“Ashes to Ashes, dust to dust.” These are the only words I remember from the pastor who was conducting my mother’s funeral. The whole family and other distant relatives were gathered around the grave, which was to be my mother’s final resting place. I could hear the choir from The Methodist Church singing “Amagugu Alelizwe Ayosala Emathuneni”, as the soil landed with a ‘thud’ on the coffin. It felt as if someone had just ripped the heart out of my chest. I never had a chance to say goodbye, nor did I ever get a chance to get to know my mother better.
My Mother died of TB at the age of 33, leaving me and my brother in the hands of our grandparents, who could hardly make ends meet. I looked at my grandmother as she sat weeping by the graveside dressed in black, her eyes were swollen and her face looked pale. I could tell she hadn’t had enough sleep since the day my mother passed away. Even though their relationship wasn’t as close as both of them had wanted it to be, she was the one who nursed my mother when she came back home sick. I did not understand the pain of losing a child or a daughter, but I sure knew the pain of losing a mother.
I could tell that my mother’s death had scarred my grandmother the same way it did me. Through the pain I felt I also felt betrayal. I sked myself how she could die and leave my brother and I while we were still so young? I was only 14-years-old and my brother was 8-years-old. Neither of us had any relationship with our father. I had only spent two years with my mother. I had no relationship with her. I saw her as the women who gave birth to me, breastfed me until I was old enough and then abandoned me – only showed up again when she only had a few months left to live.
Growing up, my mother was never there for us. She would pack her bags and disappear every time she got into an argument with my grandmother. Don’t get me wrong, I loved my mother, but I was angry and hurt because she wasn’t there when I was being bullied and abused while growing up. I was made to feel ugly and unwanted by the same family she left me with; my uncles treated me badly. At times they made me sit alone because “I looked disgusting”, while they cradled my cousin, who was also the same age as me but only “prettier”.
She was even allowed to sit on their laps and eat on the same plate as them. Other times they wouldn’t even eat in my presence as my body was covered with sores, they told me I made them nauseous. I was young then, I didn’t understand why I was treated differently from my cousin because I thought we were the same. I longed for the love they gave her, but there was no one to give it to me. At least they treated my brother with a little respect, but I could tell that the way they treated me was paining him and he could not defend me. Our mother was not there to protect us and when she was, she was too weak to do anything.
There were times when my mother got into arguments with one of my aunts, even though my aunt was wrong, my grandmother would defend her only to make my mother angrier. My mother then wouldn’t eat and took her tables on an empty stomach, that’s what inevitably caused her death. Sometimes I blame my family for my mother’s death, but deep down I know that she brought in onto herself.
I remember standing beside her grave, thinking that the way my life was with my family was going to stay that way until I was old enough to leave home. , I was to be the Outsider who didn’t even possess any form of identity.
A month or two after my mother’s death, I had become sadder and angrier than I had previously been. At night I would cry myself to sleep. I remember writing on the walls of my room that God didn’t exist because if he did, then he wouldn’t have allowed my mother to die so young. Part of me died with her along with my womanhood and self-confidence. It seemed that I was the only one who felt alone and unwanted because my brother seemed to be coping very well with the death of our mother. I couldn’t blame him though, he didn’t even know how it felt to have a mother and I didn’t understand how loosing someone you didn’t know that much hurt that way, but it did.
Then my grandfather suddenly fell ill. I could see that he wouldn’t be with us for long. Somehow he reminded me of my mother in the last few weeks before she died. It was like he knew he was going to die and this feeling was felt by everyone at home. It was the same feeling we all got before my mother died, the dark emptiness that would welcome you as you entered our home, which was accompanied by my grandfather’s faint cough, as he struggled to breath.
At night when everyone was asleep in our little four roomed house, I would hear my grandmother praying and from the words in her prayer, I could tell she knew that Mkhulu would be gone soon. He was the kindest and the most polite man I have ever known. When Gogo wanted to give us a hiding he always protected us by telling Gogo we were too young for a hiding. He would bring roasted nuts back from work and call us one by one and share the nuts with us. I can still hear his voice calling “Bazukulu wozani kuMkhulu”, (My grandchildren come to grandpa). And with the sound of his voice we would come swarming in like bees to take our places around him.
Exactly two months after my mother’s death, Mkhulu passed on, taking along with him Gogo’s happiness. Yes, she would smile and sometimes laugh but in her laughter you could sense the sadness, which was accompanied by emptiness.
The year 2003 was the darkest year in our family.
