Another Woman's Daughter

Free Another Woman's Daughter by Fiona Sussman

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Authors: Fiona Sussman
pencil, announcing the end of morning lessons, and then the class was spilling out into the sunshine. I followed my brothers—Christian, Nelson, and Alfred—into the clearing. Nelson had a soccer ball tucked under his arm.
    Despite their different ages, my brothers all took their lessons together in the same classroom. The school consisted of only one room. Master Davis had set it up for the children and grandchildren of the laborers on his farm, and because my
makhulu
worked for him, my brothers were allowed to attend.
Mme
said they were lucky they didn’t have to walk all the way into town for their lessons, like some of the other black children. The journey was almost two hours on foot, and that was just one way.
    Mudedekadzi
and the children built the classroom themselves. Master Davis put up the money, and the children the muscles. The building stood in a forest clearing surrounded by sweet-smelling pines. The walls of the school were plastered with red clay, and the roof was made from sheets of rippled iron.
    At break we lined up in front of
Mudedekadzi
, who stood guard over a tall urn the farmer’s truck had delivered that morning. As I was a visitor, I was treated like a very important person and invited to stand at the front of the queue to receive the first mug of milk. It was warm and creamy and tasted much sweeter than the milk
Mme
would buy from the shop in Johannesburg. I had to drink it down quickly, though, because the child next in line was waiting for the mug.
    When we’d all drunk our share, it was time to play. Everyone, from seven-year-old
piccanins
to fifteen-year-old boys with hair on their faces and girls with ripening bosoms, spread out over the grass. Even I was allowed on the pitch. Four boys hauled a pair of logs into goalpost positions while the rest of the class was divided into two teams—Leopards versus Lions. I was a Lion.
    Mudedekadzi
blew her whistle and the game began. Soon the ball was being headed and shuffled, dribbled and passed, and goals were shot to howls of delight.
    At halftime the Lions were behind by one goal.
    Then it was Christian taking control of the ball. He darted across the field, dodging his opponents, and just as the goalie rushed him, he kicked. What a kick! The ball shot past the keeper, through the posts, and into the surrounding trees. We screamed with delight—the score was even.
    But just as he booted the ball, the seam of my brother’s shorts split. Our cries of celebration turned to screeches of laughter as Christian stood in the middle of the clearing with a gaping hole in his gray school shorts. You could see right through to his red underpants. Even
Mudedekadzi
had to hold her sides to stop her bosom from bursting out of her blouse.
    Then she was clanging her wedding ring against a tin mug to announce the end of break time. It was time to gather in the shade of the trees for a song.
    I sat down on the pine-needle carpet with the others as
Mudedekadzi
taught us the latest song from the public health nurse.
    â€œJust one teaspoon of sugar, a pinch of salt, four cups of water, and see what you got. You got a re-hy-dration solution, a re-hy-dration solution. Yes, you got a re-hy-dration solution to keep you safe from the trots!”
    â€œMiriam?”
    I looked up. It was Mrs. Dee, not
Mudedekadzi
Mafela . . . I was back in England.
    After number skills, we had a lesson from the Bible, some handwriting practice, and then a story on the mat. Mrs. Dee was in the middle of reading us a story when the bell announcing “elevenses” rang. She stopped immediately, right in the middle of a sentence. I never got to find out what happened to the sailor on the sinking boat, because the door was flung open and everyone began pushing and shoving to get out. I followed. All the doors into the corridor were open, just like an Advent calendar on Christmas morning, and children were tumbling out. I was bumped down some stairs,

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