Every day before break-time a collection of funds would ceremoniously proceed headed by Bongani. Bongani was the oldest boy in our class. For some odd reason he was considered slow and both the teachers and the school system had seen it fit to retain him such that he had repeated every grade of his school life at least once.
I had immediately taken a liking to Bongani. He was the only one in class apart from Mrs Skosana, our class teacher, who ‘possessed’ a desk as an individual. The rest of us were, perhaps by default, compelled to share two-to-a-desk. It was an inconvenient way of sharing writing space for me since my elbow regularly ventured into the other’s half of the desk as I tried to copy the ‘marks’ on the chalkboard made by Mrs Skosana. That other was Godfrey and he lived close to Chiawelo. Let me quickly add here that as a result I never scored anything higher than a forty percent in the assessment of hand-writing skills.
Bongani was outstanding in arithmetic, well back then it was called mental. Sadly though, Bongani never showed this brilliance when it came to written class tests. I mentioned earlier the collection of funds, let me elaborate more on this and thus shed more light on Bongani. I also mentioned that the collection was headed by Bongani. Some forty-five minutes before tea-break Bongani would rise from his desk at the very back of the classroom and move from Mrs Skosana’s desk then to all the desks and collect some money. As the new kid in class I misunderstood this procession as the collection of tithes and offerings as they did in church. What was different however about this ‘tithe and offering collection’ was that after handing some money to Bongani, the kids would mumble something barely audible from where I was seated. My imagination conjured that the kids were making some supplications and requests in exchange for their offerings.
I didn’t feel the need to explain myself since I didn’t have any money on me. You see, I carried a lunchbox to school and on certain occasions, perhaps when my parents had sent money over or my grandma had received her old-age grant, that I’d be given no more than twenty cents as pockets money. Many of the kids carried pocket money and I envied them. When Bongani got to the desk I was sharing with Godfrey, he looked expectantly at me. I turned to Godfrey as a means to escape Bongani’s expectant look. Godfrey handed him eighty odd cents and said’ ‘half bazooka enamazambane ne-atchar’.
After Bongani had been to every desk in the classroom a few boys, no more than three, left their desks and followed him out of the classroom. I assumed that they were going to the priest to hand over the money to him for his blessing and eventual spending on soup or bread for the orphaned children at school. You see, I was now attending school at St Martin de Poress on Ngobese Street, Orlando West, Soweto. A few minutes before the ringing of the school bell signalling the start of tea break Bongani and his troops marched back into the classroom. They were laden with parcels of varying sizes wrapped in white paper, similar to that our butcher, Mr. Vilakazi, always wrapped meat in. It wasn’t long before I could ascertain that these parcels contained food from the smell that came from them. The parcels were then handed out by Bongani in the same order as he had collected money from almost everyone in the classroom. When he got to the desk Godfrey and I shared he whipped out the ‘half bazooka enamazambane ne-atchar’ and handed it to Godfrey. It turns out that the contents of the ‘half bazooka enamazambane ne-atchar’ are half a loaf of white bread with potato and gravy stew served with a portion of hot mango atchar.
I instinctively found myself licking my lips at the sight and smell of this mysterious parcel. My lunchbox which contained jam and peanut butter sandwiches with a banana and Oros juice in my favourite bottle did not compare to what Godfrey was about to indulge in as far as I was concerned. My thoughts of devouring this delightful meal were interrupted by the ringing of the bell signalling the start of break time.