The day ended as usual with Lebea kicking and screaming, trying to stop "Ntate" from beating him unconscious like last week. It has been like this since his grandfather passed away, then his mother disappeared after "Ntate" arrived home drunk, beat her with his wrench and disfigured her beautiful face for coming home late. Matters got worse bye the day in the home front. Lebea was glad that his mother ran away and isn't being abused by "Ntate" anymore but the fact that his mother left him with this monster made him hate her sometimes.
By now he was getting used to the beatings; they were merely a measure that the day has ended, to him they were his daily bread and the only life that he has known for twelve years.
"At least the scars weren't looking as bad as they used to and the pain during the routine was getting lesser with every beating"; thought Lebea sadly. He was praying that he could grow older quicker so as to one day be able to defend himself from "'Ntate" (his father) or even kill Ntate with his own belt or wrench on that day. But he loved Ntate far too much to kill him and not to mention that he is the only parent that he's got since he doesn't even know his mother's whereabouts. Running away wasn't an option to him, where would he run-off to? How will he survive? Where will he live? Who would take care of him?
Lebea's consolation was the knowledge that this would definitely not last forever; he believed that his mother would come for him once she has healed and is on her feet. That night he went to bed on an empty stomach. His heart filled with sorrow and not to mention his sore behind.
At least it was only the belt tonight and that was the last thought for the day.
He woke up early as usual on Monday morning. He cleaned the house, made ntate's breakfast, prepared himself and went off to school. He arrived late as expected by his teacher Mr Mpja and got punished for coming late. He tried explaining that he was polishing his father's boots but that added to his punishment, since his shoes were unpolished and he wasn't wearing the proper school uniform. Soon thereafter he got punished for unfinished homework.
The day went-by slowly until suddenly the bell rang for physical training, Lebea smiled for the first time that day because this meant that he and his friend Zweli would be the attacking strikers in the soccer game against Buhle high school.
"This time I'm going for three goals" said Zweli confidently; "I'm only going for five" said Lebea quietly. The match was breath takingly exciting and supporters from both schools and the community were cheering their player with great expectation. The first half of the game ended with the scoreboard proudly displaying five goals for Lebea's school and zero for the visitors. At the end of the ninety minutes and the match, the score was nine for the home team and only one for the visitors keeping the home team at the top of the interschool tournament log. Suddenly Lebea noticed that it was getting late and Ntate would soon be home. He galloped homewards at the highest speed that his legs offered. On approaching his home, his heart was filled with sadness or was it anger? "Maybe it's both"; thought Lebea. He hated it when the beautiful sun this south of Africa ducked, dove and faded behind the beautiful mountains; to him sunset only meant one thing, he must go home expecting to be rewarded with his daily bread and that wasn't the place he wanted to be at the end this glorious day.
Inside the tiny two bed roomed house; while he was cooking, he began to think about the time when he asked for advice about his home situation from Zweli, where he was convinced that telling the police or a relative would solve his problem. Highly regarding the advice he told "malume Thabo" (uncle Thabo), who ended beating up Ntate with his fists and made matters worse. Lebea thought that if he didn't make any mistakes tonight, he might avoid the evening ritual of daily beatings.
So he finished cooking Ntate's favourite meal, which is "pap" (porridge), mashed potatoes, steamed cabbage, tomato stew and "wors" (sausage).
At last Ntate arrived but something about him tonight instantly made Lebea cautious,
He sensed something unusual though he couldn't quite figure out what it was. He had a strange feeling deep down in his slender bones which sent chills up his spine, into his small head and out through his curly black hair and protruding little ears.
Then finally all was revealed, upon Ntate's second step into the house Lebea saw what it was and it was very strange for Lebea to see Ntate smiling. He quickly ran towards the dark face of his father, took his hat, heavy toolbox and placed them in the corner between the old stove and the kitchen unit as usual. Observing Ntate's good mood with caution he made a pot full of tea and placed it on the tiny little table. He then placed dinner on the table, placed a dish of warm water with a hand towel next to the table for Ntate to wash his hands. Sitting on opposite sides of the tiny table, Lebea was just about to dig into his meal when suddenly Ntate grabbed both his hands into his gigantic hands and suggested that he can't eat the food, "before we give thanks" continued Ntate suggesting that they should close their eyes!
"Lord we thank you for the blessing that is life, the hard times that gives us wisdom and strength as men, the love and protection that you provide each day and most of all we thank you for the meal that is upon our table; through Jesus Christ our saviour, Amen. "
Lebea nearly fell off his chair, shocked by what has just vibrated through his ears. Expecting to wake up or maybe feel the pain he usually felt after a good beating, his heart paced faster with each beat; he thought that maybe this day was just a dream or maybe a hallucination he's experiencing from shock of last night's beating. "Maybe I was beaten into unconsciousness last night and maybe this is due to some sort of concussion in my brain", thought Lebea. "Did we really win the game?" His little head started filling up with possible and logical explanations but none of the random answers made any sense to him. The vibration of Ntate's voice interrupted his thoughts, echoing the screams of what definitely sounded like the word "EAT". Noticing that Ntate was half way through his meal Lebea quickly started to eat. "Ntate", sounded Lebea's voice from across the table. "Wwe, um... have won the match against Buhle high today", said Lebea hesitantly. "I scored five of the nine goals and this places us on top of the log with a nine-point gap between us and the second team". "That makes today even better than I've realised, I'm proud of you son, maybe one day you will play professional soccer for Chiefs or even better an overseas team like Real Madrid".
