A Charged Battery
I cannot remember my first fight. It must have been when my clock started counting in this world; when my mother gave birth to me and I, initially, unknowingly, resisted my arrival. Is one’s life a countdown from that first moment you arrive in the world?
The first fight that I can remember was not fought because of a grudge; in fact, anybody watching would say it was something we were enjoying, something we wanted to do. These fights when I was a young boy were for the entertainment of boys much older than us. They really enjoyed seeing a set of knuckles connect with a face. Obviously they took sides. The one side would root for you and the other would shout for your defeat. The fight would be stopped when you had taken a boy, who had more support than you, to the ground. Even when you appeared to be losing the fight had to go on. There was no way the older boys would let you duck out. This taught us, at a young age, how cruel the world can be and how cruel other people can be. It taught us that people will sit on top of you and keep you down.
I thank the Lord that in my first fight I did not lose an eye or, even worse, my life. When boys much older than us felt that fist fights were getting boring they would sharpen sticks for us to play stabbing. Thankfully no lives were lost but we walked away with small scars and bruises. If one boy could not handle your quickness with a sharp stick, you would be ordered to face two, three, or four boys. On defeating these boys you would be the proven ntsara – thug. The boys that were promoting these fights fought with sticks. Could it be at this point, when they were so young, that damage was done to so many boys? Damage that would affect them all their lives?
My first fight took time to start as my friend Zuko and I loved each other dearly. When boys much older than us realized that neither of us would hit the other first they set up what they call a battery.
“A battery? How does that work?” I asked, pretending not to know.
“How a battery works is that you boys stand in a semi-circle and gently hit the person next to you. Zuko and Lungile, I want you at the end of the battery.” A boy much older than us, only known to us as Tywila, gave us the instruction. He was from the Miya clan in the village.
I was standing second to last with Zuko next to me. When I patted him gently he threw a punch at me. I punched him back then quickly stepped away. I looked around. The other boys had moved away from us and were watching, circling us. We were in the center of the ring. It felt like we were on a stage. I now knew that Zuko understood exactly what the intention of a battery was. I honestly did not want to fight, but I had to. I couldn’t run home. I was an umalusi – a shepherd. I couldn’t leave the goats behind. So I held my fists up. “Perhaps this is your time to prove yourself,” I struggled to talk to Zuko with my fists like that, held high together. “You have been wanting to all this time.”
“Shut up and fight. You know I am already the boss. This is just a formality.” Zuko bragged. I could feel that the boys watching were getting restless. They thought this fight was going nowhere as I hesitantly threw punches, and ducked when Zuko hit back. Zuko connected with my face a couple of times.
“Fight, Lungsta, fight. We are not babysitting mama’s babies here.” The boys from the village shouted. I thought then that I had better fight and let Zuko feel what it felt like when a punch connects with your head. One of the oldest boys in the group stepped forward and shouted.
“We are going to give you different opponents.” I was thinking to myself – but why? I did not want to fight Zuko or anyone. We got saved by another boy. We were not exciting fighters and that is what he wanted to see. He took us out of the fight and put other boys in.
Everyone experiences a first fight – male or female. In life some things are good to start early. For me fighting was. It was just one of those things. I grew up knowing that some people will inflict pain on you and that you need to be ready to defend yourself should that time come. Some people will hurt you, not of their own accord, but because they have been incited by others to do so. Some young boys where I come from have died from fighting. Others have had their lives changed forever.
“What first fights do I prepare my children for one day? What defense strategies should I arm them with for that day?” I ask Zuko. We are walking back across the veld to Mposiza village, herding the goats home.
“Lungile, I would not worry about your children if I were you. You haven’t even had a girlfriend yet. In fact I should not even be talking to you, being the virgin you are, man, it’s a shame. What are you going to talk about now, Lungile, hey? How ready can we be for something we don’t know?”
