'On the Way Home' - by Natisha Parsons
She nodded off periodically as the bus trundled along the mountainside. What a journey. On one side the sheer mountain top way up where… down the other side, way down there-e-e-e-e, a river meandering its measly way to… where?
The sea? They would meet there, she grinned wryly.
What a rich, rich view!
Inside the grimy, muggy bus hens squawked, puppies yelped, and a lamb bleated mournfully. Poor thing must’ve been taken from its mother.
Tjo! My nose and throat are coated with dust.
Phew! The human body can be pretty repulsive! The stench in this bus is not doing my insides any good, that’s for sure. End, journey, please end quickly. Let’s get this whole thing over.
She sipped slowly from a bottle that seemed to be lessening too quickly.
This was the sticks.
The land of her birth.
And she was back… with her tail between her legs.
The sullen woman beside her looked as though she had swallowed a bee. She seemed to be sobbing but was doing her best to disguise the fact.
Better keep my nose out of her affairs. That was a miserably unhappy face alright
Weep, sister, there’s no end to tears. That’s a bottomless well. You’ll weep again tomorrow.
Deal patiently with your hurting heart – it’s going nowhere without you.
Sister… Welcome to Planet Hurt.
The heavily laden bus crawled along the inclines, missing none of the craters in the badly rutted road.
Ma-a-an, these roads! Why doesn’t SOMEone do something? Where do our taxes go?
She groaned and tried to make herself a little more comfortable.
Slowly the bus wended its way up, up, up the cutting, along the nerve-rackingly narrow twists and turns.
At noon the bus groaned to a halt.
Not a break-down, she groaned startled.
“Tchama stish” someone called out in great relief.
A wee stop, she smiled.
Quick-quick, the driver shouted and opened his door.
A wee-wee stop, she grinned.
The clearing on the side of the road was obviously well used for the purpose – the rankness announced it.
Necessity, I s’pose. She raised her brows and joined the throng.
In the distance the birds of the air squawked and wheeled freely overhead.
Hawks and flocks of smaller birds the hawks must’ve been after.
Ominous-looking vultures circling, circling…
There’s something dying out there, someone called out. See… the vultures. They can tell when an animal is dying. They’ll swoop when it breathes its last.
Maybe even before that, someone else added.
Just as well there’s no livestock around, she thought. Meeting by accident on this r- road, would be…eish! Better not even think of it.
When one of the mamas called out excitedly that her hen had laid an egg, everyone joined in with giggles and comments.
Only in this part of the world, she grinned to herself. Home, shweet home.
There’re mostly women aboard. The men must be at work or basking in the sun at home, waiting for mama to come home and brew his beer, pour it out and then cook his pap and mfino (a wild spinach, popular and delicious). Stuck in a time warp out here.
Our staple, mnqusho (*samp and beans) takes too long to cook, she thought. Wood is hard to get and electricity too dear. They cooked and served it mostly on special occasions now, her mother had informed her.
Tjo! What if it rains? This road will become a river of mud and we’ll perish! Stop it, she chided herself. You think of the worst things!
And why not? Maybe it’s wishful thinking. What is mama gonna say when she sees me? Too soon she’ll know…there’ll be no special mnqusho cooked for her eldest precious daughter.
Precious. Precious. What a name. There was nothing precious about her at all. They should’ve named her Mistake.
The tears that threatened from the moment she said goodbye to her friends at Park Station, gave way. She covered her head, stuffed a corner of her scarf into her mouth and cried her heart out. Thankfully the sullen one would ignore her.
The bus to Mthatha was luxurious compared with this one that was taking her home to the wild, wild coast…the very back of beyond…the bottom edge of Africa.
Johannesburg…a dream that became a nightmare she was going home to recover from. PTSD they called it at the hospital. And she was a victim.
And pregnant, don’t forget that. I despised Kay for her early advice, yet now…
May the dog die…in a crowded street…and may his brains be strewn on the tar.
The tears flowed.
It takes two… the thought crept up from deep within.
I’m the gullible fool. What made me think I was different? Poor, poor pitiful fool. I’ll get over this. Mama’ll help me. When her disappointment passes, she’ll help me. I’ll heal… I will! I will!
She willed herself off to sleep.
Suddenly the faraway smell of fried chicken enveloped her senses.
She ignored the gnawing hunger pangs. She knew what would be the result of eating…
Suddenly she was jerked awake. Wow! That was bad!
The bus was leisurely descending the particularly steep slope when a rickety van, coming at breakneck speed around the turn they were approaching almost crashed into them.
The driver swerved dangerously, slinging passengers, luggage, animals, the lot from side to side.
It hit a window and dribbled down slowly, to the dismay of the owner. Then she laughed hysterically and turned to her toddler who also began to howl.
The driver stopped the bus and gave the passengers time to sort themselves out. He, too, needed to calm himself, for he was quivering with anger.
That was Gunnar, he informed the passengers loudly. I know him. He must be dakiwe (drunk) as usual. One day he will kill himself.
That’s alright, one old ancient laughed a chesty toothless laugh. Let him do that. Just don’t let him take others with him!
Tangled talk ensued.
Eventually daylight ended.
