On A Random Saturday Life Changed…
I am drenched in sweat and my face is wet from a mixture of sweat and tears. It has been so long since I dreamed about them, the babies. This one was different, I saw all their faces, faces I don’t know except for Siphesihle’s. Her face is bigger than all the other babies, it feels like she is the spokesperson of the tribe. They are all yelling at me, I keep begging for them to stop and I try to swim to get to them but they keep floating further and further away. The water turns red, their blood. “Go back, go back,” they chant. I ask “go back where?” and they just chant “go back,” as they float further away carried by blood waves. I scream and ask them to come back and I cry because I can’t reach them. Then I see myself standing under a palm tree with the ocean tickling my feet as it recedes.
I shake my head as I lean against the headboard I can’t make sense of the dream. My stomach is knotted and I know this isn’t a good sign, was Mabhengu right? The phone rings, it is a private number.
“Hi is this Mrs Hadebe?” a chirpy voice fires through.
“Oh…sorry, for some reason we have you here as Mrs Hadebe.”
“I’m divorced now, what’s this about?”
“Ma’am, my name is Mantombi, I am calling about your job application at The Muse, our P.R panel would like to set up an interview.”
“Oh wow that’s great, thank you.”
“Is next week Wednesday at 10 fine?”
“Yes, that is perfect, thank you.”
“Great, I will just pop you an email with all the details, see you then.”
I hang up and scramble for every detail of the dream, why are the babies back? I wonder. And where do they want me to go back to? The water is running in the bathroom so Amahle is already awake, I check my phone and it says it is Saturday, why did that lady from The Muse call me on a Saturday? I drag myself out of bed and slip into my red satin gown and head to the kitchen. It is pancake Saturday! I take out all the ingredients and lay them on the table. The flour is almost finished and we have eight eggs left, I must get this job, I think. Things are not tough, yet but they are getting there.
I thought starting my own thing would come naturally, what a bust that has been. And this is the first call back, all my other applications have obviously gone to the same place socks go to die. I flick the kettle switch and as I listen to the hum of it boiling the water, I think about my mother, how she managed to keep things going for us. She had no choice, I guess. I did, I had a choice about whether I take Amahle or not, and I chose to take her and now it looks like I won’t be able to look after myself, let alone her.
“Hello mama,” she greets.
“Hi nana, pancake Saturday!” I exclaim.
She smiles and pushes the barstool towards the table with all the ingredients.
“What flavour today?” she asks.
I hold up the only flour we have left and read the label: “plain,” I say.
She nods. We start mixing the ingredients and then my phone rings, I ignore it because pancake Saturday is our sacred time, or at least I am trying to make it that. The one thing she can always look back on with a smile and remember she mattered, even if it was for an hour every Saturday. The phone rings until the person gives up. I walk over and check who it was. MaBhengu is written across the screen. As I am about to switch the phone off, it rings again I wait for her to give up again and then I switch the phone off.
“Do you want to go watch a movie, today?” I ask.
Her beautiful eyes look up at me, vacant. Of course, she has never been inside a cinema, it is not even something she fathoms she can ask for. So she shrugs.
“I think it will be great, we can go watch Alvin and the Chipmunks?” I say.
“Or the Smurfs, the blue people cartoons you watch?”
She nods. We settle down to have our pancake breakfast.
“Do you miss home?” I ask.
She looks up from her pancakes and she looks puzzled by my question as if I have lost my mind, what home was I referring to? I imagine is what she wants to ask and the only thing stopping her is the uncertainty creeping in from my question. Was this not her home?
“I mean, your gogo?”
She shakes her head.
“Sometimes,” she says and hangs her head.
I can sense there is more to this than she is ready to share or able to share, speaking for us is at times challenging, I forget to speak in isiZulu and my Joburg Zulu at times sounds foreign to her just like her KZN version throws me for a loop at times. I worry about how she will get on in school, another expense I downplayed in my eagerness to become Amahle’s surrogate mother.
“Okay, I am going to go get ready so we can catch the 11 o’clock show.” I smile. “Please put all the dishes and the pan in the sink, nana.”
I switch my phone on and it rings as if Thobi spent the last hour hitting the redial button.
“Hi, who died?” I laugh.
“Tsholo,” she says and breaks down.
From the moment she utters Tsholo’s name everything begins to move in slow motion, the only loud sound is my blood racing around my body, it feels like a relay, the passing of the baton is the small gap that opens for me to sip air and the blood races again. I think I scream in my head, or out loud, I don’t know.
