My aunty says, “Home is not a physical space. It is your first thoughts in the morning. It is not walls and windows and a garden with a peach tree that the neighbours kids climb violently, the one they pull and hang ropes on. First as swings and later as chockers.” “Home is not a Sunday meal were uGogo lets you have more slices of ujeqe. Home is the reflection in the mirror, becoming your father. Home is mourning friends the day you meet them. Home is being alone. Home is not a physical space, you cannot leave home. Unless you stop breathing and your absence becomes someone else’s home.
I have grown up listening to her words and I now share the same sentiments. Home can be an absence. It is not a roof over your head. No one leaves home; you will always be home, even if uGogo sets her house on fire, vomiting waves of lava. It can burn down with your sister still tying her shoes, you will always be home. Home is all that linger in the air, all which is fed to the ground. Home is why you’re always on the ground. When we wake up to an empty bed, we think people have left home. But no one can leave home. We cannot leave ourselves.
With this understanding of what ‘home’ is, I roll my eyes and shake my head at least a thousand times before the weekly episode of Khumbu’ekhaya ends. I roll my eyes at how people come weeping and begging their relatives to come home, telling them how they have missed them. How, home is not where they are!
My friend, Thuli, who weeps for those who weep and beg their family members to come home, says my whole concept of home is flawed and that my aunt is bitter. I don’t mind, Thuli likes challenging me and I really don’t mind because she also believes that locking doors keeps her safe. She believes that the monsters come from outside and have three eyes and hands already dripping of blood. Thuli is naïve; she blushes when people say they love her.
I know what people mean when they say they love you. They want to see how many peach trees you have broken down, hanging ropes on them, swinging and chocking. They want you to pick them up with your tongue and take them on a tour around your home and tell them stories of how your garden became a desert and whether those are bones or branches scattered all over the yard. However when you have done that, they pick you up with their tongues, they won’t show you their gardens but they will sing songs about your draught. Thuli and I are different.
Like every week she asks, “Why don’t you write to Khumbul’ekhaya about your uncle to bring him home?” “But he is home wherever he is,” I respond. Thuli and I disagree on ‘home’ all the time. Some people do not want to be found or rescued or brought back ‘home’. She says people who leave ‘home’ can never find peace and I disagree. People can be in turmoil living with all their family members because home is self, home is thoughts. We always end this short conversation with Thuli sighing and shaking her head saying my aunt has made my heart hard.
Now about my uncle that Thuli weeps for, his name is Musa and he left home when I was 9 years old. I remember his face and though it has been 19 years since he left, my grandmother still says the same thing about him, “Uyasha la ekhona.” We don’t really know what happened to my ucle but I’ve known since I was a chid that he is burning wherever he is.
It is hard to ask adults to explain why things are as they are. As curious children, we try to fill in the blanks and whoever is the most convincing storyteller amongst us, we run with their version. Some of my siblings say uncle Musa rebelled against my grandmother and ran away from home. Some say he couldn’t handle my grandmothers boiling temper. I believe there is a truth he is running away from, since my granny keeps saying, “he is burning wherever he is.” I believe he was burning in his own mothers house but his mother knew that leaving does not cool down the flames. A house is just shelter.
My aunty once told me that uncle Musa’s leaving has something to do with the 19 year old girl four houses from our home. That that girl, Thabang, is his daughter that he denied and that’s why he left. He didn’t want to take care of her or marry the mother. Thabang’s family and ours don’t have a relationship but my aunty and granny do send some gifts to Thabang every now and then. “Uyasha la e khona,” my granny still insists.
Even though I tell this to Thuli about my uncle Musa, she still asks, “So you still won’t write to Khumbul’ekhaya?” No! I often respond out of irritation. We don’t write to Khumbul’ekhaya for people who are running away from themselves. Maybe his daughter will write to Khumbul’ekhaya but my granny and aunty and myself know that he who packs his bags packs himself as well.
Like my granny and aunty, I believe that people can’t chase around the world hoping the truth won’t haunt them wherever they are. Uncle Musa may have left us and Thabang but he is with himself and all the load of his heart wherever he is. My aunty says, “It is better to clear your conscience that to plant pretty flowers at the front gate of your house”
Photo: Hazel Fasaha Tobo