Every night of the 31st of December, the town of Vereeniging erupts in insurmountable joy. There are scores of children parading the streets with loaded fire shooters in hand, some pointing them to the sky, to colour-accompany the distant stars and others, well others point the fire shooters to each other. The adults are indoors firing away themselves of course, in conversation, debate, laughter and meaningless babblings about how “this year was terrible and next year should be better”. In the midst of this entire furor, there is a boy called Tshepo cuddling his dog, Letlapa, it is weeping and giving off a half-hearted squeal because of the terror of the loud noise and banging brought about by the New Year firecrackers.
Tshepo is not bothered by all this festive madness, he lives alone with Letlapa beneath the Duncanville Bridge. To him, every day is as the other and it always starts the same. He wakes up just before sunrise to take a walk up the bridge to watch the sun rise. This is an important part of his day because his mother, Meikie, once taught him that the early morning sun heals.
“Heh wena Tshepo tsoha maan wake up! Mama is going to be cleaning, so go outside and play, the morning sun is very healthy for you”, Meikie would say. Tshepo still heeds to the advice of his mother even though they are not together anymore.
It was on the 16th of December 2010 when Tshepo last saw his mother Meikie. The day started out with the usual morning sun ritual. Meikie was expecting guests from Qwa-Qwa, family friends who had planned to see her on the day. So she woke up earlier than usual to chase Tshepo outdoors in order to tidy the house and cook a seven-colored meal. Tshepo had slept very late the night before, watching adult-themed movies and adverts on etv. It took a wack over the head with a wet, cold vadoek for Tshepo to finally get up and go outside. Not long after that, he had fallen asleep on his mothers’s red-maroon stoep, the one she religiously polishes every Saturday morning with the national-bestseller, Cobra Wax.
Tshepo wakes up just before noon to a choir of laughter. The neighborhood children had flocked just outside the fence to laugh at him, ‘the boy who had been chased outside the house and ended up sleeping on the floor’. Unbeknownst to Tshepo, whilst he was sleeping, some who were more older had been bold enough to run into the yard and take selfies with him asleep. He was humiliated by all this, little did he know that greater tragedy would befall him. As he woke up, he ran into the house and found his mother preparing to leave, “Heh wena Tshepo, what were you doing last night to have slept this whole day, sies maan! From now on TV will be off just after Generations plays. I am going to fetch Bo Ntate Matla, they seem to be lost in town, so please behave when I’m not here”, Meikie said to Tshepo, and then took off and left.
That was to be the last time Tshepo would see his mother. Later that night, Tshepo began to wonder as his mother had still not returned. He tried to call his mother with the house phone but her phone was off. He tried to call his mother’s work but they told him she never came in. Frustrated and worried, Tshepo ended up calling the police, reporting to them that his mother was headed to town and never came back. For the next two days, no trace of her or her 2005 Polo Classic car was seen or detected. She was then declared missing.
Distraught and broken, Tshepo began to wonder what had happened on that fateful day his mother left for town. Could she have been hijacked and kidnapped? Could she have gotten lost and edged over a cliff that spat her into the Vaal River where she drowned and died? Could she have fallen asleep on the road and mistakenly drove into a dark deep cave?’ Tshepo went through innumerable thoughts that deepened his own depression and sinister curiosity. One day, Tshepo saw the van of the police outside the house and he got excited. Perhaps they have brought good news! , he thought. The police came into the yard, and then in the house and said, “Tshepo, it has been a month now and your mother has not been found, so we are going to have to bury this case and move on to more urgent ones, we are sorry, be strong, maybe one day she will come back”.
Tshepo wept that whole night, he wept util his eyes became as red as blood.
The next morning he woke up with a new found determination, I will find her, I will find her, if no one will, then I will! That morning Tshepo wore his favorite summer hat, put on his Sunday school shoes, waited for the sun to rise, and when it did, he walked out of the house and then onto the street and began to walk, against the scorching summer sun. He walked, and walked and never stopped walking…
That day he walked so much that his Sunday shoes had opened in the front like a yawning crocodile the soles of the shoes had worn off as well. He had reached town and even further from town, studying every car that drove by and even ones that were parked. He even went as far as the Vaal River to see if there was any sign of his mother, but there was none. Exhausted and hungry, he made his way into a shop to ask for food, but the shop owner chased him out yelling to him “Hamba wena streetkid! Where is home? Where are your parents? Hamba maan!” Tshepo was affected by this because he had no answer. He had never met his father, and his mother was now officially missing. He lost it.
