Zulu Brothers story: Mpande

It was Carol whose vagina swallowed his first sperm.
Somewhere between her broad bosom and thick thighs glowing from layers camphor cream, were the fingerprints of a 14-year-old-boy who longed for a mother's love. Her breasts, already suckled by three children before he was even born, were always on display.
Carol knew what she wanted from the beginning, that's why she treated him like her own child for the first two years she was his babysitter. She fed him, rubbed the top of his head with her soft hands and kept her arm around his shoulders when she helped him with his homework.
She insisted that he call her "aunty" and sometimes, when he had done great and she'd pull his face to her chest and squeeze him in a motherly hug, he'd find himself uttering "mah" with his eyes closed.
Carol looked nothing like what he remembered his mother to look and even smell like.
She was tall and loud with a body that men old enough to be his
father watched liked it was a plate of food but never dared to touch. Because that's who Carol was, a woman who could punch you to the ground and dare you to rise and try her again.
"Abafana bami"
That's what she said about him and Ntsika on the first day Nqobizitha
dropped them off at her flat in Betrams, giving her a pile of R20 notes for bread and jam and her time.
Ntsika immediately warmed up to her, following her around the house as she swept and chopped and pulled things out of cupboards while humming along to a ballroom dance song playing loud on her radio.
The arrangement was that the boys would be at her house for at least three hours after school, and then their brothers would come to fetch them after whatever time they left the rank.
But there were days where nobody showed and the two boys would have to sleep on Carol's floor.
That didn't bother them, they had slept on floors most of their short lives anyway and Carol never complained, as long as there were notes handed to her when they were being collected, she was fine with being a mother to a six-year-old who didn't remember how it felt to be cradled and another who would cling on to anything as long as it had a feel of a mother.
She could, and because it was her house and she owed no one any explanation, let the two older men who frequented her flat come in and do what they had to do.
They came in the middle of the night, on different days, jumping over the boys sleeping on the floor on their way to her bedroom.
They never stayed until the morning, but in the brief time that they were there, the house would be filled with their moans and groans and Carol screaming their names.
Sometimes, especially when it was the one with a beard and big stomach, she would curse and mutter something under her breath every time he left the house, still breathing like he was about to die.
The boys never asked, or at least Mpande whom the happenings kept awake all night.
Things were good. Carol's men weren't their problem because they never interacted with them.
But over the two years, the midnight visits became less frequent, especially from the one with a beard. There were nights when he would come and leave without his moans and groans occurring.
Eventually he stopped coming and with his departure came complaints and uncomfortable looks from the man who remained.
"Do these boys live here full-time now?" Mpande once heard him ask Carol one night.
Her response was a swear word and a scream seconds later.
Both the boys knew that the man slapped Carol around but they knew to keep their eyes down because the one time Ntsika mentioned it to Nkosana, Carol denied it, even swore on her mother's grave that there was no such thing. When they came back from school that afternoon they found the kitchen cupboards locked, they learned their lesson and never got involved again.
They spent more time at Carol's house then they did at any of the places where their older brothers lived.
They weren't allowed in the men's hostel where Sambulo was still living. Mqoqi had disappeared on the night MaZulu's shack was raided and the two of them, being the youngest, were fetched from Carol's house by whoever knocked off from work first. It was normal for the two boys to sleep in a taxi, especially if it was Mqhele or Qhawe who picked them up. There never really was a place they could all go to and call home because their brothers moved around a lot, and so they longed for a permanent arrangement with Carol, hopefully without her man who clearly didn't want them there.
The man's detest for Mpande started being really obvious when he grew and started towering over him. They'd bump into each other on the passage and Mpande would have to look down to greet him.
His armpits had also started sweating and hair was growing above his top lip.
Those developments weren't important to him, but they obviously were to Carol because she kept mentioning them.
It started with comments like: "You look older than your age" and
"You're so tall" and "You're so mature compared to other boys your age,"
And then there was the staring and watching. It made him uncomfortable but he wasn't going to show it because he didn't understand why the way she looked at him suddenly made him uneasy.
He was sitting in the kitchen studying when he heard the arguing voices, the man's voice high and Carol's even higher. She usually didn't fight back, which was strange because she was known for her wrath. She'd try to calm the man down and take a few slaps quietly.
But that night was different, things could be heard breaking in the bedroom and Ntsika was awake, hands over his ears and trying to hide under the sofa.
Mpande would have sat still and ignored everything if Carol hadn't shouted his name.
When he kicked the bedroom door open, the man was standing over her, still holding a belt on one hand and bashing her head with a shoe.
He punched the man once and he landed on the floor bleeding from the mouth.
He was prepared for a fight, but the man saved him the trouble by picking up his clothes from the floor and leaving.
Seeing Carol like that, bruised and half naked on the bedroom floor made him want to follow the man out, but she reached out her hand and asked him to help her up.
He did. And when she came out of the bathroom cleaned up and in a night-robe, she asked him to stay in the bedroom, in case the man came back.
He slept on the bedroom floor despite her assuring him that they could share the bed.
The next morning she had prepared breakfast for them and saw them off to school as if the previous night never happened.
The man never returned but things were never the same after that night.
The first time he felt something was the day she shouted from the bathroom for him to bring her soap from the kitchen.
"Come in," she shouted when he stood at the door with the soap in one hand.
He didn't move but when he raised his eyes the door was pulled in and Carol was standing there, naked.
He froze.
When she took the soap from him, she ran her fingers on the palm of his hand while looking into his eyes before walking back to the shower, everything out and exposed.
He didn't know what he felt after that, but he knew he wasn't supposed
to feel it, not for Carol.
He had never seen a naked girl before, live, let alone a grown woman old enough to be his mother.
Carol had a way of brushing his shoulder. Sometimes when she talked she brought her face too close to his. He would feel things when she did that, things he hated feeling.
The first time she made him go inside her bedroom and locked the door, she did everything herself.
When she was done she told him: "You're a man now".
It continued until it almost felt normal.
Carol would whisper to him: "say you love me," in between her heavy breathing and his sweat.
He would do anything she wanted, touch her wherever she wanted to be touched but he could never say he loved her, no matter how much she begged.
And so after her toes had curled and her nails left scratch marks on his back, she'd be mad as hell.
She'd shout and scream and call him "stupid" before pulling him back to her bed.
Eventually he just couldn't stay away from her, but he knew he didn't like seeing her naked. He didn't like hearing her moan and scream his name so he didn't talk about it to anyone.
Carol did instruct him not to say a word to anyone, but that's not why
he kept quiet.
He kept quiet because he didn't understand if he was a victim or a
willing accomplice. This was a woman. There was no way he could be a
victim in this, it wouldn't make any sense.
He hated it and he never told anyone about it until the night Ntsika answered the intercom and didn't tell anyone he had let Mqhele into the building.
Carol could have crawled outside and called the police after Mqhele was
done battering her, but then, she would have had to explain the nature of
her relationship with a 14-year-old boy to them.
When Mqhele was done he asked Mpande: "How long has she been doing this to you?"
It was then, right at that moment, that it dawned to him. He cried about if for the first time.
That was the last time they saw Carol.
They don't talk about her.