About one month later the happiest day of my life happened.
So far, I had not made real friends in Masiphumelele, partly because I still missed my brother so much. But there were a few girls in our yard who sometimes played puca, the popular stoneskipping game. As I was good at collecting the soft, round stones, they invited me from time to time to join them. It was on one such evening, when I was playing with the older girls, that my mom came down our road with a blue and white plastic bag from the local PEP store.
‘Yizapha – come here, Mbu!’ she called to me when she was still a fair distance away on the road. I ran to her, as I could see the smile on her face. Had she really kept her promise?
She handed me the bag but did not allow me to open it. ‘You must carry it home!’ she said, and her order sounded like music in my ears.
I had my own key by now and unlocked our door impatiently. I put the bag down on the table and looked at her.
‘Vula ngoku – open it now!’ she told me.
My fingers were shaking from excitement and I almost tore the bag open. I could hardly believe my eyes at what I saw inside – a complete school uniform! All brand new. A yellow shirt with long sleeves, grey short pants and – above all – my first shoes ever: black and shiny!
‘Can I really go to school?’ I asked, my voice trembling.
‘Ngomso – tomorrow you will start, my boy!’ My mom’s face wore a confident look, something I had never noticed before. It was not only because of her joy for me; she was so proud of herself. This uniform was not donated, not second-hand stuff from other people. Nothing she had begged for. She had earned it with her own hands, paid for it with her own money.
She had gone to the store at the shopping mall by herself. She had looked for the right sizes and then queued for the cashier. How many people had seen her standing there? How many people had watched her opening her wallet and putting the whole amount on the table – more than One Hundred Rand! In cash. Nothing borrowed. Her own money. All by herself.
The next morning we got up very early as my mom wanted to accompany me to the school container before leaving for her work.
I was walking a bit funny as the new shoes were uncomfortable and chaffed against my feet, especially without socks. But the pain made me even more aware what a big day this was! I could go to Grade 1 in a new uniform – a luxury not even Mavusi had enjoyed.
The primary school in Masiphumelele at that time was not yet a brick building, just a few containers on an open field. But the people who had founded it had given it a most inspiring name: Ukhanyo School – ukhanyo meaning in isiXhosa we bring the light!
I felt I was the light that special morning, as I walked with my mom through the school gate and she guided me to the Grade 1 container. Inside it, an old lady was talking to a lot of small children. There were so many kids squeezed into that limited space that I could not even see any piece of the floor.
‘Wamkelekile – welcome, Mbu!’ the teacher said. And I knew I had made it.
It was such a lovely morning. I found a little space to sit down next to the other boys and girls on the floor, most of whom looked to be my age. I waved proudly to my mom so that she should know not to worry about me and go off to her work.
Later the teacher asked me: ‘Mbu, can you sing?’
I answered: ‘No, I can’t . . . but I will learn. I want to learn so
She gave me such a beautiful smile, that old teacher.
And I did learn to sing. Along with everyone else in assembly, I sang hymns, and found that I enjoyed singing.
I was right about schools: they can give you a special power. I was ready for any initiation . . .
Tell us what you think: What power do you think schools can give you? What do you remember of your first day at school?