On the fifteenth of December I started the journey to the Eastern Cape with my mother and father. We arrived at four in the afternoon in Joe Gqabi, Philippi. Six years had passed since I had been to a long-distance bus depot. There were a lot of people there.
Boys – with torn clothes showing that they were going to the bush – sang, half drunk. Their songs were of joy that they would become men. One of them cried out that it was about time, he had waited too long. He looked so young to me.
I asked my mother why it was that women ululated in high pitched voices whenever boys were going to the bush. “Umfazi unexhla, a woman has heartfelt pity and worry for the boys who will be away from home,” she said.
I was not going to ask further questions. Ulwaluko, initiation matters, were always kept top secret.
After paying for the three of us Mama sat next to me on the bus. I asked her if I could be by the window. I wanted to look at the different places on our way to the Eastern Cape. She warmly said yes. She looked very happy that I was going with them to Sheshegu.
Mama thanked me that I had stayed a good girl. She said she was happy that at the age of fifteen I had not had sex or fallen pregnant. Little did she know! Again the thought of telling Mama that I had a boyfriend briefly crossed my mind. But I knew I would not say anything, not then.
In the early hours of the morning we arrived in Alice. I sent a message to Bhekifa to tell him that we had travelled safely. I made sure to do this in town as I was not sure how the network coverage was in the village we were headed for.
A man in a red Toyota Corolla said to my father that he would take us to the village for two hundred rand. When my father agreed, the man asked us to give him five minutes, warning: “Don’t speak to the other drivers. They will charge you an arm and a leg,”
After five minutes I looked again for the red Toyota Corolla. I had not noticed that my father was already packing our bags on the back of an old broken Datsun bakkie.
“Zoleka, nguye. It is him, our driver. He came back in another car,” my father interrupted me.
When I looked at this man through the back window of the bakkie I felt irritated. Why did he not take us in his red car? By this time I could taste the layers of dust on my lips as we sped along the dirt roads. Mother, who was squashed next to Tata in front, kept looking back at me.
I began to realise why the man preferred to take his old bakkie – the place was remote, along a very rutted road.
When we got to the village of Sheshegu, the only thing I wanted was to sleep, as I had not slept at all in the bus or bakkie. But Mama had different ideas.
“Hayi Zoleka, it is already almost nine o’clock in the morning. Don’t sleep now,” said Mama.
“But mama ndidiniwe,” I complained.
She would not let me go to sleep. She encouraged me to fetch one emmer of water from the river instead. “Just one, mntanam, my child,” she begged.
I thought I would go as quickly as I could. I wanted to get back soon to get some sleep.
The footpath led me to the river. I stood on the bank and scooped water into my dark silver emmer. I tried to balance it on my head but I couldn’t. I had forgotten how in the six years I had been away. I carried the heavy emmer with my hands instead, but still had to stop every few meters.
Then, two men who I had seen walking down from the road appeared out of the bushes close to me. One wore a brown overall and the other a blue one. The dark skinned one in the blue overall had a smile on his face. I was happy to see them. Maybe they would be kind and help me with the emmer, I told myself.
But instead of helping, the one in the brown overall took my hand and pulled me roughly towards him. My heart started racing when he sniffed with his nose against my skin. He moved from the neck down to my breasts. “Simfumene, we’ve got her,” he said.
“You are not supposed to do that,” said the other one in the blue overall.
I was in shock. What kind of joke were they playing?
“Bhuti, I have a boyfriend,” I said to the one who was still holding me tightly around my wrist.
“Forget that,” he said twisting my arm to the back painfully. With his right leg he tipped my emmer over and all the water spilled out into the dust. In that moment I realised that I was going to be raped. I had not thought of checking if the footpaths were clear, like I did in the streets in Masiphumelele before I walked with Bhekifa. I had not thought that here in the countryside there could be such danger so close to the homestead where we were staying.
“Whatever you do, just don’t make a noise. You will only be making things difficult for yourself.”
When the young man said this he squeezed me tighter and tighter. He was almost lifting me up, with both his arms locked around my ribcage.
He pulled me off the footpath in the direction of a car that was parked on the side of the gravel road.
“Bhuti, nceda torho, please don’t take me away!” I pleaded with him. “Bhuti, please, I have just arrived from Cape Town. I am very tired. I can’t go anywhere now,” I tried again.
“We know,” the other one said. I felt cold. How was it possible that they knew I was here? Were they expecting me?
I started to cry and I was thrown to the ground. “I said be quiet!” they shouted at me. The one in the brown overall now had his knee rammed against my chest, pressing against my left breast. It was so painful.
He drew his arm back. I closed my eyes and waited for a hard klap. The back of my head was pressed hard against the grass covered with melting dew.
But, the klap was not hard, it was a light slap.
“Open your eyes,” he said gripping my chin tightly and shaking my face. “Umhle yazi, you are beautiful. Just work with us.”
“No, I am in a relationship.”
“You are telling me about a toy relationship. I want you to forget about that. You are going to be a married woman now.”
Tell us what you think: Do all mothers have heartfelt pity when their children have to be away from home for the first time?