by Matome Senyolo
TO: Lovely Mushibudi Tladi
Many a times I have longed such an opportunity to pour my heart unto you.
For since I first looked upon your wonderful and incomparable beauty, my heart has not been able to live without you. Only yesterday I had a dream. A dream so sweet, but so confusing, it needs brains such as yours for transparency.
Shiver stroke my knees. I wished for the earth to swallow me there and then but it wouldn’t bow down to such wishful wish.
‘These words can only be mine.’ I said to myself. Only now did I realize what principal Tladi had come to the assembly about. Everyone at Retlagodisha primary school news that, whenever the principal attended assembly, something was about to go down. And this morning was no exception but little did in know, I was going to be part of the conspiracy that dominated the village in many more years to come. Although Tladi was always first to arrive at school, he rarely attended the morning singing and prayer. Only occasional when he had words for the students. From singing praise to those who have excelled in sports, recreation or academic achievements, of which I was a regular member of these individuals, to corporal punishing those who have wronged seriously that needed his intervention. Student being student, we had even studied his appearance at the assembly.
Whenever he came with his tie nicely tied at the neck, we knew it was the day of praises. But today his tie was loose and the long sleeves of his shirt were folded up to his arms. The tension was very high among the students. Even those who knew what trouble was had not been at easy, fearing for their name to be implicated. The principal was famous for punishing whoever’s name was called upon in disciplinary cases without giving them the opportunity to plead their case.
Of course the news had not reached my ear, until now, but the thought did cross my mind. My mind refuses to entertain it so it was dismissed as soon as it came.
As soon as he stepped at the assembly, the principal had summoned the students to lead a song even before the bell rang. Few that were already at the assembly sang:
Who ought in heaven?
Hallow be thy name
Thy kingdom cow
They had confused come for cow in little fearful of the principal’s presence. Many late comers had managed to catch a prayer because he only allowed one song today, instead of three or four that we normally sing. Then he had, without formal greetings, unfolded an A4 paper that had been written in both side and had started reading in a very loud an angry voice. His lower lip trembled as he read on, causing him to swallow some of the words.
I am lying on the blankets with my stomach as I draft these beautiful words for you. My little brother insisted he want to sleep so I decided to prepare the blankets before I start writing. He is just gone outside to piss now, in fact I just saw him going to my parent’s raundovel now because we sleep on the one opposite theirs. My sisters sleep on the one that my mother just completed building recently. You know I can’t believe that at some point the seven of us stayed in two huts. I’m happy now that we don’t have to share a room with girls. Anyway did you know that I sleep on the floor? Even my sisters sleep on the floor. It’s only my parents in the house who own a bed. My mother always says that we shall buy our own the day we start working. Sometimes I laugh at her comment but I know it’s the truth. My father can’t afford to buy a bed for us. How can he, when he doesn’t even own a goat?
I wonder how it is for privileged people like you to be sleeping on their own bed in your own room. What pictures do you have on the wall?
I know girls like that, pictures of half naked man or hunks rather and some love massages, roses, etc. I’m sure your father’s house can accommodate the whole village. Whispers in the village say it’s got 15 rooms, is this true? I thought that your house was not bigger than that one of Masilo’s family, so how can it be 15 rooms then? By the way, only yesterday Masilo was boosting in class about his father’s wealth. I quote him;
‘No one in this village earns more than my father does. He earns more than many families salaries combined.’
You should have heard him shouting on top of his voice, jumping around the desks like a monkey; well, no player hating but he does look like one anyway. The lad seems like incapable of shutting his mouth even when nothing sensible is coming out of it.
‘Many parents can’t even sleep on the bed I sleep on,’ he continued boosting.
But I am sure one day, when I’m working I can afford one for both myself and my wife, hopefully it is uo.. .y ei…sh.. Who will be by my side?
Eish, I’m sorry about that. My brother opened the door and the candle went off, so I couldn’t see what I was writing. Hope you do understand my point. I do not have another clean paper to write on, so I shall continue on the same page. You know sometimes having a brother who behaves like mine it can be such nonsense.
As I’m busy writing this letter, he is busy peeping in the paper and giggling around. He is even threatening to tell my parents that I’m writing a letter to a girl.
