Awiti stood at the gate, her slender fingers gripped the iron as she peered through at the impressive building of the school she wished she could go to. She watched the white Afrikaan girls talking and laughing in the large courtyard. They didn’t notice her, of course, and even if they knew she was there, they ignored her. After all, she was just a poor, uneducated black girl. Her mouth tightened at the thought. This was her country too but they were treating her like the outsider–as the one who didn’t belong there. She should be on the other side of the gate, getting the same quality education as they were. It wasn’t poverty that stood in her way, it was her color. It was 1993 and she was living under the Apartheid system of racial segregation.
She started when she realized that someone was behind her and she swung around. It was a tall, attractive man, dressed in a suit, wearing glasses. His hair was the color of chestnut and his skin was slightly tanned as though he spent a lot of time in the sun. He looked to be in his early forties. His green eyes scrutinized her. “Who are you?” he asked. “What are you doing here? Shouldn’t you be in school?”
She stood with her hands clasped behind her back, her face turned up, squinting as the sun hit her face. “My name is Awiti. I don’t go to school.”
He looked surprised. “How old are you?”
“You’re sixteen and you don’t go to school?”
“The missionary school I used to go to decided to close down when the government was no longer going to help to support it.”
“You sound like a very educated girl.”
She raised her chin. “I am. I was at the top of my class. And now I have no school to go to.”
“Couldn’t you go to another school?”
“My mother decided that it wouldn’t make sense to send me to another one. She said what was the use of doing that when teaching the Bantu child mathematics when he or she can’t use it in real life? She said I was better off staying home and learning to be a housewife.”
“Where do you live, Awiti?” he asked.
She told him, worried that he would stop by and tell her mother that he’d caught outside of this school when she should have been home by now. “You’re not going to get me in trouble with my mother, are you?”
He shook his head. “No, I’m not going to do that,” he assured her. “But, I would like to meet her.”
“Why?” she asked warily.
“I would like her permission to be your tutor. You see, I am the headmaster of this school.”
Awiti gawked at him. “You want to be my teacher?” she exclaimed. “But why? I’m a Bantu and people like you don’t think I’m fit to be anything except an unskilled laborer even I’m bright and I want to be a doctor.”
“I don’t share those racist opinions, Awiti. Just from talking to you, I can see that you’re a very intelligent girl and it would be a shame to see all that you’ve learned go to waste. Now, run along home and tell your mother that I will be stopping by later.”
“But what if she asks me how I met you?”
“Where were you coming from before you got here?”
“The drugstore.” She showed him the bag.
“Tell her we met outside of the drugstore.”
He opened the gate and went inside. After closing and locking it, he said, “I’ll see you later, Awiti.”
For the first time since they met, she smiled before turning and running off across the fields.
True to his word, the Headmaster showed up at Awiti’s home and spoke to her mother who was a little skeptical at first, but when she saw that he was sincere and willing to tutor her daughter for free in the evenings, she consented. Of course, she never left them alone, after, Awiti was a pretty girl with a woman’s body and the headmaster was a man, wasn’t he?
Awiti enjoyed the tutoring and she grew very fond of her tutor. Sometimes, he would be invited to stay for dinner. Then, on April 27, 1994, Apartheid was over and the new president was Nelson Mandela. It was cause for great celebration but Awiti had mixed feelings. She wondered how this would affect her tutoring. Now that she would have the opportunity to go to school again, she ought to be happy but she wasn’t because it meant not seeing her tutor anymore. Her mother enrolled her in a school not far from where she lived.
It was with a heavy heart that she related the news to her tutor. “That’s good news, Awiti,” he said. “You’ll be back in a classroom again among your peers.”
“You don’t see happy about it, though. Why not?”
“I’m going to miss our tutoring sessions,” she told him.
He smiled. “I’m going to miss them too.”
“Today was our last session.”
“Yes, it was.”
“I guess this means that we’re not going to see each other again.”
“It doesn’t have to mean that at all.” He took her hands in his. They were alone. Her mother had to the market. She figured she could trust them to be alone without a chaperone this one time. “We don’t have to stop seeing each other.”
She smiled at him. “That’s good.”
He reached out and brushed the tear that glistened on her cheek. “Awiti,” he murmured. “I know that I’m much older than you and—”
“I’m seventeen now and it doesn’t matter to me that you’re twenty years older.”
“What would your mother say?”
“She’ll object but as long as she sees that I’m happy, she will give us her blessing.”
“I want you to know that getting married will in no way affect your education. You will go to school and then university as planned.”
She stared at him. “But what about your family? What will they say about you marrying me?”
“My family doesn’t have a say in whom I marry.”
She threw her arms around his neck. “I can’t believe you want to marry me.”
“Why not?” he demanded. “I love you and I assume you love me so the next logical thing for us to do is to get married.”
She laughed. “Yes, I love you and will marry you even though I don’t know your name. I can’t continue calling you, Sir.”
“My name is Willem Van Rensburg.”
“Willem,” she whispered before they kissed.