The first Monday of November was a hot summer day, nothing unusual about it. Tshidi woke up to wash her face, brush her teeth and boil water for coffee on their new gas stove which her grandmother had saved a full eight months for. Soon her grandmother would be up and finding fault with everything Tshidi did. Sometimes, Tshidi wished that she was bold enough to tell her grandmother that her endless whining is the reason her grandfather left her for Mme Morwesi, who spoke softly and listened before she made her point.
Unlike Tshidi’s grandmother, who raised her voice when she felt that the other party was making a valid point, making it impossible for the person to continue. But apart from her relentless complaining and her imposing loud voice, Tshidi shared great memories with her grandmother.
After graduation, Tshidi came back home to stay with her grandmother while looking for a job. Every day after chores, they would sit under the big tree that stood tall and proud in one corner of their big yard and Tshidi would teach her grandmother to read and write. Even though her grandmother was stubborn, she could never hide the sparkle her eyes carried every time she got a word correct without Tshidi reminding her. After just four months she could read stories to Tshidi but before they could get carried away, she would slip into a topic Tshidi resented, marriage. She often tried to explain to her grandmother that to her, marriage is not an accomplishment and that she was not rushing to find love as she has just finished with her studies and her grandmother would argue that she is not growing any younger, if Tshidi takes any longer, she won’t be able to run after her grandchildren. Tshidi wanted to let her know that her children, if she had any, would never spend more than an hour in the presence of her grandmother, otherwise the poor children would be the kind of adults who have to recover from their childhoods. But she could never get anything in because before she knew it, her grandmother would get into a dreamy mode and tell Tshidi about the day she met her grandfather and about their wedding day. The joy they had when they found out that she was pregnant with Tshidi’s mother, their only child, who died after giving birth to Tshidi. Some days, Tshidi enjoyed hearing those stories, on other days she pitied her grandmother for not having the ability to let go and on other days, she resented her grandfather for hurting her grandmother by leaving him for their closest neighbour.
On the first Wednesday of Novemeber Tshidi woke up to follow her routine and as she served her grandmother her coffee, her grandmother avoided looking her in the eye, nor did study her face as she always did as if to check if something happened over night that Tshidi was hiding from her. She spoke in a lowered tone as if unsure of her words.
Tshidi continued with her day, because she knew her grandmother could never keep a secret, soon she would call Tshidi and shock her with her discoveries or whatever it is that was troubling her. But when Tshidi came into the kitchen to get water for their class, she found her at the kitchen table, staring at her empty mug, deep in her thoughts and still in her morning clothes, an old t-shirt of her grandfather’s and sweatpants that were older than Tshidi. This was strange because it was time to start their lesson, which her grandmother was always 5 minutes early for. Tshidi shook her grandmother who sprung up her chair and cursed. “Matshidiso man, you’ll be the cause of my heart attack,” her grandmother said, as if her quick jump didn’t make Tshidi’s heart hesitate to beat. “Tshwarelo mma, it’s time for us to start with the lesson” Tshidi said to her grandmother, avoiding to ask her what is wrong. Her grandmother returned to her seat and starred into space as if she didn’t hear what Tshidi had said.
While she was standing over her grandmother, Marole knocked. He was known as the village thug, he had a scar on his forehead which was said to be from a beer bottle fight over a girl named Mantwa who left the village for the city to reap the benefits of her beauty. Everyone knew well to stay out of Marole’s way. Tshidi panicked and her grandmother jumped out of her seat and gave Tshidi the “Leave us alone” look, Tshidi stood glued to her spot, scared and curious about Marole’s presence. Marole stood at the door, shifting the toothpick held between his lips from one side to the other. Saying nothing, waiting for Tshidi to move. Her grandmother stood up and went to the bedroom and the two stood there, saying nothing to each other.
