For most of my growing up years I was afraid of boys. I don’t know why. It could have been from stories about pregnancy. It is possible that I overheard, a conversation between my older sisters and cousins saying boys could impregnate girls. And either I missed it or they omitted the ‘how’. So I probably got the impression that walking around with a boy could make one pregnant. Or maybe my fear was informed by village gossip. Perhaps one of the popular girls in the village, got pregnant – and I heard the under-the-breath talks at the clinic when I had gone to collect malutu.
It is not possible that I had an inherent fear of boys. It was either I heard or seen something. I can’t rule out parental influence but I don’t remember my parents warning us about of boys. I recall though that child-bearing was for big people. And we were to keep away from anything out-of-bounds.
The only boy I remember often walking around with was Nako, my brother and cousin in one. In fact it was my sister, Atlasaone, Nako and I. On most days we walked to and from school together, I think up to standard 3. And we were often the first to arrive at Pilikwe Primary School. The gate would be closed, not locked, just closed to keep out the goats and donkeys. I would refuse for us to open the gate, scared it was not allowed. Some days I prevailed and we would wait for MmaKefhilwe, a standard 2 teacher. She lived nearby –and was often the second to come after us. But on most days my mates had none of it. I didn’t know where they got the guts. I mean, the gate could have been closed by the principal – and it only made sense to have it opened by some kind of authority.
The fear of boys was a tough kind of fear. These people were everywhere. It was easy when we were in a group, but alone, it was distressful. I used to change routes. That meant getting off the road and giving the boy the freedom to have the entire road to himself. Ridiculous! You think.
I think it is also possible that I had on more than one occasion, seen a boy twisting a girl’s hand and was told it was because the girl was ‘refusing’ him. I am probably mixing up stories now. Have I actually seen this or is something I heard later in life. But if boys indeed twisted girls’ hands, then my fear was justified. I have always had low tolerance for pain. Yes I had my share of beatings in the hands of primary school teachers especially from standard five. My parents had graduated us to big boys and girls around that age. We had to bathe ourselves in the morning and find our way around with minimal help. Late coming visited often.
I don’t really have bad memories of beatings at school, except one. The day my standard 6 teacher beat me so hard, I grieved for days. I was crying in class. I don’t know for what. I used to just cry. On this day, Mr. Molodi* just snapped. He had had enough, I guess. I wonder whether it was a result of the beating or I just out grew it. But I don’t remember crying as often after that. Even my relationship with Molodi changed. He became overly protective; often convincing other teachers to forgive me. I hope he felt guilty.
“Oesi o tshaba thupa mo e leng gore gaa kake a lofa hela go sena lebaka….” He would say.
That would be my passport out of a packed classroom of wrong doers. You won’t believe the sins we were often punished for; missing choir practise, not showing up at the fields for clean-up – mundane things like, and of course late coming and may be on rare occasions just crying.
He was a good man. I have nothing but fond memories of him. But for years I could not talk about this particular beating. It was cruel. It was the first and last time I had experienced such horror. And it is the first time I talk about it.
I don’t intend to make conclusions about my fear of boys. It would probably be a lie.
In our family, girls outnumbered boys. Chores were seldom divided along gender lines, so we just grew up as a bunch of children with little care about our gender differences. We did similar chores, often together –and I think because of this, the boys at home were kinder and friendlier than regular guys. So maybe they did not prepare me enough for the world outside home, where boys were boys and girls were girls.
Some boys in the village had Humber bicycles, and they would be whistling behind you, because they had something important to say tell you. Important? Imagine. It didn’t matter whether you tripled or quadrupled the pace, you could not out run the Humber. I experienced Humber moments. Frightening and embarrassing…