Mudira paused for a moment as she shut the gate in the fence surrounding her home. She had still not grown accustomed to the view from her garden. It was so different from the landscape that she had grown up with in Zimbabwe.
But back then everything was different. In the five years since she and her mother had arrived in Knysna they had had to learn, and adjust to, many new things. The language was different, but that they had learnt quickly. The faces and places were different too and Mudira still sometimes found herself searching through the crowds in the taxi rank for a familiar face.
Mudira’s mother had been a teacher back in Zimbabwe, but here, in Knysna, she had not been able to find a teaching job. Instead, she worked as an office assistant for a firm of attorneys. She enjoyed her job and the lawyers were wonderful, dealing as they did with human rights issues, and other cases that she found fascinating. Who knows, she sometimes dreamt to herself, whilst sipping her tea on her lunch break, maybe one day I too could complete some further studies. Become a lawyer myself.
At first Mudira had missed her friends very much. She was twelve years old when she left Zimbabwe and she longed for her childhood friends and cousins. She had left at the end of her primary schooling and had started high school when she arrived. The first days at her new school had been terrifying, surrounded as she had been with South Africans, from what seemed like every culture in the country.
The teachers had been friendly, if somewhat brisk, and some of the children had also had been friendly. But in the English stream, which was where Mudira found herself, many of the students had gathered in groups and spoken isiXhosa, and she had felt excluded. She spoke Shona at home and she was learning isiXhosa, but couldn’t speak fast or fluently yet.
For the first few weeks Mudira had simply put her head down and got on with her work. She loved to read and a book had become her companion at break time. Most of the time, however, she had struggled to concentrate, only pretended to read, whilst secretly watching the movements of the other students around her.
There were two Grade 8 English classes. In the second week, the classes were slightly adjusted, and a few students moved from one class to the next. It was then that Bulelwa had arrived in her class. Mudira remembered her arrival vividly. Yet Bulelwa must have been in the playground all along; Mudira could hardly believe that she had never noticed her before.
The seat next to Mudira was vacant that day and the teacher had indicated to Bulelwa that she should sit down there. Mudira had smiled shyly and Bulelwa had smiled back. Her smile was broad and open in her wide face, and it revealed a row of perfect white teeth. Her eyes were a deep brown and twinkled with kindness and good humour.
At first break Bulelwa came and sat next to Mudira, where she always sat, on a balcony wall outside the Science lab.
“What are you reading?” she had asked in English, pausing for a moment before gently reaching for the book Mudira had open.
Mudira let go of the book and watched as Bulelwa flipped it over and studied the cover.
“Looks good,” she said, returning the book to Mudira, and taking a large bite of her sandwich. “I also love to read. May I borrow it when you are done? I have a load of books at home as well. Maybe you would like to borrow one of mine?”
Bulelwa, Mudira soon learned, was friends with everyone. She played hockey like a champion, and, as a result, all the girls who adored the sport, also adored her. She always scored the most goals. She had a singing voice like an angel and so was a real hit in the choir. Who could not help feeling a lump in their throat when Bulelwa’s voice soared powerfully above everyone else’s, and she hit all the high notes?
Bulelwa was also nearly as strong as Mudira academically, although Mudira had a natural aptitude for Maths which Bulelwa soon admired and envied. Even though Bulelwa was in demand at break time, because she was so entertaining, she always came to be with Mudira. She would settle down on the veranda wall with her, in the sun.
“Why do you always come here, Bulelwa?” Mudira had not been able to resist asking one day. “It must be really boring sitting here with just me.”
Mudira was also a little worried because she had overheard the comments the other girls had made about her, calling her a foreigner who should rather go home and leave Bulelwa alone. She was boring, they said, and if Bulelwa was not careful, she was going to become boring too.
Bulelwa had laughed that day and shaken her head.
“I like you Mudira,” she had said frankly, “and this is where I want to be. Here with you.”
And so Grade 8 had passed pleasantly for Mudira, with Bulelwa beside her. Happily, they had soon discovered that they lived very close to each other, on the ridge overlooking the town of Knysna and its wide, blue lagoon. The view stretched out to the Heads and, on a clear day, they could even see the sea beyond.
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