To trust an African

I've gone over it in my mind a thousand times and I'm not sure when it all started to go wrong. I don't think it was when my mother rang me out of the blue to say that a family friend was getting married in Johannesburg and had asked for me to be at her wedding. Neither was it when I actually arrived at Jan Smuts Airport. I think it started long back, probably before my mother left Zimbabwe. One is supposed to trust one's parents, aren't they?

Cyndi Botha
Cyndi Botha

All I can recall was mom's sweet invitation and the promise that I'd be back on the Monday to start my exams. I didn't doubt her for a minute, although I was reluctant at first, it sounded like an attractive proposition. Okay, may be she’s right. Perhaps she’s missing me?

Trust however, wasn’t so convinced, when I rang to say that I'd be out of the country for the weekend.

"I don't like it, love, so close to the finals. Frankly, I’m concerned by everything being so last minute."

"Try not to worry, darling, I'll be back soon."

"It seems a long way to go just for two days. Please call me as soon as you get back."

"I will, bye for now," I said with all the cheer of Christmas in my voice.

From the moment I walked through the arrivals gate, my folks acted odd. They both seemed preoccupied, my mother's eyes darted about, and Dad rushed us out of the airport. They were distant but I put it down to the pressures of driving through the Johannesburg traffic, unaccustomed as Dad was to a busy city.

Mum offered to stop at the shopping mall to buy something suitable for me to wear to the wedding. I held up the garment, admiring my image in the mirror, the turquois blue accentuating my eyes.

Trust’s favourite colour. I wonder what he’d think of me in this?

The curtain twitched and in Mom barged, snatching the dress from me, as I was left in my underwear, with her gawping, paying close attention to my stomach. What is she looking for? I didn’t feel comfortable, my privacy invaded, suspicions aroused.

She paid for the dress and we left the shop with both of us out of sorts, she stomping ahead, while I slipped and slid on the shiny flagstones of the mall in an effort to keep up. We drove to Auntie Lily's house to meet up with our old friends.

That evening the adults went out leaving me alone to contemplate things.

I made a quick call. "Hi Sipho, it’s me."

"Yebo, Cyndi, how's things in Egoli78?"

"Things are a little strange here, my folks don't seemed that happy to see me. I can't work it out. It is like Dad didn't want to kiss me when I arrived and mom was bad-tempered. I don't even know why I decided to come."

"That's not good, Ma Barker. What's going on there?"

"I have no idea, but we seem more estranged than ever.”

"Well, try to enjoy the wedding tomorrow and make the most of those lovely shops. We'll see you on Monday at school."

"Night, Sips."

"Night, Cyndi.

The wedding was a joyous if somewhat strained affair, we got lost going to the church, and actually sat down not recognising a single guest. It was only when the bride started to walk down the aisle that we realised it wasn't Linda's wedding. We made a quick departure and after trawling the streets of Johannesburg, finally found the right church on the other side of town, arriving late and flustered.

When the reception ended in the early hours, I fully expected to be driven straight to the airport, instead Dad seem to be heading away from the East Rand, leaving the city and it's many slag piles and quarries – scars from the mining activities on the gold reef. As he drove towards the flat farmlands with their miles and miles of yellow Transvaal grass, I saw a sign that said the Eastern Transvaal, thinking may be for a minute they might be checking into a hotel, perhaps somewhere to freshen up. I was tired and confused so I touched my dad on the shoulder and said, "Please don't go too far away from Joburg, don't forget I've got a plane to catch in a couple of hours."

Dad said nothing preferring to keep his foot firmly on the accelerator, staring at the road with a sombre expression on his face.

"Pull over, Hendrik!" Mom barked.

The Land Rover came to a grinding halt; she leaned over her seat and glared at me, with venom in her eyes, "We know all about you and that Trust you've been sneaking around with and we're putting a stop to it. So you can forget about Zimbabwe and your O-levels because you won't be going back!"

“What do you mean?”

Oh my God, how could I have been so naive! How could I have got it so wrong?

“Oh yes, my girl, the game is up.” She gave a crooked smile.

My world fell apart piece by piece. They can’t do this to me! I can't be held here like a prisoner against my will, can I? My mind was twisting and churning, although I gave none of my inner turmoil away. I thought about the passport and the air ticket I had handed to her at the airport for safekeeping at her insistence.

I suppose I'll never see them again. I am well and truly stuck now; she had probably planned this hijack when I had refused to leave the country with them, this is her revenge. My involvement with Trust was the perfect excuse. She was the victor and she wasn’t letting me forget it.

I weakened, appealing to my father, "Please Dad, don’t let her do this to me. I've got to go back to Zims to finish my schooling. What's your opinion, do you think this is fair?" I looked back at the sign we had just passed. Johannesburg was barely a glint in the distance. We’re 50kms from the airport now.

"There's nothing I can do about it, mom is the boss," he said.

She let rip, all the poison spilling out of her, "To think you've been sleeping with a black. Your poor Gran was beside herself when she found the contraceptive pills and a used condom in your room. I only hope you weren't sleeping with that k**** under Grandad's roof."

Now I knew she was grasping at straws and didn’t know the full story. It would have been quite comical if it wasn't so serious. In my hysteria I wanted to laugh. Here's Mom thinking I was having a full-blown affair with Trust! If only Stevie and I had thrown that damn thing away when we’d finished playing with it.

"I was ready to throw you into the street but Grandad begged me not to."

I was seething. Sod you! You might as well know the truth.

"Mom, I'm still a virgin, but not through my lack of trying!"

"I wasn’t born yesterday, my girl. You can’t expect a black to show restraint. Well, you can forget about that because we won't be letting it happen again."

"Dad, please!" I cried, panic stricken. "I've done nothing, please believe that!"

"I won't go against your mother. Besides Gran has letters and cards that black bastard sent to you, so what's the point of pretending nothing happened?"

I felt numb, as the shock took hold, I realising I should have heeded Trust’s warning. How will I ever be able to say sorry? Shivering on the back seat, I stared blankly out of the window as a watery sun rose on the barren landscape.

There’s a pain in my chest, oh why my love, why? I cursed myself for my carelessness, imaging Gran's horrified face when she went snooping in my cupboard and through my mail.

In a blind frenzy she must have got hold of my mother and instructed her to get me away from Zimbabwe immediately and all the bad influences. The more I pleaded innocence, the guiltier it seemed they thought I was. So many emotions were taking hold – panic turned to anger and anger to defiance.

Oh bugger them! Let them think what they want to. There’s no way I’m ever going to convince them that Trust and I have not had sex. It’s a pointless exercise. I have been tried and convicted. My sentence is banishment from everything and everybody I hold dear.

Slowly the puzzle took shape; their behaviour at the airport, the way she looked at me in the changing room, Dad’s coldness towards me. Was she looking for signs that I might be pregnant?

To be powerless is paralysing – no passport, money, or identification, I was completely impotent. At no point was I asked for an opinion, my feelings were never considered.

About the author

As a teacher, I have always been interested in the written word as a means to teach. To Trust, An African is my first book in which I explore the social impact of segregation on ordinary people's lives seen from my perspective aged 17. I wanted to take the reader on my journey growing up in Rhodesia and then after independence in Zimbabwe so they could have an idea about the devastating psychological impact of racism. At the same time I have tried to capture the essence of the unspoilt Southern Africa of my youth. I am hoping to find a publisher soon! – The author can be contacted at [email protected]

Post published in: Arts

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