Sometimes I wish I didn’t have siblings, just like you, But only if my parents were as educated as yours, so they could buy me nice things like you. Apparently my mother managed standard one while my father passed standard five and got hired as a foreman at the farm that he is currently been employed at. Although he earns very little, he is doing his best to give us all he can. I believe he is the sweetest and the most understanding dad in the whole village. Is the principal as strict at home as he is at school? I suppose not, he loves you too much and he’s protective of you. Beside, your mother will provide all the experience she has to nurse you. What, 12 years in the field, she really must be enjoying her profession doesn’t she? And what is this thing I hear about your mother beating up you father. I’m sorry if this upsets you but I thought I should rather find out from you. You know my integrity would not allow me to carry such a rumor without knowing the real truth. Many believe that your father is so strict at school because he is trying to take out his frustration on the students. They say you mother pulls him with his ears every night accusing him of dating toddlers.
On hearing this, the students giggled and the principal paused for a moment. He had so far read without a pause let alone lifting his head from a paper. His concentration drawn into the letter that he had not even had Masilo pushing around the student in search of Morongwa.
The principal scanned everybody with his shiny eyes to identify those who were laughing but everybody had bent down by then, fearing to be seen. He took out a handkerchief and wiped his forehead. It was obvious that he was very humiliated by such insults. How could he not?
He knew this will be a talk of every household in the whole village at the fire place in many more months to come.
But he will see to it that the culprit get severely punished for his, as he calls it, reckless behavior. Although many eyes had been rolling in my direction, I held my head high. I have always mastered the theory of innocent until proven guilty. Not only did the description of the family background implicate me, but the well written English as well. I had mastered the white man’s language as a toddler during the time my mother looked after white kids at the farmer, my father works. I had played with the white children until I started school in the village, so the language became mine.
Everybody at school called me Dr Omolemo Rapapula because of my academic result in all subject at the school. Some simply called me ‘The good doctor’, especially the teachers. Not a medical doctor of course, how could that be possible when I’m still in secondary school. In form three to be specific.
Back to the present, I kept on telling myself that, I’ll wait until the name of the author is read, only then I can go face the consequences of my letter. The punishment for confiscated love-letter ordinarily would be ten strokes on the buttocks, in front of the whole school and cleaning the windows of every classroom, every Friday for a full month. And of course the humiliation of the letter being read in front of the whole school. In some instead they would even ask the writer to read the letter himself so that the other student could have a good laugh at the victim. There had been many occasions like this before, in fact it had became some kind of a norm for love letters to be confiscated in the school. In a mouth two or three letters use to be confiscated by teachers. In some cases, if a girl receives a letter from a guy she didn’t fancy, she would literally turn in the letter to the teacher so that the poor guy would get the message that he’s not appreciated, loud and clear. But boys being boys, nothing could stop them from chasing their dream girl. So the students had gotten used to the humiliation that they didn’t care anymore.
If they could defy their parents to satisfy their adolescent feelings, who was principal Tladi to stand in their quest for innocence romance. The only thing he could do was to punish them, that’s all. And what was ten stroke compare to desired love anyway?
‘But this one, I’m convinced it will be different,’ I was thinking to myself.
The letter has embarrassed the principal and his family. It was obvious he had not read it before; otherwise he would have just called the writer and punishes him. He had hoped to swing a surprise but instead he got surprised himself.
While everybody was freezing in this cold winter morning, like the principal I was also sweating. Assembly took place between the only two blocks of the school, each block with three class rooms, so the shadow of the one block caused some chilly in the bones. The school was situated at the edge of the village, next to the river that separated our village and the plaguing fields. This made us vulnerable from the cold wind blowing from the river during the winter season. The cold breeze blowing towards our direction didn’t make matter easy as well. We were standing nicely in lines, according to the standard each one of us attended. As the middle class at the school, we also got to stand in the middle of all class. So I could easy see everyone from both directions. My eyes looked around for both Morongwa and Mushibudi but I couldn’t see either one of them.
They will have to tell me how the letter ended up in the principal’s hands. Somehow I was thinking to myself, if only I had kept the letter so I could give it to – Shibu, for short – myself. The debating challenge I had attended was only yesterday, so why didn’t I keep the letter until today. Why did I trust that Morongwa would deliver the letter for me?
Was I not man enough to carry out my own responsibility?
But of course it was too late for such thinking. But why is Masilo looking for Morongwa,’ I was thinking again.
