It is a frosty night in summer, quite strange in this part of the country. Durban has always been known for its hot summer days and the nights are equally hot and dry. The air is usually thick and the atmosphere humid, but tonight is different. There are dark clouds formed in the sky. It has been like that since morning. People are happy, they missed the cool air and smell of damp soil. The heat was starting to get to them, usually marking its territory on their skins with rashes.

Bongiwe is sitting by the riverbank with her legs wide open. Her water broke fifteen minutes ago, which is the approximate time it took her to get to the river. Her siblings think she went to take a bath there, but she’s there for her private reasons. The worst thing that could happen is one of them coming down to check on her.

She is brushing her stomach gently; this is the last time she will hear from him — her precious baby boy. She will have to deal with the pain all by herself.

Only her boyfreind, Sihle, knew about the pregnancy. Her family was in the dark, even her mother. Luckily for her, her belly did not grow too much. It is still a tiny bump even now that she is going to give birth, weird right? She managed to hide it for the last nine months, and if today goes well, then nobody will ever know about him. She will always keep him close to her heart, but that is a secret she is taking to the grave.

Tears race down her eyes as the contractions start, one salty liquid after the other. She knows it’s only the beginning, and that it gets worse from here. She has managed to lay a brown fleece throw on the ground and is sitting on it with her legs still wide open. She puts her finger inside her vagina every ten minutes, trying to track the baby. YouTube taught her well.

Five hours pass with him still not showing any interest in coming out. She is conflicted. Maybe this is a sign for her to go back home and deal with the situation the way a normal human being would.

No, she is Mandlakhe Ngema’s daughter. Having a baby out of wedlock would have her disowned! Aborting at a clinic is risky, someone could leak that information to the media. This is the only option.

A sharp pain shoots right up her behind and she grits her teeth together, salty waters flowing out of her eyes. On second thoughts, maybe she should stay.

Her hands are making love to the weeds stuck in the banks. She is pulling them out and digging her nails into the soil. Damn you Thulani! Before she can pull herself towards herself, she starts feeling an urgent need to push—and so she does. She counts ten seconds and starts pushing as hard as she can. Something is going down and out of her body. It’s not out as of yet but she can feel it on her entrance. It’s him, her precious baby boy. She wants to scream so bad, but the thought of someone coming down and seeing this terrifies her to the core and motivates her to keep her mouth shut.

She counts another ten seconds and pushes her again, giving it double the effort. The head is almost out it’s peeking.

She takes a deep breath and pushes the pain aside, focusing on what matters right now delivering this baby. She reclines her body and leans on her arms, forcing them to remain still on the ground.

She counts ten seconds for the third time and pushes continuously, not stopping at anything. The baby is halfway out, and she pulls him the rest of the way out. He lets out a loud cry and a clap of thunder erupts at that moment.

Nkosana, her precious baby boy.

She holds him to her chest and rain pours out of the heavens. She grabs the bloody fleece from underneath her and covers him with it. She is crying as she rocks him back and forth, but her cries are coming to a halt. The rain continues to pour on them, washing the blood off both their skins. There is a pang in her heart as she realizes she will not be going back home with him. He will be joining his own very soon. She rocks him, but this time calming herself down. The tears are nowhere near coming to an end, so she lays him on her shivering lips. She needs to cut the umbilical cord but there is nothing sharp in sight. Her nails are the only option. They are long enough, so she might as well try. She presses them against the umbilical cord, gritting them against it from side to side. In less than two minutes, it is separated. She holds it tightly and tears it away from his body.

Bongiwe brings Nkosana to her chest again, holding him close for the last time. She kisses his shoulder, then his forehead.

“I am sorry, my boy, “she says, shivering and stuttering.

She gets up, her body still in pain, and walks closer to the river. She is careful not to slip; she wants to return home with no scratches at all. She will get her vagina stitched one way or the other.

As soon as she brings him to the water, cries leave Nkosana’s mouth. The water is cold; the weather is cold too. She is back to the hysterical crying as she lowers him into the water. She kisses his small lips one last time and let’s go of him.

His cries are piercing through her ears until she cannot hear them anymore. He is gone, and a part of her is gone with him too.

“Bongiwe! Ukhona Lana?”

(Are you here?)

That must be her younger brother, Sizwe. Her father probably sent him to look for her, seeing as it’s raining, and she is not home.

She wipes the tears off her face and throws the blanket into the small hole she had dug a few days back.

“Ngiyeza!” She shouts back, trying to maintain a straight voice.

Everything in her body screams pain. She cannot even control it, but she has to—for her own sake. Red flags are not needed. Her mother will be like a dog with a bone once she sees that something is up.

Her weak body will not be able to carry her long, but she has to try. 

Bongiwe trudges back home, her legs heavy, her heart heavier. The rain beats down on her like a relentless foe, each drop a reminder of the life she had just brought into the world, only to let go moments later. She pushes the pain to the back of her mind, focusing on the pathway home.

As she approaches the gates of the Ngema residence, she sees her brother, Sizwe anxiously waiting. His worried expression shifts to relief as he sees her, but quickly changes to confusion at the sight of her dishevelled appearance.

“Bongiwe, where were you? Uqhamukaphi ngempela? Umama no Baba are worried sick!” Sizwe’s voice is laced with concern.

Bongiwe manages a weak smile, attempting to play off the pain coursing through her body as exhaustion. “I just needed some fresh air, Sizwe. I am fine. Let us go back in before we catch a cold.” Sizwe eyes her suspiciously but lets the matter go for now. He offers her an arm for support, and together they make their way into the house. Bongiwe’s mother, Ntombi, rushes to her side as soon as they step through the door.

“What were you thinking, my child? You could have gotten sick!” Ntombi’s worry is palpable as she ushers Bongiwe to the living room.

Bongiwe eases herself onto the couch, her body aching with every movement. “I’m okay, Ma. I just needed some time alone. The rain caught me, that’s all.” Ntombi eyes her daughter with concern etched deeply on her face. “You should have at least told us where you were going. You know how the weather can be unpredictable”

Bongiwe nods, not daring to look her mother in the eye. She knows that her lie is transparent, but revealing the truth is not an option. Not now, not ever.

The night passes slowly, every second a painful reminder of the little life she had to let go. Bongiwe spends the hours feigning normalcy, hiding her pain behind a mask of stoicism. But as the first light of dawn begins to seep through the windows, her facade begins to crumble.

Sizwe notices the subtle changes in his sister’s demeanour, the way her breathing quickens and her hands tremble. He places a comforting hand on her shoulder. “Are you sure you’re okay, Bongiwe? You don’t look well.”

Bongiwe forces a smile, trying to keep her voice steady. “I’m just tired, Sizwe. I think I need some rest. Can you let umama know I’m going to lie down for a bit?”

Sizwe hesitates, but ultimately nods. “Alright, but if you need anything, just call for me, okay?”

Bongiwe nods, watching her brother leave the room before she lets her mask fall away completely. The sobs wrack her body, each one a release of the pain she had buried deep inside. She clutches at her stomach, feeling the emptiness there, the void that Nkosana had left behind.

The day passes in a blur, with Bongiwe barely leaving her bed. Her mother checks on her multiple times, bringing her food and medicine, but Bongiwe waves her concerns away. She can’t bring herself to face her mother’s worry, her guilt too heavy a burden to share.

Days turn into weeks, and life in the Ngema household continues as normal. Bongiwe moves through the motions, her heart still heavy with the weight of her secret. She avoids Sihle’s calls, unable to face him after what had transpired.