Story number six

A friend of mine works with rural children. We talked over a weekend and that conversation inspired this story.

As they left she put up her hand to shake. Linda smiled her best smile, wanting them to see how content and happy she was. They smiled back at her and said that they would see her soon. She sat in the gloomy room. The room was lit by a naked bulb hanging at an angle by the wall. There was a window but it was so small it did not provide enough natural light. It was a relief that the women had left. She did not like having visitors over. Her aunt got very angry when she spoke with people. She lived just a few feet from their one roomed shack and she would be there soon to ask about what the women had wanted. Aunt Ntsepe was nosy and knew everything that happened in their community. She was both afraid and suspicious about strangers visiting their compound. The women had first spoken with her aunt and a few minutes later they had been at her door.

Linda put the radio on, it was lunch time and the news was on. After the news, there was usually a short story reading. She enjoyed the readings. So many stories from books she had never heard of. Linda was too nervous about her aunt coming over that she could not concentrate on the news.

It must have been over half an hour when she heard the heavy footsteps coming towards the shack. A bead of sweat formed on her upper lip. She did not know how this was going to go. Sometimes her aunt became violent.

Aunt Ntsepe opened the heavy iron door. She was a big woman, she stood at the entrance legs apart, hands on hips.

“Linda?” she gave her that dreadful smile.

“What did those women from the government want.”

“Aunty they were not from the government, they were from an NGO.”

“Girl you had better speak up, honestly I can never hear a word you say sometimes. Now what did they want?”

“They wanted to find out if we have any water and how many people lived in the house”

“Did they ask about the grant?”

“Yes” [whisper]

“What?”

“Yes aunty”

“What did they say exactly?”

Her voice boomed in the small room. She started walking towards her, swatting clothes that were hanging on lines in the small room. She stooped inches from her and bent down. That smile again.

“You did not tell them anything about ‘that’, did you?”

“No aunty, I explained that my disability grant was collected by my aunt who took care of us”

“Ok girl, good. If they come back again tell them to come and speak to me.”

She stood in front of her and poked her big toe towards her.

“When was the last time you bathed girl. I want you to clean up. You stink. How can you have people in the house looking like that.”

She frowned, stood there thinking for a few seconds and without another word she left. Linda was relieved. She had not hit her today. She needed to go to the pit latrine outside. It was not easy getting there. Linda looked down at her lower body. She had not walked since she was two years old. Her legs had gradually weakened. As she grew older, her legs had become twisted and mangled. When her parents were alive she could move around in a wheelchair and she had attended school with her brothers. Her father would put her wheelchair in his old bakkie. Her parents had died six years ago, they had been well off compared to their neighbours. Their house had been made of brick with a toilet inside. She had had her own room.

Her aunt Ntsepe lived in their house now. Being the only living relative in the area to help take care of them no one had objected to her taking everything they owned except their clothes and the radio. She had sold the wheelchair.

Her story reading would be starting soon. She needed to get a move on. She reached for her gloves in the cardboard box where she kept her belongings. The floor was concrete and smoothed over with red polish, so she could make it easily to the door. Dragging her feet behind her she reached for the iron hook and started prying the door open. It had been slammed shut by her aunt. It opened and she blinked adjusting her eyes to the light. Crawling to the pit latrine was an issue. She would get dirty and her hands often hurt afterwards. Her brothers, when they were home, usually carried her there. But she could not wait. Who knew when they would be home. They stayed out for long periods of time after school.

When she got back, the announcer on the radio was introducing the new short story. She had to change first. Her hands were bleeding.

She took off all her clothes and placed them in a pile that was growing in the corner. Aunt Ntsepe had not bought the sunlight for a while. She put on her nightgown from the box and placed herself on the mattress. She closed her eyes and listened to the story.

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