Tladi kept silent for a while as if he was absorbing the little distraction that has just happened, and then just as he made to begin reading, Masilo coughed exaggerated cough very loud. This time the principal had seen who the destructor was.
‘Is there a problem Masilo?’ he fumed.
‘Aahm….nnh..ah. He coughed again then began as if he groped for his words.
‘It’s jus that is my neck is blocked sir?’ he mumbled in a rather question statement. And the principal had after all understood that he meant a throat not a neck. Few laughed excitedly and clapped for his hard groped English. He had after all used all the English he’s got.
‘Do you wish to go and help yourself with water from the tap?’
The principal allowed Masilo the time to go and drink water. The tap was just behind the block, so he waited for a while hoping he will return quickly. The few seconds of silence were unbearable and felt like an hour. If you were passing by and witnessed the mood, you would have been convinced that a death had been occurred. But realizing that Masilo was taking his time, he continued reading.
I know it seem like I’m getting carried away by the family affairs but it’s important for me to make you aware of where I’m coming from. So now allow me to take this opportunity, over pen and paper, and let you know how my heart feels about you. You know it is true that the heart finds love in awkward place. So I hope if yours find it in me, let my family background have nothing to do with it. What’s love got to do with wealth anyway? Ooh, about my dream.
Every time I lay down to sleep, I dream about a tree with brunches. One brunch is my wife and kids and the other brunches are my career path. Every time I try to choose which path I am going to take, the leaves wither and turn brown. Then a soft wind blows them away.
Will I ever rich my destination? This question keeps on popping in my mind whenever I think about you and the dream. Now I need answers. I really hope you are the one with the key to this dream.
Yours truly (in ad…..van…ce)
The principal paused for a moment before he could read the name of the author. His mouth froze wide open, forming an O shape. He was clearly in disbelieving, or rather a shock, so to say. He lifted his head from the letter and looked around the student. Everybody was anxious to hear the name. There was a little bit of shoving and pushing as everybody was looking at one another to see who will give inn. If the principal asked for the real perpetrator to stand up, I would have saluted. I squeezed my buttocks tied and blocked my ears so I do not hear the name when is called. He looked again at the letter then to the student and asked if Masilo is still not back from drinking water.
Although my bladder was burning, nothing came out of it; instead air came out from my buttocks making funny sounds like, ffsssss, boooh. I looked around to see if there was anyone then I laughed at myself. Air came out again. It was uneasy laugh and my knees were still shaking. My mind was filled with too many unanswered question. But one thing I was certain I’m going to do was to deny any knowledge about the letter. Tladi had send two lads for Masilo and allowed us some time to bask in the sun. Students grouped themselves in corners debating about what they thought would happen to Masilo. Some argued that someone might have written the letter for him while some believed he might have copied words from a song which he didn’t understand the meaning. One thing they agreed on though was that those were not his words.
‘He can’t even read, what more writing,’ one asked to no one in particular.
When the lads came back to report that he was not at home, the principal decide to drive to Morongwa’s place, who had also stayed at home.
The car came back flying and he quickly jumped out of it followed by both Masilo and Morongwa.
There was a bit of stamped as everyone ran towards the staffroom to see what’s going to happen. Tladi dismissed everybody with the hand signal. Few minutes later someone was send to call me into the staffroom. I went inside very calm and relaxed. My mind was made up and nothing was going to change it. I stood in front of the principal who was standing on the other side of his table, his hands folded at the back. Masilo and Morongwa were standing behind the door, almost as if they had seen a ghost.
There was a fourth person inside. Our English teacher Mr. Marutha was called in to verify the content of the letter and to determine who could have written it. Sitting almost next to the principal, with the letter in his hands, his body language showed very little interested to the matter.
Maybe his interest was to see to it that I get justice. I could somehow sense his sympathy towards me and this gave me the courage to speak my mind in the matter. Mar Marutha had always spoken openly against punishing students for confiscated love letter. He had suggested that students should rather be educated on matters of love, rather than to be deemed young to love. He said matters of the heart are very hard to control especially when minds are still at the developing stage. So only the knowledge can remedy the situation. But the principal didn’t even want to be drawn into entertaining Mr. Marutha’s suggestions. He would deal with adolescence minds his way. Not according to some junior teacher who can’t even handle his own relationships. With these few words the case was closed and the principal and Marutha never saw eye to eye. They only spoke when it was beyond their control. In some occasions, the mediator would be used to relay information between the two. And today was one of those rare occasions but even, they didn’t have to say much to each other. The principal asked me to rise up my right hand and asked God to ‘help me speak nothing but the truth.’
