When I was 9, there was a very strange boy in my class. He was a trouble maker He was aggressive scruffy and a loner. He was also very fairskinned with white-blonde, wirey hair, which was the strangest thing of all in a predominantly "Coloured" school in South Africa, 1994.
At some point I realised that this strange person had a very strange attachment to me. It may have been because I seemed to be the only person in our school who was not afraid of him. It's likely that I yelled at him about something or the other. The truth is, I was afraid of him, of his unpredictability; I just yelled alot as 9 year old.
So one day while walking home from school, a bolt of fear hit me when I turned to see him following me. I gave him "the evils" and then kept walking a little faster, telling myself that in ten minutes I'd be home and my mother would shoo him away like a stray dog. He didn't try to catch up, he didn't say anything. These things that should have reassured me, only made the air between us more tense.
Finally, I was home. As I opened the door, I turned once more to see him standing at the bottom of my driveway, watching me. I pretended to look through him and rather confidently walked into the protection of my home.
My mother was in the kitchen making burger patties for dinner. I ran to her and began ranting about him. About how much I hated him.
She seemed to ignore everything I said, until I mentioned that he'd followed me all the way home. She wiped her hands and walked to the front door. I knew it! She was going to let him have it. I began looking around the kitchen for the broom, she would need that to chase him. I loved my mum, she really wasn't scared of anyone, not even creepy ghost-boys.
She opened the door wide enough for me to see that he was now sitting on the kerb of the pavement at the front of our house, looking out at the houses across the road.
Then she did the most absurd thing. Something I never expected, never imagined! She called out to him and invited him in.
I remember feeling panic, like a million tiny ants crawling up and down my arms and legs. Did she want to die today? Seeing him walk into my living room was surreal, like a nightmare that you keep willing yourself to wake up from.
She made both of us sit in the kitchen with her as she cooked a few of the beef patties she had made. I tried not to look at him, but I knew he was sitting very still. Very quietly he answered mum's gentle questions. I don't remember anything she said, I don't even remember the sound of his voice. I do remember my confusion and anger at this intrusion, at my mother's stupidity.
She took us to the table and plated up a fat, juicy burger each; with herb flavoured beef, tomoto, beetroot, lettuce and her spicy secret sauce. I ate about 1/2 of mine, sneaking looks across the table as he gobbled his up. He did not look up from his plate once. Despite how quickly he ate, he did not spill a drop of sauce, or one bit of lettuce on his plate or on his thin, holey uniform. Mum brought out another burger and he gobbled that one too.
When he finished, he looked up, his eyes glazed with satisfation. He stood up from the table, blurted a soft "Thank you" in mum's direction and then let himself out.
I sat there, starring at the front door and then at my half eaten burger.
I always think of that. About how I saw that kid everyday, but never noticed what mum did in an instant. How she had ignored my reaction to him. How the external things about him that had repulsed me, were the very same things that made her extend kindness.
He never followed me home again