What was it I heard the other day? She furrowed her brows. We get a trip around the sun every twenty four hours. Heh, heh, heh, pity we don’t feel it.
The darkness outside was intermittently dispelled when the thick clouds allowed the moon to show through. She jerked and bounced as the bus hit potholes, stones… boulders? Tjo!
Why did the jolting seem worse at night?
“Please, God, don’t let me die in this deep, deep darkness. This trip is the pits!”
Will God hear me? Have I not offended Him?
Oh why did I do what I did? Mama told me there were wolves out there and they don’t wear dog skin!
A childhood ditty crept into her head: “To Mama’s house I go, where I shall fatter grow.”
She frowned wryly. The Lamb in the story had not betrayed family values that had been drummed into it from small.
“Grrrmmff!” she growled as the bus hit a particularly hard bump.
She held tightly onto her taut belly. Nine months…I should’ve gone home long ago. Kay warned me I’d be cutting it fine.
What an idiot I was, believing all those lies. He sounded so sincere! It won’t happen to me. That’s what I thought. Huh? Maybe that’s what they all say. It won’t happen to me.
What’s so different about me?
She twisted in her seat as if to draw away from her tormenting thoughts.
There’s one born every minute, someone said. Maybe that someone was me, who knows?
“Aaargh!” Tjo! That was close. The groans and moans from the other passengers filled the air. The baby began to cry and then to scream at the top of its little lungs.
“Baby, please, please, SHUT UP!” She thought with an irritable groan. The baby’s mother must’ve stuck the breast into its mouth.
Praise God for baby fast food.
The dust was pure misery. She kept her scarf over her nose, suffering the discomfort.
The bus came to a sudden jolting halt, throwing everyone into the back of the seat in front of them. A split second’s silence reigned…
…then pandemonium took over.
The driver swore filling the air with such profanity, the passengers shrieked their protest.
Not only did he nearly kill them…
Then they saw it…
…a small herd of cows, placidly chewing the cud in the middle of the road, long lines of slime hanging from slowly grinding gums. Their huge eyes glowed eerily in the headlights.
The outraged driver emptied his entire repertoire of wicked words… a few times.
He was beside himself.
Mothers, with hands loosely over their ears, pretended to shut the sounds out. Children giggled crazily much to the dismay of the elders.
Country folk, she muttered, greazers, nogal. Their modesty has been shockingly violated.
One quavery old female voice shrilled out to Jehovah to forgive the driver as he had been badly shocked.
Hmm, he and us and my baby.
Suddenly she gasped.
“Hoo!” Killer pain shot through her body like lightning.
She screamed. Mothers were galvanised into action.
Meanwhile the hysterical driver threateningly approached the herd, jerking bus and passengers most inelegantly.
The sudden scream from behind made the hair on the back of his head stand up. There were no lights in the ramshackle bus and the dashboard lights enabled him to see no further than about the second seat.
“What’s up?” he shouted. “What’s happening there?”
Everyone answered at once and above the noise another blood-curdling yell from the girl in labour.
Before him longsuffering cows lumbering to their hoofs, behind a human being screaming blue murder…
…the driver concentrated on what was before him.
First things first, he muttered angrily.
The woman seated alongside Precious, who had spoken not a word during all the time they had sat together, jumped into action.
The driver finally stopped the bus and between them they were able to carry the moaning girl to the roadside. The curious cows stared stupidly from where they stood.
A makeshift labour bed was arranged and a wonderful thing happened: the baby defied all old wives tales and came almost at once. Kicking and screaming it came into the dusty world of strangers and hens and lambs and bus fumes and curious cows and children.
TAKE IT AWAY FROM ME, she screamed hysterically. TAKE THAT THING AWAY FROM ME. I DON’T WANT IT. I… DO…NOT…WANT…IT.
Hush, hush, little one, you have been traumatised…
TRAUMATISED MY BIG, FAT BEHIND! I DO NOT WANT THAT THING. TAKE IT AWAY.
Then she passed out.
It was no big thing cleaning her up; this is what they did out here. They helped each other.
The women worked more by faith than by sight in the dark. The moon stayed stubbornly hidden.
The driver was in no hurry to hasten the proceedings. This was a holy moment. No one would object to the delay.
He grinned wryly at his wrist watch. After ten! Already!
Eventually the girl was back in her seat. Being equipped with the necessary sanitary wear, having anticipated what was ahead, she saw to herself as best as circumstances allowed and sat sulkily in her seat, knees hunched up under her chin.
Deep inside she was greatly relieved. She could face her mother.
The chapter behind her was closed.
The silent lady alongside was in her seventh heaven. Baby was well-wrapped in precious baby clothes. Her crooked pinky would be a pacifier for now.
She had been returning from hospital to tell her husband that the child she went to hospital in the taxi three days ago to have, was stillborn.
Bio for Natisha Patronella
I am a retired school teacher. Writing is my hobby. I have a mountain-high pile of rejection slips and just one published short story – thanks to a POWA competition in 2010.
I was born in Transkei and now live in Ramsgate, KZ-N. Most of my writing is spiritual (Christian) meant for young Christians. For my fictional stories I have drawn on my many years in teaching. These are aimed at young readers.