to hide and gone was the complexion my eight year old self loved. Through the transformation our conversations reduced to verbal greetings and then plummeted to head nods.
That arrest had been the first of many. In front of my eyes my childhood crush became a father of two and a jailbird, but above all he became a stranger. On that day I realised that we are all a product of our own reaction to our environment and our reactions divert our paths with the ones we imagine our future with.