I was born on 8 April 1984 in Gugulethu, Cape Town. My mother was a nurse and my father was a teacher. I grew up going to church every Sunday with my parents. My father would tell me that the only Sunday they missed at church was on the day I was born.
My parents treated me like a precious egg because I was their only child. If I asked for something, I would get it. After giving birth to me, doctors had told my parents that my mother would never be able to conceive again.
I have never seen my parents fight or heard them arguing with each other. They always told me to lock myself in my bedroom when they were about to have serious adult talks.
In the early months of 1993, a new family of four moved into a house next to ours. I had just returned from school when they moved in. The mother got out from their car, shushing a toddler who was crying non-stop. Their other daughter, who was about my age, leaned against the car and stared at me as I was standing on the other side of the fence that separated our houses. We locked eyes. We didn’t say a word to each other, but my heart beating faster than normal. I had never seen such a pretty face before.
“Thabisa! What are you standing there for? Come inside the house,” her father shouted.
Thabisa jumped and ran into the house without looking in my direction.
“Hey, what’s your name?” Thabisa was fetching water from their outside tap. I was kicking a ball against the wall of my house.
I walked to the fence holding my ball and she approached. The water was filling her bucket slowly.
“My name is Simphiwe. What is yours?” I said.
“You heard my father calling me yesterday. You know my name. I’m Thabisa,” she said, chuckling.
“Oh! Yes, you are Thabisa.” I said, pretending I had forgotten her name.
“Ewe, haibo! Stop acting like you forgot!” Thabisa said.
“Heee wena, Thabisa! Can’t you see the bucket is spilling over?” her mother shouted through the window.
Thabisa rushed to turn off the tap. She looked back at me and smiled as she carried the water back to her house.
On a Saturday night, just a few days after Thabisa and her family moved in, I was woken up by Thabisa’s mother screaming for help.
I was shocked and scared. I had always thought that all parents were like mine. I couldn’t imagine my mother crying to be saved from my father.
“Tata! Tata! Please stop. Leave Mama alone!” Thabisa was crying painfully, but none of our neighbours had bothered to go to their house to help.
I jumped off my bed and ran to my parents’ bedroom.
“Tata? Mama? Please help Thabisa’s mother,” I said, knocking at their door.
“Go to sleep, my son. Your father is on the phone calling the police,” my mother said.
I heard a police siren after about an hour later. The fighting had stopped when the police officers knocked at Thabisa’s home. They were not there for long but I slept believing that they had arrested Thabisa’s father.
The following morning, after my father helped me fix my tie, I went to the toilet outside to pee. I was frightened and angry when I saw Thabisa’s father in front of his house smoking a cigarette. He was wearing a white vest. It was ripped and covered in blood stains.
When I came out of the toilet Thabisa was sitting on the stoep, her arms around her knees. Her father had gone back inside. I approached the fence and watched her. I didn’t know what to say to her, I was not used to seeing her like that. Thabisa glanced at me but didn’t acknowledge my presence.
“Are you ready for church now, Sonny?” my father asked when I walked back into the house.
“Tata, why did the police not arrest Thabisa’s father?” I said, sulking.
“They warned him never to hurt Thabisa’s mother again, Sonny,” my father said, brushing my head with his hand.
I shook my head away from my father’s hand. I wished my father had gone to Thabisa’s house. If he had, maybe Thabisa’s father would have been lying in the hospital that day and Thabisa wouldn’t be as sad as she was.
“Look, if he does it again, I will walk over to their house and kick Thabisa’s father in the face, okay Sonny?” my father assured me as if he had read my mind.
My father knelt down and put his big hands on my shoulders. I stared at his eyes and nodded. My father was built like Jean-Claude Van Damme so I believed he really could do it.
Later that day I would find out that my father only made that promise to make me feel better. We wouldn’t be at our house for my father to kick Thabisa’s father in the face when he hurt her mother again.
After we returned from church my parents told me that they had bought a house in Kuilsriver to escape the increasing crime rate in Gugulethu. A week later we moved out of our house. This time it was Thabisa who was standing on the other side of the fence watching me pull suitcases to my father’s car.
Tell us: What do you think about the neighbours’ response to Thabisa’s mother’s screaming?