Stories Competition finalist: Mahase Ntshala

Mom Joyce’s House

Mom Joyce’s house is the only home I knew. It’s the only home Thato, Dineo and others knew as their home too. This was our place of love and comfort. This matchbox shaped four roomed house which, at times, shelters more than six children was a place that produced lawyers, doctors and teachers. It’s a place that turned Thato, a former street boy, into a renowned author. The one that turned Pitso, a former gang leader, into a pastor. A former prostitute, Palesa, into a caring mother to Puleng; her eleven year old son. As small as it is it’s filled with love and comfort especially for most of us who never knew love and comfort before. I’ve been here for ten years and every time I get home it seems like a new place all together with new faces. From long and grumpy faces to smiley and joyful ones, hiding behind their pains and agonies or choosing to suppress their memories from recalling such atrocious ordeals. Like them when I first arrived here I had so many scars I had lost count of. The only thing I knew about myself was that I was abused by my step-father and kicked out of the house by my mother. The day I always choose not to remember. Like them I seemed to have lost hope in life. There was no prospect to look forward to. Life seemed to have dwindled by. Until I met Mom Joyce. I had been staying on the streets for two years when an old lady, more youthful than her age though, greeted me in her white Toyota Corolla. I can vividly relive the day. A rainy and thunderous day it was.

“Hi, young man,” she said with a friendly voice. Typical of Mom Joyce. Always gentle and tender. Full of love and care. I couldn’t understand a lady who chose to be so polite to a street boy like me. I was taken away.

“Hello, mama,” I chose to say. Still skeptical of an old lady in front of me. I could’ve asked her for money like I always do to pass-by’s. But I chose not.

“Can I talk to you,” she said. Cautions of her choice of words yet persistent behind her voice.

“About?” I asked. She got off her car and came straight to me despite the wet weather conditions of the day. I felt safe when I saw her smile. For it had been a long while since I last saw a healthy smile like that. As genuine and sincere as toddler’s. It’s not something you often see on the streets.

“What brings you here?” she asked. Sitting right next to me. And I felt even safer.

After some few exchanges of conversations between me and her I started opening up about my whereabouts and what had brought me into the streets of Cape Town. Yes the very same story I’d like my mind to forget. The one I’d force my memory to erase.

“I was physically abused by my father for two years. When I chose to tell my mother she chased me out of the house,” I said looking at her closely. For I know how judgmental people often became when I told them my story. She kept her composure like Mom Joyce I later came to know and admire.

“I’d like you to move in with me,” She said. Those are the words that had connected me with this four roomed house filled with broken souls that Mom Joyce made her priority to fix.

Like mine stories of most of those who find themselves here are filled with pain but ultimately we come to find joy in this place.  Like Ntombi, a girl who was raped by his step- dad. We became close friends in the “centre” as we call the house. She was also chased out of her house when she confessed to her mother about the ordeal she had underwent. Mom Joyce took her under her wing and as we speak she is studying to become a doctor. She’s doing her second year at the University of Cape Town. She had been staying with us for six years, two years before me, and prior to her leaving for UCT. Mom Joyce made it her point she went back to school, which she had left a year before she came to the centre. She made it her point she gets the best education could offer. Like Pitso, Thami and Lindiwe; all studying at universities, Mom Joyce was the strength behind their academic prosperity.

How we sleep in this house is actually quite funny but that’s the least of our worries. Food is always available. Regardless of how many we are we all have something to eat. How Mom Joyce made provision for food no one knew and quite frankly we cared less. But we knew for a fact come breakfast time breakfast will be served. Come supper food will be available. What a wonderful women she is. I mean she could’ve chose to become a caring and loving mother to her two children but she chose to take us in and give us second chance in life.

Although things don’t always work well for Mom Joyce but her love for us is unending. I remember when she brought a guy by the name of Thabo. He had been staying on the streets for six years. I never really liked him. There was something about him I could tell. But Mom Joyce wanted to hear nothing about our doubts for Thabo. In fact she loved him even more. It was a freezing morning when she came in with him. He had on his back ragged clothes like most of us when we first arrived in the house. He smelled of the streets. Tar road and chimney smoke of the city centre. The smoke from the taxis and the rotten food from the bins we normally dag for eating.

