Making a Woman

by Thabisani Ndlovu

Skhumba is trying to say to Aunt Mongi, he cannot sleep at night because he loves her. Grown-ups can say stupid things like that and their eyes tell you these are useless things. Look at Skhumba’s eyes. They are naturally small as a porcupine’s and always slide away from everyone’s like those of a thieving dog and now they are small small slits. And people say women die for Skhumba and some even scratch and bite each other over him. A man with a bull-frog nose like this, and smelling like a billy goat! His hands move hesitantly as he tries again. He gets the signs wrong and it comes out as “I love sleep.” With open palms facing the blue blue sky, Aunt Mongi is asking, So? “Tell her,” Skhumba says to me, “that she has the most amazing figure I have ever seen and that everyone in Janke District is saying that. Unlike some men who think she is cursed, I don’t think so. Even if she is, I don’t care. Tell her she is my honey from the mbondo tree. I can’t eat when I think of her. My heart is burning and only she can cool it.”

Skhumba is asking for too much. I only spend time with Aunt Mongi during the school holidays. How does he expect me to say “cursed”? And his burning heart? This Skhumba thinks he is clever, speaking so much gibberish through his teeth that make him look as if he has been eating brown mud because he smokes newspaper-rolled cigarettes. When a man says these kinds of sweet-sweet things, closing his eyes like that and talking softly as if talking to a sick person lying on a hospital bed, he just wants to put his thing inside the woman’s. I know that. So I point to Skhumba and Aunt Mongi, and show the thumb of my right hand sticking out between the cleavage of the forefinger and second finger. How the cooking stick finds Skhumba’s head, I don’t know. I just see its broken flat end rolling briefly in the sand, the white of cooking isitshwala [1] barely visible through the overall brown of sand grains. Aunt Mongi is chasing Skhumba and whacking the back of his head. Many blows rain on him and he bawls like a boy. He should have known that Aunt Mongi used to herd cattle and she is tough and fast.  She is a woman now, Grandpa says, she must not do that anymore. Now she does a lot of cooking for everyone, especially Granda who likes her cooking. When she kneels in front of him, offering him food, a smile is always twitching at the corners of her mouth. Later, when we are alone, she caresses her chin and points at her chest, repeatedly makes the sign for eating and getting fat and laughs. Grandpa and I make a good match and she throws her head back and laughs till tears sparkle in her eyes. But she must start cooking for her own man, Grandpa says. What use will it be if she continues cooking for him until her hair turns white? I don’t know of any man who wants Aunt Mongi except this Skhumba who is liked by women so much in spite of squashed nose and terrible smell. Women are strange.

I laugh at Skhumba until I cry. When Aunt Mongi returns, I’m still laughing. She wags the stick at me and makes as if to beat me. I raise my hands in mock fear and protection of my face. She points at me and makes circles with her index finger pointing at her head, You’re just as mad. I nod my head. She makes as if to beat me again and she laughs her white buck teeth. We laugh until she hugs me, then acts out how she beat Skhumba and how he ran, with his heels almost touching the back of his head. I roll on the sand and when I’m nearly dead with laughter, mother comes out of the kitchen hut and says, “Hey you two, leave some laughter for some of us.” Facing Aunt Mongi, mother does the both-palms skywards, What is it? Aunt Mongi just waves mother and her question away, looking aside, Nothing and nothing you need to know.

That Skhumba, serves him well. He will stop this nonsense talk of his. “There is a woman,” he always says of Aunt Mongi, “she makes me soil all my trousers.” And some men laugh and say, “You Skhumba, that thing of yours is too greedy. Now you want this woman. She makes all our things stand but who are you to try her? Be careful what you ask for. You think that kind of body that can make some of us kill our mothers for, comes on its own? So you want to lift a mamba to see how many young she has hatched? Good luck.”

