The Little Boy in a Dress – Pearl Matsebula

Gogo called Myboy from outside to come greet auntie Zama who seemed extraordinarily excited and fidgety. Walked in the boy, his stomach first to enter the hut and his round face illuminated by the light of the sun shining through the small window covered by a worn out lace. “There you are,” said auntie smiling broadly and stretched out her hand to him. He shyly moved towards her and wondered at the drawn curved lines above her eyes which gave her a permanent surprised look. She raised her eyebrows and lightly smiled at him, causing a sudden beautiful pattern of pleats to form on the corners of her eyes, which made her face look frail and soft, and made him feel safe. But the stares from both women were slowly digging a hole of discomfort in him. He lowered his face and raised his eyes to meet auntie’s who was still waiting for a reply. He tried hiding his discomfort by fiddling with his ear, but it didn’t work. As he slid off her lap, she he waved a small goat’s skin bag on his face.

“Be careful Myboy,” quickly said Gogo at his grandson’s abrupt action. Auntie helped him open the bag. In it was a maroon pebble. He took it out and wondered what it was. Auntie was just about to touch it when Gogo suddenly shouted, “No Zama!” ready to get up and stop her but her knees failed her. Resisting the temptation, auntie stood up, knelt beside Gogo and helped her sooth knees as she moaned from the abrupt attempt to try and stop auntie from touching the pebble. Her eyes were fixed on the pebble like a wild animal studying its prey as she soothed Gogo’s knees. Gogo was suddenly bothered by the look in her eyes. “Zama we’ll see you on Saturday my baby,” she said worried. But she just stood still. It was her first time seeing the pebble after she received it from the Pebman who clearly instructed her not to open the bag, even worse, touch it before the chosen child does. Its beauty and peculiarity was irresistible to the eye and hands, especially to the one it’s to be given to. “Myboy say bye bye to Auntie Zama,” said gogo nervously hoping she’ll get the message as her anxiety grew over her state. “Ba ba a zhama – goodbye Auntie Zama,” he said scrutinizing the pebble. But her eyes were like a symphony that carefully obliged to the conductor who was the pebble in Myboy’s hand, carelessly waved in the air. “Zama,” gogo shouted louder giving her and Myboy a fright, then gave an apologetic smile. As if woken from a dream, she grabbed her bag and whizzed out of the hut with her stick legs, swaying her hips which always seemed in hiding.