Before her grandmother could return, Mmamotse came rushing in. She was the granddaughter to mme Morwesi, and a dear friend of Tshidi, although younger and not so well read. When Tshidi’s grandfather officially moved in with mme Morwesi, her grandmother said that she couldn’t become friends with the betrayers daughter, so the two met at the lake every second afternoon, after Tshidi and her grandmother’s lesson during the free time she had before she could start cooking supper. She and Mmamotse would laugh about the village boys who tried to make advances on them, and they would dream about life outside the village, which Tshidi already had a taste of, she would guide Mmamotse’s wild expectations about the big cities. The two resolved that when Tshidi gets a job, Mmamotse would come to stay with her and she would help her enrol in short courses to further empower herself. Their meetings were almost a countdown to the greater days they would share together outside the village. But today, Mmamotse wasn’t her jolly self with her high pitched voice, she was screaming and tears were rolling down her round cheeks, which Tshidi always found to be a strange feature for someone as petite as Mmamotse. She pushed Marole out of the way and stood in front of Tshidi, jumping and crying, trying to compose a sentence but words were failing her. Tshidi got her a glass of water and sat her down, while Marole slipped out of the kitchen without them noticing.
“What happened?” Tshidi asked, Mmamotse opened her mouth to answer but a wail came out and all Tshidi got was “Mma, Mma”
Tshidi gathered that something must have happened to mme Morwesi, she took Mmamotse by the hand and they started to run towards their house. Even though the houses in the villages were a few kilometres apart, the two ran as if they were chasing the wind, with a lightness they would never possess under different circumstances. When they arrived, they found her grandfather kneeling under the giant tree that stood tall in the centre of their yard, with soft sobs saying “Please Morwesi, don’t leave me. Don’t leave me please.” She felt a chill go down her spine, felt the hot air suddenly turn cold and a bad taste in her mouth, and the blue sky appeared to be grey and right there and then, Tshidi knew what had happened, Mme Morwesi was dead. She went over to her grandfather and asked what happened, but he too was out of words, he looked at Tshidi as if begging her to bring his beloved back to life.
When she met with Mmamotse a day ago, she had told her that her grandmother and Tshidi’s grandfather had went to the chief the previous day to invite him to a wedding celebration. After four and a half years of being together, they wanted to get married and make their relationship official. They also asked that the king be the one to tell Tshidi’s grandmother the news as they were not allowed anywhere near her house. When Tshidi came back from the lake, she didn’t find her grandmother at home, she was summoned by the king she said and said nothing more and she looked rather disturbed. She later asked Tshidi to help her get the trunk where she kept her money from the top of the wardrobe, her very own savings account. The trunk that kept the money for the gas stove and other important things, but still Tshidi paid no attention to her. What Tshidi didn’t know was that in the irrationality of her emotions, after meeting the king, her grandmother charged towards Marole’s house and not only made a deal with the devil, but also sang him praises.
Mmamotse explained to Tshidi once she was calm and her grandfather was lying down inside the house that, while she was cleaning the toilets which were far from the house and her grandfather taking his usual morning walk, she heard a gunshot, but dismissed it to be a fire cracker as Christmas was near or to be one of the random noises they often heard in the village, but when she returned to the house, she found her grandmother lying on the ground, blood oozing out of her chest and her crotched and wool lying near as if to create the perfect murder scene. Someone had shot her grandmother. “Why Tshidi, why?” Mmamotse asked as if somehow, Tshidi knew the answers. Before they could get carried away in grief, Tshidi asked Mmamotse to bring a blanket to cover the dead body of mme Morwesi, who even in her death, looked sweet and the pink lipstick she always wore was more visible as her skin started to pale. She then asked Mmamotse to call a mortuary.
After mme Morwesi’s body was picked up, the villagers started to fill the yard. Some bringing condolences, some empty stomachs hoping to be filled with biscuits and juice and other’s an itchy ear to hear how the old woman died. She sat with Mmamotse to make arrangements and before the sun could set she went home to tell her grandmother that she will be staying with Mmamotse and her grandfather during this time. As she walked home she felt guilty as a thought creeped into her head, to question if her grandmother had anything to do with this.
Suddenly, images of her grandmother flashed in her mind, her grandmother sitting like a zombie in the kitchen that morning, her request to bring down the money trunk from the top of the wardrobe and Marole’s visit to their home.
When she got home, Marole was gone and her grandmother was sitting at a different side of the table, still in the morning clothes, and still staring into space. She shifted a little in her chair when she heard Tshidi walk in, Tshidi stood where Marole had stood and starredd at her grandmother, contemplating to ask her if she had anything to do with Mme Morwesi’s death. The two starred at each other and just as Tshidi was about to speak, her grandmother stood up and sat down again “He wanted to marry her,” she said and bowed her head.
Photo: Botswele Mogotlane