Glenwood Hills was only a few kilometres from the city, but on foot it was an arduous journey. They felt the breeze kiss their unwashed faces, soothing them. Tall trees lined the pavements, and their thick, green leaves shaded the street. High walls and glimmering gates protected the huge houses.
Mfundo turned and saw Nompilo’s eyes smiling calmly. He also noticed that for the first time she was the one who gripped his hand and led him. There was even a certain bounce in her step.
He had agreed to come with her today, to find out what she did all day when she disappeared. He still didn’t trust the suburbs, but seeing her this happy made him happy.
They approached a wide, shining metal gate and stood and shouted in front of it. Three big dogs ran out barking, baring their teeth at them and alerting the whole street. A man came out and shouted at them and they ran away, quickly turning into a quiet street.
They approached another gate and yelled again, with more vigour this time. A domestic worker came out with sweat on her forehead.
“Hamaban’ doti,” she scolded as she spat phlegm on the ground. “Go away, rubbish!”
Nompilo saw the curtain flicker; a figure flashed behind it. They slunk away with their shoulders slouching and heads hanging in defeat.
“We have been here long enough. We must go now,” Mfundo complained, after they had tried several more houses.
“Wait a moment won’t you,” Nompilo said.
“I could have got something at the robots by now.” Mfundo paused for a moment, then said, “I might have to try the market again.”
“If you think I’m going to the market again, you are crazy.”
Mfundo gritted his teeth and went along with it for now. They walked the empty street ducking behind the refuge of a tree whenever a vehicle passed, and then running across the street from gate to gate.
As they ran out onto one of the streets again, Nompilo suddenly yanked Mfundo back.
“Watch out!” she yelled.
Mfundo turned his head and saw the car approaching. It had blue stripes and a security company badge and name on it, which they couldn’t read. Mfundo yanked Nompilo and ran as hard as he could in the opposite direction.
The plastic bag holding the things they had collected along the way bounced against Mfundo’s leg as he ran. The security had spotted them and now was driving towards them. Nompilo pointed to a fence that they could possibly crawl under. Behind it was an open lot of land. Soon the car had pulled over and one of the security guys had jumped out and was running towards them.
Nompilo squeezed herself through the tiny opening in the fence and Mfundo followed, but he had to release the plastic bag if he wanted to get through. The guard was closing in quickly.
“Let go, Mfundo.”
“I can’t,” he cried back.
“Let go, man!” She pulled his hand free from the plastic. He watched as the contents fell on the ground as they scurried away.
Mfundo was angry they had lost everything they had collected.
They waited for the car to drive off, then crossed the plot and came on to the street on the far side. They walked along until they saw an old man watering his garden. His hose spat water that sparkled like crystals. They were so thirsty and the sight of the water was unbearable.
“Water please,” Nompilo pleaded. Mfundo licked the black bars of the gate where spray from the hose trickled down.
The old man smiled and then pushed the pipe through to them when he saw how thirsty they were.
“Hold on. Just wait here,” he said, leaving the hose with them.
When they heard the door bang shut, Nompilo rested on the lush grass of the pavement. She splashed water on her face and feet before drinking some more.
“Let’s go!” Mfundo demanded. “We are leaving now.”
“Hawu, what’s wrong now?”
“Ey, I’m not waiting for the police to come pick me up here in front of this old liar’s gates. I’m leaving,” he threatened.
Nompilo sat back and continued to watch the grime slide off her ankles under the water from the hose.
“It’s not safe anymore. You saw how he looked at us.”
Nompilo did not flinch. Mfundo kicked the ground in defeat. They waited.
The old man finally returned carrying a small plastic packet that smelled of delicious meat. He passed it through the bars in the gate. Their heads came together over the plastic as they tore through it to find a half chicken, garlic loaves, potato wedges in sauce and dumplings …
“I always have leftovers,” the old man admitted, taking back the hose. “I just hate throwing any food away.”
“Dankie, sir,” they sang.
The old man nodded with a smile from behind the gate. “Listen children,” he said, “it’s very unsafe for you to be wandering around here. But you can come here any day and I’ll have something for you.”
They thanked him with watery eyes before they ran off.
Tell us: Do you blame or judge better-off people in the suburbs for having security patrols and high fences? What about the security guard assuming the children are petty criminals?