“Coo coo!” Laughter outside my door. “Coo coo!”
I check my cell phone under my blankets so as not to make the light detectable. 2:51am.
“Coo coo… sesotho sesotho sesotho ‘sehua!’ [english language] sesotho sesotho ‘lehua!’ [white english person] sesotho sesotho…”
The voices outside my door travel to the next rondavel in the compound, speak loudly and call ‘Coo coo’. Then they return outside my door. I silently thank my burglar bars, my keys, and all my locking and unlocking that have been recently making me impatient and feeling silly and suspicious, a stranger at home.
“Coo coo!” The pattern repeats. Then silence, and a final light two taps on my door.
I know they can’t get in, that they are drunk to a blackout variety, and that if I just stay silent and feign a deep dead to the world sleep they should get bored and go away.
And they do.
But I am still very much still under my covers, awake, for another hour before adrenaliine tosses me out to keep busy until dawn. I wash my hair. I study Sesotho. I do the dishes. I work out. I eat breakfast. Finally at 5:30am the sun decides to arrive. I bring my buckets outside to wash my clothes, to remember other days, to watch who might come out of my Ntate’s home.
Ntate has been gone more than two weeks now. He left with two suitcases, so I’m told, saying he was headed for Maseru. I never saw him go, and he never told me. I feel somewhat abandoned in surprise – though his wife was left equally ignorant, and that should be comforting in someway, I reason, but it’s not.
A man comes out of the house, sees me leaning over my wash buckets, and looks startled. “Lumela, Mme.” Good morning, he says.
I give him my best steel eyed trying to be Basotho I-know-what-you-did-last-night stare, unfortunately not fully perfected. But I stare unabashedly. My brain takes photos of his sunken eyes, his long yellow buck teeth, his bony cheekbones and the rectangle scar carved out above his upper lip. A green blanket with beige flowers shrouds his frame, his grey boots are anonymous and common for herdboys.
He looks away from me, checks back with the uncomfortable feeling of being studied, then goes to piss on the pig corral in front of him.
When he has returned inside the house, I text a trusted friend from the village. “Last night…” Even though I know my friend is away, I know he is highly respected and has a large family here.
Within minutes a text comes back. He has alerted his family in the village, and they will be coming.
Meanwhile the man has opened the door to leave my Ntate’s house for good, his white tulip hat perched on his head and his walking stick probing for the first solid step. He doesn’t look at me as he zig zags down the hill, the path of a stranger. I trail him silently.
My Mme appears from the kitchen where she sleeps, and Abuti Thiela emerges from the house where he boards, and I tell them what happened.
“Pepe! Pepe!” Mme touches her hand to her heart and then places that hand on my chest. “Ke o rata.” [Sorry, sorry. I love you.]
Abuti Thiela offers, “He is the one who has no common sense.”
Yes, I agree, somewhat frustrated that common sense is even in the same sentence as the man’s pronoun. So, having shared our thoughts, I turn back to my washing. Mme goes to feed the pigs. Abuti Thiela watches the village wake up.
Within 30 minutes, three Bo’Mme walk across our yard. I am not sure who these women are, so I wait. They head straight for me.
“Aussi! Ho joang?!” How are you / What’s up? They ask in unision.
“Ho sharp, Kea leboha,” I stammer uncertainly.
“Aussi!” One Mme steps forward, cocks her head, and repeats, “Ho joan?”
They know. “Oh, bosiu moabane?” Last night?
“Eh!” They place their hands on their hears. They tell me that they are from my friend’s family. I rush to tell them about the night, and my voice cracks. Basotho don’t usually cry past the age of 15, so I try vainly to protect my maturity. After I finish, with only a single tear convicted by a brush of my finger, they are still waiting for something.
“Empa, holokile kajeno. But now everything is ok. Letsatsi le teng. The sun is here. Holokile. It’s ok.”
“He is coming,” they clarify why we are waiting.
“Here?” I double take. They know who it was last night? I have to speak to him?
“Yes. You will meet hiim. He will come here and see you.”
There’s nothing to do but stand together. Within minutes the same man, green blanket pig pee-er, walks up to us.
He’s shorter when I see him standing this close to me. His sunken eyes now fall even deeper into his skull, holes of hangover, mistakes, and regret swim in a yellow soup of fear beneath sagging eye lids. He commences the trial by babbling in Sesotho, the women answer, he answers. I imagine the ping pong conversation consisting of denials and offenses.
It stops abruptly, and Abuti Thiela steps forward as my translator.
“You must forgive him.”
“He has asking for to forgive him. He is going.”
I hesitate. I try not to guffaw. I look at him and am surprised by the earnesty as he meets my gaze. “Will he not come here? I don’t want to see him. I want to feel safe in my home, in the village.”
“Yes, he is going. You must tell him.”
I don’t want to forgive him. I want to push him down, steal his blanket, and instantaneously transport him to an urban jungle where everyone speaks jibberish and threatens him. But now 6 pairs of eyes are looking at me, full of concern that this matter be resolved.
“Of course, I just… I just want to feel safe. I forgive. Just please ask him to go.”
“He is going,” Theila repeats patiently for the third time. “He will not come back. He is from over there,” and he motions across the valley to the other mountains witnessing village life. “He is not from here.”
The group begins to dissippate. The Bo-Mme make sure that I have their phone numbers. I thank them again and again. We hug. It is not yet 8am. Time to start the day.
In the warmth of the morning, the spring buds have whispered ‘we told you so’ to the doubting frost long since slunk into the thirsty ground. My meeting scheduled at the Resource Center consists of the ECCD Teacher scheduling three workshops for the region’s 8 nearby teachers, then we work together for two hours making alphabet letters for literacy lessons. A DTEP teacher, year 2 student leader, also comes to discuss the calendar. Then it is time to go to the semi final soccer games at the local field.
After one game, I’m exhausted. I pass the cows lazily enjoying the first hot afternoon of the season. I take a nap. A knock at the door lets me know I’ve overslept, and two girls have come to call me to open the library. We read book after book together, switching off languages and pages, and others join and then leave and then return. Finally, it is time to go home.
As night begins to bashfully return, an old man arrives on horseback at my rondavel. He dismounts and ties his horse to the post outside. “I have come to visit you.”
He walks over. “I could not sleep,” and he takes my hand to finish during our shake – hand, thumb, hand, “…until I know what has happened. From your own words.”
I realize that this is the father of my dear friend I had texted in the morning. He listens with his heart, his eyes pouring into mine, and at the end of my expressions of gratitude for him and his family, he says, “You have come here. You are here to help. We are here to help you. You must feel safe. You are at home here. Tonight you will sleep well. He will not come again. No one will come. We are here to protect you.”
We say goodnight. He calmly goes to collect his horse, and requests Abuti Thiela to bring my Mme so that they may speak.
I go inside my home, make dinner, light candles, and welcome sleep again.
Soccer and cows...
Spring peach blossoms...