“Women,” Grandpa says and shakes his head, “You know that underneath your grandmother’s doek [2] is white hair?” It is one of those questions he asks without asking. Look at how he is picking his teeth, looking away from me so that he does not even see me nod. He spits out whatever piece was trapped between some of his teeth which are becoming fewer and fewer. His cheeks are falling into his mouth and soon they will be so close they’ll say good morning to each other.  He continues, “You would think she knows better, heh? Not at all. Here she is pretending she can’t see that your aunt needs help.” Something is pricking me to ask him, “Help with what?” Before I decide whether he is still talking to himself he says, “Your Aunt Mongi needs to become a woman before it’s too late. As God’s own creature, she does.” People say that of Aunt Mongi, “Agh…shame. She is God’s own creature. But what a body that woman has. How many women look like that? For sure, God can’t give you everything.”  Grandpa looks at me with his cloudy eyes and I nod.  He squints more and more these days and the whitish clouds in his eyes are spreading fast. It is good to sit on the stool that Grandpa carved for me three days ago. It is a smaller version of his. On the wood supporting the seat and the base are three snakes coiled around each other, their heads close to each other as if they are whispering. “Son of my son,” he said when he gave me the stool, “you are my first- born’s son and I praise God and the ancestors that you are a boy. You will be the father of everyone here one day. See these snakes? They peak of us and those gone before us. Come sit and eat with me and learn to become a proper man.” We eat a lot of meat.

Tomorrow, Grandpa is saying, we will go looking for more herbs. For now, can I drink this? He is like that. His talk jumps all over the place like a grasshopper. It is a dark-brown and slimy liquid that he gives me. Not as bitter as the one he gave me yesterday. “Makes your joints, sinews and bones strong, this one.And when it’s time to father children,” he makes a sharp tek sound between thumb and middle finger, “one time. You must become strong son of my son. Very soon, you will have a beard around your thing. Give me the bottle.” He gulps all of it and says ahh as if he has taken something nice, like those people who drink Coca-Cola on tv. There at the bottom of the transparent cooking oil bottle are several little bulbs cut in half, on top of which is a green weed. He has many of these bottles and others with paws of animals and heads, tails and guts of little creatures in his hut, and people come from far away to get the medicines. Some come walking with their legs far apart. That’s pain from the disease that eats their things, Grandpa says. That is why he has many cattle. Some people who would have come walking with their legs far apart come back walking properly and bring a beast or two. Some come to thank Grandpa for making them have children and some older men come back smiling like naughty school boys, to say they are men again and may bring a goat or two. Grandpa makes people happy. He makes some of them young and strong.

Aunt Mongi is frying vetkoeks [3] in a pan over the fire just in front of the kitchen hut. In a reed basket next to where she is kneeling are succulent brown ones. I point at them and cup both my hands. She looks at me, smiles and wags a finger. She points at the vetkoeks, rapidly thrusts the bunched fingers of one hand towards her mouth, puffs her cheeks, rolls her eyes and holds her arms like brackets alongside her boy. Vetkoeks make you greedy and fat, she is saying. But mother thinks it’s the meat that Grandpa feeds me almost daily. I must learn to become umnumzana [4],  he says. A mnumzana enjoys the fruit of his labour and sees to it that his children and grandchildren grow up to become proper people and not hollow things that are blown by the wind and laughed at by everyone, including poor and empty people. Above all, a mnumzana must make sure that in his homestead, the meat of the next beast is cooked in the gravy of the last. He says there are three Ndebele Kingdoms for a man to enjoy – meat, beer and women. He asks me to repeat the kingdoms. I get the order wrong and he tells me I would not have learnt the lesson if I get the order wrong. “Women can leave you,” he says, “but you’re never too old for the other two. You can eat the meat of a calf and if that fails, you can grind the meat. Do you know that?”  I say no.

Aunt Mongi points at the vetkoeks again and spits in quick succession ptuu! ptuu! ptuu! The spitting goes with a flicking of both wrists and sideways glance.  These things are rubbish. Just like she says of people she doesn’t like or things that don’t agree with her, like cooking oil. She can cook vetkoeks for everyone but if she tries to eat one she vomits. Buses and cars don’t agree with her as well. She can’t travel on them because diesel or petrol makes her sick sick. So she doesn’t want to travel to town. This is how she says town: left-right control of a steering wheel that is not there and then pointing to the east, the direction of town. She went there once, before I was born, my mother says. Aunt Mongi vows she’ll never travel there again; said by scooping a bit of sand on the ground, spitting into the small hollow and covering it up with the displaced sand. Never.

I know there are things she can say never to and mean it. Like she refused to inherit the family’s amadlozi [5] even though grandmother, who carries the spirits, said Aunt Mongi was chosen by the ancestors. They brewed the beer, beat the drums and danced but there was no Aunt Mongi. She returned home three days later and nobody knew form where. But she cannot say no to just giving me one vetkoek. I cup my hands, bend the head to one side and wave a forefinger. Just one please. She laughs her white buck teeth, throws her head back, flashing her black eyes. She points at the vetkoeks and steadily extends the brackets of her arms. These things will make me fatter. She reminds me of my classmates who call me mafutha. I make a sour face. She becomes soft soft, forks one vetkoek and gives it to me. Aunt Mongi likes me too much to say no to things like this. When I was younger, she used to carry me on her back. Now she carries Uncle Talkmore’s child Sithembiso, on her back.

