Teboho Mothae, nicknamed “Nzama” in honor of a famous football player, has more worries than he can bear, and it has been years since he played football–years since he played anything, really. His parents died when he was a young teenager. His two older brothers live far away and are unable to help him. Two younger sisters live with him, his wife, and his two-year-old son, Mmokose. Thinking about Mmokose is the only thing that gives him hope, but Teboho’s income is what they all depend on…and Teboho is sick. He has been working as a taxi driver since he was seventeen years old–that was ten years ago now. He says half-heartedly that he would like to own his own car, but he has no real hope of that happening. He’d like a car that has decent tires, decent suspension, a working battery, a windshield that isn’t broken. He would like more reliable work than taxi driving, but he says there’s not a chance in hell of that. So occasionally, if someone buys him a beer, he pours it very slowly and gently into a glass, watching the foam build up. And then he drinks it.
He’s a good man. I can see that. He’s depressed and he feels bad. He coughs continually, and he’s skeletally thin. He’s not happy, but he’s not angry, and he’s not a violent man. He blames no one for his troubles, not even God. Often he has the job of driving drunks home. When they get to their destination, he gets out of the cab and guides his fare into the house, putting the key in the door if that’s what’s necessary, handing him over to his wife or his mother or the maid, whoever may be there, so he doesn’t fall down. Teboho is caring, especially for people who have hard times. He’s infinitely patient with drunks. He’s honest. He doesn’t manipulate, lie, or pretend. He doesn’t put on a phony face and tell people to have a nice day. He just speaks out of his own despair. “I need help, M’e,” he tells me.
“I see that,” I answer, grim with him.
“Is there any way you can help me, M’e?”
“Like how, Nzama? How do you mean?”
“Can you find me a job? Do you have any contacts? Do you know anybody who can get me out of this mess?”
“Sadly, no. I don’t have much money. I live in the USA, and I don’t know anybody in Lesotho who can help you. I see who you are. I see you are a good man, doing the best you can, and I see that it’s hard. I care about you. I wish I knew a way to help you.”
His silence fills the room.
Some stories don’t have happy endings. Some things don’t happen for a reason. Sometimes there’s no uplift, no moral, no silver lining. Sometimes people get more bad times than anyone should ever have to handle. They handle it, not because they can, but because they have no choice. Teboho often drives for a friend of mine. During the month I was in Lesotho, I saw him nearly every day except when I went away to take M’e Mpho to the ocean. He drove M’e Mpho, Libuseng, Tumisang, and me to the airport to get our rental car, and he picked us up from the hotel when we came back. My last time to see him, when it was almost time for me to leave, he disappeared. We didn’t say goodbye.