They say the most valuable things in life are free. Like when you finally get an adorable baby to flash you a wide toothless grin after you’ve exhausted all your pet names. Or when you find a twenty rand note in your jeans pocket. That feeling, that is how I felt every time I held my ragged black and brown rug close to my chest, sniffing the nostalgic scent on it.

I had named the rug, Fig, please don’t ask me why, only the 6-year old me would know the answer. I would persuade my sister into a little game I had created and I called it ‘Fly away with Fig’. We would lay Fig in our small purple bedroom between our twin beds. Anna’s bed had pink duvet covers with Disney princesses, mine was covered in mermaids.

With the lights switched off, we would pretend to be spaceship pilots maneuvering through undiscovered planets in our galaxy. We would fight three headed aliens that oozed green gooey liquid instead of red blood. We freed captured humans and led them back to earth. It had been a great adventure with new storylines everyday, until my sister felt the game was beneath her age.

I recall one Friday afternoon when my mother and I went for picnic. We laid Fig down on the wet green grass beneath us while we played board games and ate our lunch at a community park. I made quite a mess that day and almost ruined the rug with cheese puffs, cola, tomato sauce, and grease stains. When Saturday came, which was laundry day, mom was furious as she washed the stains. She kept sending me glares and murmuring angry words that made me sink further into my seat with guilt. From that day on I promised to treat my treasure with better care.

When I was 10 years old my mother died and we had to move from the house we rented almost all my life. Relatives were bickering over our mother’s belongings, furniture was sent to this one, clothes to the other and us to our paternal grandparents. Through it all I kept Fig safe. I didn’t wash it because I was afraid I’d lose the distinct scent that always made me nostalgic.

Fig held an innocent and carefree time in my life. I snapped every time someone touched it. How dare they touch such a pure thing! I felt as though letting go of the rug meant letting go of the memories, so I kept it safe in a shoebox under piles of blankets in the top shelve of my wardrobe. It remains the most valuable thing my mother left me.

Even now as a grown woman I refuse to part with it. Whenever the going gets tough, and the weight on my shoulders weighs down on me like lead, I wrap the rug around my defeated self and let the warmness of my rug engulf me like a mother’s embrace. I hear my mother’s soft voice alluring me to sleep, then suddenly all world’s woes come to peace.