Jamu has been here several times to talk to Aunt Mongi. He does not know how to talk to her well.  He runs out of signs for what he wants to say. So I’ve been asked to relay his messages to Aunt Mongi when he runs out of words…signs, actually. Is this really Jamu smiling like this? Like I said, when men want to put their things inside women’s, they act strangely. Which herd boy does not know the sting of Jamu’s cane if the unfortunate boy’s cattle graze his crops?  Which herd boy can outrun Jamu except Bafana? Jamu didn’t catch Bafana because he runs like a hare – round trees and shrubs, twisting and turning. Even then, Jamu took his time. Just like you leave milk to stand overnight in a gourd so the cream can rise to the top and you just scrape it off and enjoy. But for a while you forget or pretend the milk is not there and there won’t be any cream. Jamu stalked Bafanafor many days after the boy’s escape. He caught Bafana napping under a gonde tree and thrashed him so much the boy peed on himself. Jamu…he doesn’t play this one. And who can complain to Jamu, eyeball to eyeball and tell him what they think except my mother? So when Jamu beat me last rainy season and the cuts from his switch made mad patterns all over my body, one of them poking my left eye, mother got madder than the cuts and dragged me to Jamu’s. “You big-boned baboon. Do you want to kill my child…eh? Why don’t you have children of your own that you can murder as you please?  Three women and you couldn’t make them pregnant. And why did they leave you if you’re the tough man you think you are? It’s not my fault you man-when-there-are-no-other-men-around. If you ever touch my child again, I’ll make you see the buttocks of a snake!” Jamu just stood there, dwarfing my mother but looking as if he had been turned into a pillar of salt. Now I wonder if he ever tried any of Grandpa’s medicines so he could have children.

A few days later, my father was home for the weekend, from the city where he works. When mother told him about how Jamu had nearly killed me, asking me to remove my shirt so father could see the now not-so-mad cuts on my back, he cast one or two glances from the rim of his teacup, slurped and swallowed his tea and said, “He’ll be all right. It won’t kill him. That’s how some of us grew up as well.” Mother asked him just what the matter was with him. Was it his town women that were making him not care about his son? It was all right that he didn’t care about her anymore. Now, his son too? Father gulped his tea, stood up without looking at mother and went out in that Grandpa way that says “Women are mad.”

In getting mad at Jamu like that, maybe mother had forgotten that he has big fists and big boots. But my mother can get mad mad. Who doesn’t know that Jamu used to work in a mine and has no shoe size that he can get from any store. So even his mining boots, he says, had to be made especially for his big feet. The boots are so scuffed in front they show metal caps that make the boots look like mother tortoise and father tortoise whose heads are about to retreat completely into their shells. Who doesn’t know that Jamu’s fists have broken a lot of noses and jaws at beer drinks and his boots have broken many men’s ribs? They say he has ngoromera, the spirit of fighting, and the main ingredient of his ngoromera is a blind worm from a stubborn sheep’s brain. People say if you are like that, you can carry on fighting even if your arms and legs break. You spray the person you are fighting with your bone marrow.  Even if you lose both eyes, you keep fighting. That is why some people call him when they want to tame bullocks. I once saw him hold a bullock by the horn with one hand and with the other, put a yoke over its neck. Even stubborn ones end up kneeling on their front knees, people say. But now he is smiling and asking me to tell Aunt Mongi that she will have a good life with him, that he has many cattle and she will have all the food and clothes she wants. She laughs without laughing and says she has all the food and clothes she wants. It is true that he has many cattle. So many he has no idea how many he has. Some he has loaned to poor relatives and even there, they may number fifty or so per homestead. “But he is so stingy,” my mother says, “He only eats the meat of those that die suddenly or are weak from old age. God can’t give you everything.”

Jamu does not know what to say anymore. He walks round Aunt Mongi as she washes the dishes at the mopane table just close to the edge of the homestead to the east. He walks round her like a cock does before getting on top of a hen – spreading its wings, ruffling them against its body and hopping on one leg, making a gurgling sound that dies in the throat. His smile turns into a baring of teeth as he looks around to see if anyone is watching. He is behaving like my naughty dog Bazangenzani: quick look around before upsetting a pot with his head, a pot on the fire, helping himself to the juiciest piece of meat before quickly slinking away to wait for the meat to cool a bit. Jamu tries to hold Aunt Mongi’s hand. She quickly snatches it away and jabs a finger at him, making those noises of frustration that my friend Sipho said were goat noises. I gave him a bloody mouth and he hasn’t said that rot again. Jamu walks away.

