In her life story, her mother had only a brief walk-on part. That young, pregnant woman squatted in the darkness of the bush, hoping the border guards wouldn’t see her, and gave birth without uttering a single sound. When the baby fell to the still-warm Botswana sand, her mother was thankful the infant didn’t cry. She needed to get moving and a baby would slow her down.
So she dashed out into the moonless night, and, without another thought, dropped the baby into the nearest pit latrine. She’d convinced herself that death was a better path for this small one than the life she herself had been condemned to live. It was an act of kindness, she told herself. The best she could do for her child. Then she made her exit from the baby’s life forever.
The old man heard the wailing for some time and was becoming increasingly annoyed, thinking the neighbour’s dog was, once again, harassing his goats. Finally, though he hated going outside at night because of his pathological fear of snakes, he went to take a look. He didn’t find a dog, or even a victimised goat. Instead, when he shined the light of his torch down the toilet from where the sound came, there at the bottom, to his surprise, lay a baby.
As soon as the light hit her, she became silent. She stuck her tiny thumb in her mouth, looked up at him, and waited patiently to be saved.
People grabbed up spades and a big earth-moving machine arrived. They worked through the night and by morning they’d dug the baby out. The police officer, whose name has since gone missing – some say it was Mompati, others Mogami – wiped the faeces out from between the infant’s tiny, wrinkled fingers with his handkerchief. Then he sat with her at the back of the police car racing to the nearby hospital.
People say the baby didn’t make a sound. She just looked at the police officer with wide eyes, likely trying to figure out this new world she’d been brought to. Everyone wondered how someone could have abandoned such a good baby.
Later the tiny girl was taken to the SOS Children’s Village. A gnarled, bitter woman, who was employed as a house mother (proving by every one of her actions why paying someone to do such a job was not a good idea) looked at the old, wise eyes in the baby’s small face. She warned those around her: “Those eyes hold some secrets.”
And so the baby from the pit latrine was given the name Diphiri: secrets.
No family ever came to look at the baby from the pit latrine; no-one wanted to adopt a baby who had been down in that mess.
As Diphiri grew, she was told the story of her birth. She had no opinion about it one way or the other. It only gave her evidence that humans were a difficult species, so hard to figure out, impossible to understand. It taught her to step forward with caution. Some people tried to judge her by her beginning, but that seemed silly to Diphiri since she’d played no role in it at all. What you did, how you acted – that was all that mattered. What you got at the starting line wasn’t really that important; it was only the place where you started.
Diphiri thought that, in a way, her birth story was useful. She often used the pit latrine story to help establish observational distance between her and others. Upon meeting a new person, telling the story helped her to see what sort of person they were. Their pity for the small baby was often superficial, while their eyes scanned her, looking for the invisible traces of faeces, metaphorical or otherwise.
Diphiri watched their judging eyes and stepped away. There was no need to let them closer. Neither she nor they wanted it, and that kept her safe from those sorts of people. People who never really wanted to care about her in any case.
Because of the way most people treated her, Diphiri learned to keep to herself. She didn’t mind her way of life, though. Being alone and quiet allowed her to think clearly about many things. She finished school and left the sad SOS home. She got a job in a takeaway in the village, two over from where she grew up, and built herself a one-roomed house.
She was content with her life. Perhaps it was a small, quiet life, but she often told herself that life was not a guarantee. If anything, her birth story reminded her of that. Things might have gone either way: live or die. So she was thankful for her job at the takeaway, and her tidy small house, and her quiet life alone. She was content, and knew if it remained just like that until she died, she would be perfectly happy.
One day Diphiri’s life took a most important turn. A young man came into the takeaway where she worked. She watched him come through the door and walk up to the counter, throwing his arms forward one at a time, each leg following with a slight hesitation, as if they wanted to refuse the bossiness of his arms. Diphiri smiled at the argument of his walk. As the man got closer, she noticed a familiarity about him.
His eyes, almost hidden under heavy lids, were coloured ancient with visions from an older time, a time from where her own secrets emanated. She was immediately captured and so stayed silent and still – waiting to see what this young man was bringing to her, for she could feel he had something meant only for her.
He bought his Fanta orange and magwinya and then, after only a greeting, said, “I wish to one day be married to the president. I think I’d like that very much.”
“Is that so?” Diphiri could not stop herself from laughing at such silly, unexpected words. Who was this odd young man? Why would he marry the president? And why would he tell her that?
The man carried his purchases outside and sat down on the front stoep, and as there were no other customers, Diphiri sat down next to him. He handed her a magwinya, which she took, and they ate quietly for some minutes.
She noticed the smooth brown of his skin, and how he smelled of coconuts. He wore simple clothes, so she suspected, like her, he lived a simple life. But a simple life did not mean a simple mind or simple thoughts and dreams. Diphiri knew that all too well.
“So, what’s your story then?” the young man asked, chewing a piece of a magwinya.
He looked at her with genuine interest – the first time in Diphiri’s life that anyone had ever done that. He looked at her, interested in knowing her, her only. Her heart beat a bit faster and at that moment she understood things she had not before. Things like love.
Diphiri was surprised to hear herself tell him about her birth. And more surprised to realise that she wasn’t telling him to push him away. She was hoping that the telling would pull him to her. She told him about the pit latrine and the police officer with the forgotten name wiping the mess from between her tiny baby fingers. She told him every single, small detail she had ever been told about that night, the details she’d never told anyone else.
He listened, not looking away from her secret-filled eyes or searching her body for evidence of the shit from which she’d come. Diphiri noticed, too, that he didn’t pity the baby. Instead, his hooded eyes sparkled. He nodded his head as she told him, as if confirming things he had already thought about. Unlike other people before him, he seemed to like the story.
“People are not saved for nothing. You must be very excited about the life you’re going to live.” He drank some of his Fanta and offered her a drink. She took a sip and handed it back.
She considered his words in the slow, thorough way she liked to think about important things. She’d never thought of it like that before. And then with a cosmic click-click, her mind set out on a new course, and the path too, the path pushing out into her future, their future, was shifted. The course realigned towards greatness.
The young man finished his drink and vetkoek. He stood up and left. Diphiri watched him walk away, his arguing arms and legs taking him further and further away from her, and was sad for a bit, nearly desperate to chase after him.
But she needn’t have been, because he came back to her; of course he came back to her, because even his dream was now set in place to come true.
Tell us: How do you like the lovely twist at the end of this story? What do you think happened to Diphiri that made the man come back to her, and his dream come true?