Lebea could believe what his ears have just recorded; he has never heard Ntate use the words son and proud in the same sentence! "Maybe GOD has finally answered my prayers. Things are certainly getting better", thought Lebea and before he could tell Ntate about his school uniform, Ntate softly asked him to bring his toolbox to the table while he took the last bite of his meal and washed his hands. Lebea jumped to the corner where Ntate's toolbox was and brought the heavy box to the table. While Ntate opened the box Lebea took Ntate's empty plate in the small sink and quickly returned to finish eating his supper.
Ntate would starve him for days if he wasted any food but before he Lebea could sit, Ntate placed something on the table. At the sight of this Lebea doubted his vision and just stood frozen.
Lebea has never seen such a thing in his entire life; it was adorably beautiful and almost as beautiful as "Phathiswa". She was a light skinned black angel and the love of his twelve year old mind, even though he didn't seem to posses the courage to confront her about his feelings and all that he did was admire her secretly in the safety of distance. Maybe she didn't even know that he existed; yet he thought he heard her singing congratulations in support of his celebratory "manyisa" dance while celebrating his fifth goal. "At least she knows I exist" thought Lebea and the privacy of his thoughts was invaded by Ntate's roar, asking if he liked the object on the table.
"No, I do, they are beautiful; are they mine"? Asked Lebea. Ntate smiled at him and simply said, "If they fit then they are yours". Lebea was beyond happiness and now he seriously doubted his sanity, so he just stood zombified in disbelief. He didn't seem to have the strength to move towards what was soon to be his most cherished possession; he just kept on repeating the words "thank you..." until Ntate screamed, "you're welcome; now try them on".
Lebea slowly approached the table upon which the most breath takingly exquisite latest and brand new pair of six gripped Nike soccer boots laid. They were black with a white Nike logo engraved on both sides and a gold strip formed a border on the silver zip. Hastily he took off his torn school shoes and gently slipped his feet into the soccer boots. They were a fit made perfectly in heaven and he couldn't wait to show them off. "They are perfect, thank you again", said Lebea. Ntate smiled and replied saying "now finish your meal and go to bed". While Lebea finished his meal Ntate took out the water bottle from the old faithful fridge, poured a glass full and gulped down the contents all at once. Wiping his moth with his hand he said, "I got promoted to assistant manager of the workshop today and I have my own office that comes with a salary three times what I used to earn". "That's great Ntate"; replied Lebea, "does this mean that you are going to be rich"? Asked Lebea. "Not exactly morwa (son), but it means that I'll soon be able to afford a car". Before Lebea could ask Ntate if he's going to teach him how to drive, Ntate mentioned that his school uniform, shoes and snickers were in his bag inside the toolbox. "You must iron your new uniform and polish your new school shoes before you go to bed". "Thank you Ntate, at least Mr Mpja won't have an excuse to punish me every morning".
Lebea washed the dishes, polished his shoes, ironed the uniform, did all his homework and went to bed. In bed he thought of Phathiswa, he was bewitched by her sparkling light brown eyes, her lips and wondered how she felt about him but his heart quickened at the thought of possibly confronting her. "What would I say to her"? "What if she..."? At that moment he drifted swiftly into the land of dreams. That night he dreamt about his mother, she was hugging him and taking him with her to a place far, far away. It was a beautiful and peaceful place with green hills as far as the eyes could see. Mma-Lebeya (Lebea's mother) was singing him a lullaby with her sweet angelic voice: " thula, thula mtwanami thula sana. Umama uyza mtwanami ekuseni"(Hush now child, don't cry my child. Your mother is coming at dawn.)
Lebea heard a different voice, it was Ntate's voice which was repeatedly saying "tsoga" (wake up). "You don't want to be late for school" continued Ntate the moment Lebea opened his eyes. "You will do your chores when you return from school. Here's your pocket money, your lunch is in your lunchbox and don't forget to brush your teeth" said Ntate handing him a five rand coin. Finally Ntate said " I'm off to work see you this evening".
Ntate worked at bra Mzake's motor spares as the senior mechanic for seven years now. He was now the new assistant manager and it was the first time ever, that Lebea saw his father fully dressed in a suit. It was the same navy blue double-breasted suit he wore on his wedding day and Lebea recognised the suit from the wedding photo that hung on the living room wall for as long as he could recall.
When Lebea arrive early at school that morning, Mr Mpja was both surprised and glad that the boy was wearing proper school uniform. Time passed slowly for Lebea that day, he was anxious to show off his new soccer boots to Zweli.
