When the Sun abandons the earth, the earth forces us to mourn with her. Old skeletons become illuminated by disco lights when they dance and flaunt their presence. To make sure that we understand that they have no intentions of living in closets forever, and the blindfold we put over our eyes, blocking our ears from hearing their hideous calling of our names is futility wrapping its legs around unresolved issues.
When you cry so much that your nose burns, remember that the world has created avenues for you to break and fall apart but they only last long enough to have enough ammunition to mock and use against you.
If you need to fall apart, do it at night. There where your only audience is howling dogs that beg every ice crystal that makes up the sky to spare you off your misery, to be quick to open its doors for the sun so that another day can consume you and keep you idle until the time comes again to rest your head against ocean-wet pillows and silenced weeping when the whole world goes to sleep and silence makes the noise expected from an empty vessel.
Night time is the only time when winding your wrists is an empowering exercise, lest you find yourself drowning in thought, and irreversible hurt. The Sun will creep into the sky, and hug you senseless. Cockcrow will be your refuge, blue skies will sing your name, gather your pieces and just try, to get through the night…
The thing is, we always left home, every one of us. Every one of us had at least a few stinging pains of the world outside. When the other one left, the other returned. The shutting and opening of the doors in my grandmother’s house were like browning apples that would never be eaten again.
We never forgot to promise to return, for the way she looked at us pack our childhood into suitcases and become grown people was like symphonies about fear and sadness. Countless times she told us that she would carry the disappointment that the world had manufactured for us and carry them on her own shoulders. As if it were her own, and our lives were the reason for hers, as if she had not sacrificed enough. Her divorce was an eclipse that her heart and sanity were just not subsiding from. Granny’s house had become empty, only her silent self and abandoned dreams remain.
We have promised to return and to this day to search for the voices we made those promises with. Because the world was far brighter than granny’s house walls would ever be. Because we have found ourselves amongst people who would never walk to the crack of their heels just to feed us, not like granny would. Granny raised her daughters and their sons and watched them leave through the same door. Like migrating swallows that might never find their way back home. Granny’s house has become empty, it only feels warm when she hears the distant echoes of our past banters and laughter.
This was the second year that I had missed her birthday, I had held her hand two years ago and I fondly remembered how it slithered over the silky wrinkles on her palms. Drowning in guilt, I would venture into a world where granny and her dementia could not fit into my suitcases. I continuously spat lies to her face, told her this fairytale of my return, that I was not like the others, that the floods in my eyes would only dry when we were reunited… in her humble home with the cracked walls and a stove much older than I would ever be. I had been away and consumed by the art. She had wanted everyone to be a teacher, and every day she fed us lessons on child behavior and language. I doubt she would bear the shame of mothering an artist. Looking at her, I wonder where it all went wrong. Where the ghosts that absorbed all the peace had come from. Maybe grandpa had buried them inside her, when he left and told his son’s to never stop waiting for him to return. Much like we did.
Maybe we were waiting for her funeral to say that although we did love her, the illusive warmth that the world had shown us was a thorny trap we were engulfed in. We would buy her an expensive tombstone to compensate for all the times we failed to buy her loaves of bread and hot-cross buns – granny loved hot-cross buns. They reminded her of her mother. Looking at granny I saw the same torn woman, stormy inside, giving herself to others being the only way she knew to sew herself together again.
A decade had passed and rewriting and writing letters that I would never have the courage to post home was a monster pinning me down. For I could never reduce my grandmother’s existence to a few sentences on a mere piece of paper, much like great men just became the subjects of obituaries and fancy font and black and white. I could never insult her like that, not when she bent her back so I could walk upright.
So much had happened and she missed all of it. I had started teaching at a local school, because the art was like betrayal to her efforts. I had been living just as she had wanted.
“Thembeka I will raise your children for you. Give me a purpose, this is what old women do”… “Where are you, why do you not remember me”, her voice was haunting me. It would swirl and bounce off the walls of every room I ran to. It flaunted its presence as if to force me to walk through life emptily. Like I had made her live and my biggest fear was that she would never recognize me again.
It had been a gloomy flight although I was going back home. I would walk barefoot and feel the earth tickle my soles. The sun would paint me with melanin again, I would feel UV rays tap-dance on my skin. But the air hostess was becoming a nuisance, hearing her ask “Is everything okay Maam?” started to feel like she was patronizing me. How could it be? I might find my granny’s 4-room mashed into the ground, and a vacant space remain. I might find nothing all, not even her.
The flight landed and the taxi ride took longer than expected. I had not missed this part. However not even taxi driver mannerisms could affect me. Not today. Not when I could feel my lungs conjure into spheres of delight and contentment, polluted air never felt so good.
Home was exactly as I had left it. A few new faces and some grand houses but it was just the same. Knocking on granny’s door took so much strength, I was thanking an imagery god that I found the door standing at all. I walked into that house like it never raised me, like its ground wasn’t the first to relish on my menstrual blood. She looked as gorgeous as I had left her, but with her eyesight gone I had to explain who I was. She cried so many tears, much more than I could count. She complained about so many things and it sounded so perfect, like she had all the time in the world and she had used it to rehearse for this moment.
The morning came and I would make her breakfast as I had learnt in the foreign land, just as I had dreamt. But shaking her and calling her name could not wake her. Her food was getting cold. I shook her again, more profusely. I was floating on a denial cloud. I knew she was gone. I just needed this story to take back to my fake home and narrate to my children in a neutral voice how I knew she died long before I returned and that she died when I left and only kept breathing so I could make it to her funeral.
Photo: Boipelo Maetla