Part 2 of The cousin you never call (Pt1)
(names, village networks, shame, community violence, difference, absent fathers)
Siki was raised. Yet his birth had been unexpected. Mother (Zolelwa) had been delinquent. They hid in the garden and sank beneath a bush camouflaged by overlays of flattering brown grass to cover their sin. She (Sikis’ mother) shifted and settled her back on the grainy surface of the large brownish rock. She lifted the hem of her dress, and let Bhut’Sbongile rub in-between her dry legs. His callous hands’ cupping, caressing the supple bits of her inner legs, pressing where the back of her thigh rolled in to join her plump bum. His ballpoint fingers tendering, rising then falling primly on the smooth, soft flesh where her panties rested. Quick. Stolen. Short gluckings from the slight dampness that dewed over their thighs.
Sikis’ birth, a byproduct of scurried sex.
The seeds of his mother’s delinquency budded and hastily flowered through the village. The story smelted like blistering hot honey dripping off a comb in the summertime. Dramatized over red stoops. Laborer’s plucking into cane fields would take a breather, rest their hands on their waists and remember to ask “did you hear…” this followed by widening eyes, a round clap, a loud exclamative laugh, surfeiting with disdain. The story pollened all through the village, the seed curled in cold folds of winter winds. Kneeling with women collecting water at the river and those stockpiling wooden sticks in the forest. Growing. Lodging in the mouths’ of elders. Mothers still in lactation, huddling newborn babies on their backs, alike they heard-frowned-clapped then reshared. Grandmothers with creased faces and frail shoulders, ripe with concern. They muttered and uttered in disbelief, jaws dropping on their palms. Prying.
Racing over mountainous hills among rabbits and rattling snakes. The sharing and resharing rippled in the discussions of elderly men drinking calabashes of chibuku. They reminisced about the good’old days, the days before their spines curved when girls married with their tits still pointing east.
Amaxesha atshintshile madoda, they would nod in agreement, the times have indeed changed. Kaloku Zintsuku zokugqibela ezi, we are in the last days ba’fo. Even the young men had an opinion, those fresh from the bush, they too chronicled her whoolarish nature through song. When they stumbled down the hill onto the dusty gravel road on a Friday night, somewhat tipsy from dark brown bottled beer, they would chant; Nonzolo, Utyiwe etown, Non’Zolo utyiwe edolophini (Zoleka she’s eaten in town, she’s eaten in the city.)
For his mother, Siki became a threnody. A hymn mourning her lost virtue, the girl she was perceived to be before the masses joined to water her shame into bloom, weeding her out of the village network. It never ended the disdain, the looks. When she was seen lumping up the mound, up towards the bus stop to town, mothers would take this occasion as an opportunity to educate their little girls about what not to be(come). They would throw glances, gesture to their daughters to come closer, point and hinge their eyes on her and begin to sneer, “uyam’bona ke lowa (you see that one…).”
The endings were always bronzed with moralistic principles, to purify, to warn those who were almost tempted to yield to their youthful lusts and passions.
Siki’s mother named him Endinako, meaning all I have. Even so, he was commonly referred to as Siki in the village, Siki short for iSikizi (a shame).
Siki grew. He tottered in the world diffidently. Fidgety. Quite unsure of himself. He had an uneasiness to him as though his mother’s shame edged through their umbilical cord, recreating an image of her in him. Whenever makhulu grandma sent him to ask for sugar from the house next door he would step into the large rondavel and erroneously ask for the food he saw being eaten instead. Shame would hop across his face and then he’d quickly correct himself saying “sorry maani, I mean, she’s asking for sugar, iswekile.” When he spoke to teachers at school Siki would lift and cross his right leg to form a four, flutter his long lashes, slap his arms to the sides, then speak. If he mistakenly lifted his left leg instead of his right, he’d look discombobulated, then he’d pull a wimpy smile together, apologize and restart his sentence.
In subsequent years, Siki’s mother moved to town, edolopini. She had met an older man on one of the trips where she escorted umakhulu to town to get udankie (social grant money). He sought to wed her as a second wife. Once she agreed, he organized a job for her with him at Gcuwa local municipality, bagging leaves into black plastics, felling trees into stumps, sweeping streets clean all in an orange overall. She did not tell him of her be’loved boy. But instead, she made umakhulu (her mother’s sister) understand the importance of moving, leaving Siki behind.
Makhulu she said with her hands clutched to her chest “awuboni uba abantu abandifuni kule’lali (Can you not that the I am not welcomed here). Kunini ndabalihlazo kweli’khaya (How long have I been a disgrace to this home). Ukumka kwam apha, uEndinako uyakutsho abizwe nge’gama lakhe eli ndam’thiya lona (Once I leave my son will finally be called by the name I honored with him at birth). Umntana wam uyaw’ku hlambuluka kweli’hlazo li’ndim (he’ll be cleansed of all the shame that is me). Futhi, le malana, (this small money that I will bring home) iyakusincedisa kwi’grant (ultimately creating a better life for us all). My shame does not need not be his shame ma’khulu, ndincede (pleading), by the end of her plea her hands formed a prayer position by her middrift. Yhini Bawo umntana wam… (Oh Lord my child) she said closing her eyes.
Till that day even makhulu never imagined Zolelwa walked the world with lumps of embarrassment pulsating through her veins. It came as a suprise that…
she felt…and sensed her invisibility.