Then he began the interrogation.
‘What do you know about the letter Rapapula?’
The principal had developed the tendency of calling the students simply by their surname. Only those that he knew them and their families well, he called them by their names. The likes of Masilo, whom his father and the principal were the best of friends, got the privileged of being called by their nick-names.
‘I am afraid I know nothing about it sir,’ I replied rather calmly.
He kept to himself for a moment then he continued.
‘So, in other words you are trying to tell me that Morongwa is out of her mind.
Morongwa’s explanation had been that the letter original came from me. But because she knew Masilo was interested in Shibu, she had decided to have him read the letter first, hoping to earn few favors from the son of a rich father.
In desperate to win the girl, Masilo had asked her to re-write the letter and put his name at the end, for fifty cent in compensation. But both of them were so dumb, they didn’t realize any need to change few things on the letter, hence we have arrived at this situation. Then she decided to read the letter for Shibu in the class until the teacher saw it and confiscated it.
‘I will repeat myself for the last time. In other words
‘Not in any other words, I cut inn. In those very words sir, you have read the name of the author for yourself. Or have you not?’
The principal’s face was now turning red. Like any light skin person, his complexion gave in to anger easily. The principal was well built and a man of attractive body structure indeed. A man never wanted a defeat in every sphere of life. Everything to him was a matter of pride and to fulfill his ego. He was known all over the village for always accusing the parents for what he termed “lack of parenting” at Kgotlas. He blamed them for the high rate of teenage pregnancy and claimed that they encourage their children to get pregnant in order to trap they guys to marry them. Especially if the guy is from a well of background. But off course his allegations were baseless and lacked adequate proof. Nevertheless, he had taken it upon himself to police whatever love affair that might occur at his school, and had made himself an expert of solving such situation. Not today though. The situation was complicated beyond his imagination. The fact that it involved his very own beloved daughter brought even further complicated dimension to the matter. It was obvious that personal feeling was playing part into trying to solve this. His lower lip trembled but he bites it with his upper teeth to hold it still. There was a little joy in my heart. Today I had triumphed against the principal whose decisions is mostly final in many occasions. Most importantly in front of my English teacher, the only person in school who judged me without looking at my family background. The loud mouth, Masilo was still standing behind the door, like a chicken in the middle of the rain. He had so far not answered a single question from principal Tladi or rather the only two questions that The principal asked him.
The principal kept quiet for a moment then he asked us to step outside for a moment.
Realizing that he was not getting anywhere with the case, he set-up a commission of enquiry to look into the matter.
Those in the team were the English teacher, two parents from students governing body, head boy and his deputy but they too could not crack the case. At some point they had asked my little brother out of the test room, so he could testify that he had seen me writing the letter. But he just looked at them and said, ‘is this what you have called me out of my test for? Do you care whether I pass or fail?’ and he walked out of the staffroom, leaving the whole team speechless. So they made recommendations to the principal. He either punishes all of us including his daughter or let us go unpunished. The recommendations were drafted by Mr. Marutha, fully aware that the principal wouldn’t dare to touch his own daughter or Masilo for that matter. He loved her so much that she was never wrong in his face. As for Masilo, he wouldn’t wanna run the risk of destroying the friendship he had with his father. Poor Morongwa was only saved by Mr. Marutha’s recommendations. But she was told never to be seen with Shibu ever again. Otherwise she would end up influencing her with her unruly behavior. The case was thrown out of the staff room with only a warning to the whole school. We were threatened not to even mention a word about the letter in the streets by the principal, whose ego had been badly humiliated. Few weeks later Mr. Marutha invited me to his house to watch a video of Sarafina. The first black movie I’ve watched on a video. After the movie we discussed black politics and other matters of general interest and debated a bit about soccer. But the letter was never the agenda on the day. But I could sense that my victory has been his and what better way to celebrate it without mentioning it? Years past, student grew older, but the legacy of the letter leaved on.
Years later, my people visited shibu’s people to discuss the price for lobola. The principal demanded thirty cows and a pig, obviously hoping to cash in from my hard earned wealth.