The sun was descending into the horizon creating hues of orange, purples and yellows. The light cocooned us in a romantic moment and nothing could have been more perfect. I sat with Nate on the veranda, drinking wine and reminiscing about the past. Before us were hectares of lush grapevines. We were celebrating our first year together at a bed and breakfast in Stellenbosch. The conversation had turned to past lovers and I was comfortable with that. In my youth, I had been around the block. I was currently with the man of my dreams and I was content with opening myself up to him.
“So who was your first?”
The question caught me off guard. I turned away from Nathaniel to hide the shame in my eyes. He quickly sensed the change in my demeanour and rephrased his question.
“I mean, we don’t have to talk about it but I just wanted to know the first time you were with another guy.”
I looked up at him with honest eyes and he saw the awkwardness of my past. I could almost smell the air of my home village. Involuntarily, I curled my toes as if to feel the firmness of the earth beneath me.
“Mr. Katembe,” I began, “he was…” I fell silent.
I had never told anyone. I had never spoken of how I became a sexually active. I didn’t like to think about it. When I was younger, I had thought it was what happened to all boys my age. Those were the fruits of naivety. But looking into Nate’s eyes, I knew it was time to unburden myself. I began telling him the story of my sexuality.
The town is bare and the ground is hard; the scarcity of vegetation creates an illusion of infertility. No tree or weed grows out of this barren land so animal life has long since wondered off in search for lush lands. One would never imagine a place such as this can sustain life. The only signs of human existence are the unplastered structures that decorate the town centre. Camouflaged on the outskirts of this settlement are little mud huts. This is the rural town of Subino in the Southern district of Botswana. Most families are large and have far too many children to be able to give each one any special attention. That is where I come from.
I come from a home lead by a misogynistic, drunken father and a strict, religious mother. I have eight brothers and sisters, I am the sixth child. As long as you didn’t kill yourself or each other, my parents really didn’t pay us any mind; they were too busy making ends meet. Papa used to work in the mines until he was severely hurt during his employment. That’s when Mama started praying. He spent the rest of his days as a part-time construction worker and a full-time drunk. Mama was the only stable source of income because she worked for a rich white family fifty kilometres away. She became the breadwinner and Papa resented her deeply for doing his job so well. Papa drank heavily and Mama prayed even more. I’m sure she loved all nine of us but she was too stressed and overworked to show it. My siblings and I learnt to show each other the love we craved from our parents so I can’t really say I had a bad upbringing. For Subino, I think I grew up quite well.
It began when I was sixteen years old. I was enrolled at the Subino Community Junior Secondary School and I excelled at English and Setswana. After school, I was an exceptional goal keeper for our school football team. I lived for the sport and enjoyed the comradery of belonging to a team. Being a young man at that age involved a lot of mischief. On one fateful Friday, my very best friend Thabo had thought it would be funny to drop firecrackers through the window of the pit latrine when Mr. Katembe was using it. You have to understand how much we hated Mr. Katembe; he taught us Mathematics and always made us look dumb in front of the class. Thabo and I had worked five different fields in order to earn enough money to buy a box of firecrackers at the General Dealer. The plan was to wait until break time and if Mr. Katembe went to the latrine, we’d follow him there. Then we’d peek in, to ensure his pants were down and throw lit firecrackers in there. We would then run away and mix with other children as if we were innocent of the crime. As luck would have it, everything went according plan except the fact that we didn’t factor in the distance between the latrines and the classrooms. So we dropped the lit firecracker into the latrine and ran. As we looked back, running from a half naked, angry teacher, we heard uproar of laughter from all the classrooms. There wasn’t a soul in that school who didn’t know who had thrown firecrackers in the latrine. Needless to say, this was the event that propelled me into the path of Mr. Katembe’s advances.
I don’t think I knew I was homosexual at that age. The girls that all the boys liked didn’t interest me at all. I wasn’t bad looking and girls had always been nice to me but I had no desire for any one of them.
The firecracker incident landed Thabo and me in hot water and we were sentenced to hard labour for the rest of the school term. We worked every day after school, supervised and mocked by Mr. Katembe himself. This went on for five weeks. One Tuesday, Mr. Katembe dismissed Thabo because he had allegedly been working harder than I had been. The next day I stayed after school ready to embark on my punishment alone, when Mr. Katembe called me to his classroom. The school was deserted. When I walked into the classroom, Mr. Katembe closed the door behind me and locked the classroom door. He stood before me exuding an air of arrogance and superiority. I should have realised I would be locked in his prison of sexual favours for years to come.
As a Motswana child, it is repeatedly drummed into our heads that you always do as an adult says because adults are never wrong. That day Mr. Katembe made me feel very uncomfortable. He started by asking about my family and our financial position. At first I was hesitant because my father always taught us not to reveal the happenings of our household to outsiders. Gently coaxing, knowingly seducing my resistance, Mr. Katembe brought the truth out of me. I explained how I was the sixth of nine children and also how my dad was a drunk who beat my submissive mother regularly. His concern was evident in the gentleness of his voice and the expression on his face. I tried not to cry because strong African men don’t cry but I was a child and a child can only be strong for so long. Quietly, defeated, I sobbed into my hands, hiding my face from the pity in his eyes. Mr. Katembe then tried to console me; when that didn’t work he told me to sit on his lap and without question I did as I was told. He told me from then on he would protect and take care of me. From that day, he promised, he would make me feel good.
