Fire, Bully, Fly! – Lereko Mfono

There is no bullying incident that has ever happened in this town for 10 years now. But it cost me.

My name is Mothusi “Mollo” Metsi and I sweat every morning before I reach school. There is a heat that comes to me, every time I point my finger up to attract the 6am taxi. I would compare the heat to various unpleasant experiences, a from-summer-to-winter fever, a national heatwave or rather, the sweet, yet uncomfortable feeling I get every time Semakaleng ‘Cadbury’ Mokoena looks at me. I could break out into a love poem right now at the mere mention of her but let me tell you about the reason I really don’t like going to school.

Tumelo ‘Bull Terrier’ Ketane.

I was in Grade 1 when he interrupted the rainbow that was my life. I used to have the kind of perception of life often characterized to be of white children. I mean I used to have friends nobody could see but me, I would insist on my parents reading me bedtime stories before sleep and my dreams were made up of superheroes and doves and flying.

It is under the auspices of tradition that Bulls are unleashed annually in Spain, and one morning at the corner of Voortrekker and Kruger Avenue… a certain Bull Terrier was released.

I was a boy much fond of planes, so that unforgettable morning I had been teaching myself how to make a paper plane. It was going to be my first time I take the school bus and it was making its way to fetch me. It soon arrived and it soon left. The bus was half full when I entered and I chose the middle seats, and I sat at the window side. I busied myself with my paper plane as a few children asked me what it was and who I was and others relegated me to hand signals of madness. My rainbow, the one that only I could see, was still shining as bright as ever. It shone even up until we got to that corner, That Voortrekker and Kruger Avenue corner.

And there he was outside, Tumelo ‘Bull Terrier’ Ketane. A large Grade 5 boy who was a primary school nightmare for everyone including grade 7 jocks. As he got into the bus, scores of children sang his anthem, the shortest ever composed, “Buuuulllllllll….”and as the inflection and volume rose to its climax he lifted his right hand to silence the choir and followed that with a smile. The kind that would send shivers down any 7-year old boy’s spine. Except mine.

It was at that Bull Terrier’s entrance that the bus experienced a puncture. The bus driver alerted us that we should calm ourselves, he would change the tyre swiftly. As soon as the bus driver got off the bus, the fiery events commenced.

“Who will it be today Bull,Bull Terrier?” One timid boy from the front asked,

“Well let’s see, whoever is scared of me stand up, and whoever is not scared of me sit down!” Bull Terrier responded. Needless to say, everyone stood up in that bus except one. The boy with the paper plane, me. I can’t say I didn’t hear him, or that I didn’t fear him, I just didn’t care for him at all. He was a bully, and bullies made little sense to me.

”Who is that now, that fake hero boy over there” Bull Terrier remarked, “is he deaf? I said, whoever is scared of me stand up!” He came towards me and I didn’t flinch at all. He whispered something into my ear about death and peeing in my pants. It sounded so funny for I started laughing. I laughed so hard that all the other children who were on their feet started laughing as well. This was obviously unacceptable to Bull Terrier, no one in the history of that bus had ever dared to laugh at him. “SHUT UP! SHUT UP RIGHT NOW!” Bull Terrier shouted, and an abrupt silence hit the bus.

What is your problem boy, do you not know who I am?”

“I don’t, but if you can just give me some time to finish my plane I will gladly ask you”, I shot back. The whole bus went back into stitches. I saw Bull Terrier’s face go red, and his forehead become sweaty. All hell broke loose. He proceeded to snatch my paper plane and shrivel it up into his fist. He then grabbed me by the collar and shoved the paper into my mouth. He pushed me to the floor of the bus and I lied face up. What happened next, would change my destiny.

He ran up to the front of the bus and opened the cabin where the bus driver left all his belongings, including cigarettes and a box of matches. Some kids continued to laugh as Bull Terrier garnered more inner fuel. He took the box of matches and came steaming down back to me. He grabbed me by the face and aggressively squeezed my cheeks with his hands till my paper-garbaged mouth was forced open. It must have been at that point that he took out a match stick, because I remember hearing the bus go completely silent.

In the next minute, I felt a sensation in my mouth. I started to feel like I was chewing on a fireball, a cinnamon-gingered hot sweet they sold for R2 at the local spaza shop. But as seconds went on, it became hotter and hotter till it was unbearable. Soon enough my face and neck felt the considerable heat. I remember the stampede that was happening in the bus as I was experiencing these sensations. Little did I know I was on fire, literally. Tumelo “Bull Terrier” Ketane had lit my paper plane, the one he shriveled up and shoved into my mouth. And did I burn that day. I burnt till all the children fled off the bus including Bull Terrier because of the gruesome image.

By the time I got help, my face had melted to the floor.

The whole town went into an instant uproar, “How could this happen”; “Sies maan, someone needs to pay”; “That bully needs to be taught a good lesson”! People said.

I was recovering in hospital when that desire came upon me, that this should be the last recorded bullying incident. I had become an overnight celebrity of sorts with all kinds of town folk visiting me to wish me well, and one day the Mayor came to visit. He asked me how I am and how proud they are that I stood up for myself. I said to him, I would never had to if there was no Bull Terrier in this town. I told him as soon as I am fit enough he must organize a parade for me in all the schools, to show them the effects of bullying.

Amidst the tears that I saw on the parade, the two incidents where two learners fainted and one vomited, I’d say the parades went really well for to till this day bullying has become taboo here.

Now I am busy with my matric. I cannot wait to finish it and join my good friend Tumelo ‘Bull Terrier’ Ketane. He writes to me often, his letters often starting with an apology. He has moved with his family to Cape Town, and his recent letter shows him flying an actual plane. He is training to become a pilot.

Photo: Hazel Fasaha Tobo

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