It’s October, Bloemfontein is abuzz with people coming to MACUFE (Mangaung Cultural Festival). People are excited. I’m on my way home early on a Friday morning; I won’t be attending Macufe because I have to attend a friend’s funeral. Bright and early I’m at the taxi rank by 7 o’clock. We wait for about 30 minutes for the taxi to fill up. I hear a lot of people speaking isiZulu and I’m automatically excited that I don’t have to speak my broken SeSotho. The lady next to me is unfortunately Sotho speaking; I greet her with a smile, answer whatever it is that she asked me with a eya Mme (yes Ma). Hoping she picks up on my broken Sesotho, I turn the other way.
Taxi leaves, we are on our way. I immediately take out a book by Emma Mashile – Scars have followed me all my life. This book certainly makes my journey a bit bearable. It doesn’t help that I have a sore back – I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia in 2010. I’m still not sure what this illness really means. Been attending prophets, traditional healers (iZinyanga and iZangoma), specialists, physiotherapists, chiropractors – you name them all, I’ve been there). In any case, we stop at Senekal to get refreshments. The only food outlet one can buy from is KFC, so I get myself that and eat. Almost everyone in the taxi got something from KFC. Taxi turns quiet, almost everyone is sleeping; music on the background – taxi driver is playing Tamia’s music. After eating I get on with my book. It’s unlike any I’ve read. I must say though, after studying the TRC for such a long time; I’m not fazed by stories that aren’t brutal. This is wrong because it means I’ve become numb.
We finally arrive in Qwaqwa. I have to get off and take another taxi to Ladysmith. Luckily only a few people still need to get on. We wait for about 20 minutes when a lady with a baby walks in. I was reading and suddenly stopped because I felt I should move for her. I ask her if I should move, she tells me no it’s fine. I then offer to help her with her bags; she gives me a smile. Taxi driver comes rushing to us, reprimanding us for not moving for the lady with a baby. “How do you expect her to sit by the door when she has a baby”? I offer her my seat and I take the seat by the door – so uncomfortable I think to myself and my back keeps complaining.
“Do you have a baby” the lady asks. “No I don’t, I reply with a smile”. It’s just that not so many people would have acted the way you did, offering to help me with a child; you certainly have a mother’s instincts, maybe you should have one of your own soon”. I don’t even have a boyfriend, a house nor a car, how can I afford a baby? Almost said that out loud, I stop myself… We start talking about babies; she speaks a lot about her baby boy. He is so beautiful, I want to hold him. But I’m scared in case the baby cries; that would kill my bravado.
Ntando “So where are you going”
Lady with the baby “I’m going to Ladysmith”
Ntando “I’m from Bloemfontein, I am so exhausted, I cannot wait to get home”
I tell her why I’m going home. She shows her sincere sympathies. “So what do you do in Bloemfontein?” I tell her that I’m working but at the moment I’m busy with some research whenever I get time between work. “Interesting, I also work for the University of the Free State, only part time. I give lectures in English.” It makes sense why she’d be an English lecturer, she speaks so well.
I wish I could remember how we got to speak about rape; but before I knew it, I had my mouth gagged; I cannot believe this lady has been through so much. Raped by her brother, then her boyfriend, and then and then – I cannot believe all of this. I ask her if I can write some of the things she is telling me because I’m doing research on rape. She says it is well with her. I don’t even get time to scribble because I’m trying to listen attentively. The taxi is making so much noise I don’t think anyone can hear what our conversation is about. Or they probably do when I make my shocked self-known to everyone. Aibo unamanga oe, are you being serious – is all I could say at this moment.
