Beneath the surface

by Onalenna Jantjie

 

It was warm and lovely in Manyeding.  The sky looked beautiful with blue stripes.  The children were running around in the streets. Benjamin, a short skinny boy was among them. Although he was fourteen, he looked younger because of his short height.

Some of the boys were his friends that he went to school with.  Some were orphans who never had the privilege of going to school. They stayed in the Khululeko centre across the street. It was a home for street kids and orphans.

Their game stopped when they heard a voice screaming, ‘Benjamin! Benjamin!’ It was his mother, Maboko. She was wearing a black skirt with white dots.  She had been a beautiful woman before life decided to be unkind to her.  She was gifted at the back and had beautiful curves.  Sadly,  she had lost a tremendous amount of weight since her husband fell sick a year ago.  Nobody knew what was wrong with him, even doctors couldn’t fiqure out his illness.  Maboko had run out of money to pay for his hospital bills, hence she decided to nurse him at home.  Benjamin ran like a mouse to his mother.  When he arrived at home, he found his father lying on his bed, looking lifeless. ‘Come, Benjamin, help me carry him to the clinic,’ said his mother.

‘Yes mama, I will help you,’ Said Benjamin reassuringly.  He wished that he could protect his mother from all the pain that she was bearing in her heart.  The clinic was five minutes  away from their house.  On their arrival, they found a long line of sick people who were also waiting to be helped.

‘Can’t we take him to the hospital mum’?  asked Benjamin impatiently. ‘I dont have the money,’ said Maboko sadly.  After an hour of waiting around, a nurse finally came to assist them. ‘What is he suffering from’?  asked the nurse while touching Benjamin’s father to check if he has the normal body temperature.  ‘The same problem that he has been suffering from a year ago’. James had been suffering from a terrible cough that made it hard for him to breath.  He also had sores on the whole of his left arm. ‘I think this medicine will keep him stable for the time being’.  Said the nurse as she gave Maboko the tablets.

Benjamin looked at the nurse with irritable and hopeless eyes. ‘How long is this going to last’?  He asked ‘How long will what last’?  Asked the nurse.  Benjamin said nothing but just stared at his father. ‘Benjamin! can’t you hear the nurse is talking to you’?  said his mother angrily. ‘There seem to be no end to Dad’s illness, I can’t take it anymore mum’.  Tears started to well in his eyes.  But he held them back.  He was determined to be strong for his mother. ‘One day your father will be alright, all we have to do is to be strong for him’, said Maboko, touching Benjamin’s hand.

‘Lets go home mum.’  He said while he helped his mother to carry his father. The sadness and quiteness in the house was unbearable .  Maboko was having supper alone because Benjamin felt too sad to eat. And tonight was no different. He lay on his bed thinking and worrying about his father.  Sometimes he worried more about his mother.  He went outside to take a walk.  At times he wished that he could run away from all the sadness in his life.

Maboko woke up feeling tired, she had woken up four to five times during the night to give her husband medicine to soothe his throat. She went straight to Benjamin’s room to see if he was awake so that he could come and help her bath his father.  As she opened the door, she was surprised to see that Benjamin was not in his room. She was used to him waking up after her. She went outside to look for him. ‘Benjamin! Benjamin!’ screamed Maboko. ‘Where could that boy be’?  She looked all over for him but Benjamin was nowhere to be seen.  She bathed her husband right on the bed because she couldn’t carry him to the bathroom all by herself. ‘Auch’, cried Benjamin’s father as Maboko wiped his armpits. ‘Sorry, I will be more careful’.

By 6:00pm, Benjamin still hadn’t come home.  Maboko asked all his  friends about his whereabouts but noone had an idea.  Three days passed and there was still no sign of Benjamin. ‘Mother, I would like to ask you for a favour’, said Maboko. ‘Anything child’, said Makhulu sarcastically.  Makhulu was a staut woman, she was 69 years of age.  She always shocked people in the way she acted and dressed.  She dressed more like a twenty year old and acted like a teenager.  Her personality was unbearable.  She had a fake smile that made everybody see right through her.  She was not a loving woman that she pretended to be.  She had never supported her son’s decision to marry Maboko.

‘I am going to go out tomorrow with a group of teenage boys to go look for Benjamin’. Said Maboko.  She held her breath for a while, trying to fiqure out a nice way to ask her mother in law if she could look after George while she is away. ‘I wouldn’t miss out on a chance to look after my own child’, She said eyeing Maboko.  Maboko eyed her and said nothing.  She stood up and when she was about to open the door, she turned to look at her mother in law.  ‘Be careful Maboko, the fields are not safe’. ‘Don’t worry, I will be fine’.  Maboko felt a flicker of fear in her body but she just ignored it.

