Jabu Collins Mazibuko was born to an abusive father and docile mother. The fields near his house were an escape for him. The long grass provided shelter and hiding from his father who would beat him up and beat even more when he cried. The fields were rich with life: birds, small lizards, rodents, cats, snakes, grasshoppers and butterflies. The chirping of the birds, the whistling wind running through the bristling dry grass, the rustle of lizards chasing each other and the butterflies floating in and out of the reeds calmed him but as he grew older, they did not have the same effect. He began killing birds with his sling shot and dissecting them for pleasure. He moved on to cats and found a new fascination of skinning them with a sharp stone. Jabu was a loner, a child with a speech impediment and learning difficulties, his outdoor hobbies were a refuge where he did not need to pretend about who he was.
He enjoyed kung fu movies and wanted to be a kung fu master, he imagined killing his father brutally in an epic last scene battle. He asked his mother to study martial arts but she encouraged him to focus on his studies so that he could become a doctor, for a while he believed he could be a doctor, a surgeon who sliced people open just like he did with the animals. He imagined all the ways he could kill his father as a doctor, he could slice him open while he was awake and rip out his organs one by one. The learning difficulties evaporated because of his plan, he ran through his studies and killed more animals even bigger ones such as goats and pigs.
In his teens, he assisted an old man who sold livestock on weekends, the man stationed himself by Jabu’s favourite fields and Jabu secretly observed until one day the man shouted at him to show himself. He was old but he had grown in the wilderness of Limpopo; he could hear the breathing of every living being and could tell when Jabu was hiding in the grass. He was gentle with Jabu, listened to him when he spoke, brought food for him and paid him a commission for every goat sold by him. The old man knew of Jabu’s horrendous habits and so as a distraction told Jabu long tales, entertaining whimsical tales of a bygone era, tales that he hoped would halt the angry volcano bubbling within the boy’s teary eyes.
People were no longer cultured to slaughter live animals because the skill was slowly corrupted, extinguished through colonialism and modernity. Jabu’s skills were self-taught, he had a meticulous manner of killing, skinning and dissecting that even old cultured men were envious of, and because of this skill he was often sought after for many cultural events for his services. The cow, the goat, the chicken, the sheep and the pig, he looked all of them in their eyes before plunging in his large knife given to him by the old man as a parting gift before he parted from the world. He advised Jabu to use it with dignity and sincerity, and most importantly on animals only. He listened and followed on the old man’s advice because he loved him like a father should, he saw him for who he was and loved him wholly.
The old man passed and Jabu was getting too tall for hiding in the grass. He was his father’s height and could look him straight in the eyes but that did not stop the beatings, he seethed with anger and spent his time sharpening his knife. The grass no longer a refuge, he sought to make friends but his speech impediment, a painful stutter, was an impediment to connecting with the fast-talking boys of the community. The local library became his hangout, there he read large books on anatomy, the impoverished library only had three copies and he read them over and over again, growing his knowledge on the intricate interior of the human body.
The books were a gleeful reminder that one day Jabu would be able to kill his father, he would rip every organ out leaving his heart for last, he ruminated on the process until the librarian rang a gold bell signalling the closing of the library. He wrote his final year exams with ease especially the last one which was a language paper and afterwards ran home to celebrate with his mother but found the house filled with police cars, her mother on a stretcher and his father in handcuffs. His dream of performing live surgery was taken away and worse his mother died from her injuries. Jabu changed course on that day and decided to be a police officer; his father would not get away so easily.
He got into the police academy easily because of his high marks and fitness. He quickly became popular with the cops because of his discipline and made friends. He even got a girlfriend, something he never thought he could achieve and she was the one who taught him to forgive his father. She was able to weave his hazy history and create a high definition picture, a guide that pointed out that all the stories the old men told him were for his salvation from the anger, the hurt, the helplessness and vengefulness. She was the perfect partner until she was not, of course he decided when she was good and when she was bad: when she did not smile around him, when she did not receive his gifts, when she laughed too loud with her friends because he thought they were gossiping about at him, and when she spoke to the male officers for too long. The relationship suffered under his delusions, and even though she judged him to be innocent given his family history, she chose safety over love because he was capable of killing; he had threatened to do so many times in many arguments; too much had been stuck to his soul and she was not equipped to clean it all off.
Officer Mazibuko liked Easter eggs, they were a delight his mother often bought him after church service. He had enlightening spiritual epiphany at the age of nine under the colourful stained glass of the Catholic church but his father beat him out of it. He beat out all the light that effused from his inner being; darkness remained and he chose it daily because the light only further exposed how treacherous his life had been. It was day seventeen of the lockdown and he was patrolling the streets with his small car, while other officers liked to drive the latest models, he chose the smaller and older cars in order to blend in and come across nonthreatening. An opened box of marshmallow Easter eggs were placed on the passenger seat where his partner should have been positioned but she had called in the morning, sounding drunk, that she would not be able to make the shift. Jabu was elated because he preferred patrolling on his own. He grabbed a blue packet Easter egg with his one hand, ripped it open with his teeth and ate the chocolate away just like how his mother used to. The streets were empty, except for a few children who ran when they saw his car, they ran into a field and hid behind the long dry grass.
Officer Mazibuko drove to the field, switched off his car and walked into the field holding the box of marshmallows. He stood still looked up at the blue sky and closed his eyes. The children stayed still in their hiding place but in panic whispered to each other. Officer Mazibuko pretended not to hear them, he listened for the birds whistling and lizards running in the reeds, then he opened his eyes and slowly walked up to the children’s hiding spot. The dry reeds snapped with each step causing the children’s panic to further escalate. He leaned over the reeds when he saw them and hovered over their tiny skinny bodies: they were frightened and played dead by digging their heads into the ground and remaining still. He threw an Easter egg down and they immediately scrambled for it; the possum game was over. He gently instructed them to stand up and explained to them that it was dangerous to be out because of the Corona virus, then he handed them the box of marshmallows and told them to run home. He kept one for himself to give to Neli if and when he should come across her.
Lockdown is the original creative work of Nobantu Shabangu