We are in Ladysmith now, we get off the taxi and I want to help her with her luggage, totally neglecting my own in the process. I ask her if I should take her half-way, she guarantees me that she’ll be fine. “Wait, you didn’t get my number”, she proclaims. Silly me, how did I think I was going to get ahold of her. I give her my number because all my phones had died at that moment. She then introduces herself as Nondumiso. “Nondumiso, I am Ntando, very pleased to meet you. I take my astonished self to a taxi to Steadville, still cannot believe my luck. At this moment I’m sure I really have to write this book, this lady is so heaven sent.
I get home, I’m hoping she sends me a message or calls me; however, a part of me is fine with her not saying anything at that moment; I think maybe I should give her some space to take it all in and probably heal from opening her wounds. But this is also just for myself – I want to take it all in, maybe write whatever I can remember from the conversation, but of course I am home, there’s only so much work I can get done. I’m also in so much pain, I really just want to lie down on the sofa and relax. Nondumiso sends me a message on Whatsapp. I did not have her number, but the picture of her daughter gives it away. She tells me she had a nice chat with me. I’m very excited at this moment. We plan to meet as soon as possible.
I plan a trip to Ladysmith, a few months after our first encounter. Nondumiso and I decide to meet on a Saturday. We make arrangements to meet at a friend’s place; I will have to fetch her from town because she doesn’t know where it is. A friend and I were planning to go have lunch in Drakensburg that day, so he asks me not to take long. Totally oblivious to his request because I am so anxious. I eventually fetch her from town. She is standing chatting to a guy. Her smile is so sincere. She automatically spots me, “Wow girl, you are driving hey”. I wasn’t even driving; my friend had lent me his car but got someone else to drive me because he didn’t trust me with it. Personally I figured he just didn’t want his girlfriends to spot me driving his car. We get to the house, the guys leave. I’m a bit embarrassed because there’s nothing to offer her. She asks for tea, my friend only has green tea; we then settle for coffee, yes, coffee in the middle of summer.
In an attempt to make this as informal as possible, we start with a general conversation. With girls, general means talking about men. I go on and on about my ridiculous love life at the moment and how it’s all been a painful, exciting, silly, stupendous ride. In my attempt to find love, I’ve found myself in the arms of the wrong people. She tells me how young I am and have so much time to get someone worth spending my time with. I felt so much like a teenager for even complaining in the first place.
She talks about her children a lot. I feel bad because she left her youngest child with her oldest daughter. She seemed relaxed though, so that made me feel a bit comfortable about the whole situation. In the midst of all the chatting, I realize I could never be a talk show host because I don’t stick to the questions.
She talks about University, how she is left with only one subject. She has no idea how she failed it. This in a way dampens everyone’s mood. “You know I was certain I’d start working this year and take my daughter to the best school; now all that seems like a dream. I had the job, but when they realized I failed one subject, they wouldn’t let me sign the contract. But maybe it was a blessing in disguise. I would have had to go work in Nquthu, that place is very rural. No-one knows where the school is and getting hold of the principal proved very difficult, which means that area has no network coverage… You know I cannot wait to find a job, be independent and take my children away from my mother”. I ask why she would want to do that, “are they not taken care of”. She says “no, my mother abuses them. I just want to take them away. My youngest stays with me though, the other two stay with her because of school”.
Ntando: Where are their fathers, can’t they take care of them?
Nondumiso: They are around; they just don’t support me financially, so I have to take care of the children myself. My mother also helps financially; but she is such an angry woman and she projects her anger towards my kids; so she has proven not to be reliable.
We are abruptly interrupted by a phone call, it’s her mother calling, asking her where she is. She tells her she is with Ntando to which she reminds her that she left a small child at home. She says she’ll come back when we finish. I feel so bad after this. But she simply throws her phone on the sofa, sips on her coffee and tells me to proceed.
Ntando: Aren’t you worried a bit?
Nondumiso: No, my child is fine; my mom is just being mean. I’ll go when we finish. So where were we? She asks, sounding excited. Yes… the only man in my life is the father of my last born. It’s also complicated with him because his family hasn’t accepted my son. I have never been to his house, but they know about me. The fact that there is another woman in the picture – whom the family approves of – makes matters even worse for us. But in any case, he loves me and I love him, it’s all that matters.
Ntando: So what if the family never accepts you, what’s going to happen then?
Nondumiso: I don’t know, I really don’t know.
I observe the sadness in her eyes. She looks away, shrugging. At this moment, I wish something smart could come into my mind just so I can make her feel better. Nothing, absolutely nothing comes to mind; the mood of helplessness befalls me. Now I wish I could get a phone call or something, just to cut the tension a bit. Once again, she saves the day and asks me about my boyfriend. “Well, we’ve known each other for a while now but only made it official just a little while back. He has a child which I’ve never met, and I think he also has another woman, but story for another day”. I say this not only because I want us to get to her story, but because it makes me really sad.
