Mother was quite a traveler and in the course of her travels she met many people and made many friends, among whom was Mrs. Bongiwe – a large red haired woman whom I did not like.
I would tell Mother this but she would laugh and, in order to silence me, tell me she would not invite Mrs. Bongiwe to the house again. However, because of her unfortunate nature, Mrs. Bongiwe was not one to wait for an invitation.
Wherever she went Mrs. Bongiwe carried a large dark leather handbag and small black umbrella, neither of which ever left her side. What was fascinating about her to a young child was that she was black yet she had a shock of red hair. She had a bulbous nose on her chubby face and a loud and sudden laugh that could give anyone who wasn’t prepared for it a heart attack. She also had a deep voice like a man that I never got used to.
Mrs. Bongiwe was a heavy eater and whenever she was at our house during meal times she would clear her plate completely. For some reason I would at times find her large greedy fingers roaming all over my plate too, which always thoroughly annoyed me.
She and I officially became sworn enemies the day she ate more than three quarters of my packet of Korn Kurls.
From then on it was war.
On about the third time we met, which was on a bright and glorious Friday afternoon, Mrs Bongiwe arrived at the house as I was watching Mr. Bean on the television whilst playing with my toys and eating the large packet of Korn Kurls – my favourite snack food at the time.
When she and mother walked in, Mrs. Bongiwe was as loud as ever, talking at the top of her voice. She saw me and walked over to shake my hand but both my hands were occupied since one was inside the packet of Korn Kurls the other was holding a toy car. I thought a smile would suffice, but pushy Mrs. Bongiwe was having none of it.
She yanked the packet of Korn Kurls out of my hand, shook it forcefully then rubbed my head very roughly. Mother simply smiled as I gave Mrs. Bongiwe a cursing look. I resumed eating my Korn Kurls and playing with my toys while Mother went into the kitchen to organize some lunch.
When Mrs. Bongiwe saw Mother leave the room she decided to join me on the carpeted floor and in doing so, began to attack my packet of Korn Kurls, stuffing them into her mouth while she was talking. Since I had no interest in whatever it was she was talking about, it went in one ear and out through the other.
After about five minutes I decided to have another handful of Korn Kurls. As I put my hand into the packet, I felt it sink in ever further – almost to the bottom. The packet was almost empty! The red-haired hippopotamus beside me had demolished almost all the Korn Kurls.
I looked at her with icy fury. This time she had gone too far and I was determined to take revenge on her in some way. With great emphasis I told Mrs. Bongiwe that she was fat and that I did not like her, which for once left her speechless. I then told her to leave my mother alone and not to come to our house again.
This so outraged her that, after checking to see that no one was present, she put her face very close to mine and punched me really hard in one of my kidneys then said, ‘Listen here, boy. I will not leave, and if you test me I shall remain here forever!’ She released me and sent me on my way with a hard tap on the bottom with her umbrella.
It was my turn to be shocked.
I was the king of my house, yet the appalling Mrs. Bongiwe had just attacked me. Unfortunately I couldn’t do much about it so I headed to my room to cry a little and to plot further vengeance.
Mrs. Bongiwe became a regular visitor to our house and I would always try to avoid her. She was sure to give me a swift kick or a rap on the shins with her umbrella when no-one was looking and, of course, she continued to take food from my plate during meal times.
As the weeks went by it dawned on me that father despised the overpowering Mrs. Bongiwe as much as I did and I decided to take this as a signal for further action. Apparently she had developed the habit of visiting father’s shop and as she walked around she would knock things over with her large bag and umbrella leaving huge damage in her wake. This always annoyed Father but what annoyed him more was how she would hang on his arm and talk very loudly for minutes on end whilst he was trying to conduct business.
This sight always caused much amusement among the workers as Father would look like a cornered deer.
Mrs. Bongiwe came to lunch every Saturday.
I remember how her husband would normally drop her off and then disappear before returning to pick her up after a few hours. He was a tall, shy, very thin man with a bushy mustache who hardly ever spoke.
Normally he would just say ‘Hello!’ through the half-open car window and then leave again. But one afternoon, Mother begged him to come indoors for a few minutes. He did, but when he reached the front door he took off his shoes before crossing the threshold.
This was odd enough, but what I found even more peculiar was that he was not wearing any socks. He took off his shoes and clutching them in his hand he went into the living room behind mother and his wife and I followed behind them. As usual I was observing silently and eavesdropping on the adults’ stories, sometimes pitching into their conversation with my uninvited ideas.
