The couch

2014-10-29 00:00

WHEN I woke early this morning in my own room, I found myself wondering about my life and the “secrets” I have learnt along the way.

As the light outside grew stronger, I suddenly realised these secrets were right there in my small room; the fan said “stay cool”; the roof said “aim higher”; the window said “see the world”; the clock said “time is precious”; the mirror said “reflect before you act”; the calendar said “be up-to- date”; the door said “push harder for your goals”; the mat said “kneel down and pray” and even the toilet had something to say.

It said “flush down the haters who don’t want to see you prosper”.

Life in South Africa has really been a challenge; being in a foreign country is never easy, but it was that feeling of being alone that cost me a little piece of my soul — a hole I know I will carry with me for many years still.

I arrived in this strange place called Pietermaritzburg a little more than two years ago and since then I have seen so many amazing things I have sometimes felt like a confused dog being pushed for the first time in a wheelbarrow.

When I came to this town, it was nearly impossible for me to find work. Although I was here legally, I knew nobody, I had no formal qualifications and no family to support me emotionally. I soon realised my greatest asset was my mind and I needed to put it to work if I was going to survive.

I woke up early every morning, took to the city streets of ’Maritzburg and accepted any work I could find, regardless of the weather. There were days when the sun threatened to beat me down and the big, red city hall seemed to be scowling at me, reminding me I did not belong in this place. There were many days when the pennies I earned could not buy me food and the idea of getting up the next morning to do it all over again seemed pointless. But, there was no one to complain to; no one who really cared. I shared a room with four other guys during those first few months and on the last day of each month there was R1 200 rent to be paid. Sharing the room meant sharing the food and I was the outsider, the new guy. I guess it was easy to push me around — at least it may have seemed that way in the beginning.

I came so close to just turning around and going home, but I couldn’t. My family needed me to stay and crying about things would not feed them; it would not fix their struggles; it would achieve nothing. And so I stayed.

I only had two sets of clothes; the decent ones I had arrived in from Zimbabwe and the ones I wore when I went looking for work along the routes of the city that were now so familiar to my feet. I had become one of the street children of ’Maritzburg, unkept and unwanted. For an entire week I lived on water and the occasional R2 apple I was able to buy for myself. I kept saying to myself: “You can’t die now, your family needs you.”

October 12 was a cold and rainy day, and it was the day a white man with a big moustache and a very bad temper changed my life.

The van he was driving had Mike’s Mini Moves painted down the side. He pulled over at the traffic light and called out he was looking for three guys who did not smoke. A group of us stepped forward and he signalled for me to get into the van. Some of the guys standing with me shouted complaints: “He’s too small”, “He is too weak, take us instead”, but the man looked at me and nodded his head that I should get in and I did not hesitate to follow his orders.

We arrived at some place and the man told us we were there to move furniture. He turned to me and said: “Can you do this job?” I held his stare and told him I could. He warned me he would be very angry if I broke anything, but his words didn’t scare me. All I could think of was my hollow stomach and the food these wages would buy me. We worked quickly until all that was left was this long couch. The man looked at it for some time and then he shook his head and said to get it out of the house we would either have to remove the door or take out a window. I thought I had an idea that would work, but I could tell he was very frustrated and his look told me it was better to say nothing. Mr Don, that was his name, told me to wait at the house while he dropped off the final load of furniture, so I stayed behind with a young white guy about the same age as me. When Mr Don had left, I tried to convince the guy we could take the couch out without any need to remove the window or the door. He thought I was crazy: “Do you know Don bru? He will damage you if you damage that couch!” I had guessed Mr Don had a quick temper, but that day I was determined to prove my point. Finally, the young guy agreed we would try my plan and when Mr Don returned, he found the two of us sitting on the couch outside the house. He said nothing, but he walked around that couch checking for any evidence of a scratch or a mark — in fact he checked twice! When he dropped me off later that day, he handed me a R200 note. I started to walk away, but then I thought he must have made a mistake, so I went back to him and asked if he had maybe meant to only give me R100? When he told me the money was mine, I felt my face smile in a way it had not for a long time. I even whistled on my way home, but I kept my hand in my pocket holding on tight to make sure that note was really there.

From that day this city slowly became my friend. I met many good people; I found extra work at the ’Maritzburg Bowling Club in Alexandra Park, so I was finally able to buy myself some new clothes and soon I even owned a Samsung cellphone. On January 21, the people I had met at the club planned a birthday party for me; it was the first birthday I had ever celebrated in my life! Madam Liesl surprised me with the most beautiful birthday cake I have ever seen and many others spoilt me with gifts and a braai with more meat than I could have ever imagined.

The months have passed quickly since that day. I still miss my family deeply and there are days when I feel a sadness I cannot completely understand. This once strange place called Pietermaritzburg may not be my home, but I finally feel like a welcome guest here and I know for the first time in many months I am no longer alone.


Gerald. photo.


Jerald Mavhurambudzi: “I am 22 years old and, at the age of 20, came to South Africa to provide a better life for my family in Zimbabwe, whom I only see once a year. I am now a popular barman at Maritzburg Bowling Club. I am very grateful to the president of the Maritzburg Bowling Club and its members for giving me a job, because I can now provide adequately for my family. I am inspired by my parents who educated me through troubled times. I am very passionate about anything to do with travelling and I like exploring the world and its wonders.

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