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Current A.W.



Phephelaphi Dube



Phephelaphi Dube

Phephelaphi Dube, 29, is a Zimbabwean lawyer currently working as a researcher in property law at the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa



 The Teacher

The siren sounded to signal the beginning of the lesson. They quietened with the exception of the ones at the back. The ones whose voices had broken. The ones who felt the beckoning call of manhood. Who was it that had told him how young elephants would challenge the leader of the herd to a duel, defeat the older elephant, take its place and leave it to roam forlorn before some other creature would sink its sword like teeth into its tendons?

Sometimes that is how he felt. And he knew they could smell the fear. He could sense them drawing closer. Often times he would wake drenched in sweat with the pain of one whose tendons have been severed by a sword. He does not know if she is aware of his sleeplessness. Either way, she would draw the Chinese made duvet tighter around her and continue with her sleep. Theirs is not a relationship founded on love but rather practicality. She, advancing in years and having sold her prime years to another who promised marriage as soon as he had enough cattle to afford her as a second wife. It was on the day that she learned of his new conquest that she had approached the teacher. She announced her intentions in a matter-of-fact way.

There was talk, she said.
“Yes. About you.”
“About me?”
“Yes. You and girls”
“What sort of talk?”

He was bewildered and uncomprehending as would become one who knows no ill and has done no wrong. Her eyes had stared intently into his, seeking to convey a deeper understanding. When his eyes took on a misty haze, that was her cue to continue. As one accustomed to placing orders at the rundown tin roofed hut they called the store, she informed him that he would no longer be living the life of a single man. She would, from that evening, cook for him, clean his quarters, and fetch his water. Perhaps it was her audacity or her calm reassured voice, but he did not object. That is when he saw the malicious shadow behind the deep, pooled, eyes. That is when he knew that she despised him, despised his weakness, and despised his very being. He should have said, no. He should have objected strongly to this woman who, aphid-like, foisted herself onto his life. Yet, he did not; and she despised him for it. He felt the mass rising within him and like all other times it stopped at the base of his throat, choking any words he may have had. That is how they had come to be.

The girl today sat in the front row, next to the only boy who has any real chance of breaking out of the cycle of farm labourers and general hands. He is surprised, and maybe it shows, for she gives him a half smile that transforms her adolescent form into gracious womanhood. He notices her parted legs underneath the desk, sees a flash of dark brown thigh and for that fleeting moment allows his thoughts to seek the darker places that reason forbids.

He attempts to speak. He fumbles. Raucous laughter from the back. The mass rises again. His left hand rises to meet the mass at the place where his tie meets his neck. His right hand straightens the tie, whilst simultaneously running the length of the tie. The tie feels old and worn out. He imagines that the girl sees this and he feels the grey cloud of self consciousness overwhelm.

He picks up the book “Harvest of Thorns” It is the prescribed novel for the class that would write the exams that would further entrench the rigid class structure so cleverly established by the British in the days when the sun did not set on the British empire.

It is the only copy available. He dares not to ask the students to provide their own copies. Their attempt at a school uniform is barely discernable in the odd assortment of rags that they wear daily. He is uncertain how to begin. He watches himself stumble over the first few sentences. He does not look up. He fears the looks of indifference. He fears that they will confirm what he already knows – that they are united in their failures. The siren rings again. Forty-five minutes have gone by. The scrapping of chairs displays impatience but they remain seated. The ones at the back have already stood up, the challenge gauntlet thrown at him. He waves his hand in dismissal and they begin to troop out, energised by the end of the lesson.

The two remain. The girl is one of them. The boy approaches him first – question forming on his lips. The teacher’s heart stirs. The mass rises, flooding his stomach, bringing with it memories of himself in another time. He remembers the promise of a better life, the chance to rise above fate’s expectations and above one’s lot. It is Friday, he says. Could he take the book home to read over the weekend? Wordlessly he hands it over. The boy clutches it to his chest but does not move, glancing instead at the girl. She lowers her eyes and takes a step forward. The teacher feels the violent surge of the mass. He nods to the boy in dismissal. And then he is left with the girl. Alone. He sees her taut, bidding, bra-less chest. He can almost make out the dark ring around her nipples underneath the white school blouse that that seen too many washes and too many owners. She is oblivious of the pounding mass that assaults the teacher. He sits on the chair, eyes focussed on her lips. He makes out that she would like extra lessons but he cannot hear her words. He is reading her lips and watching for her tongue.

It is then that she walked in. The woman. It is Friday, the last Friday of the month. As she does on all last Fridays of the month, she comes to the classroom directly to accompany him to the store where he will cash his salary whilst she collects her share of it.

The girl with understanding beyond her years leaves without an answer. Two pairs of eyes follow the girl to the door. One pair lingers longer than the other. The woman looks into the teacher’s eyes, and then she knows.


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