Mfundo wanted to head straight home and eat what the man had given them out of kindness, under their bridge, but Nompilo grabbed his hand.
“It’s one of the security patrol’s peak times. Lots of people come home at lunchtime,” she warned. “I know a safe place.”
She led him to a large building with an iron fence around it. There were trees on the other side of the railing. The building was red brick and had lots of windows that shone in the sun like clear water. At a spot halfway along the fence Nompilo pushed the branches of a shrub to the side, and there was a hole.
Mfundo followed, rebuking Nompilo in a whisper as they squirmed through the hole.
“This is your idea of a safe place? We are going to get caught and arrested.”
Nompilo led him across some open ground to a tree, behind which were high shrubs. She pushed the leaves aside and there was a small clearing, just big enough for them to sit in. They sat and ate some of the chicken and dumplings. They munched and filled their mouths, smiling at each other.
“We must start heading back to the city now. Maybe we’ll run into some more luck,” said Mfundo, packing the rest of the food into a plastic.
“Wait a while. It’s still peak lunch time traffic. Come with me.”
Nompilo pushed the way back out of the shrubbery and ran along the side of the building. Then she stood on some bricks outside a window and peeked through the branches of a tree that hid the room behind it.
“What are you looking at? … Hey, I’m talking to you.”
As she held the leaves apart, Nompilo’s eyes were glued to what was happening in the room. Mfundo stepped up on the bricks next to her and peered through the open window too. A lady, tall with long hair, spoke in a beautiful voice as she drew letters on the board. She spoke the letters and the children echoed them after her. The children seated inside were much younger than Nompilo and Mfundo.
The woman turned and Mfundo thought she had seen him, but she made no sign of having done so. Those deep chocolate-coloured eyes reminded him of his mother’s. As the children started to sing a song, he felt something shifting inside him. These foreign feelings created a storm in his belly. They surfaced memories that had been buried deep.
He saw himself inside a room he had long forgotten. His dying mother lay on a bed, frail and feeble. She had turned into a stranger before his eyes. Her eyes were sunken into their sockets and her smooth skin had turned flaky and her cheek bones were as sharp as daggers.
“I’m sorry I have to leave you my baby. Learn to be a strong man. Learn as much as you can at school.” She coughed uncontrollably. “Don’t be afraid to learn. Be all you can be. I love you my son.”
Then she had slipped into an eternal sleep.
“So, for hours every day, this is what you get up to Mpilo?” Mfundo said accusingly. And what about our survival?” He took a deep breath. “Listen, don’t waste any more valuable time here.”
“It’s not a waste,” Nompilo said as she broke a twig from a bush. She made shapes with it on the ground.
‘N o m p i l o’ she wrote.
“That’s me,” she said. She slowly scratched the ground with the twig again: ‘M f u n d o’. “That’s you. See? Mfundo and Nompilo.” She pointed with the twig.
Mfundo stared at the ground and his eyes filled with tears. He stared at the writing as if he had stumbled upon lost treasure. He had never learned to read but he could recognise his name.
“That’s me,” he finally said, softly, and then looked up at Nompilo.
She nodded slowly. Their eyes locked for a moment and then suddenly his expression turned to rage.
“You’ll end up like your mother!” In his head he heard his uncle’s voice. “There is no future where you are headed. You are scum. Jy is fokol.”
“That’s not me,” Mfundo roared, as he rubbed his name out with his fist. “I’m here,” he pointed a dirty finger at his chest, as if confirming this fact.
Mfundo yanked Nompilo’s hand violently and pulled her out of their hiding place. She cried out in pain but Mfundo’s hand dug deeper into her flesh. The noise alerted the security guard by the main gate of the building.
“Hey!” the man yelled as he ran closer for a better look. The two children darted towards the hole in the fence.
The guard grabbed Mfundo’s leg as he tried to wriggle through. Mfundo pulled out his blade and stuck it in the security’s hand. The man cried out in agony and loosened his grip on Mfundo. They were out and onto the street. They didn’t stop as they ran out of Glenwood Hills, fearing for their lives.
Tell us: How do you feel about Mfundo stabbing the security guard?