“What…I am confused, what are you talking about?”
“This morning she just didn’t wake up, aunty says she was complaining about her chest last night but didn—
“Thobi, wait, what are you saying?” I say and my voice breaks.
“Tsholo passed away.”
“No shut up!” I hang up. I move slowly towards my bed as if willing the time to move slower, begging my breath to catch up and reorder Thobi’s words in a way I can understand. My chest feel like a herd of elephants have taken their midday siesta, I have to open my mouth wide to swallow air to make sure I don’t drop dead from a failed heart. My mind goes back to the day I sat on the mattress after my mother’s funeral and people were milling in and out, their lives just moving on. I sat hoping being still would capture my mother and she would be alive after all, the death, the funeral was all just a long nightmare. I sit still now, I try to recall the details of the last time I saw Tsholo, all that flashes is her sweet daughter’s face, Arabile.
I collapse into the bed and the tears start pouring, I take a deep breath and wipe my face, crying makes it real and I am not ready for that.
On a random Saturday morning, your entire life can turn on its head, how far the Smurfs seem in this moment. Isn’t funny? I was making plans and Tsholo was already dead, I can’t reconcile it. She just gave birth to a gorgeous baby, what is Arabile supposed to do now? What is life without knowing your mother? What are we supposed to do without our level headed Tsholo? I ring Thobi, she sounds like she is driving.
“Thobi.” My voice is a croak.
“We are heading to her place now,” she says.
“You and Lesego?”
“Yeah, will see you soon.”
I hang up and tell Amahle we need to go to Arabile’s house, she jumps up and down because she can’t wait to hold the baby. I tell her that Arabile’s mom has gone to heaven the happy fizzles out under the boulder that is grief.
“Do you think my mom is also in heaven?” she asks.
“No, nana your mom…” I stop midway because I don’t know why her mom is not with her.
“Oh, she just doesn’t want me?” She sits on my bed and stares out of the window a hadeda bleats incessantly as if he, too, knows the sorrow holding up the walls in this house.
As we arrive outside Tsholo’s home, cars parked down the street and we walk to the gate. The house looks so different from just weeks ago when we were here for dinner. The statement piece is no longer at the entrance. The cream couches pushed against the wall and the dining room chairs -the chairs we were just sitting on laughing and drinking wine- are lined up against the wall like a in a doctor’s office. Heads wrapped in scarfs, cups and saucers, scones and candles are passed around and low voices giving out instructions and murmuring “thank yous” it turns the house into humming sadness. I want to scream and puncture the conservative grief. I want to yell so I can give my insides the relief it has been desperately seeking since Thobi gave me the news. But the death of a loved one, it has a hierarchy and if her mother isn’t ripping herself to shreds in full view, what right do I have? I spot Thobi in the kitchen, of course, she is already deep in the practical tasks, “Can I help,” I whisper. She hands me a dry dish towel, “just wipe these,” she says and points to the wet plates lodged in the dish rack. “Where is Lesego?” I whisper.
“I think she is counting how many people need tea, she and Refilwe have been the tea girls.” She giggles.
“Refilwe is here?”
The shadow of death, when the reality of your loved one gone starts to seep in, you start looking for something or someone to blame. And when you can’t blame a person, you allow your entire body to fill with rage! And for me, Refilwe being here was a classic example of people not respecting the hierarchy of grief.
“She didn’t even know her!” I say louder than intended.
“She’s just here to help, Anathi, please let it go.”
Just then Refilwe walks in carrying a tray filled with empty teacups, she places them next to the sink, “Hello Anathi,” she greets and puts her hands in her cute olive green apron pockets.
“I am so sorry for your loss. I can’t believe we—
“Thanks!” I push past her to pack the plates away. I open the cupboard and the memory of Tsholo stretching trying to reach the plate at the top pricks the edges of my eyes. It is so silly, the memories that take up space first, the mundane ones, the ones that didn’t promise to keep cosy, didn’t promise to stick around longer than when occurring. The big ones, the memories we do our best to capture and add to the catalogue of our curated lives, those don’t feel as real they often don’t even blaze through as vivid.
My phone rings, it is Sifiso. Death does this thing, where it makes you think about all the people in your life, and what would be left unsaid if they were to go to bed and not wake up. So, I answer.
“Anathi, we need to talk, please.”