Mama refuses to take my call, and I angrily talk to Papa instead.
I hate how she does this, how she ignores me, as if I don’t matter. But it’s fine, I’ll make some small chit chat with Papa, and maybe try her some other time. Or maybe I’ll not call at all, and force her to connect with me through my silence. Yes. That is what I’ll do.
When I finish talking to Papa, who tells me that Mama has not said much to him either since he returned from working at the herbalist chemist shop they ran together, I report my disappointment to Sara over dinner, and promptly put the whole thing out of my mind. Afterall she’s not been all that well lately.
We go to bed I cannot remember what time, and I eventually fall into a deep sleep despite the uncharacteristic (for Joburg) wind that is surely uprooting everything in its path. It is scary out there and I wonder what the world will be like in the morning. This is biblical!
I’m a bit disoriented as I reach for my phone which is alarming me awake long after I’d been asleep. It’s Papa on the phone.
I am in dreamstate and simultaneously wide awake as I silently question my father’s reason for calling at this hour. My mind is urged, no, compelled awake and is on full alert since my father is not a silly man, is not one to place capricious calls in the middle of the night. As this thought rouses my mind to attention I consult the mobile in my hand for a reading of the time, and note that it’s twenty minutes after two on a Tuesday morning. Sara is now also awake, and examines my face for a reading of the reason for my father’s call as she sits up in bed.
“Papa”, I think I repeat.
” Go fedile” he explains.
“Ke Mama”? I remark.
His voice cracks at the exact time that my heart does too.
” Ee. Go fedile”.
It is done. It is finished. I’m sorry but I do not have the exact English translation for this. Certainly not one that will explain the immediate confusion my mind goes into when I tell Sara that Papa says it is Mama, and that we need to get there immediately. There being my family home in Mamelodi, with here being our home in Auckland Park.
I still think we should wait for daybreak but Sara is already out of bed putting our clothing and things into bags. She directs me to contact my Joburg based nieces and arrange for a pick up. One of them, Ntlotleng arrives in her own car which she parks in our yard as we go pick up the other, Fofo at her university residence.
Sara drives. Sara always drives since I dislike it so much.
The highway is blissfully empty as I chit chat and laugh with my nieces all the way home to Mamelodi. Or maybe it was only me laughing actually.
Sara drives the Jeep into the dusty streets of my township. It is possibly close to 4am as we drive past mothers and fathers, uncles and aunts making their way on foot to the train station for their long commute to work.
Soon enough the Jeep is driving down my street. Everyone has now gone silent, tension taking my breath away.
As Sara turns the wheels right to face my parent’s house, the space I continue to call Home, I immediately know my mother is dead. Everything that’s been quiet all along goes even more still. I’m struck by this layered word that expresses the cessation or movement and sound, whilst also acting as bridge between the past and the present.
I can hear my heart beating in my nose and eyes and feet as I get out the car to push the heavy metal gate my father welded himself to the right to open it. I am incapable of opening it all the way open for the car, so I leave it and enter through the narrow passage I managed to create.
As I walk in the house, it is to be greeted by Papa’s crying face, cotton handkerchief wiping his nose. I grew up washing his handkerchiefs by hand, which disgusted me to no end. Right now I unthinkingly walk straight past him to their bedroom.
Mama is lying there, glowing in bed, her face shining and bright, and dead. Her eyes are closed.
A strange sense overtakes me and I am smiling and joyous as I walk towards her, kneel by her side, and reach my face over to kiss her ice cold face.
This is my first encounter of a dead body, and I marvel at the strange absence of warmth of her body. It reminds me of that time I had handled a snake that my third year students had brought to class as part of their presentation years ago whilst teaching at RAU.
As I examine my mother, touching her and trying to lift her arm, now heavy with death to wrap it around my neck, my heart is dancing and I tell her she’s beautiful, and praise her for defeating death: “You are not a body, you are free for you are as God created you. You were never a body Mama. You are limitless. Death will never taste you. Ililililiiiiii” I ulilate silently, caressing her face as I climb onto the bed next to her, and rest my head on her bosom.
I tell her I forgive everything and that she must go happily with those that have come to fetch her. “Go. You have accomplished your mission” I tell her. “Thank you for agreeing to host me. Us. Go. That Light is here for you!”. “It is true what Papa says. Go fedile” I assure her.
I light a candle in the room as other family members stream in for prayers. My father has not stopped crying as he relates the story of the death of his Love, his Companion of over 60 years. He feels urged to tell us So we listen.
As I listen and hear, sudden searing pain lacerates all of me. In my distraught state I forget how to cry, but unknown tears weep me, releasing a lifetime of dammed up, unshed tears through me, and suddenly I cannot stop crying.
Right now as I write this, it is the 8th of June 2019, 23:42 and I am Home in Mamelodi.
This time 10 years ago my mother had already refused to take my call, knowing fully well that she had entered her death process, and more importantly, that she was about to give me the gift she had agreed to give me, in this lifetime. The gift she could only deliver through her death.
I will conclude this writing tomorrow, on June 9.
Thank you for reading.