All Stories, General Fiction, Short Fiction

Siswana by Ntombi K

It was a Monday morning. A village hen clucked at the assembly, looking for its youngling. The school principal, Mister Rakobo, went off with the hen, leaving the assembly divided into several assemblies. The Mocking Birds choral conductor raised a hand, calming the sopranos and tenors that were going this way and that. “Whose mother is that?” inquired some. “Someone must have stolen money or something,” speculated some. “A family death? A bullying case?” Some concluded that this was not the case.

“This is not a choir!” said Mude Mude Sbham’Senyoni, the tallest of all the assembly of short people.

Ending his chat with the hen, Mister Rakobo took the stand, tucking in a shirt that was already tucked. For Mister Rakobo, the air tucking business broke the ice of what was to follow, which often dragged like Mtshilibe’s Maths calculations. Without the hand of The Mocking Birds’ choral conductor, the wandering sopranos and tenors died down.

“This morning, on my way here, I accidentally knocked a bird,” said Mister Rakobo, making to tuck the air.

“Where I come from-”

Eish, eish, eish. Just teeeeellaaaaaas,” said Mude Mude Sbham’Senyoni, leaving half of the assembly in deep stitches of laughter.

“Order!” said the Mocking Birds’ choral conductor. And order did not prevail.

Mister Rakobo made to tuck air. This time fixing his sharp belt – the eater. The one that ate gandaganda to scream mamayoooooohhhh. The one that swiftly restores order.

“Where I come from…” proceeded Mister Rakobo.

“Eiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiish,” whispered Mude Mude Sbham’Senyoni at the back. Soft giggles spreading between the assembly lines.

“When one accidentally hits a bird, err… you must know, there’s trouble coming,” said Mister Rakobo, looking at the hen. “And here we are faced with that trouble”.

“Eiiiiiiiii. Haaai!” said Mude Mude again, bending his knees to match everyone else’s height.

“The woman standing next to me is Siswana Mlotha’s mother, a Grade 7b learner.”

The assembly fell silent.

“Siswana has gone missing, my children.”

“Hhhhhhhuuuuuhhhh! Yoooooh!” sounded the assembly.

“She was last seen on Friday,” continued Mister Rakobo.

“Iiiyoooooooohhhhhhh,” sounded the Grade 7b row.

“I saw her. It must have been early in the morning when I saw her,” said the girl who doesn’t polish her shoes.

“Her eyes were red. She looked like she had been crying,” said the one who always forgets that what you do on the left-hand side is also what you do on the right hand side in Mtshilibe’s Maths class.

“I asked her why her eyes were red and she said she had been fighting with her sister over a slice of bread,” said the one who always colours her exercise books but never finishes her work.

“I offered to share my bread with her during lunch time,” said the bread and butter girl.

“I didn’t see her,” said the forever-clueless one.

“We are going to need your help,” proceeded Mister Rakobo. He tucked the air so that he could announce that those who saw Siswana on Friday should report to his office and that there was a reward involved.

“Mmmmmmhhhhhhhhh,” sounded the assembly.

Singing We Are Marching In The Light of God, the assembly dispersed. And from then on, Thabeng Primary would be filled with many stories about Siswana’s whereabouts. Some would suspect the green taxi that transports pupils in the morning and after school. An uncle who sells cup-cakes would be said to have used sweet flour to snatch the clueless one. The road leading to school would be said to have led the one who forgets that what you do on the left-hand side is also what you do on the right hand side nowhere. A piece of chalk, inanimate, would be said to have solved x. A pink house nearby would be said to have a fridge with Siswana’s ear. But Siswana’s body would be found, months later, inside a pit latrine – at the back of the school. And from that day on, Thabeng Primary would have their first flushing toilet.


Ntombi K

Banner Image: SuSanA Secretariat [CC BY 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

7 thoughts on “Siswana by Ntombi K”

  1. Great story, that shows what is really happening in most schools in South Africa. Such things can be prevented from happening however it takes the death of a learner for us to build safe and clean toilets. It’s really sad


  2. Hi Ntombi,
    It is quite a talent to do humour and tragedy and for neither to take away from the other.
    Humorous, perceptive and poignant.


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