Smoking Gun

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Dark clouds stared down at Mephosa’s auntie while she swept the compound. She kept stealing glances at her brother, Lerato who was seated on a three legged stool with Mephosa’s daughter, Sati and two of his grandkids, Umfela and Chantelle. Ever since that day Mephosa’s auntie, Thandiwe had always kept a close eye on her brother. She listened as Umfela egged him to tell them a story and Sati giggled. Her brother had that effect on children, he was a magnet and they were metal. Thandiwe had seen it for herself, it was ridiculous how kids cried out for Lerato even when in their mother’s arms.

“Why is Sati giggling so much today?” Lerato asked while rubbing Umfela’s head.

“Wesifazane nga- uthando.” Chantelle said shyly while covering her face with her tiny hands.

Thandiwe always thought the name Chantelle was awkward, it didn’t go well with their Zulu culture but who could tell these young moms anything nowadays? They gave their kids names simply because they sounded trendy without thinking for a moment that trends came and went but a child’s name stuck forever. Her niece for example was born on a clear night when no crickets chirped nor owls Whoo-hoooed so she was given the name Mephosa which meant the silent one. Mephosa’s daughter was born when the ocean wailed and thunderstorms cracked across the sky so she gave her the name Sati, which means the willful one.

“In love?” Lerato’s eyes grew bulbous and his hand went to his chest, surprised.

“What is love?” Umfela asked.

Lerato went into a trance for a moment as if remembering a long time ago when that word made sense to him. “Ah, love? I loved a girl once. She had honey on her lips, eyes that stole the stars and a voice as sweet as a nightingale.” Even as he said the word he knew the next question Umfela would ask so he answered it before he did. “Well, a nightingale is a bird that sings the most beautiful songs.”

“You mean like Miriam Makeba?” Sati scribbled in.

“Better than Miriam Makeba, even Brenda Fassie is no much for a nightingale.”

“Grandpapa, is that it then? Has Sati found a nitingal?”—Umfela had trouble pronouncing the word and they all laughed except for Sati who had her fist supporting her chin, her entire weight resting on that fist as if she was contemplating the solution to world hunger.

“Old papa, what happened to this great love of yours with honey on her lips, eyes that stole the stars and a voice as sweet as a nightingale?”

“Heh, wena, where did you learn to ask these grownup questions?”

Sati had just turned eight, the same age Mephosa was when it happened. Lerato’s grandkids were ten and eleven and even they couldn’t match Satis brains.

“Well, ours was not the old-fashioned kind of love, it would not lead to marriage, children and late night arguments. God took her from me and saved her the pain.” Lerato said, his face crayoned with gloom.

“Ni wesifazane bheka fana-na?” Chantelle Asked.

“What did she look like? She had thick soft hair, a sharp chin and a small waist. Mseswana ikhalo. Sort of like Sati here.” Lerato forgot himself and placed his hand on Satis shoulder.

Thandiwe immediately dropped her broom in alarm and called Sati.

“Indodakazi in- yokuphekela.”

Sati remained rooted to her spot pretending she had not heard her calling.

“Sati, you spoilt child, don’t you hear me calling you? I said come and help me in the kitchen.”

It was after Thandiwe raised her voice that she got up and bolted to the house.

“Heh, umshana be easy on the kid, kalokhu. She’s just a child.”

Thandiwe looked at her brother with revulsion, turned and followed Sati inside the house and gave her chores to keep her occupied. She sat on her chair and listened to her banging utensils in the kitchen as if someone had wounded her. She sat wondering what had really happened that day. After listening to her brother’s twisted tale she even felt more confused. Mephosa was eight then, she was fifteen and Lerato was twenty five. She remembered Mephosa coming to them that day, tears blinding her eyes like rain on a glass window, her dress mangled up and her thigh bloodied.

Mephosa just like Sati had taken a liking to Lerato and when she saw him she would run to him and ask him to buy her something like any child asks their uncle. Thandiwe’s brother would insist that she sing for him first before she bought her anything. Shyness would overwhelm her but she still managed to sing a sentence. “You have a voice as sweet as a nightingale.” He would say, then kiss her slightly on the cheek before buying her sweets. This continued and he soon started giving her a small kiss on the lips instead of the cheek and telling her they were as sweet as honey. Sometimes he did this while holding her tiny thigh with his hand and whispering to her that it was their little secret whenever Mephosa squirmed with discomfort.

It was raining the day it happened. He called her into his house and asked her to help him look for a shoe and she came running. “You have a heart as sweet as sugar.” He said and while Mephosa went down on all fours looking for the shoe he started touching her, pulled her skirt up and slid her underwear down and then the pain came, followed by the blood.

Thandiwe reclined on the chair remembering the tale her niece had told them. Mephosa had died a few years back from breast cancer and her mother,—Thandiwe’s sister had gone mum shortly after her daughter was violated. She sometime came out of the house naked and Thandiwe was the one running after her to cover her up. Mother had said it was not in good taste to air family business out in the open. She instructed Mephosa to say she had knocked her foot on a stone if anyone asked her why she was walking with a limp. She also started whispering to father and soon Lerato found a job in the big city and left.

Thandiwe’s brother was now a retired sixty three year old man with white hair and a bad back. If Mephosa was alive she would be forty six. Over thirty years had come and gone and the events of that day were still burning in Thandiwe’s mind. Everyone in their family knew but they chose to stay silent. Thandiwe felt a taste of metal in her mouth; she felt as if she was pulling a load of an ox apologizing for a madman. She had never gotten kids herself but it was peculiar when Mephosa turned up pregnant and her explanations of who the father was remained hazy. She wondered what monsters their silence had created and wondered if Lerato had abused other small girls or if she had done it again to Mephosa and she stayed taciturn; after all her voice didn’t amount to much the day she spoke up.

Thandiwe swung in her chair thinking that it had been a long time ago and Lerato had probably cleaned his act but she still had an odd feeling, the feeling that a predator was living among them. She resolved to keep a keener eye on her brother.

It had started raining when her train of thought was broken by sobbing. It came from outside and it sounded like Sati. ‘When did she slip outside the house,’ she wondered? She opened the door, Sati was behind it crying, her clothes dank and blood mixed with rain dribbling down her thigh. She asked her what had happened and while hiccupping she said she had knocked her foot on a stone. The world seemed to swing, Thandiwe stood stoic at the door, dizzy with a feeling of Déjà vu.

 

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