I was 11 years old, doing Grade 8 (then called Standard 6) when I ran away from home. I can’t even remember what the fight with my mother was about. All I remember is that I decided to move to my Aunt’s house, some 200 kilometres away.
From the beginning, I knew money for the trip would be a problem, but I had a plan: my friend Rahab’s family owned a shebeen and she had access to the cash as people paid for the beer. I was sure she wouldn’t mind giving me some of the money to pay for the trip (God knows why!).
Secondly, it was afternoon when I decided to run away from home. Rahab lived about 7 kilometres from my house – a very long walk. There was no way I could start on the long trip that day.
There again, the fact that Rahab’s house was a shebeen came in handy. The whole family was used to having strangers in the house, so who would notice one extra person spending the night? I packed some clothes, wrote my goodbye note explaining that I was going to live with my aunt, and left.
I didn’t walk far before I bumped into one of my uncles. He operated a taxi service on the route I was walking.
He must have suspected that something was wrong, because he stopped and asked me where I was going.
“I’m running away from home to live with my Aunt in Heidelberg,” I said, then explained my plan to spend the night at a friend’s house.
“Sounds like a good plan. I don’t have passengers for now, so I can drop you off at Rahab’s house,” he said.
Thinking about it today, I realize how naïve I was to be grateful for his help. He couldn’t drag me back home, but he could make sure he knew where I was going so my parents could come get me.
Sadly, while Rahab was happy to see me, she couldn’t give me the money that I needed to travel. She also couldn’t give me supper, because we couldn’t tell her mother that I was in the house. I was afraid that as a grown-up, she would feel obliged to take me back home.
The worst thing, though, was that their liquor business was open until dawn, and once the customers started getting drunk, they spoke loudly, sang, argued and generally made a lot of noise. By morning, I was exhausted, hungry and didn’t even mind when my father’s car pulled outside Rahab’s house.
“It’s time to go home now,” he said.
My father and I did not speak about my aborted trip on the way home. We talked about school, my friends, things I like doing, even books, but not about the fact that I ran away and he was dragging me home.
My mother, who rarely let any wrongdoing slide, was in the kitchen when I arrived home. She served my siblings and I breakfast, and afterwards, I just slid into our Saturday morning routine of cleaning the house, doing the laundry and then relaxing outside in the garden.
Life went back to normal (with the usual conflict between kid and parents) and we never spoke about the fact that I tried to leave.
Maybe they were too afraid to raise the subject – in case it escalated into another shouting match and I decided to run away again.
Or maybe they thought a night at a shebeen, where I could see how other kids lived, would teach me to appreciate my own very normal/placid life.
There was also the possibility that spending the night at a shebeen was so traumatic that I wouldn’t dare repeat it again. Or that I demonstrated how I could botch a runway attempt so well they decided future attempts would be just as bad.
I think this incident could be developed into a very funny story for 5-9 years olds. The target group is young enough for my childish reasoning to make sense, while I think 10-13 year olds today would find my young self too gullible.
The story would have the same premise as the one about the boy who runs away to the circus, but because he has been taught not to cross the road, he actually walks around the block and ends up at the family gate. But it would have different elements, setting etc, enough to have some originality and creativity.
I was reminded of the incident today when Baby mentioned that her troubled school friend is now talking about running away from home.
Unfortunately, many kids who run away do manage to get away from their family and relatives, with dire consequences.
Also, this girl sounds troubled enough to try again if she does not succeed the first or third time. I hope she gets help soon.