Mitch & Makhaya

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Herer is Chapter 1 from the upcoming book! Please do let me have your comments.

MITCH & MAKHAYA

Cave of Ages

CHAPTER 1

“Kya!”

A few minutes past, no answer came.

“Kya! Breakfast!” the old black woman shouted as she stepped out of the doorway onto the porch. The low hanging iron roof oozed drips from the morning mist as she looked across the sand roadway towards the tall African grass that led down to the bushy trail to the stream. She took a moment, her thick lensed square tortoiseshell glasses perched on her broad nose as she scanned the quiet scene in front of her.

“That boy!  Always late for breakfast,” she mumbled to herself as she turned around and headed back into the shack, her worn brown slippers squelching on the concrete floor as she stepped back through the door into the kitchen.

Sighing, she looked over at the elderly man sitting at the small metal table in the centre of the tiny kitchen. A plate of eggs, two slices of bread and a small block of ham were neatly placed on a green plastic plate in front of him. His knife and fork held firmly in each hand, he looked up at her inclined his head in a sign of resignation and made as if to begin eating.

“Not yet husband, we wait for the boy another two minutes, OK?”

“OK,” he answered, resigning himself to the fact that his eggs would probably be cold by the time he got to eat.

“It’s just that every day the boy is late. Why I need to wait for him when he can be here I don’t know.”

“It is tradition my husband, Kya has only you and me. We must continue to keep the tradition.”

“Oh Balderdash!” came the answer, “Kya eats when he wants to anyway, so why I must be starving when this is my own house.”

The old lady snorted and walked back over to the stove, her blue chequered apron rubbing against her dress as it pressed against her bulky figure. She turned back and looked at her husband with an expression of slight contempt.

“Balderdash? You with your British words! You would think you were a white man from London when you are just a black man from the veldt!”

“I may be just an ordinary man, Letsy, but this is my house and the boy is my responsibility.”

Letsy smiled. She had been married to Tabo Ndlovu for forty-four years and seldom had a day gone by lately without them having some slight disagreement over Makhaya.

Left behind by their daughter five years ago, they had become the guardians of Makhaya. Their daughter Ntondo having disappeared without trace, was last been seen in the coastal town of Durban by a relative who reported she was with a new man. Ntondo had borne her son out of wedlock to a drifter her parents had not approved of. Their opposition and distrust of him had shown to be true when he left her a week before the birth. Seven years later, Ntondo had gone leaving Makhaya to either fend for himself at the tender age of seven or be taken in by his grandparents. Luckily for him, they had responded to the situation positively.

“I wonder what is keeping the boy this morning?” Letsy mused.

The young black lad sat on his but, sweat running down his face, his eyes staring fixedly forward with total concentration, his smooth shaven head gleaming from the effort. It was clear he was in the presence of danger. No rays of sun shone through yet with the mist hanging low in the air, like it did each morning at this time of year down at the stream, so his sweat wasn’t from heat but from the awareness of the danger he faced.

Makhaya had heard his grandmother calling him for breakfast the first time. He would have preferred to have just run up to the house right away, warm breakfast being much better than a cold meal and an icy stare of disapproval from his grandfather.  However, he dared not respond for fear of making any movement. The result of any movement could, in the current circumstances, prove to be potentially fatal. The thought of a warm breakfast made his stomach rumble but he now had other things to focus his mind on, something right in front of him which, if he made a mistake right now could result in no further breakfasts ever again and a muddy and wet grave.

He had left the house around six in the morning, the mist hanging thick over the fields on the way down to the stream. When he stepped out of the house, he could smell the freshness of the damp in the air and was drawn towards the silence of the morning before the daily life of the farm began its ritual. His own favourite morning ritual was the visit to the stream or the farm dam, watching for the odd fish jumping and seeing small buck which had wandered out of the nature reserve having their first drink for the day.