In the midst of all this talk, we discuss abortions. I have no idea how we got to that, but I know it helped a lot because it is interlinked to her story. I’m at this point very relieved because I realize we are running out of time; I however hate myself for not being professional enough to initiate the conversation. “I’ve had two terminations; this becomes an addiction, like the easier way out. When I went there the second time, there was a lady who told me she had been there six times already. It sort of becomes a contraceptive. You don’t even think about the damage it might cause you. The first time I had an abortion was because I had a three year old baby. My boyfriend at the time was working at Spar, I wasn’t working then; my mother was taking care of my children. I could not afford to have another baby at that point. I told the father of the baby that same day after I had committed the deed. He had no say in all of this, only had to accept what I had done”. I ask if he did not resent her for what she had done. “No, he seemed fine with it; well at least I think so”. “What transpired the second time”, I ask. “The second time I had the abortion was after my boyfriend at the time raped me. I had not realized that I was pregnant. Only found out four months into the pregnancy. I wouldn’t have been able to live with that child; it would have been a reminder of what I went through. I was so torn, didn’t know what to think. I was so cold when he did it (rape), actually very shocked that I became numb. I couldn’t believe that he of all people was doing that to me. He held me down and raped me after I told him no. I just lay there and he did whatever he wanted. Funny enough – she giggles a bit – it didn’t even last that long. It was only a few seconds, but those seconds were enough to get me pregnant”. She abruptly switches to the abortion discussion again; “You know an abortion doesn’t even take that long. They give you a pill, I’m guessing it’s to kill the fetus, then they clean you up and you go home like nothing ever happened…” I interrupt “really? I always thought it was as painful as giving birth”. “No, but maybe different people have different experiences, but it wasn’t painful for me, both encounters”.
She says she forgave her ex-boyfriend for raping her. But why would she forgive him only? What about the other rapists? Why not forgive them as well? What is so special about this guy? “I forgave him because I don’t think he meant to rape me. He also apologized. You know once you’ve been raped; you become this sex object that everyone wants a piece of. I cannot explain it in a way that you understand, but once you have been raped, you become a target. It’s like these men can see that you are a vulnerable sex object. It’s quite rare that you’d find a person who’s been raped once; most people will confess that they have been sexually molested more than once”.
She refers to her brother who first raped her as my mom’s son. The brother passed away in 2006, he was shot during a robbery. Before his death, she told her mom about what he had done to her. Her mother took his side. At that time he was in jail, charged with rape. According to her, this was perhaps the perfect time to let her mother know of the unfortunate ordeal that befell her; seeing as the brother had proven that he is a criminal. She resents her mother for this, and says she could not play her role well as a mother. “I cannot tell you how much that broke me. This is one of the reasons I haven’t been able to speak about the rapes. I mean who would believe me if my own mother couldn’t. I however told my grandmother; who was very sympathetic and she kicked my brother out, told him never to step a foot at her house. You know when he passed away; I couldn’t even cry at his funeral, I had so much hate in me. I was actually glad that I didn’t have to see him anymore because every time I saw him, I would be – without fail – reminded of what happened”.
“He raped me twice and told me no-one would believe me if I tried to tell on him. So I kept quiet and when my mother validated his statement, I saw no reason to speak about it ever again. I’ve been trying all my life to please my mother, trying to be the good girl, but it all seemed to be in vain. She always loved her son more than me. I’m only living for my children now. I can’t wait to find a good job and be out of there for good”.
I ask if she knows of anything that happened to her mother when she was a bit younger; maybe there is an explanation for her behavior. It turns out her mother’s sister had an affair with her father (Nondumiso’s father) and her mother has projected her anger towards her. Nondumiso’s mother was also raped by her older brother who was also a product of rape when his father raped Nondumiso’s grandmother. It’s all just a vicious cycle. Did she inherit all this? Is she a victim of her past? I wonder if her mother and grandmother weren’t probably raped more than once. This happens in our South Africa, probably to your neighbor, a friend or even a family member. At this moment, I can understand if Nondumiso fears the worst for her daughter. But in her words, “this cycle ends with me”.
Our trance is rudely interrupted by the sudden appearance of my friend. Although he sits quietly outside under a tree and goes on about his business, I’m still a bit uneasy about all of this. Nondumiso asks if I want us to carry on the next day because she also has to go. I’m a bit relieved that I don’t have to tell her all this. We keep the ball rolling on the conversation while I get dressed. “You like short dresses I see, they make you look like a little child, that’s why I call you nana – meaning baby. They suite you though, because you have a small body in any case”. I blush at her comment. She helps me zip up my dress –which I hadn’t worn before. Apart from the ghetto claps, this is our first real physical encounter. I feel like her younger sister. How I wished for that moment to last a little longer. I get my shoes and handbag, and then take out my purse. She looks at me with wondering eyes. I take out a R200 note; she immediately refuses it, telling me she doesn’t want my money. I tell her this is for the little kids; she must just get them some goodies from town, and also for her trouble. She bluntly says NO. I get goose bumps immediately, so embarrassed. How could I be so foolish? “Please, don’t see this as me paying you, it was rather a kind gesture for all your time, please take it, I insist”. At this moment, I wish my cell phone could ring or maybe my friend budge in, I can’t take this tension anymore. Her pride wouldn’t let her take the money and my pride wouldn’t let me back down. Eventually she tells me next time I see her, I should bring the goodies for her kids. That’s a better suggestion although I still feel like a buffoon.
