Her toy gun put me on the spot

From time to time, I find children in working-class neighbourhoods amazing. Never mind the scary stories about paedophiles lurking in the street, or even in the church, these children still run up to adults to play on their knees, oblivious of the potential consequences.

My grandson Kilroy is six, going on seven, and his little sister Innocentia is three, going on four.

I see a lot of them on my regular visits to my cousin, Baby Ntsele, in the coloured township of Eersterust, on the eastern fringes of downtown Pretoria.

To Kilroy and Innocentia, my cousin is Ouma Baby, while I am proudly addressed as Oupa Johnny.

The little boy and girl are the offspring of Moengezi and his erstwhile coloured girlfriend, Desne. Moengezi is Baby’s first-born and my nephew.


It is the season of Yuletide, good food and gifts, and for this reason Ouma Baby has been piling up all sorts of goodies for Kilroy and Innocentia.

During a recent visit, Kilroy and Innocentia almost fell over each other in their rush to get into their granny’s bedroom, to re-emerge carrying all kinds of Christmas gifts.

Kilroy was particularly excited about the in-vogue pink waterskoene (gumboots) Ouma bought for him.

Boys being boys, Kilroy persistently wanted to know whether Oupa Johnny was going to “vir my ‘n bicycle koop” (buy me a bicycle).

Innocentia waited for my response keenly, leaning over my other knee. Hesitantly, I promised to honour Kilroy’s wish for a new bicycle.

Suddenly Innocentia got into the action, rushing back into her granny’s bedroom and emerging with piles of clothes and shoes. Was this aimed at daring Kilroy to eat his heart out?

Alas, concealed underneath the clothes was a toy gun.

Innocentia put her little finger on the trigger, pointed the muzzle at me and chuckled: “Oupa Johnny, jy sien my gun …” (you see my gun).

I flushed and suggested it was a mooi (beautiful) toy.

Then the little girl tearfully reminded me that I had promised to buy Kilroy a new bicycle, hadn’t I?

I blushed and replied that I had indeed, as a Christmas present.

Innocentia fixed her tearful eyes on mine and asked: “Gaan Oupa Johnny bullets koop vir my gun?” (Is Oupa Johnny going to buy bullets for my gun?)

More blushes for me, followed by the assurance that, if there were still bullets in the shops, Oupa Johnny could make a plan.

Innocentia’s response was even more unsettling.

She ran up and down the corridor, repeating over and over how Oupa Johnny was going to give her bullets for her toy gun.

Johnny Masilela is a journalist and author

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