Swithins Avenue – Boipelo Maetla

My machete wielding white neighbor absolutely makes me sick.

We got to Johannesburg and we drove to every single student accommodation there was on the internet, and few of them actually looked like the pictures they put up online.

Some had caretakers who were old enough to be needing to be taken care of themselves, the irony. Some communes had holes in the kitchen ceilings, blood stains on bathroom walls, champagne splattered all over some bedrooms! Christ! What do the people here get up to?

We settled for a house in Rivonia, and a thousand times I promised my father that I would not allow myself to be wild, that I would remain true to myself and to keep a small circle of friends and be God-fearing. Ahhh! What a joke.

A couple of months of house partying later, the home owners in Swithins Avenue picketed to have all students removed from their area. “They are the reason the value of our houses are going down,” they said. “These obnoxious hooligans!” they would whisper when we were in earshot. We, the students, hated them and they equally hated us. Mathematically, one hate should actually cancel the other one out and we all live happily ever after, in tolerance. I would not know though, mathematics was never really my thing. But plotting, now that was my shit.

This one time, before winter holidays, it dawned on us that it had been months since champagne had been popped and panties been dropped. This atrocity totally had to be rectified. One of the most fundamental hindrances was the consensus that was established post the white-neighbor picket. “No loud music after 6pm”… but that is when the parties actually start. Incredible.

My machete wielding neighbor, the president of the picketing escapades, had been going through a rather tough time. He could not hide it anymore. He had grown pale (for a white person) and his demeanor was slowly losing its vigor. He documented this too. I know this because while snooping in his house, in the guise of asking for permission to throw a party just one last time, I found a diary…

 

16 March, 2015

The problem with living in South Africa is that you become a statistic. There are so many things that can go wrong in a person’s life here, at some point, you have to be swallowed by at least one. It is impossible to not feel trapped and right now, I am trapped.

22 March 2015

The basic logic of life is to live, die internally, drag yourself to work for years till you deteriorate and finally, die a physical death. No one will ever know, everyone else is a walking corpse too, we do not talk about it anymore.

01 April 2015

The script of my life is becoming shockingly monotonous. It is only a matter of time till I am deported. Living here was supposed to make me disappear, to make me unseen, invisible. I did fairly well, minded my business, now there’s police vans here every week, one of these days, they will know I have no passport…

 

“What are the odds of a black and white person having something in common”, I thought to myself as I flicked the diary back into the drawer from which it came and maintained my feeble I-have-nothing-to-hide-and-I-come-in-peace look when my neighbor walked into the living room.

Without even hearing me out, he blankly refused that we host one last party before vacation, citing reasons I could not even make sense of because this man was not even a legal citizen.

Back in my room, a memory of being sent back to Mali crossed my mind, it was a swift and gruesome brutality. I must have been eight-years-old. The police left with us as quickly as they had come, told us we had to be here legally or not be here at all.

The dictionary in my hand defined foreigner as someone who lives in a country that is not their own. Sometimes the word was never really derogatory, sometimes it made me loathe being in this country, and on most times it was the cause of my public humiliation and abuse. Some friends from varsity would ask me if I knew anyone that sold a gun, or sold some girls, asked me if my father made money from selling cocaine, asked me to validate our wealth because it must be from some place dirty and corrupt. I had to explain that I was not Nigerian for two whole years till I got fed up, there was no shame in being from Nigeria anyway, I would stand up for Nigerians too if needs be.

Memories like these consumed me for a full week. We could go and party somewhere in the club but a burning and adamant feeling told me that we were going to do it here. Come hell or high waters (and pickets from foreigners). There’s that would again. Vacuuming me into a vindictive and morbid place, turning me into the very people that scarred me for the longest time.

I had two options in my mind, either to report this machete wielding alien, or have a heart to heart with him. The latter was a long shot, adults rarely listen to children, and white people listen to no one at all. He was a combination of both.

Still I went, in the evening this time, that was when he unveiled his machete wielding habits. Truth be told, I deserved it, before knocking, I hovered over the kitchen window, to gather courage, but also to stare at the man and just be in pity for him. Before I knew it, I had a machete planted between my eyebrows, not deep enough to send me into unconsciousness but enough to make me bleed what looked like my body’s whole blood supply. I could hear him apologize profusely, said he does not need this right now, asked if I was okay (which was rather strange, I had blood all over my face, some dripping to my neck and the back of my body, I was perfectly fine).

The police arrived at the hospital after a long time, I sat up like I had been expecting them. I would give them a statement with my lips pursed, like “boy do I have news for you!” I found a note on my bedside, father had been here, all my siblings as well, not one student from Swithins Avenue had been here but the white neighbor had been here. I recognized his handwriting from one of the cards. It read “I could never apologize enough, but from one foreigner to another, please do the right thing”. I giggled at this, then went on to tell the police I had been harmed in a robbery.

“Do you remember their faces?”

“No sir, nothing”

“Where were you going?”

“Campus sir, to study”

“Do you have any friends?”

“I thought I did…”

Photo: Hazel Fasaha Tobo

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