A few minutes after the arrival of Mr. Bongiwe I began to smell something rather curious, which led me to think someone had farted. The smell kept getting stronger, but I knew for sure that no fart was so strong that it gained power as the minutes passed.
As I began to sniff to try and find the source of the smell I noticed mother also wrinkling her nose a little, which confirmed that I was the not the only one who could smell it. Naturally I suspected one of the Bongiwes and to my mind the most likely perpetrator was the immense Mrs. Bongiwe since she never stopped eating.
By now I was determined to find the source of the smell and extinguish it.
First I grabbed a can of air freshener and began to discreetly spray it around. Mother noticed and gave me a warning look but I had to continue as the smell was unbearable. After a few minutes Mother went into the kitchen. I followed her and started talking about the stink.
She confirmed that she could also smell it and said she suspected there was a dead rat somewhere, but I pointed out that the smell was not there before the guests arrived.
After a while Mother led everyone towards the dining table where we began eat snacks. The vile stink followed us. It did not seem to bother our guests at all, which made me even more suspicious that one of them was responsible.
I began eyeballing each of them in turn and when I locked eyes with Mr. Bongiwe, he seemed uncomfortable and became jittery. By then the smell was so terrible that I was beginning to lose my appetite. We had a large oak dining table that could seat twelve people, and I used to enjoy crawling underneath it to hide, especially when there was a tablecloth covering it and no one could see me.
I crawled under the table and there I spotted Mr. Bongiwe’s shoes. He had been carrying them around since he entered the house and it dawned on me – that was where the stink was coming from! I moved forward cautiously and sniffed the shoes and indeed they smelled terrible.
Then I decided to sniff Mr. Bongiwe’s feet and the stench they produced was even worse than that of his shoes.
I crawled out from beneath the table and gave him an accusing look. By then he was looking extremely guilty and was shifting uncomfortably in his chair. Perhaps because I was staring at him he seemed to guess that I knew his feet were the source of the ghastly smell.
The fact that anyone one so skinny could produce such a colossal smell at first made me smile, before my eyes began to water as I tried to choke down my chuckles. Mr. Bongiwe grew even more uncomfortable for he knew it was only a matter of time before everyone else asked me what was amusing me and he was revealed as the source of the stink.
He kept trying to excuse himself so he could leave but he couldn’t interrupt his wife, who by then was on a roll, telling the other two adults some loud involved story or another to do with her travels.
After a few minutes I could take it no longer and burst into laughter which caused the adults to look at me in curiosity. Tears were streaming down my cheeks and after a while I started waving my hand in front of my nose to indicate that something was smelling.
This seemed to shock Mrs. Bongiwe and, surprisingly, she suddenly noticed the smell for the first time. Mother gave me another laden look. Mr. Bongiwe tried to pretend he did not know where the smell was coming from.
When my mother kindly suggested there may have been be a dead rat somewhere – perhaps in the attic or behind a piece of furniture – he took the lifeline and agreed with her. However, my childish mind would not let him off the hook so easily.
I said, “Mother, it’s not a dead rat. The smell is coming from Mr. Bongiwe’s shoes.”
On hearing this my mother gasped and said ‘John!’ sharply in a bid to silence me. Mrs. Bongiwe looked outraged and mother threw the couple an apologetic look. By then there was no stopping me and I told my mother that if she thought I was wrong she should smell Mr. Bongiwe’s shoes for herself.
Mrs. Bongiwe glared at her husband who was completely lost for words and looking deeply embarrassed. In a gesture of defeat he lifted his shoes up and said to me, ‘Here. You can take my shoes outside for me.’
On seeing him extending his lethally-smelly footwear towards me I laughed, screamed, clutched my nose and backed away. I told him I would not touch his shoes. Though mother was managing to keep a straight face, I could see the laughter in her eyes.
Mr. Bongiwe received another stern look from his wife, which he took as his cue to leave and he in turn shot me a dark look laden with malignance. Even Mrs. Bongiwe seemed slightly embarrassed as we all escorted Mr. Bongiwe, who had put his shoes on again, to the car.
He drove away looking sheepish but as usual his wife stayed behind for lunch, though on that occasion she was slightly less talkative. When her husband came to pick her up later in the afternoon he parked outside the gate and stayed in the car.
When Mrs. Bongiwe had made her exit and Mother had walked back into the house, we both laughed until we cried.
From then on mother made sure that Mrs. Bongiwe and I met as infrequently as possible.
I had eventually won.