When he got out of the shop he began to run, very fast, he never thought about where to run to, he just began to run, running from corner to corner, street to street, he ran hard, so hard that the hardness of his shoe soles completely wore off, till he was running on his feet. He ran so hard that his summer hat fell off from his head, without him realizing. He ran till he finally stopped, in the middle of nowhere, just about the time the sun exchanges shifts with the evening darkness, Tshepo rested.
For the next weeks, Tshepo lived as a castaway in shanty zones and alleys where only wretched creatures prowled. One day the wretched of them all limped in, a three-legged, bloodied dog. It seems to have been run over by a heavy-duty vehicle, for its frame was greatly disfigured. Tshepo picked it up and looked into its bulging eyes. He must have seen a portrait of himself, for that day, Tshepo left that dark shanty alley and headed in the direction of the sun. He took the dog with him and aptly named it Letlapa, a stone, for it had survived the rough, tough outdoor terrain.
Tshepo and Letlapa walked and limped together that day, till the sun set and finally found themselves beneath that bridge, that Duncanville Bridge.
It has been exactly five years now since that tragic day Meikie went missing and Tshepo is 18 years old now. It has also been a year since Tshepo and Letlapa sheltered beneath the bridge. Today is the 1st of January 2016, a new year, a new beginning. Tshepo is up for his morning ritual, at the top of the bridge to watch the sun rise, and Letlapa is at the bottom sleeping. The New Year celebrations were too harsh and cruel for a dog that has already faced hell before. Tshepo is in deep contemplation, I think we must move today, we have overstayed our welcome here, there must be something more out there. Tonight, we leave, and we shall never come back.
Devoted to his word, in the night, Tshepo and Letlapa begin to walk. They turn instinctively from one street to the next, entering new towns, some with streetlights and some with none. They rest occasionally as Letlapa’s skeleton is no friendly to constant motion. But soon after recovery, they hit the road again and walk. Soon, they find themselves onto a freeway, with a plethora of cars driving forth north and south, creating a subtly violent vibration on the ground. Tshepo and Letlapa walk on, they walk on till the wee hours of the morning, just before sunrise.
A white van slows down and parks on the side of the freeway next to Tshepo and Letlapa.
A woman walks out from the van with a uniform written S-P-C-A. Her face painted in fury, she goes on to ask Tshepo where he got the dog, “Hey you, do you have any idea how illegal an act it is, to pick up a dog from who knows where and adopt it as your own, are you insane?”, “No ma’am, I’m not, if I was insane I would not have taken care of it the way I have, this dog would have died by now if I didn’t take care of it”, Tshepo responds. She hits back ,“Look at the dog, it is practically dead already, no medication, no nutrition, I am shocked at this, I am going to give you two options, you let me take this dog or I call the police to arrest you and then keep the dog anyway. What’s it going to be?”,Tshepo keeps silent, realizing he is cornered.
He watches as the woman picks up Letlapa. Letlapa is reluctant but he cannot fight back, he has been limping hours and hours through the day and is exhausted and powerless. Tshepo watches as Letlapa is loaded into the back of the van. A tear streams down Tshepo’s face, followed by an assembly of them, “Look, listen here boy, look at it like this, if you really love this dog, you will want for it to receive better care right, so that’s what we will be doing” The woman says, then drives off. Letlapa’s nose sticking out of the window, as if to smell Tshepo, for one last time.
Tshepo is torn. Drained. Broken. Hopeless.
It is the 1st of January, a day of new beginnings and he is alone again. Nobody wants me, and nobody wants anything to do with me, why am I still here if there’s nothing for me here. Tshepo fixes his eyes onto the road tar, then onto the cars driving by, then back onto the road tar. He sticks his right leg onto the road, and then his left, his body vibrating in fear. He takes another step into the road, then another, then another, till he is right in the middle of the oncoming road. He looks on as the next approaching car violently hoots from meters away, Tshepo stands still awaiting his fate… Seconds later a loud screech is heard as the car’s tyres grab hold of the tar, breaking…the car skids off the road right before the collision and finally hits a dead still. Tshepo is on the floor, he’s fainted…a woman walks out of the car and picks Tshepo up, she puts him in the car and drives off…
Tshepo wakes up. He is lying on a red-maroon stoep. The scorching bright sun blinding his sight, he soon regains it. Next to him, a woman lies, groaning and weeping, her face on the ground… Tshepo touches her, as if to console her, the woman raises her head.
Beneath the sunrise.