“Mr Nkomo, please. Please don’t call him” I begged. He probably thought I was just being the rebellious child that uncle Thabo painted me as. “Hello, Thabo?” he said on the phone. I screamed at the top of my voice. “Mr Nkomo I’m begging you. That man is going to kill me, like he killed my mother” I yelled. Everyone in the queue stopped to stare at us. The security guard got to us before Mr Nkomo could say anything to me, after hanging up on the call. “Is everything okay here?” he asked. Okay? How could things be okay when my life was slowly approaching its dead end? How could he even ask that? Mr Nkomo was about to call the man who robbed me of my childhood, by taking my mother away. He was about to send me back to the pit of sorrow and misery. “Yes, everything is okay We are sorry for making noise” Mr Nkomo replied. Maybe to him, everything was okay, or maybe I didn’t know the meaning of the word.
As soon as the security guard walked away from us, Mr Nkomo pulled me with my arm and walked out of the store with me. His phone rang, as we were walking out. “Thabo, I’ll get back to you” he said, and hung up. “What did you just say?” he asked, the minute we stepped out of the store.
I took a sigh, trying to gather courage to share the story. There was no way to sugar coat it. I mean, there was no nicer or better version of the struggles I went through. Unfortunately, there was no decorated angle where I could hide the pain and cover the scars that tore my heart into tiny little pieces. “Mandiphumle, oh my God. Are you sure?” he asked, evidently absorbed by shock. Was I sure? What kind of a question was that? It was almost like asking if I was sure that my name is Mandiphumle. Of course I was sure. I silently looked at him, not knowing what “respectful” answer to give him would be. “Are.. Are you okay? Where have you been staying?” he asked, one question after the other. I cleared my throat. I was about to step into another sensitive subject, to us South Africans. “I’m staying with a friend of mine” I said. He silently looked at me, obviously expecting a detailed answer. Now, how was I going to tell him that I was staying with foreigners, without him catching feelings? No better way, it seemed. “I’m staying with Chukwudi, a Nigerian friend of mine” I confidently said, trying to hide away the fact that I knew I stood to be judged. As I carefully stared into his eyes, I could see flames of anger and hatred. In his eyes I could trace the hatred towards foreigners back to the sick society that we came from. Yes, the society is sick, in the head. “Nigerian?” he asked, with a voice that carried loads and loads of disappointment and disapproval. Ashamed of the stigma that I was about to score, I nodded. I’m sure he was hoping his ears didn’t serve him right the last time, and was seeking confirmation. “Foreigners? Why would you put your life at risk like that??” he asked. Wow! I thought to myself as I tried to process the discrimination that I was facing. “He is all I have, and he is helping me reshape my life” I explained. “Helpi..Helping you reshape your life?” he asked, shocked beyond words. ” Those people are dangerous, Mandiphumle. They will get you involved in drugs, and will turn you into their dirty little slut” he said. I could feel my insides turn and my stomach form knots as he spit those words. “That man is the only person who saw the need to rescue me from the streets,while a South African gladly threw me out. My Nigerian friend is far more human than the so called South Africans.” I said. “Still, Mandiphumle. Still. You can’t put your life at risk like that” he said. Whatever.
For a while, we argued about whether South Africans were better than Nigerians, or whatever the hell we were arguing about. Maybe I was defensive because Chukwudi opened his home for me. That alone meant that he had opened his heart too. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think Ubuntu should be a lifestyle. You know, I think it should be a state of the mind and the only way we function. Arguing about it wasn’t going to help. Mr Nkomo was convinced that I was in danger. Our sick society made him believe that the Black foreigners should be burnt like old garbage in body bags, while the White ones parade in our country, with zero care in the world. In fact, White foreigners are treated like gods in this God forsaken country. Hatred is not contagious, nor is it genetically inflicted into our systems, but rather taught. We spend hours on end, trying to twist our minds into hating against each other as the Black family. We grow up with the belief that they would never fall in love with us, but would use us to score citizenship. Can’t they be in love? Don’t they have hearts to love? Hearts that get hurt by the hatred that their own brothers and sisters throw their way?
Anyway, I don’t know how we got to that part, because it was not the point. Whatever the point was, but it wasn’t about foreigners at all. “Can we not do this? Please, I don’t have the energy” I politely said. “I’m taking you home with me. This matter needs to be resolved” he said. “Resolved? How?” I asked. “You need to lay charges against this man. People like him need to rot in jail” he said. I wasn’t sure I understood what he meant by me laying charges. In fact, I saw it as a total waste of time. The justice system of our beloved country has its flaws, but that’s a story for another day. So basically, I didn’t want to waste my time. “Mr Nkomo, I don’t..” he stopped me mid sentence. “Come, let’s go to the car” he said. Already, my voice wasn’t loud enough. What I had to say didn’t matter, because apparently I was a kid.
We got to the car. “Look, I don’t want you to worry about anything. I will take you and your brother in, just until we figure out what to do. Thabo is going to jail, and I will make sure of it” he assured me. Honestly, Mr Nkomo was offering me a lifetime protection. He knew me from since I was a little girl, and saw it as his responsibility to make sure that I was safe. As cherry on top, he had my brother’s interests at heart.
He started the car and drove off. For me, everything was happening so fast. I wasn’t ready to face uncle Thabo again, and also didn’t want to disappear on Chukwudi without a word, after he gave me money to go shopping. As appreciative as I was, but I felt I needed time to process everything. As we drove to his house, he was going on and on about how my mother would have wanted him to take care of my brother and I. He seemed excited that he was going to help us like that.
“First stop, getting your brother” he said. “We don’t want him to see everything that is about to happen” he added. We got to my house, and there was a lady in the kitchen , preparing a meal.
My heart sank. My mother’s body hadn’t even turned to bones yet, and he had already replaced her. Mr Nkomo knocked. She turned to look at us, wearing a confused expression. She was a very beautiful lady, who honestly didn’t know what was going on. She invited us in and offered us seats. I couldn’t help but notice that she was wearing my mother’s favourite apron. The only apron she wore when she was going to work at a community or church event. That apron was special to her, because her mother left it for her. She always told me how close she felt to Makhulu when she was wearing that apron. That is as far as she would go, I. terms of talking about her family. Maybe my imagination was pulling not-so-funny pranks on me, because I felt closer to my mother too, after seeing that apron. What killed me was that she was wearing it around the house. My mother held that apron dear to her heart, and I had to have it. I had to take it from her, whoever she was. Out of everything that you can fight about, you’re honestly going to see there and fight over an apron? I’m sure one of you is asking. It wasn’t the apron I was fighting for, but rather the soul connection that came with it…