She sits across from me at the dining table, Amahle slinks off to her bedroom. “Thembi’s?” MaBhengu asks, her eyes following Amahle as she turns away from the dining room. I just nod.
“Can I get you something to drink?” I ask and try hard to mask the strain in my voice.
“Just tea, please.” She looks around and her eyes settle on a yellow candle on a white saucer close to the TV in the lounge. She shakes her head and my stomach tightens, I know what she’s thinking she is not taking this seriously. The prayer candle is supposed to be in my bedroom, in a corner or where I have set up umsamo and it would be had I set up the prayer place. I think about saying something to counter her thought but it is of no use, MaBhengu is never interested in excuses.
“Would you like some milk and sugar?” I yell from the kitchen (the joys of an open plan).
“No thank you.”
The air between us is stifled, the knots in my stomach get tighter and my mind keeps piecing together plausible reasons why I have not reached out to her, it comes back blank. I place the tray with her black tea in front of her and excuse myself. I check on Amahle, she is passed out on her bed. The afternoon with Owethu took it out of her. I cover her with a blanket I have kept ever since Sebenzile passed away, I smile thinking about my sister. I wonder what she would think about my instant mom decision.
I walk back into the dining room the creeping night has swallowed more of the sun, I switch the light on and draw the curtains, anything to prolong this conversation.
“Are you okay…do you want a biscuit…a blanket?” I ask.
She shakes her head, “Anathi sit down.” Her voice is firm and leaves little room for me to do anything else. “Why have you not come to see me?” Her eyes are fixed on her teacup. My face heats up, I didn’t think she would come all this way, I didn’t think she would take it all so seriously.
“I…you see…Ma…I have just been—
She chuckles and sips her tea and sets it down again before she speaks, the memory of her drinking tea all those moons ago at Fego comes back.
“I am not here to force you but I am asked every day, you are on my spirit every single day, do you understand that I cannot sleep!” she snaps.
My stomach tightens and I fiddle with the drawstring from my tracksuit pants. I don’t know what to say to her.
“Ma, I am just not ready.”
She picks up her teacup and takes a sip and then sets it down again, she takes in a deep breath and leans back into her chair and looks up. I think about the time she went into a trance while sitting in my car and I pray she is not about to go into another one. She cackles and claps once.
“You know, it would be nice if we could all choose when we are ready to show up.” She shakes her head and sucks her teeth. “I am here to help you find your way, why don’t you want to find your way?”
“It is not that…I just—
“You just what?!”
My eyes find my drawstring again and tears sting the edges of my eyes. I want to ask her to leave and to never contact me again but, I know that is running, the thing I want to stop doing. I know I want to stop running, I just need a moment to stand still.
“I just don’t think…it has to be now…you know.”
She cackles again and fingers the red and white beads around her neck. “Do you think I was given all the time I needed? Do you think walking out of my marriage was what I desperately wanted to do?”
“No, Ma…I am just saying, I am not ready.”
She sips the last dribs of her tea and sets her cup down. Her eyes wander to the candle by the TV again and I hold my breath, “well that’s clear,” she says.
“MaBhengu to me ukutwasa means meeting yourself and healing, I guess I believe it just means finding ways to heal, you know?”
“And what are you doing to meet yourself huh? What have you done to begin healing Anathi?”
“You think putting a bandage on your wound makes it go away? You are here parading this child, like this poor soul will fix all your problems, you know what you are supposed to do, why are you not doing it?”
I exhale and tears trip it feels like she has just ripped off the bandage she has accused me of wrapping around my womb wound. The silence is loud and the open plan feels like the walls are fighting to meet, I try to inhale through my nose but the air feels too thick, I have to open my mouth and draw air in. My knots won’t relax and I struggle to find the sound in my voice. The truth is always hard to stomach when you are not ready to deal with it, and the person delivering the message always looks like the devil himself. What she wants me to do needs so much from me, so much I am not keen to face now, or maybe ever.
“You know that things need to be fixed, Anathi if not for you for all the others.”
“But why can’t they do it?”
“Because you were called.”
“Aren’t…we…all…called?” I ask in between sniffles.
“Yes we are and you are called to this,” she huffed.
“I am not ready, Ma.”
She shakes her head and closes her eye and breathes out with an ahhhhhh sound, the sound of being done, of letting it all go or accepting what is. I expect the tension in my stomach to untangle itself but it holds firm, I am running, again a small voice pierces through.
“I am going to order some food, what would you like?”
MaBhengu scoffs, “I must get home. I will eat at home.”
The sliver of light shines through the window by the lounge slicing the coffee table in half, the night grew dark without us realising. I point out that it is late and MaBhengu assures me she will be fine to take a taxi home. I head over to Amahle’s room and wake her up so we can take MaBhengu to the taxis. Amahle drags herself from the bed and rubs her eyes to the garage.
“You are a special child,” she MaBhengu to Amahle. Amahle looks up, her eyes coloured red from unfinished sleep. She smiles and gets into the back seat. I quickly strap her in.
“Yes she is such a special child,” I say as I get behind the wheel.
“You must find her mother,” MaBhengu says.
I hold my breath hoping Amahle’s head full of sleep didn’t register the statement but, I catch her looking at me in the rearview mirror and I know more questions I have no answers to, await me. We drop MaBhengu off after she has assured me once again that she will be fine.
We get home and order some pizza, Amahle just shrugs when I ask her what pizza she wants. She shakes her head ‘no’ when I ask if she would love something to drink. I know the statement in the car is what has landed us here but, I am too afraid to face what it means to her.
Just as the delivery man knocks on the door my phone rings, I look at the screen and Sifiso blinks across. I roll my eyes and throw my phone on the couch, pay the delivery man and as I close the door my phone rings again. It is Sifiso.
“Anathi…oh my God you answered.”
“What do you want Sifiso?”
“Please, I need us to talk.”
“You’ve said that in your million texts already and I have not responded, is that not a clue?”
He huffs, I imagine his disbelief. I have never been able to truly ignore him before and the last time he threatened my job.
“Anathi please let me explain the whole thing.”
“Sifiso, you are having another child with the woman YOU said you were done with, so honestly what is there to explain?”
“Exactly, please Sifiso stop calling me, I have nothing to say to you.”
“The baby might not be mine, Gorgeous.”
“I don’t care, Babe!”
“Don’t do this…please…you know you are the only per—
“Save it, Sifiso,” I say and I hang up.
Amahle and I eat our dinner in silence. I drink more wine than I need to and as I stumble to bed, long after Amahle hugged me goodnight, my phone rings.