Read Scarred Lions Online

Authors: Fanie Viljoen

Scarred Lions

Scarred Lions

FANIE VILJOEN

This book could not have been written without the kind help of the following people:

Marita, Carel and Annemarie van Aswegen,

Hanlie and Riana Haasbroek,

but especially Hannes Haasbroek, whose superior knowledge of the South African animal and plant life helped form the backdrop to this.

Buyisiwe
(meaning returned)
Teenage boy, narrator

Themba
(meaning trust, hope, faith)
Father, game ranger

Lwazi
(meaning knowledge)
Tracker

Mama
Unahti
(meaning ‘She is with us’)
Kitchen manager

Simoshile
(meaning beautiful feeling)
Teenage friend, Lwazi’s daughter

André
Teenage friend

Angiphili neze
I am not feeling well

Eish!
Oh dear!

Ibululu
Puff adder

Iklwa
Short stabbing spear, assegai

Isigubhu
Drum

Izolo
Yesterday

Kusasa
Tomorrow

Namhlanje
Today

Ngiyabonga
Thank you

Ngiyakwemukela
Welcome

Ngiyazi
I know

Phuthuma
Hurry up!

Sala khale
Keep well

Sanibona
Hallo (a group)

Sawubona
Hallo (one person)

Suka
Move / Go away

Thokoleza ukudla
Enjoy your meal

Umfana
Lad

Ungakhathazeki
Never mind

Unjani
How are you?

uNkulunkulu
(or Ukulunkulu)
Sky God

Tsotsi
Criminal or thug

Afrikaans – English wordlist

Beskuit
Baked and oven-dried dough, cut to almost finger lengths. It is mostly flavoured with aniseeds, sour milk, or whole grain wheat and dried fruit, like raisins

Boomslang
Directly translated as ‘tree snake’

Engelsman
Englishman

Foefieslide
Flying fox / zip line

Kom
Come

Swempie
Coqui francolin

There was blood on my fists. And blood on the boy’s face. His name was Jonathan. A crowd had gathered around us in the school hallway. Jonathan lay there on the floor, looking up at me. His eyes still challenged me. He smiled as he wiped the blood away from his eye.

‘Lucky shot!’ he said.

‘You want some more then?’ In an instant my mind replayed the blow that floored Jonathan. The tension in my muscles. Teeth grinding. Eyes meeting eyes for only a moment. The pain shooting through my fist and up my arm as the blow hit home.
The crowd around us was like a pack of hyenas, hungry for more.

And then the teacher came.

There was trouble in the air. I just knew it. For days now I could feel it. It pushed up through the cold, wet streets. I breathed it in everywhere I went: the crowded trains in the London Underground, school classrooms, the newsstand on the corner, up through the streets. It had been going on for weeks now. And it made me scared.

It was late in the afternoon. Friday. I took the escalator and finally stepped out of the musty underground tunnels. Behind me I could still hear the echo of the underground railway and a busker playing the saxophone. The morning rain lined the streets. Specs of light from shop windows reflected on the wet pavement. Like scattered diamonds under the soles of the passers-by. I could hear their footsteps and suddenly wondered if they could hear
mine. I wondered if they even listened. I wondered if they even cared.

Of course not, it was Friday. They all wanted to get home as soon as possible. Grey clouds covered the city. It would rain again very soon.

Trouble, I thought again.

There was trouble in the air.

The gripping fear made me quicken my pace. I tried finding comfort in the warmth of my jacket; in the familiar surroundings, the graffiti-covered walls. But the uneasy feeling followed me still. It hunted me like an animal.

I caught a sudden glimpse of my reflection in a shop window. Black face, fearful eyes, jaws clenched with cold. The cut on my lip.

And I felt like a stranger.

How could this be? I had lived in London all my life. I lived here with my mum in a two-bedroomed council flat above the street. I went to a state school here.

But somehow I was a stranger.

Was that what was bothering me?

Buyisiwe. My name echoed in my head. A stranger’s name. Why not James, Chris or Peter? Or even Jonathan for that matter? Why not any other name, like most of the boys in school?

Buyisiwe. That is what they called me.

A Zulu name that meant: returned.

The rain was coming down in drifts as I got within a block of our flat. I hurried home. My clothes were cold and wet when I reached the front door. Determined to leave my fear outside, I breathed out forcefully. I stepped inside without glancing back.

Inside it felt warm. Safe.

I pushed back my cap and took the stairs to the second floor.

Shouting voices came from one of the flats. I ignored it like I always did. It would die down in a while anyway. But not before there’d been a banging of doors and maybe breaking glass. I didn’t know any of the people living around us. I saw their faces every now and again. But I didn’t know their names.

They certainly didn’t know mine.

They didn’t care, and neither did I.

