Image: William Stitt (StockSnap.io)
Thambo has dreamed of this day for months on end. Lately, some nights are sleepless from anxiety of the unknowns now thrust at him. His 21st birthday added some pressure. He “has become a man”, “must not shame his father’s name among white men”, “must prove himself to his first love, Ciana”... All these things on his mind at once rouse the urge to sneak out of his skin sometimes. Where Thambo finds solace is in a small book he’s been reading and re-reading since he fell in love with the newly opened small public library, built as a donation from a missionary couple that has lived in Chidabe since time immemorial. He gets special access to books because mother has worked for them for 10 years, and Ciana is their only daughter.
The book-German in 3 Months-is meant to teach Thambo enough of the language to get around when he gets to Berlin. It’s been tough so far, but persistence is one of the most valuable virtues athletics has taught him. He draws inspiration from his father who gained wide acclaim from his work as an interpreter in and beyond Chidabe. First for the missionaries and now at a local NGO, Institute for Human Rights. He translates mainly English and Setswana, but also learned French and Swahili just in case. Growing up, Thambo’s old man always referred to his own journey, “I taught myself English, from dictionaries, the Bible and readings of the great philosophers. It’s in our blood.” Thambo can now greet, say goodbye and hurl a few insults just in case he needs to stand up for himself.
The man Thambo is growing into, he too is yet to figure out. Little does he know that tomorrow, at exactly noon, Ciana will walk up to him in silence. Little does he know that she will reveal the truth--that she is a mother and he, a father. Little does he know that exactly one month from his trip, the equally distressed girl will tell him she lied and that the new young maths teacher at the village secondary school and son of another missionary couple is the father. Little does he know that her mother secretly resented the fact that their daughter was in love with a black boy, and secretly encouraged Thomas to pursue and woo her…
Thambo calls Ciana at 8:00 pm every evening, after dinner with her family. She has become his diary of sorts. The person he turns to for comfort ever since his athletic journey began and even more after his victory; his source of encouragement to press on despite his fears. Tonight, she is more reserved, less bubbly but more or less normal. She says it is that time of the month. He understands.
Tomorrow arrives, Thambo makes it out of bed early for his run. He has built endurance and doesn’t struggle as much as he used to. It’s a month and a half away and “it’s no longer a matter of your comfort. You must get up and do it anyway!” Coach Kitale now often exclaims. At 9:45 am, he runs to Ciana’s family house, in between the library and school. She is seated at the porch, pretending to read. Thambo embraces her as usual and is quick to start bragging about his progress with German. He stops to ask what is wrong and she pauses, then tells him.
In a daze, he walks down the stairs. Unsure of what all this means, let alone what he’ll tell his dear tongue-speaking Christian mother. For all he knows, she will not abandon him but still, what will he say? He continues practicing daily, running is the only thing that keeps him sane these days. Thambo can’t bring himself to tell his parents. A month later, Ciana calls and reveals the next truth, and the rest come tumblind down. As if the the first was not enough...