She was the invisible kind. Think of “stunted trees that stand still beheaded” you only notice those from a distance, you don’t suddenly wonder why their heads are cut off when near, you have no urge to sit on their flat tops, to read the patterned wrinkles on their firm leg. Or maybe think of her as one of those houses, the ones that are built and only left halfway. Those houses are not homes. Those ones are there for the glorious descents of passers, for them to inquire; “Lendhlu iyazkuze igqitywe nini na, this house, when will it ever be done?” Siki was of course oblivious to this. He so frequently heard it said, he grew up believing Whule (slut) was his mother’s other name.
Somethings are invisible like that. You know? Some people too… You know the ones I’m referring to right?!. They are like things that we indulgently chew on. They belong in our stream of words. Fit for cackles and stories that begin with “there was once this…”. Words towards them can be harsh and unpolished, they can gush with ease from our mouths and we’re left with no thrum of unease or slight deflation from this amoral act.
When Sikis’ mother first started working for the Gcuwa municipality, he and makhulu ate more and more white bread, isonka sazevekileni. Before they hadn’t really needed it, it wasn’t necessary as they had enough. Makhulu had a way of still having, giving and lending weeks after udankie (social grant services). When Sikis’ mother came home, though this was rare, Siki would eagerly await her arrival by the bus stop, ngaphezulu. She would bring things for him; discolored brownish teddy bears, blue trucks, maybe with a wheel missing, red fire brigade cars, floral tops and tight shorts. All for Siki.
Then it all ended. It all just stopped. No trucks or trains. No cars or dolls. No promises or letters. No one to call mama. He was told by Makhulu that she would always be there. She would always be there the way his mother would have also wanted to be there for him.
He never thought much of Bhut’Sbongile, not more than a man who gave him more sweets than he gave to Kliniki or the rest of the boys when they knocked door to door asking for Christmastime sweets. He never thought more of Bhut’Sbongile, not more than a man who regularly searched for him emicimbini (cultural celebrations) just to offer him a small cut of his beef or tripe. Besides Bhut’Sbongiles fatherliness began and ended on those occasions; except for the time when Siki was getting ready to leave the village to move to Johannesburg, eGoli.
Closer to the time of Siki’s departure Bhut’ Sbongile called him to come down to his home. He gave him a large zip up mahogany leather jacket and a thick leather belt. The items were smeared in goat fat to give it a shimmer. You could smell the goat stench on the belt.
Bhut’Sbongile held both items with great pride and began telling Siki of the marvellous day when he strike(d) a cow dead with his bare hands. The cow belonged to Mam’No’Gqibile a round, well-respected Methodist church woman. The cow had followed its name Rhulumente; just like the government, it stirred upheaval in the village.
Once Rhulumente gave birth to a brown-grayish calf and followed to produce no milk to feed the newborn. Children cried at the sight of this human featured, brown-grayish thing. The elderly resented that they could not explain it away. In no time the calve was called Fufu short for Fufunyana (evil spirit). Like all strange things it had to be given a new name.
Izakuthwani madoda’ lento yeliFufunyana (What can be done about this evil spirit) they all murmured huddled around to discuss this matter. It was not long after this that the male elders of the village saw it fit to drown Fufu at Mbashe river, among themselves they agreed that this was a necessary step, for the maintenance of order in the village. A step that was taken without Ma’no’Gqibile’s consent. This was not her case to deal with.
The morning after the elders joined to drown the calf, the sky mutated from an uplifting blue into navy gloom, a single white stray cloud was seen straddling on the navy backdrop. Upheaval stirred in Ma’nogqibiles yard. Apparently, she was seen stomping her bottle legs across the yard, shoving her two grandkids ehowkweni the chicken stead; standing up then hiding, then sprinting here and there and there again, her movement akin to the uncoreographed movement of a headless chicken. You can just imagine the slow burning fear that pinched the pit of her stomach. She apparently shouted for help again and finally grabbed the kids out of the stead and all three higgledy-piggledy ran down to Ma’pingas house.
All the while, Rhulumente roaring uncontrollably in the Kraal, howling like a wild wolf. A newfangled dominance roused in her. Flipping and twisting. Jerking off the herdsmen, ripping the ropes that tied her to the corner of the kraal. She charged out of the yard onto the gravel road. Then stood stock still there, fixing her bearing, fastened her eyes onto the rattling stallion that was toddling down on the stony road to deliver people and their foodstuffs, their bags and spaza stock from town. Apparently, Men, mothers and children peered from their rondavels, none dared to come help. A strange ‘admixture of terror, pain’ vaulting from their eyes. What would happen next?
Rhulumente pointed her horns towards the windscreen of the stallion; flipped then galloped upward aiming to knock the people dead. The car stopped mid-road and the driver and the people fled into the first home they reached, no groceries in hand. Just their burning bellies.
I fought that cow Siki Bhut’Sbongile said after this lengthy narration of the day. I forked my hands into it’s neck and killed ela’Fufunyana. You could see he felt good as he told this story. You could tell from his ebullient pitch. He recited the scene the way you do when you have to say a speech or an oral in a language you don’t quite understand. This is permissible. When you’re an absent father that’s the way to tell your children stories. Audaciously impress them. Add superfluous details to each of your tales. Speak in riddles and withhold that nervous laugh that wants to grab the ends of your sentences. But don’t stop talking. Riddle-riddle-riddle. Speak for long and cut the conversation as soon as you’re done so they have no second to make your absence the primacy of your interaction.