My name is Naledi.
I was a member of the school drama club, which, maybe, provided some outlet for my emotional being.
Junior school finished and I passed with flying colours. Unaware of the subtle change that had occurred in me, I went on to Gaborone Senior School excited and chuffed because it was a new beginning.
But hardly weeks into it, I fainted at the morning school assembly. I was pregnant!
My mother had left me and left a note that began ‘keep the fire burning’. I’d never felt so lost, so helpless like I felt at 16 years old.
Where were the people whose prerogative it was to protect, guide and love me?
I had a life growing inside me with not the slightest idea of what I would do with an extra mouth to feed. I kept reliving the past over and over again because I was trying to understand that point of my life. How did I ever end up there? Where was my mother?
When I got home that day, I sat on the floor, curled myself up into the tiniest ball possible and wished for the earth to swallow me. I cried long and hard and rewound the tapestry that was my life at 16 years old.
In 1990, after my older sister Mary finished her secondary schooling, she came to Gaborone, got a job and found herself a room to rent in Bontleng.
Before long, the whole family stacked up in the room. I swear we got by without realising that cabbage was a daily food because mother cooked it in amazingly different ways!
While she looked for a job, father soon developed a very predictable routine. On the 25th day of the month, he performed a vanishing act only to appear in the middle of the next.
With mother working again, we moved to Tlokweng. She came somewhat close to giving us a life we once knew but, alas, only fleetingly!
A week after the chunkiest amount of money in a long time came our way, from the final instalment of the house sale (the last of the two houses in Khuis), father was a homely man for a while.
An incident that involved mother marching, fuming into a bar after she heard of how papa and his mistress were feeling rich and gloating led to a horrible fight between them in which, of course, she was badly beaten, resulting in a twist of fate that was to change my life forever.
A few days later, I found the note. She never touched the money, took nothing but herself and a few of her apparel belongings. She walked; I was 13 and fast changing in every way.
Within weeks, father, Mary, my brother Peter and I moved to a two-bed roomed house and soon Mary went to live with her boyfriend, father to his girlfriend (within the neighbourhood) and Peter and I remained with each other.
The four burner stove disappeared along with most things. The white Cressida we owned before it also got sacked looked beat up in weeks and the whole passenger door somehow came off. Father, deliriously angry, would insist that I sit my bum on that seat and put my seat belt, a comical sight I gather, as everyone laughed at me.
Every basic resource slowly became elusive for us. I found myself having to mother Peter and, of course, myself. Father drifted like a breeze in and out of our lives.
When he was there, he walked with us to the dumping site near what is now RiverWalk. The three of us scavenged for and salvaged whatever appeared edible. Sometimes he came with pet mince and I can still clearly hear him say ‘fry it, it is mince meat.’
Tshepo, the very first boy I ‘knew’, came into my life and went his way as did Sekoloti, my child’s father. Sometimes angels, in human form, crossed my path and helped to carry us into the next moment. The old man, my friend Constance and many others were there to help me on my journey, to my destiny.
Being so far away from being a child or an adult but pregnant is downright painful. A feeling of helplessness almost blends into your every pore as you watch and experience your body take on a life of its own. I grew timid and certainly had thoughts of terminating the pregnancy but so much was simply out of my control. Mary washed her hands off of me, father took me in at his girlfriend’s for a while and up to now I still cannot remember who bought the few baby things that appeared at the hospital after delivery. When mother finally came for Peter and her girl, I certainly felt as if I’d lived an entire lifetime in between. I felt ancient; she had left a little girl. She took us back to Namibia with her.
Peter, dear old sweet Peter, never went beyond his primary education. His young mind just couldn’t take it all but what a pitiful waste considering a brilliant mind he had. His mother, my sister Sandy only took him years later after his step father died. Our lives, once bound together by fate, had taken different paths altogether.
All the times my mother was disfigured but never hid her face and shame for she always opened shop. The hate I and my siblings felt for our father! We actually planned to pour petrol all over him and set him alight and we did pour it but fear gripped us in the end.
I will never understand why father always had to beat and hit our mother outside the house, never behind closed doors, for the whole world to witness, smelling blood, until he drew it.
The daughter I gave birth to, on the very same day I last saw my brother alive, is one of my many blessings in life. She was as quiet as morning dew. It was as if she knew of my precarious circumstances. Every day I got myself up and walked to school as I did, I am my mother’s daughter after all. I am now a proud, happy, educated mother, wife and survivor.
Anger, resentment, bitterness, confusion and helplessness, which so quickly replaced my childhood, have gone from me. I neither harbour blame nor grudge, what good would it serve anyone? I am alive and, man, have I lived!
Every incident and moment led me to this very day I sit and tell you my story. No one can ever take away my conviction that what doesn’t break me can kill me.
My name is Naledi and that is my story.