By Innocent Madzhoni
The music speaker rests on the grey tiled veranda. Next to it are crates of beer and soft drink bottles. They are empty for a couple of days before; the celebration of Jesus’ birth gets people in a jolly mood.
Brenda Fassie’s Vuli Ndlela soared the sky and sailed from the veranda to the tree, and the avocado tree which bonded with the gate. The whole yard was filled with trees. Each tree was occupied by the sundry of cars that arrived early in the morning for the celebration of Christmas.
The reluctant sun pierces through the slight frost that loosely floats in the air.
The family is back home for the holidays; they are out of their wives’ skirts and their husbands’ abrasive tones, but some of the spouses have tagged along – like mosquitoes running after blood. Today they gather at their mother’s house. They hug and affectionately kiss her, and slot money under the mat she is ever laying on. She then gives them this effortless wink, accompanied with an almost inaudible, ‘thank you.’
Grandma doesn’t get up much, her legs are knotty. When day breaks, she wrestles to make her voyage to the Mango tree behind the house and be there for the whole day. The view is a transitional one, she can see the whole village as her house is cemented on a small mountain. The children of the village make their way to her house to listen to the tales of yesterday. Her visions of what tomorrow will be like. She is an excellent storyteller.
She lives with her two grandchildren. A boy, of sixteen years; a girl, of eighteen years. She reveres them, teaching them life’s principles and so forth – through delicate folklore. The boy, having lived with women only, escaped the scourge of toxic masculinity.
He cried whenever he felt he had to; he vented out his emotions when he felt he had to; he didn’t believe there were chores specifically for him; he didn’t think he had an upper hand to his cousin. His grandmother didn’t rebuke any of these traits which many considered ‘feminine.’ Perhaps it was her underpinned rule to life: ‘let things be.’
Grandma believed she was not raising some dominant man – who could possibly turn into a monster, when all his suppressed emotions want to escape – nor did she think she wanted him to be womanly. She was merely grooming a human being.
Today, he doesn’t feel alright. The day before there had been an altercation of some old drunk man and a young lady. The old man dragged the lady saying she didn’t keep her end of the deal, after buying her drinks she was supposed to sleep with him. ‘People always feel entitled to things that don’t belong to them, just because of a few hundreds,’ he thought to himself as the two continue with the wrestling. His ears are sensitive to human noises and screams – more especially if they were caused by a physical or wordy fight.
As he pours soft drinks for his aunties and uncles, meanwhile they sit under the Avocado tree in a circular manner, and sharing great talk and laughter, they gradually begin to realise he is not his usual self – the ever-smiling boy.
‘I thought mood swings were for women,’ one uncle, Bra Victor, said and laughed. Many joined in the laughter.
‘He is probably depressed; he preaches a lot “boys can be depressed too” message so well,’ an aunt living around the village said.
What was heartbreaking to him was, Aunt Mavis had had many encounters with him, and they would speak a great deal on this subject, but her current comment makes it believable she wasn’t listening, nor learning.
‘He must be watching and reading a lot of stupid things. Mood swings are for women,’ Bra Victor reiterates.
‘He just wants to be white. No black men suffer from depression,’ another uncle adds.
An uproar erupts.
People start to weigh in on the topic. Besides the exhibition of anger and mood swings by black men, a lot of stuff are termed as ‘white things’ – to a point where they said, in laudable unison, ‘reading too much is for the white man.’ They persist with their listing, with one neighbour, who came to celebrate Christmas with the family, saying:
‘even homosexuality is for white people.’
The boy sits there hearing all the prejudice that these people held in their hearts. Worse they all agree with each other.
‘Is it because they are of the previous generation?’ he asks himself, ‘But grandma is older than them, yet she doesn’t come out as narrow minded as them.’
He watches as they talk, fighting with their steak meat and gulping their drinks. He takes a deep breath and snappishly says, “even heaven is for white people.”
The silence that follows afterwards is like the silence after a gun shot in a crowd or like the silence at the library on a Saturday in the townships. Bra Victor drops his glass, with his hands shaking, and Aunt Mavis chokes on her savannah.****