The confusion I felt was overwhelming. I felt uncomfortable putting Mr. Katembe’s private parts in my mouth but it was nice receiving the money and gifts he’d give me. I felt violated every single time he’d reach into my pants and fondle me but it felt good to have someone to talk to and who would advise me. I felt as if Mr. Katembe was the only one who really saw me, the only one who understood me. Thabo seemed childish and narrow-minded now; all he cared about was how many sweets he could buy for Malebogo or who she walked with after school. Mr. Katembe taught me about Marxism, communism, Pan Africanism and all the reasons why the white man managed to oppress the black man. He introduced me to shaving and grooming to ensure my appearance reflected what kind of a man I was. Eventually, I did develop feelings for Mr. Katembe.
In retrospect, I was much too young to be exposed to a homosexual relationship with a man over twice my age. Shamelessly, this man who was put in a position to ensure my safety and education then took advantage of my vulnerability. I could have never prepared myself for my first time with Mr. Katembe.
Towards the end of the year, after writing exams, most teachers allow their students to play games outside whilst they marked their exam papers. This usually lasted a week. The next week report cards were given and school was closed for the year. I was sitting under the tree laughing at Thabo’s frustration. Malebogo refused to speak to him but he kept following her. It was pathetic and gave his friends ammunition to tease him, and so we did. Mr. Katembe called me to his classroom. He told me after school I’d be helping him carry his student’s scripts to his teacher’s quarters after school. I had no problem helping him out with whatever he wanted, sexual or otherwise. My parents were away at a funeral so I had planned to help Mr. Katembe and rush to play with the rest of the boys from my class until the sun went down. After carrying two loads of exam papers into his living room, he asked me to sit down and locked the door.
Mr. Katembe handed me a plastic cup and told me to drink it. Looking down at it, it was fizzy and bitter tasting; it was the colour of blood. I drank it all in one go. He poured me another cup and told me to drink it slowly. I started to feel funny, dizzy almost so I sat down. I could hear Mr. Katembe talking but it was like he was far away. My vision became a series of blurs. Mr. Katembe stood me up and walked me to his bedroom. I still felt funny, definitely dizzy. I could hardly move; it’s almost as if my body refused to act the way my mind told it to. Mr. Katembe laid me on my stomach and that is all I remember. The world swirled into black and unconsciousness invaded my reality. When I came to, it was sunset. My head was pounding and I wondered why I was naked. Mr. Katembe was also naked and he turned to face me. In his eyes I saw a sinister sexual desire and I knew I could not escape him. I didn’t want to do what he wanted but I was scared. Silently, he guided me and I mounted him. In my mind, this was when I lost my virginity. I don’t like to think how he had made me drink alcohol and used me whilst I was passed out as my first time even though that’s when I truly lost my purity; drunk and unconscious.
Nate sat there silently, taking my words in. He took my hand in his and held it.
“Well your story is abhorrent. You were raped Karabo but I guess you know that now.”
I took his words in. He was right. I knew I had been violated but I never thought it was rape.
“I’ve never told anyone that story.” I whispered to Nate.
He kissed me, a sensual, comforting kiss. With his lips on mine, it’s almost as if he was trying to erase the past with the gentleness of his embrace. It made me feel better to face the reality of what had happened to me.
I broke the kiss to ask, “What about you? Who was the lucky guy?”
“Or girl?” Nate chimed in with a cheeky grin, “I was desired by both sexes Mr and don’t you forget that!”
I laughed, “No seriously, tell me.”
And that is when I realised that we had traded places. Nate then looked away to hide the shame in his eyes as I had done to him not long before.
“I mean, we don’t have to talk about it but I just wanted to know the first time you were with another guy.” I heard myself say, the same words he had said to me not long before.
Then I realised that maybe he had brought this topic up not to necessarily hear my story but so he could unburden himself of his. My heart ached for this man who held this pain in his heart. I could only imagine the horrors he had to endure. Nathaniel was an only child, his mother was a nurse and his father had been a General in the Botswana Defence Force. After retiring from the force, his father ran for public office and ended up being Mayor of Gaborone. From a young age, Nate was expected to be perfect. For a long time he did as he was told and exceeded what was expected of him. I was not prepared to hear what he had to say.
What humanity is capable of is truly horrendous. What happened to me was unfortunate but what happened to Nate was unspeakable. I had noticed that Nate kept most people at arm’s length and I had always wondered what had scarred him to the extent that he didn’t trust anybody around him. When he was nine years old, his father was promoted and sent to work in Maun in the Northern region of Botswana. The whole family relocated. The house his father was given was too big for a family of three and so their uncle came to live with them. His name was Tshepo. Nate smiled.
“He used to be my favourite uncle because he always brought me sweets and toys. If he was going to the shops or run errands, he would take me with him. I loved him.”
It then dawned on me where he was going with his story, and I sat there paralysed by Nate’s reality. He explained what his uncle had done to him and it dawned on me how harmful the secrets we carry around were. The sun had disappeared behind the horizon and I sat with my boyfriend in comforting silence. I felt unburdened and at peace. Nate put his head on my shoulder; he had told me something he had never told anyone else. The moment was less romantic than before but our love was definitely stronger.