The farm his grandparents had their cottage on was just north of the nature reserve known as the “Suikerbosrand,” or Sugar Bush Ridge. A portion of the reserve was just a few hundred meters from their cottage and the main reserve was across the R550 road about three kilometres south. The stream had a small farm dam on it which he frequented often to fish, but today he was more interested in being at the stream above it.

Most of all he would look for the trails of buck and other animals and birds that had come down to the stream during the night and then challenge himself to identify each print and what type of animal or bird had made it. This morning had been slightly different.

He felt the perspiration run down his cheek and its salty taste as it slipped into the side of his mouth. He sat dead still on the sand bank, the gurgling sounds of the stream blocked out of his mind as he stared straight forward at the creature waving itself left and right in front of him, its forked tongue shooting in and out of its mouth as it tried to locate the enemy within its range.

He had made the mistake of kicking at a pile of dead leaves and twigs bunched together a few steps away from the stream bank and unknown to him, a huge deadly black cobra, those found in Southern Africa, lay beneath.  Being a fairly cool and misty morning, the snake was alert and had been lying in ambush awaiting any small rodent unfortunate enough to pass by. It had intended to snap up an early meal as a start to another day in its life on the banks of the Queens Stream near the country town of Barberton. Taken by surprise it had automatically gone into attack mode.

Makhaya, on the other hand, was equally surprised but with a difference. He had been thinking about the return to school and seeing more of Sofy, a really cute, but shy, and startlingly pretty girl he had met the previous term. So when he kicked at the leaves it wasn’t to see what was under them. His mind was completely absorbed at the time by the memories of her smiling at him and his plans to say hello to her when school reopened after the Christmas holidays, he being equally shy and having not yet the courage to speak with her.  His mind was far off when he kicked towards the leaves. . .

Suddenly confronted with an angry cobra, raising its front half of its body vertically with its hood extended and the rough white lines glowing at him in the misty light, he had stumbled and fallen backwards onto the sandy bank next to the stream. His hands now on either side of him pressed against the soil and held him in an upright sitting position, his legs extended in front of him, he had forgotten completely about Sofy and was focused on the lethal danger in front of him. The snake was reared up not more than a hands length from his sneakers, waved side to side trying to spot its opponent and the enemy who had rudely destroyed its hideout and hope for a good meal.

Makhaya knew quite a bit about snakes. With his keen interest in nature, he was well aware of the beauty of much of it, but also had a good knowledge, far beyond that of many of his fellow class mates, of the dangers lurking in the wilds. Snakes being one of them.

He cursed himself for being lax and not putting on his jeans. This morning he had just thrown on a pair of old shorts thus leaving his legs exposed and limiting his ability to escape the danger of the cobra. He also knew that his best survival was to keep still. Snakes had very poor eyesight and if one kept as still as possible, they would eventually give up and go away. Or so it was believed.

“Kya! Breakfast is now getting cold!” He heard the call from his grandmother again. But the cobra seemed to have no intention of giving up. Somehow it appeared that it was intent to sink its long curved fangs into his leg, sending poisonous fluid coursing through his veins to his heart and putting an end to his life.

He had to do something. Already he began to feel the seizing of his muscles in his lower back and arms from the strain of holding himself still in the awkward position he had on the sand bank. Not only that, he didn’t want to feel the wrath of his grandmother for missing breakfast!

His wide brown eyes fixed on the snake, he knew he had to make a move. The cobra was not going to give up anytime soon.

As if it picked up his intention, the snake suddenly lunged forward, looking to strike its prey. Makhaya froze. Not even breathing. It had been a mock strike, the cobra attempting to scare its opponent into a sudden move, thus exposing Makhaya in its poor eyesight and giving it a target to strike. Makhaya felt his heart pounding loudly in his chest. That had been close! Had he reacted to the mock strike, he could have been a short way from a painful death.

He calmed himself as best he could, getting his breath back slowly without providing the deadly black creature with any movement.

