“Malume! Uncle! Malume!” Lutendo stops the first person he sees when he gets close to the village. The man is wearing a pair of green worksuit trousers and rubber boots and has a red cap on his head. He is holding an axe in one hand and balancing a long branch of wood on his shoulder. “I know you, Malume Jackson,” he says and pauses.
“Greetings little man,” says the older man.
“You are the famous sculptor in our village,” Lutendo continues. “Can you help. Our friend is drowning in the dam–”
The man throws the branch down on the grass. “Mayayada?”
“Yes,” Lutendo points with his arm.
Malume Jackson starts to run, taking giant strides. Lutendo can’t keep up. By the time he gets to the dam he sees Malume already swimming towards the shore, with the rescued boy clinging tightly to his back.
Malume Jackson comes out onto the dry land and lays the boy down. The child has taken in a lot of water, and Malume turns his head to the side and pumps his lungs to get the water out.
The boy starts coughing then shouts: “Where is my leg?!”
“You still have both your legs,” says one of the boys. “Can’t you see them? Don’t worry, friend, the crocodiles didn’t bite you.”
The boy sits up and looks about, dazed.
“Are you okay? How are you feeling?” Malume asks, concerned.
“I am happy you saved my life. Thank you, Malume. I will never go into the water again. I nearly died.”
“Where do you stay?”
“Mpheni Block A.”
“So you walked six kilometres to come and drown yourself in this dam,” Malume says. “Why you don’t play at home? Have you no home? Who do you stay with?”
The boy is reluctant to answer now. “My mom and dad,” he says finally.
“Then I must take you to your mom and dad so I may advise them in person to warn you about the dangers of playing in the water,” he says, determined.
The boy trembles in trepidation.
Now Malume gets up and glares around at the other boys. “Tell me, for I need to know,” he starts. “Did you all agree among yourselves that this child, who struggles to walk properly, should be the one to run to the main road to seek help?”
There is a lengthy silence.
One of the boys finally breaks the silence: “No, sir. He just disappeared. We had no idea he had gone to look for help.”
“Is that what happened, do you all agree?” he flashes a look around.
“Yes,” the boys chorus.
He looks at Lutendo, “What’s your name?”
In silence, he ponders for a moment.
“Your name means ‘the one who believes in himself’ and now you just lived up to the meaning,” Malume Jackson says. “It is in our tradition to praise one of us who has done an outstanding deed. Now I am confident to announce that this boy, Lutendo,” he says, putting his palm on Lutendo’s shoulder, “is not a ‘boy’ but a man. Sadly, he is a ‘man’ among weaklings who stand and watch one of their own drowning in the dam instead of running for help.”
All the boys bow their faces in shame.
“You are weaklings,” Malume repeats. “Go home, all of you! Now!”
He pulls Lutendo close to him and whispers into his ear: “Little man, I don’t want to see you playing anywhere near this or any other dam. It is not safe for you either. Your parents need you.”
“Thank you, Malume. I will do as you say.”
“Let’s walk home and talk together. So, what Grade are you in at school?” Malume asks.
“I am not at school,” says Lutendo, ashamed.
“Why not? Hmmm, is it just because of your fingers and your limp? Such a clever boy, and so able … I must talk to your parents,” says Malume. “Let’s go.”
In the heat of the moment, Lutendo expresses his fear: “They will be angry at me. They told me never to go far away from the home. They warned me … and here I have done the opposite.”
“Don’t worry,” Malume Jackson says. “Leave that to me. I’ll speak with your parents.”
They reach Lutendo’s home and Malume Jackson and Lutendo’s parents exchange greetings. Malume Jackson tells them what happened at the dam.
“What!” His mother instantly jumps to her feet and rushes at Lutendo, tapping his head with her knuckle. “Are you in your right mind, son? Why did you go there? Didn’t I warn you?”
“Don’t be angry at him,” Malume says. “Had it not been for him, another boy would have drowned today. He saved that boy. All the other boys were just staring at the boy drowning, and he decided to run to seek help in the village. He is clever. He demonstrated sense and bravery. He thinks quickly. Why is he not at school?”
Mr Munyaimukalanga explains that he has been delayed because his mother thinks he won’t cope at school.
“You are holding him back in life,” says Malume, then he turns to Lutendo. “Are you ready to go to school?”
“Yes!” Lutendo beams.
Tell us: Why is it sometimes ‘brave’ to ask for help? Why don’t some people like to ask for help?