By Tashinga Wazaza, Zimbabwe:
'Come on Lovemore, you have to move faster than that,' Jabu whispers to his best friend Lovemore.
It is 2am and they are in the middle of a bush. It is so dark that they can hardly see around them. They are guided by the moonlight, whose effect is limited by the leaves of the trees above. They have been walking for two days now and have been surviving on a loaf of bread and a bagful of bananas that they took from their village. Lovemore is extremely tired. His feet are swollen and they hurt when he walks but he knows that he can't stop now. He's come too far. Jabu is also tired but he understands that time is not on their side. They have to get to the border before the sun comes up. Only a couple of more hours and they'll be there.
Jabu and Lovemore have known each other all their lives, which is about twenty one years. They were next door neighbours in a village called Shungu in rural Zimbabwe. Lovemore was raised by a single mom. His Dad had left them when they were young. She had a stand at the market in the village where she used to sell second hand clothes. She would get on a bus every two weeks and travel to Mozambique where she would buy the second hand clothes and return and sell them in their village. She would usually be gone for four days and Lovemore would be left home alone. During those times Jabu's mother would let Lovemore stay with them rather than be home alone for four days with nobody looking after him.
This happened for about five years until Lovemore was about fifteen years old when his mom went on one of her trips to Mozambique but didn't come back. Lovemore had waited for her at the bus stop after four days like he usually did when she went away but this time she wasn't on the bus. There was only one bus that used to pass through the village every day and so Lovemore thought that maybe she had gotten to the bus station late and had decided to catch the next day's bus. So the next day he went to the bus stop and again she wasn't on the bus. He kept going to the bus stop every single day that week but his mother never showed up. Jabu's mother then told him to stop going to the bus stop telling him, 'Don't worry Lovemore, when she comes back she'll find you here.' For the next two months, Lovemore cried himself to sleep wondering what had happened to his mother and why she hadn't come back. Eventually he stopped crying, but somewhere deep down in his heart he believed that one day, somehow, she would come back.
Lovemore then started staying with Jabu and his parents from the time he was fifteen and basically became a member of their family. When Jabu and Lovemore were eighteen, Jabu's mother got terribly ill and had to be taken to the hospital. At the hospital they found out that she was HIV positive and she had contracted cerebral malaria. Sadly her immune system was too weak to fight off the illness; she died within a few weeks. Jabu's mother's death was tough on them and it completely shattered the two boys. But it would only get worse. About two months after Jabu's mother's death, Jabu's father also died. Suicide. One morning Jabu and Lovemore were getting ready to go to school when they knocked on Jabu's father's door to say goodbye but there was no response. Jabu then opened the door and found his dad's body hanging on a rope from the ceiling fan.
On the bed was a note:
'To the boys,
I have been living with such pain for the past two months ever since your mother's death. She died because of me. I was the one who was sleeping around and I was not careful. As a result I gave your mother HIV. I have not been able to sleep ever since she passed on and the memory of her haunts me. I cannot live with this regret anymore and so I have decided that the journey ends here for me. I hope you can forgive me.
When Jabu and Lovemore read the letter they were stunned. They hadn't noticed their father's depression at all and so they hadn't seen this coming. Clearly he had been doing a good job of hiding it. Jabu was angry. How could his father do this to him? What a coward! He should have stayed, at least for him. How were Lovemore and he meant to survive?
The next couple of years were difficult for Jabu and Lovemore. They had to drop out of school and start looking for odd jobs just to survive. They both found part time work as builders for a guy in the village but it was hard work. Sometimes they got paid, other times they didn't and so it was difficult for them to make ends meet.
One day after a long, hard day they were on their way home when they met an old friend of theirs called Trevor. Trevor had grown up with them but had left to go to South Africa a couple of years back. He had been a skinny, tall boy when he used to live in the village but now he was almost unrecognizable. He was well dressed and looked like he had gained a few pounds. He really looked like things were going well for him.
Jabu and Lovemore were amazed and asked him how he managed to look so good and wear such nice clothes.
'Cross the border my friends, I'm telling you. There's nothing out here. Go to South Africa!' Jabu and Lovemore looked at each other and they were both thinking the same thing: 'If Trevor could go to South Africa and come back looking so good then South Africa must really be worth it'. They had been struggling for months and they had nothing to lose. Crossing the border seemed like the only way.
'But we don't have passports Trevor. How do we go to South Africa?'
Trevor laughed and said to them, 'My friends, I didn't have a passport either but I made it there.' He told them about a route that he took which got him into South Africa and once he got there he hitch-hiked to Johannesburg and found a job as a waiter at a restaurant there.
'Getting a job is easy my friends. They don't even ask you for any documents. They just want people who will work hard. That's all they want. After three months I managed to buy a fake passport and get a place to rent. Life is good out there my friends!' Jabu and Lovemore looked at each other and decided they would do it.
Now it's almost 3am and Jabu and Lovemore are walking through the bush almost in complete darkness. They can hear the Limpopo River so they know they are close. About half an hour later they get to the Limpopo River. They can see the border in the distance to their right. This was going to be the hard part. They had to swim almost fifty meters across the crocodile infested Limpopo river knowing that they might not make it across but then, they had come too far.
Jabu and Lovemore gave each other a big embrace. None of them said a word but both knew what that hug meant. This could be the last time they saw each other. It was a big risk but one they had made up their minds to take. They held the small little bags they were carrying tightly and got into the river. Slowly they began to swim across. It seemed to take forever but they couldn't swim fast because they would attract the crocodiles. Their hearts were pounding. At any time a crocodile could come and snatch them from underneath sending them to an instant death. Slowly, slowly they swam and closer and closer they got to the other side. The tension increased as they got closer to the bank because the closer they got the more they had to lose.
Finally they got to the other side and the relief that they felt was palpable. How the heck did they just get across? It was a miracle! But they had no time to celebrate or ask questions. They could do that later, if they made it. They started running towards the border fence, watching out for the patrolling officers. Trevor had told them to follow the river until they got to a big Mopane tree.
'You won't miss it,' he said. 'It's the biggest tree there. When you get there start making your way to the fence and there is an opening there. You won't see it but just lift up the fence and it will come up and you can go through'.
Jabu and Lovemore did exactly that and although they struggled a bit to find the opening in the fence, they eventually did and they got through.
Jabu and Lovemore were now in South African territory. The danger was not yet over because they still had to watch out for the border police but at least they were through. For now though, they could celebrate this little victory. At least they were on the other side. It remained to be known though whether they would find the better life they had risked life and limb for in South Africa or whether they were simply running towards the hardship they had already been going through, only this time, in a different setting.