Jamu is talking to Grandpa again about Aunt Mongi. “Yes, we should try,” Grandpa keeps saying and Jamu nods his head. “Have you been taking what I gave you?” Grandpa asks Jamu and this time he nods his head very fast. “Good,” Grandpa says, and looks at me, “Son-of-my-son, bring us salt from the kitchen.” When I get out of the kitchen, I see Jamu sneaking into Aunt Mongi’s hut, followed closely by Grandpa who ties the hasp of the door to the frame with a strong piece of wire. She is in there I know because when mother and others go to church every Saturday, she remains in her hut, mending clothes, cleaning her hut or just lying on her bed. Grandpa dashes back to his stool.

I hear her raised voice, the one that says she doesn’t like what is happening and then the sound of something like a piece of clothing hitting a person or a wall. Then silence. She screams. Grandpa is just seated on his stool, taking bites of liver and chewing like someone whose mind is so far away. I run to him and dump the salt shaker in front of him? “What’s Jamu doing to Aunt Mongi?”  He looks at me the way blind people lift their heads in the direction of a soft-spoken person. “What did you say, son of my son?” he asks. I shout the question because. I can hear some groaning now and then several thuds against the wardrobe and then against the wall. Trotting towards Aunty’s hut, my idea is to rescue her. Grandpa yanks me by the hand and says, “He is making her into a woman. Come sit with me it’ll be over soon…” Crash! Goes down the door to Aunt Mongi’s hut. She and Jamu slide over the door like two overgrown children on a mountainside slide. She is only in her panties which are a bit torn on the side and Jamu’s trousers are around the ankles. His thing is as stiff as a goat’s horn. Aunt Mongi runs to the barn and hides there. Jamu quickly raises his trousers to where they should be but his horn is still stiff in there. You can see it bulging in front. His left eye is swollen. He is spitting blood and shaking his front teeth to see if they are loose.

Grandpa is scratching his head with a few white hairs left. If he carries on like this, he won’t have any left. When Jamu starts walking towards the barn Grandpa says, “Leave her for now.” Both men try to fix the door and give up. They will have to put back the frame that has come off the wall. It is leaning forward crookedly, like a drunk about to fall on his face. They make the door lean against the wall, leaving a yawning gap they stare into as if it has called them rude names. Inside her hut, clothes are strewn all over, as if an angry whirlwind swept through her room. The little cupboard in which she keeps her underwear is lying on its side with its door flung wide-open, “see.” A bottle of Vaseline lies on its side on top of a black petticoat. Some panties and petticoats are still in a nice nice pile. Grandfather picks up her yellow dress, hands it to me and says, “Go in there and give her this dress. Tell her to come out. No one will harm her. It’s for her own good.” He sighs and says, “This curse of mine.”

It is dark inside the barn. It was re-thatched not so long ago and so has the smell of new thatching grass and shumba, the green powder we add to grain so it can stay longer without being eaten by weevils.  Grandma added the shumba a few days ago, after two or so weeks, its smell will go away. Right at the end of the corridor I can make out the handle bars of an ox-drawn plough. On both sides of the corridor are small window-like openings that tell you how many compartments the barn has. I love going into the compartments to pour grain, to tread on rising piles that caress my bare feet until I reach the level of the opening. I stand still to listen. No sound. Peering through the first window is useless because it is almost full of sorghum. Aunt Mongi would not have fitted in there. The other compartment, full of maize, is not a possibility either. The third, of rapoko, is half full. It is her smell that makes me peer harder into this one. When she sniffles as well, I see the outline of her body. She is curled, with her head resting on her raised knees like the unborn child in our science textbooks. Throwing in the dress through the window will be rude. So I climb into the compartment. She accepts the dress and puts it next to her. When I try to hold her arm she pushes me so violently I find myself lying on my back on the sorghum.  I quickly clamber out of the compartment and out of the barn.

Grandma is shouting at Grandpa outside. Jamu is gone. “So you have turned my child into a tikoloshe that lives in a barn? You must be happy with that.”

“Lower your voice,” Grandpa says.