“Listen up here everyone,’ she said as she held Thabo on his right arm with her left hand. ‘This is Thabo. He’ll be staying with us,” she said as everyone applauded for the newest member of our family. All did except Thato. Always complaining of how food is not going to be enough when Mom Joyce keeps bringing more people into the house. That was typical of Thato though, always grumpy and sad. You couldn’t blame him if you knew the kind of upbringing he had to endure. This had become our daily song. New member after another. Some stayed for a while before they went back to the streets. Others couldn’t last a day without smoking glue and in turn running back into the streets. There was something about Thabo though that I couldn’t quite put my finger into.

It was the following day when we heard of the news of his escape from the house. He did not only escape but took with him all the money Mom Joyce had saved for the month. After this occurrence I expected Mom Joyce to be less loving and stricter but like I’ve said. Her love for us was unexplainable. She was still the same Mom Joyce we knew. The one with a heart filled with love and mercy. How I wished I had a biological mother like her. The less said about my mom the better. All you need to know is that she had given her life to a man and alcohol. You see these two controlled her life that even her son meant nothing.    

The house is not that big. This modest yet gorgeous home had less storage but open floor space. Most of the space was consumed by the warm bodies in the house. You could hardly find a room to swing a cat but we knew how to make most of the small space we had. So did Mom Joyce. The house included a relatively compact kitchen with lots of oak cabinets and counter top space. Things such as breakfast bar, pantry and formal dining room were all far-fetched luxury to us. Surrounded by peach and apricot trees but with an easy care yard and on park walking path the yard always looked clean and fresh. It was indeed a relatively modest house that could hardly accommodate four people but in this instance housed more than six children. We could be more at times. Sometimes less. Every time we think we are used to one another Mom Joyce brings a new one. A new member of the family. Mom Joyce as we call her works as a social worker. With a minuscule salary to hardly feed and clothe herself and two biological children, she takes care of all of us. When she’s not working at the centre she is dedicating her time to mentor young men and women especially those of us who seem to have lost hope in life. She is that hope and inspire a belief that not all is lost and we can make something out of our lives.

During the day we all go to school. Mom Joyce goes to work. After school we go to the nearby recreational centre. A prospect Thato never relished. Those who play soccer do so by the soccer field nearby. Those with interest in art and drama heads to the theater and for some of us who don’t have interests in anything we play around. Helplessly looking at the clock for us head back home. After the recreational activities we all make our way home. Upon our arrival we switch to our books. Homeworks and reading will be done. This is what entertained me the most. The second favourite part of my day, after lunch of course. Mom Joyce never compromised when it came to education. She’d always point to the successes of those whom made it to the university from the very same house.

“You can be whoever you want to be. Just believe in it and work hard,” she’d say. We always knew what would come after this.

“Look at Ntombi for instance, we’d say in unison even before she does. That’s how she deeply believed in education. And there’s no doubt in her heart that we’ll all make it in life one day.  

How she started this great gesture of generosity is quite amazing. It was after she met a homeless young woman when she decided she’s going to dedicate her life to helping homeless kids and removing them from the streets. She started a soup kitchen which ran for few months and quickly realized her impact can be far greater than giving homeless kids’ food. For she saw beyond today. She had her eyes on the future of those like me. She then decided to turn her home into a centre for hope.

Mom Joyce had become the epitome of active citizenry and an illustrious community leader. But to some of us she is a loving mother. As I make my way through the University of Cape Town’s great Bremner Building stairs to start my Education degree I can’t stop but reminisce of the great life that was afforded to me by Mom Joyce. With all the intimidating faces about me. With students walking with huge backs and stacks of papers to and from the entrance of the administration building. I can only keep a bold smile. Her smile never flee her. Her contribution in my life is inscrutable. Her value in indescribable. That’s Mom Joyce. The smiles she magically and splendidly took out of me are the ones I’ll never forget. As for her breakfast. I wish I could travel with her for I don’t think I’ll survive a day let alone three months without her mouth-watering and appetizing breakfast.   

Related Articles

SuperNova Castings

Sibanda and Mathe aim to bridge the gap between film and television content producers, production companies and create a sustainable direct entrance platform for local emerging film and television practitioners.