A pebble was given to a couple about to wed. It had the power to bind two things, forever. Nothing would separate the couple bound together. Before the couple was given the pebble, it was first handed to a selected child to bring it to life because children were believed to be innocent and pure. That is what invoked the power of the pebble. When held long enough by the child it would glow, which meant it was ready to be given to the selected couple. If the child lost the pebble, it was a bad omen for the couple.  Gogo watched him carefully as he played with the pebble, rubbing it on his skin, licking and stamping on it. Later In the evening he got tired of it and tossed it by the door, causing gogo a twitch of discomfort, but then convinced him to hold it for her because she might forget where she put it the following day. He didn’t fall for her excuse, but it sure would put a smile on her face, he thought. Gogo’s smile warmed his heart as he picked the pebble. Her smile always made him blush, especially when she’d tilt her head. Feeling shy, he ran to his little sponge and hid under the blankets. “Where’s Gogo’s Myboy?” she asked jokingly. “No he – not here,” he giggled and pulled the blankets over his head leaving his feet uncovered. She tickled his feet and body asking where he was while he kicked and giggled. “Gaga gaga – gogo !” he shouted as he giggled and wiggled under the blankets. Gogo uncovered his face and he screamed with laughter then brushed his little fingers on her face. She pulled the blankets and tucked him nicely and shot a glance at his hand which was still holding the pebble. This relieved her and assured her that when she wakes up tomorrow morning she’ll find the pebble glowing.
The first thought on her mind when she awoke was the pebble. She quickly got out of bed and reached down to check it, but it was not in his hand, instead, he was sleeping on it. And it was still the same, it hadn’t glowed. She sighed then sat on her bed and curled her lips. Then wondered what would happen if the pebble doesn’t… She quickly silenced the thought and convinced herself that it will glow before midday. After she made her bed she stepped out on the porch to make a fire and began preparing the porridge. As she stirred the pot and rubbed her eyes from the smoke, he came rushing with tears down his cheeks. “Gaga kulu noni cow it ma weddi clos – Gogo Mkhulu Nyoni’s cow ate my wedding clothes“ he cried out. Gogo contemplated the silly dream and saw the fear and hurt in his eyes. “Don’t cry I’ll tie it to a tree with a big rope,” she wiped his tears and her eyes landed in his empty hands… In haste, she led him back to the hut to fetch the pebble. He found the pebble on the blankets. On his way out he saw a line of ants on the cracked mud wall. He drew closer to the hole where they were carrying a dead fly in. He poked the hole with his finger and it came out with two ants pinching him. He squashed them with the pebble and ran back to her.
She was relieved to see the pebble in his hand, but why was is it taking so long to glow? She wondered. It was the day before the wedding, she worried, then dipped an old piece of cloth in water and wiped his face. He moaned and pushed at the chill of the water but she insisted, “Nobody is supposed to see the paths you travelled last night.” She stuffed some mint leaves in his mouth, and watched to see if he chewed as he had a habit of spitting them. As she dished up for him in his metallic bowl, he grabbed his log stool and eagerly waited for his porridge then had every last bit of it. “Gaga – gogo” feeling excited, he patted her on the buttocks and showed her the empty bowl.  “Woo!” she jumped in shock. “You’ll grow and be a big boy,” she hid her discomfort. Excited by her words he galloped around the porch. “Pii pii pii!” he shouted, driving his wire car around the hut. “Tu land Tu land – two rand,” he said to his tree customer and offloaded a stone. “Wedi molo – wedding tomorrow.” He waved goodbye to his tree customer and moved on to the next one. Gogo was sweeping the yard. When she saw him pick up stones she remembered the pebble. “Myboy where’s the pebble?” she panicked.  “Pebu pebu, pii pii pii – pebble pebble,” he said and drove off. He seemed clueless about what she was talking about. She found it lying by the door. He left it there after he picked up his car. She sighed in relief. Just when she was about to pick it up she quickly remembered, she can’t touch it. She called him and told him to play with the pebble, hoping at some point it might glow. She could tell he was not interested so she promised to make him some popcorn if he held it and not put it down. The word popcorn seemed to excite him but she had to squeeze his hand to hold the pebble. When she checked on him moments later he had placed the stone down. She wondered how she’d get him seated next to her long enough to keep an eye on his hand and the pebble.

“Myboy,” she called out and he came running, then slowed down when he saw the scissors in her hand. He hated this part of his life. He buried himself between her legs and sulked. A moment later he was giggling at her change in voice as she told him folk tales while she cut his hair. “You’ll be looking beautiful tomorrow,” she said happily, especially seeing the pebble squeezed in his hand. “A luk betiful molo – I’ll be looking beautiful tomorrow,” he added happily and punched her legs lightly. As she picked his hair from the ground, he ran with hands on his head and couldn’t figure out the different sized and shaped maps on his head. Later in the evening, she checked the pebble in his hand after he tucked him in bed, it still hadn’t glowed. She got worried and wondered why it hadn’t glowed, especially since he had it in his hand the entire evening.

