Reuben, S, ‘’yes miss.’’
Jela, M, ‘’yes miss.’’
Thabo G, ‘’He is absent.’’ The class called out in a chorus.
Thabo was absent for the fourth day in a row. The thought flapped its brown housefly wings inside Malini, his science teacher.
Once the class attendance was done, she asked,‘’can somebody tell me what’s happening to Thabo.’’
Her learners went quiet. They gazed, at her face as though it was the most difficult question in a question paper.
‘’Has Thabo got a neighbour in this class?’’
‘’We don’t know him miss.’’ Jella said, after a long silence. She was the class rep. Thabo joined the school late, in March, not in January, when the school reopened. The School Admission Committee had reservation in admitting him to Grade 11, but for his impressive scores.
He came with his grandmother, who was his guardian. His grandmother, old and bending forward, hung onto his hand when alighted the taxi. The two were dropped in front of the school by the taxi. She walked through the school gate, into the graveled, car-parked on both sides, courtyard, and into the school’s reception room. She had difficulty in walking. Her steps were not spontaneous, like each time she made one, arthritis froze her knee bones and Thabo had to defrost them for her to make the next.
She looked dignified, in a set of neatly pressed skirt, blouse and flowered headgear, and contented in her pleasing smile. She greeted the staff as she entered the staff room in vernacular, and was greeted back. She bowed to three foreign teachers who didn’t understand the vernacular. They bowed to her in return.
Soon she was led to the office to make her case before the School Admission Committee, of which Malini was a member.
She made her case very strongly before the committee: Thabo was living with his father in a far away town. His father took good care of him together with his other children and wife. Now he lost his job. And Thabo’s mother, a hawker got married recently, and doesn’t want to strain her meager finance, by taking Tabo with her.
She placed a file before the committee with his academic records from previous school.
She looked at the committee members, not in begging eyes, but in ‘how can you help this child of me?’ eyes.
‘’I already have three grand children with me,’’ she said, he is the fourth one.’’
Malini suddenly found herself lesser than Thabo’s grandmother, like she a chest-beating and frothy wave and Thabo’s grandmother an ocean; an ocean simmering, but clam in a neatly pressed skirt, blouse and a flowery headgear. That feeling disturbed her. Her status, employment, husband, children, and confidence were not helping her. How come this lady uncut faces life with such confidence, and keeps her head leveled and smiling?
Malini has no smile coming from inside, what she has now is her office smile; at home she has no smile, no mother’s smile, no wife’s smile. Her worries wouldn’t let her smile; her daughter told, she was letting others to play with her emotions and that she had no firm footing in life. Her son told she wasn’t bold enough. Her husband took her as his monozygotic twin so that when he felt itch on nose she scratched and felt hungry in stomach she fed.
Now she was having another worry, her daughter was joining a university far away from home, making her totally free. How would she know her daughter wasn’t going to misuse that freedom to fall in love with a man of different caste, religion or race and if that happened she was on the firing line! Her son would say, ‘’you always took her side.’’ And her husband would say, ‘’I don’t have such a daughter and you failed to be a good mother.’’
She made an effort to attribute her fears to her upper-class origin; her knowledge, information gathering ability and heard pride. Thabo’s grandma on the other hand knew little of the world outside and her level headedness and smiling were induced by her ignorance.
Her rational for self-indulgence melted away when Thabo’s grandma told Thabo was a clever boy who could get a bursary to go to the university if he passed well. She knew the world and its functioning modes; about scholarship, universities and that his marks mattered.
Thabo was admitted to the school.
From her side, Malini couldn’t deny her commitment as a teacher and Thabo proved to be a good learner. He was a well-disciplined guy, clicking concepts easily, communicating well in his town school English and in the city panache. He soon became the deputy class rep to assist Jela. His performance declared he was university stuff.
But he had differences with his grandmother, which he kept in his mind as ideas, which she shared with Malini.
‘’Miss, a degree does not take all troubles away; it puts restrictions on you, which job you can have, which one you like and which ones are available. But if I get a job now, I can study part time later.’’
Malini saw practical wisdom bursting forth from beneath his neatly pressed school uniform.’’
But she said, ‘’Thabo you should pass grade 12, if at all you take up a job.’’
‘’But, miss I’m turning eighteen. In my father’s home I had my own room; I need privacy. I cannot ask my grandma to build a room for me. So…’’
Privacy was another cause for her worry. Her daughter too was talking about that when she wasn’t allowing her to search her school bag, e-mails, or phone messages.
When she was eighteen and more, she was afraid to walk alone from her home to college, to market, to library and so on; not only she, all girls in her neighborhood. They walked in groups, traveled in groups, shared things in groups; and their parents monitored members from right families and right communities joined each group. ‘That is why you have no individuality’ her daughter would say.
‘’Miss, Thabo is gone.’’ Jela informed Malini next day. Jela was standing in front of the class, brimming, her chest thrusting forward, and her eyes illuminating as though she was going to tell the class about her research project.
‘’What you mean, Jela?’’ Malini was a bit perplexed.
‘’He’s gone. I found him yesterday.’’ The second part of the sentence was more stressed by her.
‘’Oh you saw him?’’
‘’I saw him.’’ Jela stretched her arm in the air, finger pointing to the blue sky over the panoramic greenery far away.
‘’There is the brick factory. He joined the factory as a supervisor.’’ She looked at the class proudly as though it was she who got the job.
‘’Ooh! Thabo got job!’ An excitement rattled through the class and Jela stood chest thrusting forward as though the whole of the excitement belonged to her.
‘’He didn’t tell you,’’ Jela turned to Malini, ‘’because he didn’t want to disappoint you?’’
‘’Who say I’m disappointed?’’
‘’Never, he’s doing what he likes.’’
‘’You told him to get the scholarship.’’
‘’She can still get it. He can work and study.’’
Jela stood there for one long second, to make sure the class heard Malini well, and then she turned to her seat.
Malini said, ‘’Tell Thabo, I’m happy for him.’’
It was not her real talk.
The real talk she made before her daughter, at tome, after telling her Thabo’s story, ‘’stupid boy! Can he pay privacy for things from supermarkets?’’
‘’Ya Mam, he cannot! But you have money to pay for things from supermarkets, but do you have happiness worth them.’’
Malini looked on her daughter while walking away from her.
This is a post to Write Tribe Pro-blogger Challenge