At an attempt to make me feel better, she asks if I’m free the next day. “Aren’t you going to Church? I would love to meet tomorrow”. She immediately says “no, I don’t go to Church, I don’t believe in God”. At this moment I’m trying to close the door, I drop the key, a bit dramatic I know, but I’m really shocked. I think to myself why didn’t we get to this topic earlier, it is so interesting. We proceed to the car slowly. My friend already has the engine running, such an impatient man. We walk very slowly. “If there was a God, he wouldn’t have allowed all those things to happen to a nine year old. A powerless nine year old girl; NO, there is no God”. So what does she believe in? What keeps her going? “The universe keeps me going. I’ve performed my duties; I went to Church as a young girl, that can’t be forced unto me anymore”. A lot is going through my mind right now. I want to tell her that so many people have been through worse yet they believe in God. I stop myself because I don’t want to end this meeting on a bad note and I realize it would be so insensitive of me. So I tell her I will buy her a book to read. She says “I hate those self-help books; they are so cliché and unreal. You are welcome to buy it for me but I can’t guarantee you that I’ll read it”.
We get into the car, totally oblivious of my friend’s presence and carry on with the conversation, when I’m reminded by the sound of the car to put on my seat belt. “I do go to Church sometimes, but I don’t participate, I just sit there”. “You know what, I’ll pray for you”, I proclaim. She giggles. “Where should we drop you off?” “You can leave me at the mall, I’ll be okay there”. I insist once again that she takes my money, she says “in case you didn’t realize Ntando, I have my purse in my hand, you are so stubborn” she says with a smile on her face. Oh dear God, I embarrassed myself again. We drive off. I immediately take my note-book and start to scribble. I cannot forget most of the important things she was saying. I was writing as we spoke, but I still need to write what’s fresh in my mind. Shame, my friend starts complaining; I pause a bit, and then proceed with the writing. In that instant, I don’t want anything to disturb me. “Actually the reason you came here was so you could have an interview with your friend, you didn’t come here to see me,” he says. I am so livid, how can he possibly say such a thing, I came here for him and for Nondumiso. “Are you being serious? The whole weekend I was sitting in the house alone, I spend three hours doing my own work and you have a problem with it. You were in a business meeting until 45 minutes ago, you didn’t hear me complain, yet you want to complain about three hours, three hours, really?” I am so mad, I try to calm myself. He is quiet; there is absolutely nothing to say after that. I continue to scribble for at least the next 20 minutes until he asks that I give him attention. Well, I was actually done, I was just writing a poem at that moment – just to prove a point that I can be as busy as he is. I put my book away and we continue with our journey. Terrible friend I am right?
About an hour later I see Nondumiso’s BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) status update I don’t deserve the title mother. She also puts up a picture of her seven-year-old son. I’m automatically alarmed. I give her a ring; she is crying. For the first time I hear her cry. It is so painful; she asks me to call her a bit later, she cannot speak right now. I am so saddened by this. We start chatting on BBM, as expected my friend complains at how rude I am. Meanwhile, I really don’t care, I actually want to go back home. How am I supposed to enjoy such beauty when all I could think about was that phone call. She sounded so sad and so helpless. She explains that her child was beaten up by her mother because he “stole” some peanut butter and was jumping on the bed with his friend. She says “she hit him for peanut butter that I bought. I’m so sad that I couldn’t protect my son”. I ask if this took effect when she was with me. Felt so selfishly relieved when she told me it occurred when she just got home. It would have been hard learning that it happened while she was with me. Meeting tomorrow is clearly out of the question; should I have any more questions for her, the interview will have to be done telephonically or via BBM. We continue to chat, I try to comfort her; but she is so sad, I don’t do much to assist her. She says a lot about how she resents her mother. How she has failed her in the past and continues to do so with her grandchildren. She feels there’s no part of her that her mother loves. “When she looks at me, she is reminded of the rapes and my father’s infidelity”. Spending her whole life trying to prove to her mother that she loves her and can be a good daughter that she’d be proud of. I feel her pain, I honestly do. A few days later I try to access our conversation, but it’s not there, I remember that I had taken out my media card and put it in the friend’s phone so we could play my kind of music in the car. So I have no records of our conversation. I sink into my chair, stare into space, I want to cry but there are no tears. Such important information – I want to blame someone, and of course I blame my friend. DAMN IT