Jailbirds and Others The foreign teacher

The Foreign Teacher

The Foreign Teacher

     Peering through the window, they could see her, crouched in a corner, eyes rolling, two white vortexes in a pitch-black face with pigtails sticking out like little thorns around it.  
    “Eh, she looks mad. I told you she was a witch.” Mrs. Chauke, the large woman who lived down the street, shuddered, “Lucky my Kulani didn’t come for lessons today.”  
    “Send for the inyanga,” muttered Mr. Maswanganyi, another neighbour, “he will beat out the evil spirit.”
    “Au, she is a very good teacher. I don’t think she’s a witch.” Mrs. Maluleke was delighted with Nyeleti’s progress in Margaret’s school. “Nyeleti likes her very much and look how good she speaks English. Just like Shangaan.”
    Mr. Maswanganyi who had not taken his eyes off the woman said, “Something’s wrong. We must get her out. She might die.” But the windows were shut tight and secured by burglar bars. Only a small fanlight was open. “That window up there ...but it’s too small....”
    “I’ll call Nyeleti. She can climb through.”  
    Mrs. Chauke became frantic. “Don’t let her out! She’ll kill us!” With a little scream, “Look, she’s moving; coming near the window.”  Mrs. Chauke backed away from the window, out of the gate, and ploughed into the muddy road churned up by recent floods and covered with pools and dongas.
    Mrs Maluleke ran to the fence, “Nyeleti, Nyeleti, come quickly. We must help your teacher.”
    Mrs. Chauke, ankle-deep in mud, turned in horror. “Are you mad? Are you going to send your daughter in there with a witch? What if she kills her?”
    Nyeleti, who had been watching TV, came running out. Mr. Maswanganyi hoisted her up and her skinny little frame slithered through the fanlight. When she saw her teacher in the corner, Nyeleti got a fright but pulled herself together and approached cautiously. Meanwhile, her mother and Mr Maswanganyi were shouting to her to get away from the teacher and open the front door. But Nyeleti crept up behind Margaret, took something from her pocket and slipped it into her teacher’s mouth. Within a few minutes, the woman came round. Her eyes focused normally and she stood up. She saw Nyeleti and smiled.
    “Hullo, Nyeleti, what are you doing here? Did you come for a library book?” Then Margaret saw Mr. Maswanganyi and Mrs. Maluleke knocking wildly on the windows. She opened one. “Hullo, Sam. Hullo Martha. Why are you standing outside? Come in. Come in.”
    Mrs. Chauke struggling through the mud shouted out, “What’s happening? What is she doing now?  Is Nyeleti dead?”  
    Margaret called to her, “Hullo, Beauty. Does Kulani want a library book?”  
    Margaret Anan, a tiny woman from Ghana, had come to South Africa to teach English in a private school in Venda. After the contract expired, she was left to her own devices. Being very resourceful, she opened her own school to which the locals gave full support. But they were suspicious of her. She was foreign, very black, walked too fast, was all alone and had the magical ability of getting children to read and speak English fluently within a year.
    When Mrs Chauke saw Margaret at the window, smiling and inviting her to come in, she swung away, staggered through the mud and huffed to the safety of her own house. Margaret shrugged and turned to Mrs. Maluleke and Mr. Maswanganyi, who had entered the room. They kept looking nervously from her to little Nyeleti. Mrs. Maluleke stared at her daughter. What was this child? What muti had she given this woman?  
    “Are you feeling all right now, teacher?” Nyeleti took Margaret’s hand.
    “I’m perfectly fine. Why do you ask?”
    “You were in the corner, your eyes all white.”      
     “What are you talking about? I was having a nap. Goodness, it’s six o’clock. Have I been asleep that long?”  
    “Nyeleti came through the window. You didn’t see that?” Mrs. Maluleke burst out. “She put something in your mouth and then you were all right.”
    Mr Maswanganyi turned to Nyeleti, “What did you put in her mouth?”
    “A sweet.”
    “A sweet?” Mrs Maluleke and Mr Maswanganyi turned incredulous eyes on Nyeleti.
    “When my ma’am feels sick, she eats sweets.”
    Then it dawned on Margaret. “Oh my, I must have had an attack.” She picked Nyeleti up and gave her a big hug. “You clever girl.” She turned to Mrs. Maluleke. Your daughter saved my life. I’m diabetic. When my blood sugar drops too low, I lose consciousness. I always carry sweets in my bag in case of an emergency.”
    Mr. Maswanganyi and Mrs. Maluleke just stared.
    The locals never quite got over this event but they continued to support Margaret’s school. In fact, she was overwhelmed by the demand. As long as her witchcraft enabled their children to speak English fluently, they accepted her magical powers. But they remained vigilant.

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