““Vuka Ndoda!” My mother bellows, ushering the sunlight into the room. It is another Monday morning in December and the sky is heavy with clouds. I have no plans of leaving the bed this early but my mother has spoken. I know not to let her words hit the ground so I wake.
My mother stands halfway tall in the doorway now, almost filling the doorway sideways. Sunlight rushes in over her head and shoulders, cutting through her furious afro. The strands of her hair coil and curl and radiate with a rigid determination. Her crown, glorious and black, shines brilliantly under the December sun. She’s sprayed her hair and dyed it afresh, I see. She steps out of the door leaving my room and I follow her out.
“How are you, my son? Today, we are painting the house.” Laid out on the ground, I see the big white bucket, an old paint tray with some old paint residue, small and big paint brushes, old ones that are wet from rain and some new and fresh ones too. She bends over the 20L paint bucket and beckons me to assist. Her dedicated hands and mine unsure, work along the circumference of the bucket lid, and together we snap it open. The paint is a creamy lime, a beautiful and bright green. She grabs an old broomstick placed at the ready against the wall right next to a dusty three-step ladder. She sinks the broomstick into the thick volume of paint and begins to stir, dancing in a circular motion as though there was music in her ears. Simphiwe Dana’s song rings in my head, “Sibuthwele ubunzima.” My mother laughs, a gentle twinkle in her eyes and her yellow-white teeth in full view. “Nothing hard here mntanam’. I can’t hire somebody when we can do it. You’ll be alright.” I believe her.
I begin the painting on the side facing “the eyes of the people” as she puts it. I roll the first layers onto the rough wall surface and she tells me a story. It is usually when I am deep in chores that she opens her heart to me. “It matters sometimes what the people you are in community with think about you”. I’m not sure that I always agree but I appreciate these moments, these words and these lessons. I feel her presence and I appreciate that she is here.
“My grandmother named me Cecilia…” she tells me and tells me more as I paint on. She’s not at my side now. She speaks from inside the house. Her stories and thoughts flow through the aluminium windows to reach my ears outside here. I hear too the cracking of the steel pots, the thuds of the furniture and banging of the broom against the wall. This is what my mother always does, a tradition!
My mother steps out of the house. She brings me water in a yellow enamel mug. This too fees like tradition. The water tastes cold and metallic. It rolls in my mouth and feels good in my stomach. She points with her one dusty-white hand to a spot I missed while holding an old raggedy t-shirt on the other. I notice she’s wearing that sky-blue maternity dress she’s always telling me about: “ I wore this when I was expecting you.” For some reason, I feel that much closer to her.
She switches off the hissing gas stove and tells me that the water is prepared for me. Only the candle burns between us. I remember that Cecilia loves us.”