As he watched the kombi drive away Zeke knew he would never be happy again. Without Thando what would he do? Who would he play with? Who would climb trees with him to pick mangoes or play football from morning to night? Nothing would ever be the same now that Thando was gone. The complex would be quiet and lonely.
On the walk back to the house the tears came. He’d known they would. Goodbyes always made him cry. Why must Thando leave? Boarding school? There are schools all around us my friend. Zeke knew Thando hadn’t made the choice. Thando had cried too. It was Thando’s father who had sent him away. Babe Lushaba wanted Thando to learn his native culture with other Swati boys instead of “wasting time running around with that white boy.”
Nobody else wanted to play with the white boy either.
Zeke reached the house but did not go inside. He crouched on the grass and dug a hole in the soil with a stick.
He would make a new friend.
But two months later Zeke was still alone. He’d tried to make friends but the little ones ran from the mlungu in fright and the older ones already had their friends and hangouts. Even Spek the dog had left. Every day while Zeke’s parents worked at the mission Zeke sat alone in the house. Every day he grew sadder and more lonely. He wrote to Thando and Thando did not reply. He wrote to Thando’s father and Babe Lushaba replied and said Thando could not receive mail except once a month. Two months passed and still Thando did not write. Zeke decided to forget about Thando and stop caring about friends. But he found that he still remembered. He still cared.
Zeke needed Thando. He decided since Thando was not coming back he’d better go find Thando himself.
It wasn’t hard to begin. Zeke started walking. He knew where Thando’s boarding school was because it was big and they drove past it on the way to the airport. But after some time Zeke got scared. This was when he remembered the stories of the old python that lived on the road and the thieves who sometimes attacked people. When he reached the paved road through the township Zeke felt better. That’s when he got tired. His legs kept moving though. Thando is more important than my painful legs.
For hours he walked until he reached town. There between a stall of maize and a barbershop Zeke fell down quietly.
(Part Two is coming soon.)