by ISRAEL MLAMBO, South Africa

"Hey there Vusi, where're you off to now, got a lecture?", greeted Ndinawo.

"It's actually a tutorial, Journ again", replied Vusi with a hard expression on his face. "By the way, h-h-hhhow are things?"

"Mm, not much actually, just gonna rush to my politics lecture from here, and poor me, I haven't done my reading again", confessed Ndinawo as she waved to halt a friend. "Well then my love, at supper hey", she fared him well.

"Ch- cheers", Vusi pushed the words unconsciously.

If there is ever going to be a challenging time in Vusi's life, then there couldn't be a better one than his life in varsity as a first year (e.d. as a freshman in the university). He was fluently challenged. A young man determined to be a Journalist in spite of his hesitant speech. But it was all hopeless. There's never been anything he ever hated in life than the tutorial that they made him go to. It was more than okay with him if they just handed in work and didn't have to say anything. But unfortunately for him, that's not what is expected at the well reputable university that he chose. He was being trained in the best media school in Africa. The beginning point of the many SABC and CNN milestones.

He was late intentionally once again. Being late for his classes was one of his many survival techniques he used to avoid talking scenarios.

"Okay guys, who's gonna go first", inquired the tutor with ease. As his classmates effortlessly played with words as though it were a tennis game. Vusi was dying bit by bit inside. The fear of stuttering built inside of him enough to render him speechless when his turn came.

"Okay, that was quite a good argument", remarked the tutor to one of the students.

"Aah, who's last", she wondered. "Oh, Vusi, let's hear you".

"Em, th-th-th--------------the media should, em, b-b-b-b-b, em, b-b-b-b-b-b-b", his mouth just hung lose and he couldn't say the next word. He just gave up.

"Ah, okay guys, you can now hand in your assignments", the tutor shouted trying, to break lose the deafening silence. All eyes of the class screened sorrow to Vusi, while his face screamed embarrassment and anger. This really made him angry. He stuttered acutely when in a formal environment. His stuttering was not like that of the usual stutterer. It was context related, yet not predictable in most cases. This made it hard for him to understand the cause of it. When he's with people he is familiar with, he stutters but doesn't experience total blocks. Every time that he attended a tutorial, he would leave with a great chunk of himself chopped out.

"Hi Ndinawo, d-d-d-d-d-d!", Vusi tried to say a word".

"How was your tut', did it go better?"

"I'm never ---ggonna go back there a-a-a-aagain", said Vusi with his eyes teary", "believe me".

Ndinawo felt the pain of her friend cutting through her heart. She knew that there's not much she could do but to support and comfort him.

"I'm here for you my love, everything is gonna be all right," she comforted. "Vusi", she continued, " I know you. I know that you can beat it. Remember the things that you always told me when I was down. You changed me. I was disillusioned and you took me out of the shadow of doubt and you gave me light", she said without blinking. "If it weren't for your belief and what you said to me, I wouldn't be anywhere near my future", she said.

"If I-I-I can't do it in the tutorial", Vusi stammered with confidence, "then how will I----I manage next wwweek i-in the presentation with a lecture full of ambitious orating students".

Ndinawo, like she always did, told him that he must have confidence and faith. "You'll be all right.".

Vusi excused himself before the lecture. He locked himself in the nearby toilet and kneeled, "Oh God, why my speech ability Lord? You could have taken anything, but just not my speaking ability", his hands were held high in the air, with tears oozing from his eyes. And he knew that even his God wasn't listening. He was devastatingly shaken and caught up in a hopeless situation.

The red lecture theatre was full of cheerful students playing the effortless game of words before the presentation started. Vusi sat alone in the corner. He was serving a sentence of a crime he did not commit. To him it seemed to be a life sentence. His speech was nothing but trash. He hated gatherings. They singled him out as an outcast. He did not want to be perceived as somebody who was selfish of his own space. Every time he saw people chat, the other part of him would always be buried in his heart, creating even more pain. Nobody even bothered to speak to him, except for Ndinawo. She was the only one who was ready to listen to his impaired and rejected speech. The one who realised the lot of graves that needed to be dug out of his heart. His heart was a cemetery.

The fully packed red theatre cheered in a deafening sound of clapping and whistling. They applauded over a speech well delivered with a fast but funny joke. This garnered an ocean of fear in Vusi's heart. It was now going to be his turn. His heart beat at its loudest. Nonetheless, it was a turn he was waiting for. He swore to himself that he will stutter his way through if that's what it took to address his two weeks prepared presentation. It was the first time he was going to accept things as they are and carry on anyway. He swore that he wouldn't let stuttering stand between him and his bright future.

"Thank you, …thanks, …okay people", shouted the course co-ordinator. As the remarks of admiration quieted down, the co-ordinator announced, "Vusi Zakhe will be our next speaker". His last word shot him dead. He was numb. A shaking corpse. He could feel his insides rising to his chest with rage as he faced the world. No one realised that nothing but a corpse stood in front of them. He tried to hold his manuscript in his hands, but they shook like the last autumn leaves.

"Thank you", he managed to say with great effort. "I-I-I-I-I-I----I", he tried, but he couldn't. The world in the theatre just looked at him in great awe. It was not even kept in suspense. He was not a guy who was following the last speech. An oratory that was served with one of the world's greatest jokes, coupled with global applause from the audience. "Th-th-th-th-th--------------th", he was really stuck. It was a total block. He knew that he couldn't get though this word. He tried to tell the class that he stuttered. But they could realise that without his mentioning it. "I-st-t-t-t-t-t-t-t", he stuttered the word stutter itself.

The whole theatre was so silent you could hear the foot steps of a cockroach.

His eyes became teary. It was the most devastating moment of his life. It felt like forever, but it had gone on for less than five minutes. The fact was that he hadn't said a single word all that time, except for the opening words: thank you. The co-ordinator approached to conciliate him for his crime against the natural flow of speech. "Thanks to…", he started.

But Vusi interrupted him. He effortlessly told him that he wanted to say something to his classmates. "J-just one thing please", he begged for his own time.

"Sure, go on please", the co-ordinator permitted.

"I love God, but I hate his authority", he declared to the class without a stutter.

He meant it. And everyone in that theatre could realise that he did.

added with permission
August 4, 2001