She contemplated all the possible reasons. The pebble doesn’t glow only when touched by an adult or if used to harm a living creature. Myboy couldn’t have harmed anything, she thought. She was saddened by the thought of disappointing her niece on her wedding day. It would also be a dishonour to her family. She looked at the pebble in his hand as he breathed softly in his sleep. She prayed it glows during the night, it had to.
She jumped out of bed at the first crow of the cock and… nothing. She woke him up and ordered him to hold the pebble before the wedding which was only a few hours away. He kept dropping it. Gogo was growing anxious with each passing moment as she tidied up the hut and prepared their outfits. “Myboy squeeze the pebble,” she pressed his hand to the pebble. “No wa pebu, no wa pebu – I don’t want pebble,” he dropped it on the floor. Gogo got angry and told him to pick up the pebble. He picked it up and cried. She dropped his clothes and cuddled him. “I’m sorry my beautiful boy,” she said softly and promised to make him popcorn. He stopped crying instantly. “Gaga pebu – granny’s pebble.” He handed her the pebble with such innocence that warmed her heart and left her feeling guilty as he knew nothing of this pebble and why he had to hold it. “Hold it for gogo so she can make you popcorn.” She quickly smeared his face with Vaseline after she bathed him, and dressed him in shorts and a long neon-green t-shirt that looked like a dress over his shorts. The neon-green t-shirt, takkies, the maze hair-cut and a cute smile from a glowing face with Vaseline looked perfect in her eyes. She began ululating and telling him how handsome he looked but he shouted, “Pop co pop c – popcorn!” Realising that she had no way out of this one, she quickly made popcorn while he danced around with the pebble in his hand which calmed her down. Gogo got ready while he munched his popcorn. She packed a packet to keep him next to her when they got to the wedding. She locked the hut and they were off to the wedding.

He ran ahead of her while he chewed and waited for her too catch up. If she took too long he would run back for more popcorn then run ahead again. Before she gave him a handful of popcorn he had to open his hand to show her he still had the pebble. They passed neighbours and friends along the way who all looked happy to see him. “You look handsome Myboy,” most of them would say then give her a confused look over his outfit. She smiled absently. The only thing on her mind was the pebble, which had not glowed…When they arrived at the wedding everyone looked happy to see the little boy who would hand the special stone to the bride and groom. Gogo avoided the priest and Auntie. She would faint if she knew the pebble hadn’t glowed. He kept a close eye on Myboy who hid behind her skirt, overwhelmed by the great number of people. Every two minutes she would check the pebble and, nothing.

“We heard your grandson is the special messenger,” her wanna-be-friend for many years said and hugged her so tightly causing her to let go of his hand. He ran to a group of kids who were playing with wire cars and wooden dolls. She quickly released herself from her wanna-be friend. As she rushed to fetch him, the chief walked up to her and she couldn’t ignore the chief. She could see him from a distance as the chief went on and on about the village affairs. She tried to hide her panic by nodding at everything he said. Seeing his right hand clenched from the distance calmed her, but she wanted him right next to her. The chief being known as a man of a few words, for some reason he simply couldn’t stop talking. Seconds later he was driving one of the boy’s car who suddenly took it back leaving him sad. He looked her direction and found her also looking at him. She called him and he walked towards her but changed direction when he heard a group of drunk men dancing. When she resolved to leave the chief, which would give her a bad name, the master of ceremonies blew a horn and everyone took to their seats. She fetched him. He still had the pebble. But her relief was short lived by the site of the pebble which was minutes away from being asked and it still hadn’t glowed. “What am I to do now?” she whispered.

“Yililili!” the women ululated as auntie walked along her father giving her “today’s the day” look. She collapsed in her chair and squeezed his hand to the pebble hoping it will glow immediately. With all the ululation, auntie’s look and the pebble that wouldn’t glow, she began to have hot flushes. As she opened her bag for a cloth he got up and disappeared from her site. “And the pebble,” said the priest. When she looked up she found everyone staring at her. She looked next to her and he wasn’t there. “He…he went to pee…” sounding unsure. She wildly fanned her face. The people giggled softly but Auntie was ready to cry. Her groom calmed her down. As people began to whisper among themselves, Auntie’s brother whispered to the master of ceremonies who made a silly joke about little boys and weak bladders then called the dancers on stage whilst Auntie’s brother went to look for him. At that moment her knees failed her, she couldn’t get up or escape auntie’s piercing look. While people waited on him, he was at the back of the kraal following a line of ants. It was the ones he saw back home yesterday morning, he thought as he bent to watch them closely. He giggled and thought to go tell Gogo about them, then, “Catch, catch!” He quickly got up and looked where the noise was coming from. A mob was running towards him and there was a figure before them he couldn’t make out. As the figure drew closer he saw what it was. Mkhulu Nyoni’s cow. He suddenly remembered the dream he had about how Mkhulu Nyoni’s cow ate his wedding clothes, and he ran for dear life. He bumped on Auntie’s brother who was looking for him.