Her older brother raped her when she was nine years old. She wasn’t sure what was happening to her at the moment and he told her not to tell anyone. Scared for her life, she kept it to herself. “He raped me more than once and every time he did it, he told me to keep it to myself and threatened me with a lot of things”. I ask if she did eventually tell anyone at home. “Yes, later on in life I told my mom, but she didn’t believe me. She actually took his side and called me a liar. But I told my grandmother and she was very supportive. I’ve been through so much in life. I was also raped by a guy I was dating. He knew about the rapes, I had told him, but he turned around and raped me as well. But I don’t think he meant to rape me”? I’m confused at this point. Is this a victim mentality maybe? Is she blaming herself for what happened? “Why do you think he didn’t mean it; I mean you said no, so he should have listened from that moment on”, I lash out. “We have had sex before, so I’m not sure exactly what happened then. I told him I didn’t want to have sex, I told him no, then he pressed me down. When I realized what he was doing, I just lay there, cold and let him do whatever he wanted”.
So many things are going through my mind at this moment. I want to ask her so many questions. So what happened after that? What did he say? What did you say? She laughs and tells me how innocent I look. “I was mad at him obviously and we broke up after that. He apologized for what he had done. I was so angry that I had told him about the rapes but he turned around and did the same thing. I didn’t understand why he would want to hurt me so much. He apologized though, and I forgave him. The sad thing about all of this is the fact that I had to have an abortion”. “What, you got pregnant?” I whisper into her ear; but I wonder if I actually did. People are looking at me very funny. Maybe it’s my hand gestures, I can exaggerate a bit, and my facial expressions are too dramatic. So I may have been giving out a lot because I sat facing her. There was enough space on our seat.
We are abruptly interrupted by the guy sitting next to us. He starts to have epileptic fits. She gives me the baby and tries to help the guy. Everything is happening so fast. I’ve been exposed to someone having fits before but I still don’t know what I’m meant to do. Everyone in the taxi is shocked; taxi driver stops the car for what seemed like ten seconds. She takes off his blazer, presses him down so he doesn’t hurt himself. He becomes calm and she lets him rest on her shoulder. Such motherly love, I think to myself. It’s also very difficult to communicate with this guy because he is deaf; his phone also has a security code, so if we wanted to call someone for an emergency, that would have proved difficult as well. No-one can speak sign language amongst us – such a bunch of useless people in the taxi. So sad we cannot help him; but so proud of this lady for assisting him.
I’m holding this beautiful baby in my arms, he is so joyful. He has no idea of what just took place. I’m so happy he doesn’t cry, for at least the next 15 minutes. We talk about the baby and his father. She speaks about how she conceived him; again, I am shocked. I think I have used this word too much in the book that it’s starting to get too much; I should visit my vocabulary a bit.
“I guess I was trying to fill a void left by the baby I aborted. I couldn’t keep the baby; I wasn’t going to give it the love it deserved because of the way it was conceived. Luckily my boyfriend wanted the baby, so we made this boy. You know I didn’t enjoy sex until I had sex with my current boyfriend. He makes me so happy”. I see it in her eyes, she glows when she speaks about him. Then she looks down, I also look away because I’ve been trying to detach myself from the emotion; trying not to see her soul through her eyes. Eventually I have to look at her; maybe I’ll sound more sympathetic. “So before your current boyfriend, how was sex for you”? I ask innocently. She says “I just did it for the guy, never quite enjoyed it. I have three children and experiences with my previous boyfriends haven’t been so great”. I want to ask her why she would have sex just for their enjoyment alone when she tells me “you know the fact that my virginity was taken away from me at such an early age, the fact that I didn’t have a say in what happened, has caused all of this. I automatically think sex is for the enjoyment of the man only”.
At this moment I want to ask her so many things but also trying to stop myself from making this so formal. I ask her if we can meet again so we can sit down and talk more. I really would like to hear her story and tell it. I feel the need to explain why I want to share her story. I continue “You know rape is such an underreported form of human rights violations, that’s why I took such interest in this topic, maybe your story can help someone else out there. You know a friend of mine recently sent me a message on facebook because of a status update I had put up about rape. I had no idea she went through that; I will soon interview her, maybe if you want to share your story you can let me know”. Without hesitating, she tells me she’s available, I should just let her know when I want to meet.