Mum wasn’t home yet. I switched on the TV on my way to the kitchen. The cartoon sounds of Tom and Jerry drowned out the world. In the kitchen I gulped down some milk straight from the carton. If my mum could see me now …

‘How many times do I have to tell you to use a glass?’

That’s what she would say.

Sometimes I do it just to piss her off.

There was some leftover pizza in the fridge. The cheese had turned an unappetising dull yellow in a sea of scattered bits of olive, pineapple and some sort of meat. I heated it in the microwave and went back into the living room. I made myself comfortable on the couch. Images flashed by on the TV screen. I didn’t really take any notice. My mind drifted back to the fight I’d had at school. I tried telling myself that Jonathan deserved everything he’d got.

‘Zulu!’ his voice still rang in my ear. ‘What are you doing here, Zulu? Why don’t you go live with your people?’

Your people.

This was my home. I didn’t know any other place.

I changed the TV channels and got up to fetch the pizza.

Somehow I knew that Jonathan’s words weren’t the only thing bothering me that day. There was something else: a hurried conversation Mum had had with me that morning.

‘We have to have a talk,’ she’d said.

‘Not now, I’m late.’

‘It’s important, Buyi.’

‘Mum!’

‘Tonight then. When I get back from work.’

I knew something was troubling her too. It had been for more than a month now. I didn’t want to ask her about it. I knew she would tell me when she was ready.

Trouble, said a voice from the back of my mind.

Trouble was brewing. And it wasn’t something I could simply lock out. The trouble was already inside the flat.

Mum sighed as she came in through the front door. Her eyes had dark rings under them; the rest of her face was paler than usual. Her blonde hair was in a mess, her clothes wrinkled. She tried to keep the door open with her foot, as she had shopping bags in one hand and a pizza box in the other.

‘Well, don’t just lie there, Buyi, come help me.’

‘What? Pizza again?’ I complained as I got up from the couch. ‘We had pizza last night.’

‘I’m tired. I’m not going to cook. Besides, you like pizza.’

‘Yeah, but not every day.’ I dropped the box on the kitchen counter and helped Mum with the bags.

‘You could have cleaned up a bit, you know.’ My eyes scanned the piles of dirty dishes, Coke-splattered counter top, overflowing dustbin. And the rest of the flat didn’t look any better.

‘I’m also tired. It’s Friday. Who works on a Friday evening?’

‘People who don’t want to have rats and filthy cockroaches running amuck.’

‘You can clean up tomorrow.’

‘I have to work tomorrow!’

‘Sunday then.’

Mum sighed and wiped her hands over her face. When she dropped her arms to her
sides, there were tears welling up in her eyes. She leaned against the counter. ‘You don’t make life any easier for me, you know, Buyisiwe.’

‘It’s just rubbish, nothing to get excited over.’

‘It’s more than that. You don’t help out at all around the house. I really struggle to keep food on the table, a roof over our heads. Do you know how tired I am of it all? But I can see now that I’ve made the right decision.’

‘What decision?’ The fear returned. I had seen my mum tired before, but something was different. There was a tone in her voice that I had never heard before. It was like she had given up. She was like an animal trapped in a cage, trying desperately to get out.

‘I tried to tell you this morning, but you were in such a hurry. So, I let it go. I thought: let me think it over for another day. And then make my decision.’

Mum turned away. Tears were streaming down her face now. Her shoulders were shaking. I wanted to put my arms around her, but couldn’t. Somehow there was a wall between us.

‘You know I don’t make rash decisions. I mull things over and over … And this time it hasn’t been easy. It is probably the most difficult decision I have ever made.’

‘Mum?’ I now whispered.

‘The thing that happened at school today, just confirmed everything. It was like a sign.’

‘So, you found out about it?’

‘The school phoned me, Buyi.’ Mum wiped away the tears. She tilted her head slightly. Her face was sad. ‘Mrs Fletcher told me about the fight. Apparently it wasn’t the first one you’ve had. My heart sank when I heard about it, Buyi. Mrs Fletcher was adamant that she’s had enough. And now I know that the time has finally come. I can’t
keep up supporting two people on my small salary. I’ve tried, and you know it.’

Mum fell silent for a moment. I could feel my world starting to spin around me. Things were about to change, I knew it. So this was it, I thought. This was the thing that had been following me around like a shadow. It was finally going to show its face.

‘You are fourteen now, Buyi.’ Mum almost whispered now. ‘It is time for you to meet your father. Themba. I’ve phoned him a couple of times over the past month. I told him about our financial difficulties. We talked things over …’

‘Mum?’

‘Wait, Buyi, let me finish. I know he hasn’t been there for you as you were growing up. But that will change now. He … he has agreed to look after you from now on.’

‘What?’ I cried. Terror filled my voice.

Mum nodded. ‘Buyi, you’re going to live with your father in South Africa.’

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