Ha-Mulima, of the white goat.

My village, Ha-Mulima, hangs itself on a mountain. There’s a fog that hovers around in winter. The fog is intensely dense so you can’t see your outstretched hand or car lights meters away. When I was growing up, there was a story of Mphogoli: a monster made of fog. This was to scare children from wandering the streets in winter. For some reason, every child has convinced themselves that they have seen this mythological monster. It’s a creature we created; we carry it without thinking twice.

I remember my father came back home for the June holidays – I must’ve been eleven or so. It was magnificent having him home. He’d always come back with something precious. A new Bafana-Bafana jersey, a recently-released local movie, or a CD filled with kwaito and gospel music, or, though it was rare, a cellphone to play games and call him. I’d eventually lose or ruin the phone with time.

I was tucked in my blankets around 6am. The two curtains didn’t touch. The fog painted the window white.

“Wake up,” my father said.

I yawned out of bed. I walked to the living room still drunk in sleep. He handed me a cup of coffee, I was not allowed to drink coffee. Everyone else was still sleeping. I crashed on the sofa, and he moved the heater closer to me.

“Are you hungry?” he asked.

I nodded.

He made me bread with peanut butter. Whilst I ate, he cleaned the house. He’d washed the dishes the previous night. “The yard is a mess, right?” he asked.

I said yes. The grass around the yard grew like farmed crops.

He gave me a spade. He took one himself. We walked outside. The cold convoluted within the fog was deadly. He assigned each of us a portion where we’ll uproot the stubborn grass. I was freezing. Each dig into the ground reverberated throughout my body.

“Do you want to go inside?” he asked.

“No. I’m doing a man’s job,” I replied with a gloomy smile.

“It’s okay,” he threw his spade to the ground. “I’m tired, anyway.”

We walked back inside. He sat me down. As I quivered in front of the heater, he explained there’s no such thing as a man’s job.

“We share a common responsibility,” he said. “The problem with specifying responsibilities, there’s a superiority complex that occurs. The one who provides will, inevitably, want to control the one provided for. As a boy,” my father said, “you’ll always feel superior to your sister, because you were in the middle of Mphogoli whilst she washed dishes.”

To this day, I remember his words, uttered in Tshivenda: “Don’t carry an extra load because you’re a man. Carry what you can because you’re an individual who can carry that much. Don’t have an unnecessary Mphogoli in your life.”

Because of my father, I don’t carry an extra load, and, when I look back, this helped during my adolescence. I don’t remember excitedly jumping to open a tightly sealed mayonnaise lid to prove I’m man enough. If I couldn’t open it, I’d happily pass it to someone who could.

Thank you, Dad. I won’t tell my children of Mphogoli, but I’ll narrate what I wrote in this essay to them.


This was one of the runners-up entries in the My Father essay writing competition. Click here to read other excellent essays from the competition.