“I’m saying get my child out of there you greedy man.”

“What? You of all people calling me that? I love her, just like the rest of my children. But you, the mother, who is supposed to know better want her to die an empty person, just a shell of a woman. Look at all our children. The boys all have their wives and children and the girls too. All our children are married. Well, except for Sithabile who has just left her husband because of your poor teachings and her head that’s full of wasps.” Grandma is now standing arms akimbo, thrusting her neck forward and backwards to punctuate what she is saying. “Were you the one who got your children their husbands and wives?”

“What kind of a stupid question is that?” Grandpa asks and carries on, “They didn’t need my help with that. They could hear and talk. How about this daughter of mine who has no mouth, no ears, God’s own creature?”

“Didn’t she say, right in front of us all that she doesn’t want to be married, not to Jamu, not to any man?”

“What does she know?”

“I’m sure she knows, like I do, that all you want are Jamu’s cattle.” And with that Grandma turns and her skirt swishes angrily past me. She is muttering something under her breath. “Nozizwe,” Grandpa shakes a finger at her fast receding back, “Watch your mouth. Don’t shit with your mouth. If you have to, go to the bush.” She walks more furiously, waddling on her rickety legs.

‘Women,” says Grandpa to me. “You see how mad your Granny is? Come sit with me under the gonde tree. There’s a bit of meat left in the plate.” I drag my feet there. The meat is catching in my throat and my eyes swing to the door of the barn so often. Grandpa’s too although he looks through the corners of his eyes.

The following day Aunt Mongi is out of the barn. Maybe she came out in the night. Maybe in the morning. I see her in the morning sweeping the yard with a branch of the umtshekisane tree in furious strokes.   Dust billows around her and her teeth flash through dust that gets thicker and thicker the more she sweeps. She sees me. I wave hello. She stops sweeping and raises her hand to say a reluctant hello. I smile. She does not smile.

Jamu is here again and has been talking in low voices with Grandpa, my two uncles and our neighbour Timoti. This Jamu can lift a mother mamba to see how many little mambas have hatched from her clutch. Yes, he must try again, they all nod their heads. “I’ll be very grateful,” Grandpa says to Jamu and continues, “The ancestors laughed at me and gave me a disabled daughter. But I don’t think they can forgive me if she goes unfulfilled as a woman – if she is buried with a rat.”  “I know we will succeed baba,” Jamu says, “babaSiwalu said it should be a woman that has not known a man before and there should be something strange about her. He also gave me some herbs and I’m sure the ones you gave me, together with Siwalu’s can only mean we will succeed.” Siwalu is the only other healer constantly on people’s lips like Grandpa. But people say he has both good and bad medicines. H also gives women medicines that make men stupid studid.

Just as one begins to make out the shapes of trees around the homestead and the huts in it, four men are speaking in low voices in front of Grandpa’s hut. Like hunters scared that the buck or hare might escape before they strike it, they hurry to Aunt Mongi’s hut. Jamu bounces the door in with his huge shoulder. I listen so intently not to miss any sound of Aunt Mongiwa being made into a woman by Jamu.  There’s a brief scuffle and what sounds like one of her cardboard suitcases getting knocked over, a scream that is soon muffled and what I think is Grandpa saying, “Hold that leg.” Then silence. After a while, a man groans like a bull that has been stabbed by a spear through the heart. More silence.

The four men emerge from Aunt Mongi’s hut. When they see me standing there, their eyes are slippery. They slide sideways like those of Bazangenzani caught stealing. “Why are you up so early?” Grandpa asks. I don’t answer him. The well of words is dry and I walk away, not wanting to have the slightest look at them.

This is the last school holiday this year. Mother says I should avoid going anywhere near Aunt Mongi. She has not been talking to anyone, not going to fetch water and not cooking for anyone. She talks to herself and throws objects at everyone when she is angry, even children. She keeps not only a sharp knife with her but a long sharp wire that was once one of the spokes to my father’s Impala bicycle. She made a handle for the wire, mother says.

“What for?”

“To keep Jamu away,” mother says. “Your aunt is now dangerous. Don’t go anywhere near her.”

Jamu is here. He has brought more clothes for Aunt Mongi and most of them are the big balloon type that women wear when they are pregnant. “For the moment, she is as mad as a rabid dog. She won’t let me come anywhere close. What kind of a daughter points both a knife and sharp spoke at her father? But once the baby is born,” says Grandpa, “she will come to her senses. Don’t worry Jamu.” Jamu is smiling his honey-badger mouth. They say ever since he heard Aunt Mongi was pregnant, he has not fought anyone. He just drinks beer and laughs his big teeth. But Aunt Mongi does not look pregnant. Mother says she is pregnant because when it started she had all the signs, including vomiting.

