Puku Review
by K. Astre
December 2018

In “Chasing Shadows,” author, Palesa Manaleng, tells an emotional story through the eyes of Muvuseni Themba Dumakude, a thoughtful eighteen-year-old who nostalgically reflects on his family’s difficult past as he moves towards his future. Born and raised in KwaZulu-Natal, Muvuseni journeys to Soweto in hopes of discovering parts of himself and a relationship with a father that has left him with nothing, but questions and feelings of abandonment. What he finds fuels his path forward and leaves the reader with an understanding that his life will forever be changed.  

Manaleng’s writing is straightforward, methodical and sets the tone for a somber tale of a family whose patriarch allows his ego and desire to convince him to leave them. She lets her main character seamlessly take the reader between the past and the present as she paints the picture of a teen-aged young man in pain who had learned to deal with deep disappointment by letting go and moving on.

It’s an easy, quick read that still manages to offer depth while examining the complex ways that a family comes together and falls apart. Readers will appreciate Manaleng’s ability to be brief while still breathing life into the characters and moving narrative.


Suitable for young adult readers, aged 15 to 18.


[Fiction]

‘Chasing Shadows’

a short story by Palesa Manaleng

The JRB presents the short fiction debut of Palesa ‘Deejay’ Manaleng.

~~~

It’s raining, the roads are slippery, the driver sways the taxi left and right to avoid hitting potholes as big as ponds along the road, the sound of mbaqanga hits my ears hard. The music of my people, the songs of heartbreak, love and death. On any other day I would be dancing away with the other passengers as we head to Johannesburg, leaving our homes and families behind. But not on this day. Instead I look out the window of the red and blue kombi and watch as the rain washes away all of yesterday’s hurt and pain, and makes way for a new beginning.

The plastic bag covering the window a seat ahead of me has an opening that lets little splashes of water in, which hit me violently across the face as the vehicle moves faster and more recklessly. Talk of where we are headed fills the taxi as the women in front laugh about what they had left happening in the great city of lights. The man next to me smells of yesterday’s beer and cigarettes, and he recollects last night’s coming of age ceremony for his younger brother. He takes a swig of the brandy burrowed deep in his oversized grey and black jacket. I look at his long nails, grimed with years of dirt, as I decline his offer of a sip.

The smell of home cooked chicken combines with stale beer, cigarettes and the screams of little babies every time we swerve, and slowly rocks me to another world. I adjust my bag on my lap so I can try to stretch out my cramping legs, while the driver yells out that we will stop in a bit for a toilet break and some food. He instructs us not to take forever, as there are people in Johannesburg waiting for him to take them back to KwaZulu-Natal.

*

My name is Muvuseni Themba Dumakude, the eldest son to Zinhle Dumakude and Zolani Bhekokwakhe Dumakude. I crawled out of my mother’s womb in the early hours of the morning eighteen years ago, screaming to be set free. My naked body was wrapped in sheepskin as my mother lay on the rondavel floor. The village women ululated, thanking the gods, as the men passed around umqombothi. They poured some onto the ground, letting my ancestors drink. Immediately the mountains rumbled and the sky growled, a sign that my forefathers were appeased.

My parents had seven daughters before my arrival and my father was seen as a poor man because of this. He resented my mother for not being able to bear him a son to carry his name further. He had worried that the family name would die with him and he called my mother useless—until I emerged into the world; the warrior he had been craving for all those years.

When my parents met, in the sixties in Durban, my mother had been working in the kitchens in the suburbs of Durban North, cooking for white people and staying in a back room as big as a toilet. But the madam loved her, she gave her all the old clothes to wear, let her eat the scraps that the family did not want, and at times she would even let her pick first any old furniture she liked before it was thrown out.

My father worked on the railway, it was heavy work for anyone. He and the men he worked with built the railway line with their bare hands, working till they could not physically move, for two shillings a week. He stayed in the hostel with the other men, where they shared what little food they could afford to buy after sending money back home to their families and relatives.

Both Zinhle and Zolani, my parents, were originally from KwaZulu-Natal, and they both went home as often as possible. My mother had been taking the madam’s baby for a stroll when my father saw her, he was coming from the commissioner’s office where he had been fixing problems with his dompas. It is said, when he laid eyes on her, he knew she was to be his wife and bear him children.

It had been years since my parents had lived together and, seven daughters later, my father had not married my mother. This angered the elders, as it brought shame to my mother’s family. But my father had insisted he would only marry my mother the day she decided to give him a son. Until then he would not waste a single cow on a woman who could not…

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