Dinaleding was hidden by big leafed baobab tree that could only be found on the shores of rural Kwa-Zulu Natal. A popular story goes that Bab’Zungu came with the seeds and planted it in the late 1900s when he left Mahlabathini to work in the Meadowplek mines. Dinaleding’s air is crisp, tangy and dry–cushioned by the “meadow dust”: the dust that comes from the soil that has been left unattended since the mine was sold to Mr Van Vuuren ten years ago. Although other mine kasis would furiously and aggressively buzz with the sounds of Brenda Fassie’s Weekend Special jam, Dinaleding was characteristically quiet. The lack of any kind of sound except that of owls was frightening and worrying. The people of Dinaleding were seen and not heard—it was as if any sort of sound: breathing, hissing, speaking or whistling were punishable crimes.
Dinaleding was a barren kasi. The number of children in the whole township I could count with the tips of my fingers. The only children they had were found between the parents, lounging on Gomma Gomma couches that massaged your back when you sat on them and easily led you to sleep. Their children did not play khati on the newly tarred streets just like in Meadowplek. Their boys neither made toy cars from milk cartons or imagine bricks as their toy Siyaya taxis. Dinaleding was a town of sameness: shrubs were cut the same height, the grass was all heel-and-ankle level and their mothers all stayed at home. Buying a house in Dinaleding meant you were seeking tranquility like Siya and Linah Mthembu- my parents.
“I have warned you about the way you dress in this neighbourhood,” Linah said to her seventeen-year-old daughter, Nkuli. “Your body is the temple of God, and it must be treated as as such” she continued, hissing and making fists so that she does not end up slapping her.
“But it’s just a skirt, Ma…” Nkuli held her head up high, faced her mother’s wrinkled face and stared deep into her eyes. Linah’s eyes were so red as if they had been dipped in blood, left for years and then sprinkled with yellow-brown stains around. Her skin was so layered up, you could even hide a child’s head behind her falling skin.
“The next thing it will be a maternity dress covering a bastard child…don’t tell me it’s a skirt. We are new here—we moved from Meadowplek so that you can be like other kids…that you might have a bright future. With the way you’re behaving, people will continue to look at you as Jim comes to Egoli.”
“Ma, stop making this difficult for me. This is ALL about you. I never wanted to be here anyway”
Linah’s layers got ironed up and her hands that look like she was made to cream them with ash at an early age met with Nkuli’s pimpled face. It was as if the lightning had struck and she crumbled down and tears rushed down her face.
Nkuli was voluptuous, caramel coloured and her neck was adorned with her flowing, locked hair. Linah had taught her how to take care of them: dye them in dark black and put highlights of gold on the tips, wash them in coconut oil and moisturize her scalp with odourless Vaseline. Unlike the girls at Dinaleding, her Scottish-patterned tunic did not pass her knees. She had a few lines behind her knees that looked like topographic lines on the Atlas map, but she did not mind them like other girls who put foundation on their faces and behind their knees. Nkuli’s fists were so strong that she beat up her Life Orientation teacher after he told her that the dirty floor scrubber on her head is obscuring the students behind her.
I remember it was the winter Malum’Themba was dropped by a van. It was covered in dust and filled with a bunch of twenty-year-old lads dressed up as forty-five-year-old men in the village with dozens of wives and hundreds of children who could finish a cow in a second. My father was looking through the window and my mother hopped off the brown Gomma Gomma couch she humbly-bragged about to the whole neighbourhood about my father getting it for her after she found him in bed with our neighbours daughter.
“Sawubona bhuti,” my mother shook Malum’Themba’s hand and used the other to help him with his load that was packed in a red, blue, white and yellow bag that looked like a body bag for dead octopuses.
“Hello, Malume,” both my mother and uncle gave me desperate looks that seemed like they both wanted to tell me I should take back my words and greet him in Zulu. I had grown up in the city all my life. I am used to playing in the mud dumps with Mr Van Vurren’s daughters and sing in English. My mother wants me to speak Zulu when we are around family–like today, Malum’Themba is here and I am forced to speak Zulu. But when they go to the spaza shop with me, I suddenly have to prove that I am educated, unlike my miner father who cannot speak any word of English except for Hello, Yes Baas and So sorry baas.
Malum’Themba’s smile was so bright that it brightened the house. His legs looked like that of a man who had given up his soul to strengthen his muscles. Although he was not older than me, people thought he was my father because Baba was never around– he walked me to school, attended all my Science quizzes, gave me gifts and kissed me on the cheeks when Ma was not looking. Baba was either in the mines, working, or at his girlfriend’s place and sheeben– Sis’Jabu: The Shebeen Queen. Sis’Jabu used to attend the same stokvel with Ma. They were good friends, and she would sometimes sleep in Ma and Baba’s bedroom with Baba while Mama went to visit Auntie Luis in the Zululand. Sis’Jabu stopped sleeping over when Ma poured her with a bucket full of urine when she found her with Baba one morning. The next day, Baba came home with the Gomma Gomma couches to make peace with Ma.
Malum’Themba slept on the couch in the lounge. My mother did not like people sleeping on the couch but she allowed Malum’Themba to sleep on them. Ma and Malum’Themba are not birth siblings. He is the son of my mother’s uncle’s son who came to Meadowplek. Because my father is the foreman at the mine, he could easily find Malum’Themba a job.
Ma slept early. She usually sleeps before 8 P.M so that she can wake up early and prepare scones for the miners. They come to our house to buy them for tea time at the Meadowplek shaft. Ma started selling scones because Sis’Jabu always has people at her house and she needed something other than my father to compete with her. That night when there were a storm and the soil from the mine was knocking furiously on our windows like Baba used to do when Ma locks him out, Malum’Themba sneaked topless into my room in his Spiderman underwear and told me he was scared.
“Shh…just make space for me in your bed. Your mother knows I am here with you.”
I let him touch me because I thought that’s what my mother told him to do. I felt his hands move under my nightdress up. I suddenly felt his hands warm up and his hands went inside my panties and I was still quiet. Then he flipped me over. My eyes were the only thing brightening up that room. I felt as if he was a cloud of darkness on top of me and inside me. I made a crying sound and I felt his hands that smell like butt cracks cover my mouth and I kept quiet. A water-milk-like substance was all over my thighs. I did not eat my cereal that morning. He sat next to me and asked me how I slept last night. My mother’s wrinkled face brightened up for the first time since my father left for Sis’Jabu’s place. It was if she had won the lottery and her dreams were coming true.
I suddenly felt a gush of warm liquid between my leg and it had formed a yellow-red pond around me. Bursts of laughter surrounded me; it was as if Malum’Themba was inside and top of me again. Only, this time, I was allowed to cry out loud and his crusty-anal-odour-smelling hand was not against my lips.