Estimating the snake to be about five feet long and giving its lifted portion waving in front of him a high of about two feet, Makhaya weighed his options. If he pulled his feet up, his legs would bend and be exposed and give the snake a target. He could not do that. He would have to pull himself back in one fast movement, keeping the soles of his sneakers directed at the snake. If it went for him, he had to make sure its only target was the bottom of the shoes.

He counted to three, didn’t have the courage built up enough and remained dead still, letting out a long breath. He could feel another drop of sweat coming down his forehead, this time aiming for his right eye. He would have to move before it got there as he could not afford to have salt in one eye and give away any advantage he felt he had by having one eye out of focus.

He counted again. At the count of three he pulled himself away from the snake in an incredible acrobatic manoeuvre he would never be able to recount to anyone, not even knowing how he himself did it! In that same instant the mighty snake struck! Its fangs sinking into the heel of his left shoe as he spun around, leaping up the sand bank towards safety.  He gasped as he felt the weight of the snake attacked to his shoe. Crunch! It sounded as he leapt forward, moving rapidly from his right to his left foot. Lucky for him his agility paid off. Unlucky for the deadly cobra, its head was crushed on the rock outcrop as Makhaya landed on his left foot on a piece of rock jutting out from the edge of the sand bank.

The snake had had no chance once its fangs bit into the shoe.

Makhaya shook his left leg, releasing the snake’s fangs from the shoe and dropping off the now dead snake, its body writhing from the last twitching death throws, onto the sand. He instantly ran back up the slope, along the beaten path through the tall grass and acacia trees, the wet grass slapping against his exposed legs as he raced towards the shack.

He arrived on the porch just as his grandmother came out to shout for him again. He stopped briefly to catch his breath then jumped up and put his arms around her chubby neck.

“Morning Gogo, sorry I’m late for breakfast!”

“Yes young Kya! Late again!” She scolded as she extracted his arms and directed him towards the table in the warm kitchen. “What’s your excuse this time hey? Did you get distracted by a herd of elephants today or was it a lion or perhaps a giant snake?”

“Yes Gogo! I was attacked by this huge black cobra Gogo! It tried to bite me but I managed to kill it!”

“Sure my child! “

She looked across at the old man, now happily enjoying his cooled breakfast, a calm smile on his face.

“The boy always has some good stories!”

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3 thoughts on “Mitch & Makhaya

  1. Lovely piece, Paul. Just a few remarks. Would the shack have a concrete floor, or just a dung floor? Most black people eat with their bare hands, not with fork and knife. And the name of the boy, Makhanya, meaning “mother of the home”, would they give it to a boy? The abbreviation to Kya, is that correct? Or should it be Khaya? These are some points I though you should contemplate in the story. Looking forward to the rest of the story 🙂 Gerard

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    • Hi Gerard, thanks for the comment. Really appreciated. On the few point you raise, obviously this is only a snippet of the story. The concrete floor is related to the fact that this is a shack, or modest building, on a farm. The story will clear that up. On the knife and fork, same as the grandfather saying ‘Balderdash’ – he is educated and has some British characteristics because of where and how educated. Again, this comes through later. On the abbreviation, thanks. You are probably correct on this point and it makes more sense. Then finally, Makhaya, the name. I got the inspiration for the name initially from the South African cricketer, Makhaya Ntini. The name is related to “Mkhaya” which has its origins in 1. Xhosa – umkhaya meaning “a neighbour” and Zulu umkhaya meaning “the family.” Later it was mainly used in urban (especially township) parlance with the main meaning being “home-boy.” In chossing the manes, i did need to do some homework. Thanks again for the comment and your input!

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  2. This is a great first chapter! It kept me interested to find out what happened and also made me want to find out more about this boy and his family and his “good stories”. You explained the scenery and characters well and I got the picture in my minds eye. Well done! Looking forward to the whole book

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