“Steve Biko, the great freedom fighter, once said ‘The greatest weapon an oppressor has over the oppressed is the mind of the oppressed,’ Zuko.”
“Dude, when did that man die? A long time ago. Is what he said really relevant to us now?”
“It’s still the same Zuko. Our minds are very powerful. Sometimes we can overcome what our heart desires but sometimes we can’t. If we communicate to the minds of each other the message of love – that is the greatest weapon we have over evil and the unknown.” Zuko stops for a while and looks at me.
“Where do you get all this stuff from?” he asks, amazed.
“You know, Zuko, I am not as young and naïve as you say. I possess the power to make decisions and act on them.”
“What? Did I hear you say you are not young and naïve?”
“Yes you did.”
“Get over yourself, Lungsta.” He laughs.
I have been thinking a lot about that time growing up in the village. Not just about the fights we had, also about the first time I learned about healing.
One day when we were young boys we went to pick prickle pears – itolofiya. It was a summer day in the Eastern Cape with no wind; just the smallest of breezes that might lift a page off a teacher’s table. But this light wind could blow prickly pear thorns.
I was about to learn a lesson I had not been taught yet, by the boys who had done this before. Many of them were older than me. I was very hungry, the hungriest boy in the bunch. When we got to the clump of prickly pears I used a bent wire to try and reach one that looked just right. It was golden. On the first attempt I failed, but I was determined not to fail again. I walked around searching for a better angle to get the pear from. Then I reached up and poked with the bent wire. It slipped. I quickly reached again. My eyes were wide open as I brought that golden prickly pear down. That’s when something fell in my eye. I ran screaming in pain and tripped over isiduli sembovane – an ant sand heap.
“Hey, Lungile, where are you running to?” Zuko shouted. In no time the boys were around me, helping me home. My one eye was blood red. “What did you think, Lungile, you must always look at the direction of the wind.” Zuko said. His advice was a bit late!
I was taken to the nearest clinic where an ointment was applied to my eye. They assured my mother that it would work. We got back home and the swelling was not going down. A broken piece of the thorn was still stuck in my eye. I overheard my mother talking with other ladies from the village. I knew that I needed help. I was taken off by my mother to a lady who had a new born baby and was breast feeding. I was told to sit in front of her. She whipped out her left breast and squirted breast milk into my eye. That night when I slept the one eye was tearing and the piece of thorn washed out with the tears – I was healed.
That was the first and the strangest way of healing I have ever experienced. “You know Zuko it’s good to let older people who care for you, do their own thing.” I told my friend afterwards.
Having said that, I take nothing away from the western way of healing – we must look at it with the same respect.
We talked of sex when we were growing up, Zuko and me. Man, we broke it down. We analysed it from every angle. The talk of sex, not having had any in my case, excited us. We were fascinated by the opposite sex – the total cuteness in the way they walked, how they spoke in soothing voices, the elegance with which they carried themselves. We knew there must be more to these beautiful creatures hence our urge to discover and explore.
My older brother wanted to know more too. Not satisfied with his answers, he needed to go out there and find out for himself. It is said that first sex does a lot to one’s personality. If you were the quietest in your group it may make you talk more or vice versa. You may feel that suddenly you understand women. But sex can wait. Sometimes it is best to abstain, which is the most challenging thing to do when you are young. I was a borderline nerd, to Zuko that was. Whenever he heard me talking about abstinence he would threaten to disown me.
She is walking barefoot – coming towards me. I am still young. I stand there next to a trench that has been dug on the side of the road. We disappear into the dug-out hole – that girl and me. It looks like she has been playing. Her skirt is tucked inside her panties on the sides. When we emerge again she keeps telling me that we did not have sex. I did not like what just happened. I certainly did not enjoy it. My manhood was burning. Before we parted ways she told me that I was a laaitie and that she would go and find real boys. That was my first experience of ‘not having sex’!
Tell us what you think: Have you experienced fights like that before? Do you also think that sex can wait?