Smoking chimneys filled the dark township skyline with fog. Shack-dwellers openly burnt coals in braziers to warm their families against the stinging cold. The electricity was off on the day, but the streets lights had been dead for months.
Bongi was returning home after walking Sasa. The street was quiet but she strode on, her notepad pressed against her chest by her crossed arms. Earlier, the friends had been going from house to house carrying out their school assignment and she used the notepad to write down how locals felt about the attacks on people from other African countries. People were disappointed by the attacks, Bongi figured, since others did not even wish to be interviewed. The elderly were the most concerned. They told Bongi and Sasa that African migrants were part of the family. They also told the girls about the distant past when Africans were a united force that fought colonial oppression. But Bongi and Sasa knew little of this past; she was eleven years old and Sasa was twelve.
Bongi was fascinated by these stories that were accomplished by ancient Africans. She vowed to learn more about this past in order to understand the present. The elderly praised the girls for their work. Granny Melita even offered them juice and cupcakes during the interview.
Bongi thought African migrants were nice, she couldn’t understand why South Africans had to be mean to people who looked like them and had feelings like everyone else. The father of her younger brother, Zamani, was from Zimbabwe, and when not away working he took Bongi and Zamani to the park where he’d buy them ice-cream before pushing them on the merry-go-round. He also spoke Shona to Bongi since she wanted to learn other African languages. The Somali trader down her street gave her free sweets every time she went to buy. The Africans were nice; Bongi couldn’t understand the fuss made by local people.
She was deep in thought when suddenly words echoed from space like the wind: “Girl, girl.”
The tone was creepy.
The words came again, and now she became certain that she was not dreaming. She looked around perhaps to spot the speaker but saw none. The only people on the street were too far to be heard from that distance and nor would they hear her screams in case of the worse.
Neighbourhood dogs started barking and rapidly the barking intensified until it became a sickening sound. Now frightened, Bongi picked up her pace. Strangely, she could sense the motion of the creepy voice moving alongside her, and then she felt her plaits tighten. She remembered hearing that hair usually tightened when you’re in the presence of a ghostly spirit. She liked watching ghosts on TV but had no desire to meet one on the street.
Although Bongi was close to home, she couldn’t break into a run for her legs were surprisingly heavy to lift, as if she were dragging buckets of solid cement.
“Girl, see you around,” the voice said, sounding closer than before but still invisible.
Miraculously, Bongi’s legs broke free from the force that had gripped them. Afraid that the voice may return she ran as fast as her legs could fly then pushed the foot-gate and blasted into the kitchen. She was nervous her mother would notice her heavy breathing; fortunately, her mother didn’t notice as she was glued to the television. Bongi shot her a look and walked to the bedroom she shared with Zamani.
Tell us: Do you feel that it is important to know the history of the ancient Africans?