The next school day Sasa was rude to Bongi. First, they did not walk together to school in the morning, and when Bongi greeted her in the corridor, she shot her a mean look and then swaggered away. Bongi didn’t understand why.
During lunch Bongi felt the eyes of other pupils boring her into back, and mouths murmured at her wherever she went.
It was worse after school because Mumsy and her friends waited at the gates and hounded her like flies after bad meat. They harassed her all the way home calling her names like ‘little witch’ and ‘baboon princess’ and other swear words she did not get for she saw it best to stick her forefingers in her ear holes.
She threw herself on her bed and cried after arriving home. It could only be Sasa. ‘But how could she?’
Around 6 pm Bongi’s mother returned from work to find strange people loitering on the street close to her gate. She was puzzled, it was unusual but life is unpredictable in the townships. She also recalled that some neighbours avoided her when she walked past their houses and others shut their doors after spotting her.
It must’ve been a hell of a day, Bongi’s mother thought while kicking off her shoes before easing herself onto her couch. She expected someone to come into her house and supply her with local news but none came, not even the talkative Mamasiya.
An hour later, the people at the gate had grown into a group that could ignite a civil protest. Cigarette tips glowed intensely in the dark street, then dimmed out in a show that suggested that someone was smoking ardently. Bongi’s mother also heard whispers as she peeked across while closing the curtains of her windows. Some of the strangers paced about dangerously and spat bitterly at her sight.
Bongi’s mother, was unsettled by this development but she was afraid to go outside. Before long the foot-gate of her yard gave a creaking sound. Someone had entered and soon a strong knock connected with the door.
It was Dibaba; a bull of a man who was also one of the respected leaders of the community. Though a jolly person, he was not his usual self.
“The people at the gate believe you have a baboon, and now say you’re a witch,” Dibaba fired, after he sat facing Bongi’s mother.
Bongi’s mother was stunned, almost laughing but quickly realised the severity of the accusation. She knew she could never be a witch. More insulting was that she was an elder in a local church. She kept quiet, registering the seriousness on Dibaba’s face.
As if in a cue something clicked in Bongi who had been disobeying her mother’s teachings, by eavesdropping on the grownups from the passage. She speculated this to be the reason Kop did not show up this evening – she’d been worried.
Bongi’s mother dismissed the witchery allegations as utter nonsense but Dibaba warned that she must expose the animal because people at the gate had petrol and were eager to torch her house.
“Give them the baboon,” Dibaba advised, as if the woman should just whip the creature out of her handbag.
He also told Bongi’s mother to be grateful for his intervention because the intentions of the crowd were not to negotiate.
Bongi had hurried outside looking for Kop but the trees harboured no baboon. She looked this way and that, then fear gripped her. She turned over to trace where the ‘kss-kss,’ sound had originated from and saw Kop’s face peeking from behind the lavatory wall. She strode towards the baboon. She’d never seen anything that frightened.
“I’m sorry for bringing this to your family Bongi, I know they want me–”
“It’s okay Kop, it’s not your fault,” Bongi said, then stroked its head to calm it. “You’ve done nothing wrong, my friend.”
Kop crept out and stood by her, its paranoid eyes examined the darkened areas of the yard as if danger lurked readily to attack.
“Like you’ve said, people fear what they don’t know,” Bongi consoled the animal.
And Kop, riddled with dismay, said, “What about your family, will you be safe?”
“They think my mother is a witch and are now threatening to burn our house if we don’t give them –” she eyed Kop guiltily, “the baboon.”
The news startled Kop and slowly it pulled out of their embrace.
Bongi added, “But you’re not a baboon Kop, you’re my friend and you mean no harm,”
“Of course I’m a baboon Bongi!” Kop contradicted her, then looked away helplessly. It continued, as if in soliloquy. “If it wasn’t for your juicy raspberries I wouldn’t have come here and I wouldn’t have met you and people wouldn’t be waiting to burn down your home.”
It eyed Bongi with despair, “It’s my fault.”
“I don’t think they’ll burn it Kop, Dibaba will reason with them.”
“You can’t reason with a mob, Bongi!” Kop countered, then raised its maimed hand at her. “See this!?” it said bitterly. “This is what people do to what they hate. I was captured for no reason and chained to a tree, and while they deliberated on how to deliver my end I had to crush my fingers with a rock to escape!”
Bongi stirred inside, “I’m sorry Kop,” she said looking at the maimed hand, and touching its stumpy fingers.
Kop withdrew the hand. “I think I should give myself up Bongi, you’ve so much to lose. I’m just a baboon with no family, or home,” it said in despair.
But Bongi flew into temper. “Well, if you think I’m going to let you hand yourself over –” she pointed far out, “– to those cowards on the street to harm you, then you’re yet to know me my friend!”
Kop had nothing else to say.
Tell us: What would you do in Bongi’s situation?