The next morning Maboko and her search team searched the whole township first and then headed off to the fields.  The fields were quiet scary, with big trees and long grass. After an hour and a half  of searching in the fields, they all decided to rest under the shadow of a tree for a while.  Maboko sat quietly as the boys conversed with each other. ‘What are you doing’? Asked Maboko in a frightened tone of voice as the sixteen year old boy unbuttoned her blouse with full force. She pulled away from him, eyeing the other boys, hoping that they would help her.  As soon as she was about to make a run for her life, the other boys dragged her down.  She tried to fight them as they took off her panties. While she was screaming for help, one of the boys took a stone and hit her on the head with it to shut her up.  She lay still, almost unconscious, listening to them as they took turns in raping her.  After they were done with her, they left her lying there, uncounscious, blood flowing from her forehead and virgina.

It was getting dark when Maboko finally regained consciousness.  She tried to lift her head but it was too sore.  Finally, she lifted it up slowly and got on her two feet.  She moved her legs slowly until she arrived at home.

Maboko’s mother in law was now getting worried about her because it was past 8:00pm and she still hadn’t come home. ‘I just hope that the boys did not do too much damage to her’. She said to herself. She walked around the yard to see if there was perhaps no sign of Maboko. Suddenly, she saw a perculiar lady coming towards her direction.  Her clothes were torn and had blood all over her.  Her hair looked like it had been in the bushes.  As Makhulu walked towards her she was filled with shock.  She felt sorry for her and yet happy that she finally got what she deserved.

‘Oh! my God… Maboko…..come, let me help you’. Said makhulu.  She helped Maboko walk into the house and cleaned her up. ‘What happened child’?  said Makhulu as she continued wiping the blood from Maboko’s face.  ‘I…… was…. at tacked’. Makhulu kept quiet for a while, staring at Maboko, expecting to hear more about the attack but Maboko said nothing.  She never trusted her mother in law because she was well known for spreading stories around.  Because of her mother in law, there was talks going around in the township that Maboko is a whitch and that she is the one who has bewitched her husband. Maboko had lost most of her friends because of Makhulu’s lies.

After a couple of days, Maboko started to get better.  She had chased her mother in law out after they had a heated arguement about who was responsible for George’s illness.

It had been a week since Benjamin had disappeared.  Maboko had contacted the police to report the case, but they also couldn’t track Benjamin down. She kept herself busy doing house chores.  As she was busy cleaning the bedroom that her mother in law had been using, she found an envelope with Makhulu’s name on the outside.  She opened it to see what it was.  She hoped that it would not be anything important because she wouldn’t want to go to mother’s place to deliver it.  She hated the woman with every fibre of her being and she was happy not seeing her face.

She began to read it and realised that it was some kind of a plan.  ‘My God! what on earth is this? She suspected that Makhulu could be responsible for Benjamin’s disapperance because the piece of paper in an envelope had the name of Benjamin written all over it.  Her instinct were telling her that Makhulu had to know something about Benjamin.

Within a blink of an eye she was at her mother in law’s house.  It was two streets away from hers.  Her heart beating fast.  She was filled with fear, anger and sadness.  At some point she felt confused.  But she knew she had to do something.

She was about to storm into the house but she found her mother in law sitting quietely on the chair, watching Tv. Makhulu’s house was beautiful, there was no doubt that she was a wealthy woman. Her husband had died twenty years ago, leaving her with only one son. Her garden had beautiful roses and the grass was well taken care of.  The furniture inside the house had been imported from Brasil.  Maboko decided to walk silently towards her.  Her footsteps were inaudible.  She grabbed her by her throat. ‘Tell me where my son is,….. or ..I’ll kill you’.  Said Maboko as she tighetened her hands around Makhulu’s throat.  Maboko tried to deny having anything to do with her son’s disappearance.  But that angered Maboko.  She tightened her hands around her neck even harder.

‘Ok, Ok, I’ll tell you’.  Maboko let her go and waited for her to talk while she was regaining her composure. ‘Follow me’. Said Makhulu.  She led Maboko into a storage room behing her house.  She unlocked it and opened it.  Tears streamed down on Maboko’s eyes immediately when she saw what Makhulu had done to her son.  He had been tied to a chair, his eyes were red and his lips were white and dry from hunger.  She ran to him and untied the ropes as quickly as she could. ‘My poor child, my poor child.’  Said Maboko as she gave him a warm big hug.  They walked out of the storeroom and went straight home.  Makhulu was nowhere to be seen but they did not care.

After days of being nursed by his mother.  Benjamin recovered.  and he felt well enough to start doing his chores around the house and helping his mother in the vegetable garden which had sustained them ever since his father fell sick.’Why do you think grandma did that to me mum’?  asked Benjamin.  Maboko stopped with what she was doing.  She sat on the chair, startled by her son’s question. It was the kind of question she wanted to avoid but she knew that one day she’d have to face it. ‘Come, sit next to me’. Said Maboko warmly. ‘Makhulu never liked me’. She hated the fact that I was from a poor family.  She was against our marriage taking place but we married against her will’, she said.’How come you never told me about this mum’?  Asked Benjamin.  You were too little, I did not want to burden you with such issues.  You did not deserve to grow up like that’. Said Maboko touching Benjamin’s cheek.  She wiped Benjamin’s tears off and went back to do her work.  She decided to put all that had happened behind her.  She held on to the thought that tomorrow will be a better day.She had more hope now about life since her husband had miraculously began to show signs of healing.

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