It is a crazy thing to do, going into Aunt Mongi’s hut. I walk in with trembling legs, eying the door for a quick bolt. From the pocket of her yellow and red apron comes out the knife and long sharp wire. They wink wickedly and for a while I’m poised for a dash. When she sees its me, she smiles a faint smile and beckons to me that I should sit down next to her. For some reason I do. She caresses my head and smiles. I point at the pocket in which the two weapons are hiding, lying against each other like good friends in doing bad. I do the palm-up, What about those? I add, Do you want to kill someone? which ends with running a forefinger across the throat. She laughs with her mouth only and shakes her head. Are you scared of me? She asks. I nod. She shoos my fears away and smiles.

Today I am happy. But I cannot tell mother that I was in Aunt Mongi’s hut. I can’t tell Grandpa either because he might want to give me messages to take to her. Someone left the dresses that Jamu bought in her room whilst she was out. She poured paraffin on them and burnt them in the middle of the compound. There was nothing left except a little pile of soot. But now I think she is coming to her senses because here she comes with food on the big reed tray. It must be cold ox tongue and liver because that is what gets served Grandpa in the big wooden plate with a lid to it. But there is something wrong with the way Aunt Mongi is walking towards us. She walks with her legs apart like some of Grandpa’s patients whose things are full of sores. Grandpa’s smile grows bigger the closer Aunt Mongi approaches. Then Grandpa’s smile starts vanishing like the sun behind clouds as his milky eyes also see what I see. Aunt Mongi’s hands and arms are full of blood. Dark red blood covers her feet and some of it is still trickling down her left shin. She kneels in front of Grandpa and puts the tray in front of him, with traces of that smile of hers that says Grandpa likes eating too much. She gets up and leaves, walking like Grandfather’s patients whose things are causing them too much pain.

When Grandpa opens the wooden plate, there is something that looks like a big rat in there. Except it has two legs and a big head. It is in some water that is mixed with blood. The thing squirms for a while and is still. In front of it on the one side is the long sharp wire with a bloody handle and it looks as if it is carrying the knife on its back. I leave Grandpa like that, his mouth open as if he cannot see that flies have started settling on the big rat in his plate and might get into his mouth.

The police man and woman ask me to say what happened yesterday. I tell them. They speak to Grandpa for a long time and for most of the time he is just shaking his head and complaining about people who make other people’s matters their own. They ask him where he has put the baby. He says it was not a baby. The police say they want to see for themselves and dig up the rat-like thing, the knife and long wire with a handle from a spot next to the cattle kraal and put everything in a black plastic bag.

The policewoman says she wants to talk to Aunt Mongi alone. Mother tells her that she only speaks through signs. The policewoman wants to know if that was Aunt Mongi’sbaby? Mother asks the question and Aunt Mongi nods. Why did the baby come out of her tummy? The policewoman asks. Aunt Mongi pushes open palms in the direction of the policewoman to say, Leave me alone. “Ask her if she knows that she can be arrested for this?” Mother asks the question which ends with her crossing one wrist over another. Aunt Mongi nods her head. “Does she understand what jail is? Does she know that she can rot in there?” the policewoman asks. Before mother finishes asking the question, Aunt Mongi nods. Her face is very calm. Like that of someone who has walked a long distance and has since managed to sit down and have a long drink of cold water. “We will get an expert to check if her head is all right,” the policewoman says and closes her small book. “She will need an interpreter. Will you do it?” she asks my mother who quickly says no, she tends to run out of signs. Mother asks if I can do it. How can I tell anything to people like this? Who are serious serious and have handcuffs dangling at their hips? I say they should ask Grandma or Grandpa, after all, they are Aunty’s parents. I ask Aunt who she’d like to be her interpreter. She says I should be. The policewoman laughs without laughing and says and adult will be better. I tell Aunt Mongi who frowns at the policewoman and signs that I’m clever and in any case, I’ll be a man soon.

I don’t know about all this thing of being a man soon. What I know is that I don’t want to eat meat. It might be for a long long time.

[1]Thick maize-meal porridge/ sadza/pap

[2]Piece of cloth women tie around their head

[3]Buns made from frying dough

[4]Rough equivalent of gentleman

[5]Ancestral spirits