“Got you,” he said in relief. But he quickly loosed himself from him and continued running. Auntie Zama’s brother wondered what was wrong with him when he suddenly saw the cow approach. He ran to where the wedding was to warn the people, but the cow passed him and he was lost in the mob. Auntie Zama was the first one to see Myboy approach. She smiled and got herself ready. Finally they would unify their love, she thought.

But he never stopped as expected. He ran through the dancers, disturbing their routine. Everyone laughed at the little boy in a long t-shirt with a maze on his head seeking attention. “It’s the dress he’s wearing,” shouted one drunk woman. Gogo panicked and tried to get up. “Catch, catch!” shouted the mob as the cow drew closer to where the ceremony was held. Everyone stood up from the stumping sounds drawing closer. The dancers danced with more oomph at the sudden standing ovation. A moment later, the dancers were scattered covered with a cloud of dust. “It’s Nyoni’s cow. It’s running after the boy,” shouted the guests. The cow had loosed itself from the tree it was tied to, seeing it was going to be slaughtered. It was the most vicious cow in that entire village. “Myboy myboy!” Gogo cried out and placed her hands over her head. One of the guests quickly helped her up. Auntie fainted and her groom quickly caught her. In the meanwhile the cow was still running behind Myboy.  “Turn to the right,” the men shouted. But he tripped and fell tossing the pebble. “Get up, get up,” Mkhulu Nyoni shouted and whistled at the cow but for the first time, it didn’t respond to the everyday whistle. The cow tilted its head, getting ready to pierce the boy. The guests cried out in prayers and panic. As he breathed heavily on his stomach, his eyes landed on the pebble. It was glowing. The new form of the pebble was such a great wonder to him. Gogo had to see this, he thought. He reached for it and picked it up. As he dusted the dirt from his t-shirt he turned towards the cow, seemingly forgotten what he was running from. The women screamed but he was focused on the pebble. The pebble was glowing, all sorts of colours were shooting inside it. He resolved to run and show Gogo before it stopped glowing. People gasped at what the little boy was attempting, walking straight towards a cow which aimed its horns directly at him. Just when the cow was about to pierce him Mkhulu Nyoni blew a special whistle and the cow stopped immediately.

When Myboy finally looked up, he was an inch away from the cow’s horn. The cow mooed sending him straight on his buttocks, he got up and ran straight to Gogo this time. When he got to her all he could think about was that he escaped Nyoni’s cow and it didn’t eat his wedding clothes as in the dream. The guests assembled and the wedding continued. Gogo was so happy and relieved. She led him to the couple to give them the pebble. Auntie’s wig had twisted and she still had those curved lines above her eyes which gave her a permanent surprised look that confused him. The pebble glowed brighter between their palms and their love was unified, making it stronger.

As everyone ate and drank, Gogo wondered why the pebble took a long time to glow. When Mkhulu Nyoni passed and was talking to himself as usual, “A willingness to sacrifice for the sincere joy of another was needed…”

His words resonated with her but she didn’t know what he was referring to. She stopped wondering about the pebble and never found out that Myboy squashed two ants with the pebble, that’s why… For his great courage the guests gave him money and all sorts of great names for his deed. But the name he was remembered by was The Little Boy in a Dress.




2 thoughts on “The Little Boy in a Dress – Pearl Matsebula

  1. Such a fascinating story. Engaging. I was glued throughout the passage as I flow with the unfolding events. However, I wonder what’s the moral of the story. 🙂



  2. Such a fascinating story. Engaging. I was glued throughout the passage as I flow with the unfolding events. However, I wonder what’s the moral of the story. 🙂


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