In class Lebea was an above average student with high attention and concentration levels for his age to add to his almost photographic memory. Because of this he was one of the top ten students in the whole school. "If the boy could just focus, do all his homework and study once in a while; otherwise he is definitely the most intelligent and talented student I've ever came across", thought miss Mashigo. Lebea was the best student that miss Mashigo has ever encountered in her maths-teaching career even when he didn't seem to be using all his potential intellect; especially when it came to geometry. "Maybe that's why he's so good in soccer"; thought the teacher to herself.
During lunch Lebea bought orange juice for both himself and Zweli for the first time in their lives. He told Zweli about Ntate's promotion and that he might be receiving pocket money daily from now on. Zweli suggested that they should take turns buying the juice so as to save money for movies and popcorn on Saturday afternoons.
At soccer practice Lebea modestly showed off his new soccer boots to the whole team, which made Zweli a bit envious. Displaying his appreciative nature surprising the whole team, he lent Tshepo his brand-new soccer boots for practice. Tshepo was the boy who used to lend him his spare soccer boots during soccer practice and during games. After practice Lebea went home, did all his chores, homework and prepared dinner before Ntate's arrival.
It was already dark upon Ntate's arrival. The stench of alcohol filled the house like the smell of a dead canine in the streets as Ntate walked through the door. He lit a cigarette, the smoke joined the alcohol stench and fell over Lebea's nostrils like a nimbus cloud and Ntate asked why he wasn't in bed this late? "Go to bed or do you want me to help you into your bed"? Screamed Ntate before Lebea could even utter a reply. "Goodnight", replied Lebea while closing his bedroom door but before he could fall asleep he heard loud jazz music coming from the lounge and he dared not investigate the source of it. "Yesterday was too good to be true"; that was the last thought in his mind before he gently drifted into the peaceful relaxation and comfort of his dreams.
In the morning he found a five rand coin on top of a note, stating that it was his lunch money and that the bread money was in the old teapot.
During school assembly, principal Taunyana announced that the school holidays will begin on Thursday afternoon and will last for three weeks. All the students were excited by the announcement; Zweli told Lebea that he would be visiting his grandmother in the eastern cape on Saturday. "Where's Eastern Cape" asked Lebea?
"It's in the Cape, the far south eastern region of South Africa and the best part is that it's not far from the sea", answered a female voice from behind them. "Sawubona Zweli, hello Lebea" said the voice greeting them, "hello Phathiswa", replied the boys simultaneously. "So since your buddy's going away for the holidays what are you to do during the holidays Lebea"? "Umm... I guess I'll be doing my gardening for extra cash, play soccer, watch soccer matches on our new big screen TV and watch out "mfowethu" (my brother), I'll have new tricks up my socks when you come back from the Cape"; answered Lebea. "You have a big screen TV?" Asked Zweli; "and a DVD home theatre system" replied Lebea, maybe you can lend me some movies to watch during the holidays.
"So Phathiswa what will you be up to?" Asked Zweli. "I'll be helping mama with her events management projects, then I'll spend most of my days relaxing at home". "Lebea, maybe we can hangout sometime during the holidays because all my friends are also visiting relatives and I don't want to get bored, holidays were invented for us to have fun you know"; said Phathiswa. Lebea was speechless at her suggestion and all that he could manage to say before she disappeared into the classroom was: "ok".
Zweli started singing loudly:
"Lebea and Phathi sitting on the tree, K...I...S...S...I...N...G".
"You like her ne mtshana"(my friend)? Asked Zweli curiously. "What gives you that idea"? Replied Lebea defensively. "It's ok mpinci yami (my friend), I can see the way you look at her besides she's the most beautiful girl in this school, isn't she"? Asked Zweli, at this moment receiving a response in the form of a light punch to the gut.
The clock stroke noon and the schoolyard was in complete chaos at the sound of the school bell with all the students scurrying homewards ‘for the holidays had begun'. From out of nowhere came Phathiswa's voice demanding that Lebea should walk her half way home. While she came into his view from the left, Lebea asked "why half way"? "My brothers will skin you alive if they see you with me and I don't think you would like that", came Phathiswa's reply. "I think I'll ask them to do that if you don't spend Sunday afternoon with me" with those words she gently gave Lebea her school bag. Lebea was quietly carrying her school bag on the way to Phathiswa's home, listening to her sweet voice that sounded like it was singing about the easy geometry test they just wrote, without looking at her Lebea thought to himself that she was both smart and beautiful and with her every sound he fell deeper and deeper in love with her. Finally he managed to respond by saying, "I'd love to spend Sunday afternoon with you but where will I meet you"? "At the lake and don't even dare to be late", came the response. While she gently took her bag from Lebea's shoulder, he felt something moist and very soft on the side of his face, and he heard sweet whispers about something in his left ear. Overwhelmed by the hypnotising feeling of complete happiness,
The words echoed in Lebea's head all the way home.