Mamncane (my mother’s younger sister) couldn’t find a job and being the eldest child in the family at the time, she felt it was her responsibility to help Gogo with raising us. She needed a job to be able to do that. My uncle started drinking heavily to a point where he couldn’t even recognize himself. From his drunkenness, he would take the pleasure of throwing insults and verbal abuse at me. Part of me wanted to believe it was his drunkenness talking, but another part was arguing whether he was speaking his mind.
Besides they say a drunken man speaks a sober man’s mind.
It was not a hidden secret that my aunts and uncles resented me and my brother, and that resentment might have been caused by the continuous fights and arguments my mother and Gogo had. My mother was their half-sister, she was another man’s child. Technically she was Gogo’s first child. And from what I gathered, my mother’s anger and resentment towards my grandmother was because Gogo lef her at a very young age with my great grandmother when she married Mkhulu and she relocated to Ingwavuma. Mama was angry for having to grown up without her mother and not getting the same attention as her other siblings had. I guess her anger fell upon us too, as she also left us and we had grown up alone without a mother.
During the start of the rainy season, Gogo would wake us up at 5 in the morning so that we could plough the fields before we went to school. At first I to enjoyed it, but as time went on I got tired. Sometimes I would get to school and just dose off while the teacher was still teaching, but I still managed to pass all my subjects with flying colours. One of the things Gogo used to say as we were ploughing the vast fields that surrounded our home was, “Mzukulu you will reap what you sow!” At first I thought that she was talking about the seeds we planted every morning, but later I understood what she truly meant by that phrase.
One of the mornings that would haunt my memories till this day, was when we had just got back from the fields to get ready for school. I went to prepare some breakfast for myself and as I entered the kitchen, which was packed with my uncles and cousins, my older Uncle started picking on me. I can’t remember what he said or what I said back. All I remember was a spin kick that landed on my face and as I smashed my head on the kitchen floor. All I heard was a roar of laughter from my other siblings. I was in so much pain that I couldn’t cry or get up. I was only 10-years-old for goodness sake. Through the years I tried to understand why they hated me that much. I still don’t understand it to this day.
As I got back on my feet, I searched for my brother. I expected him to help me, but he stood there watching me helplessly. Of all the horrible things my uncles had done to me in the past, that was the worst and it left a scar in my heart.
If it wasn’t the beatings that I received at home, it was the bullying from some of the older girls at school. My friend, Nomvelo, and I were victims. We were bullied because of the way we looked, our appearance. Nomvelo was a bit chubby and I on the other hand, had scars on my legs and my school uniform wasn’t always new. Each year I received second hand uniforms from the neighbours to help Gogo save on the expenses. Part of the reason why Nomvelo and I become friends, except for the fact that we grew up together and went to the same kindergarten school, was that most of the time we were isolated by our classmates and so we would find ourselves sitting together – and she would sometimes share her lunch box with me.
I was happier at school than at home. Every time the bell rang, signalling the end of the school, all the bitterness and anger would came flooding back at the realization that I was headed home. I hated it, and as a result I would quietly sit in a dark corner of the house to avoid drawing any attention on me. But this was just the beginning of many difficult times to come, those times that nearly drove me to committing suicide.
My class teacher at that time, Miss Houltshausen, could tell I was not myself and she did the best she could to ensure me that all would be fine. Even though I didn’t confide in her about what was going on in my life at the time, her act of kindness got me here today.
The abuse and the hate fell upon me and smashed any sense of belonging and importance, like Thor’s hammer it vanquished all the self-confidence and self-esteem. I was told that I would become nothing, that I would be another statistic of teenage pregnancy and primary school drop-outs. I was told repeatedly that no one would love me because I wasn’t pretty enough. When words weren’t enough, fists and kicks were another reminder of what I would become.
For years it went on and drove me further and further to the unending despair and resentment I still feel. On the outside I seemed happy, my body looked well feed and I was what most people considered “fat” .Yet, on the inside I was starving for love and appreciation, my inner being was but a memory still engulfed by thirst and poverty. The pain of growing up without a mother or a father still haunts me to this day. I still have nightmares whereby I see myself dying and leaving my children so young. I fear leaving them in the hands of people who would find it disgusting to look at, unfit of their love and attention. I dread the idea of falling in love with questions like “What if there is a sense of abuse hidden beneath those sweet words? What if what he really sees is a servant girl who has to wash, clean and cook for him or if need be give him children?”
Looking at me now 14 years later about to graduate with a degree on Plant Pathology, on the outside I’m like a book fresh from the printers, without a scratch. The only blemishes I bear are but scars of a past I wish not to relive. Looking at me now, you will see a young woman so beautiful, a smile so perfect that you would swear no tears had touched my cheeks. If only you knew that deep inside the broken pieces of the inner me, still beg to be put together, still beg to be made whole again in the heart that longs to be loved, if you could just see the inner me.