The last time I saw my mother that year was when the police came to take me away. They had tracked me down to the shack in the squatter camp and arrested me. The boy was in hospital fighting for his life.
I felt heartbreak in my mother’s screams and saw despair in her eyes as the policemen threw me in the back of the van.
I was taken to the juvenile section of Pollsmoor prison to await trial. Months passed as I waited for my time in court, and in that time I turned 17. I heard that the boys who had stabbed my brother were in the adult section, awaiting trial.
It was a time I want to forget. Day and night I thought of the pain I caused my mother. I had always felt like she did not love me as much as she loved Zanoxolo. But that day, the day when the police came to take me away, I realised how much she actually loved me. I saw the same pain in her eyes that I had seen the day Zanoxolo was killed.
I cried every night when I thought of how I had let her down. I was supposed to wipe her tears and make her smile again, but I caused her more grief instead.
The only person who visited me during that time in prison was my father. A month after he heard I was in custody he came back to Cape Town and visited me. After that he came every week while I was awaiting trial. He felt guilty for abandoning us and had moved back to Cape Town where he was living with his new wife and son, he told me. He was trying, but we were still awkward with each other. We had nothing solid to talk about because of all the years he had been out of our lives; I was so young when he left.
On one of my father’s visits I took courage and asked him the question I had been afraid to ask before.
“Why has my mother not come to visit me, Father?” I asked him.
“Your mother still needs time, my son. When the time is right she will come.”
We sat in silence for a moment before he said softly, “Why haven’t you asked me why I left home, Phumlani? Every time I come here I wait for you to scream at me. I wait for you to tell me it is all my fault. I want you to know how sorry I am, Phumlani, my son … ”
I told him the truth: “It never felt like there was someone missing. My mother was both a mother and father to Zanoxolo and me. I forgave you a long time ago, Father. Just be a better father to Sizwe. He still needs you,” I said. Tears built up in my father’s eyes but he quickly wiped them away with his hand.
Three days after that visit a warder told me to come down to the visitor’s room. I wondered what had brought my father back so soon. I was only expecting to see him the following week.
When I saw the person who had come to visit me I covered my eyes with my hands and cried.
“I am sorry, Mama. I’m sorry … ” were all the words I could say.
“No, I am sorry, Phumlani, my child. I was too hard on you,” my mother’s voice was filled with pain.
“Please forgive me, Mama. If Zanoxolo had not come to watch me play cricket he would still be alive, ” I told her.
“It was not your fault. I am sorry for blaming you, my son. I have not visited you because I couldn’t bear to see you locked up in here. But you are my son, Phumlani, and you always will be. I won’t cope with losing another child. I love you, my son,” my mother said.
I wanted to jump over the table that separated us and hug her. But the warder would not even let us hold hands.
The trial happened a few weeks after I saw my mother. The boy I had stabbed had recovered and was out of hospital, my mother told me. I was given a suspended sentence and was released under correctional supervision. I had to do community service and go to counselling sessions – but I was free.
I am back now at a different school – Mandela High. I am the ‘new boy’ in Grade 10 – older than everyone in my class, but back at school. My classmates’ eyes water as I introduce myself and tell them my story – some of them have heard it already.
My mother works here as a cleaner. She applied for the job when she went to ask the principal if I could come to the school. She says a new school will be a good start for me, and for her.
During school break I join a group of learners who are playing cricket with a tennis ball on the field. My mother is watching me at a distance from outside the school toilets, with a broom in her hands. I smile to myself as I spin-bowl the ball towards the wickets.
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