The sound of the alarm clock rings at 5:00 a.m. Thembi’s voice sounds like she already dreads the day. She hits the clock, and switches off the alarm.

“Is it morning already?” Thembi grouches, “the winter season can be so deceiving. It’s still so dark.” A sound of light footsteps resonates in the passage hall. They continue, and approach Thembi’s bedroom. And then a light knock hits the door. “Who is it?” Thembi slightly moans.

Her bedroom door screeches, and it slowly opens. Zandile walks in, smiling as usual.

“Hi mom,” she slightly pauses. “Just checking to see how you’re doing, and… how was your sleep? I see you’re not going to work today…? Because if you are, you’re awfully late, I must say.” Zandile approaches her mother’s bed, and she gently climbs and sits comfortably on top of the cover bed.

Her mother speaks warmly. “Oh Zandi, my dear, I think it’s too early for you to be checking up on me. It’s 5:00 a.m., and it’s a Saturday. I’m sure that most children are using this day to their advantage – sleeping,” she fondly smiles back. Zandile lets out a soft giggle.

“Can’t help it if I worry.” She shrugs. “Especially about a mother who’s having trouble with one of her kids,” she says, still notoriously smiling. “Anyway, I noticed your car wasn’t yet running…so, I thought I’d catch you right before you leave.”

There’s brief silence, then Thembi cautiously responds to her daughter’s statement.

“Darling, you speak as though I’m never home.”

Zandile chuckles. “Mom, I think you know what I mean…”

“I understand you, darling. It’s the situation…and work is demanding… Then there’s trouble here at home with Mxolisi,” Thembisa lets out a heavy sigh. “It’s draining.” She opens up to her daughter.

Zandile responds enthusiastically. “You see, that’s exactly what I mean. I have reason to worry about you…worried that you could have heart failure, or something!” she says still laughing. Her mother laughs along with her.

“Please darling, don’t make me feel guilty about working, and trying to be there for you and Mxolisi. It’s a hard thing being a mother.” she slightly pauses. “And one thought 2044 would be different.”

“Well, it’s the new century. I guess no matter how things have been. Now is how they should be,” she pauses. “And you shouldn’t feel guilty about it, not every woman is married. And so you do whatever needs be, for your family, including sacrifices and having to deal with consequences. I absolutely get it.” Zandile responds with conviction.

Her mother is astonished.

“Well, darling, that wasn’t what I was saying,” she pauses. “But I’m glad you have some sense of life’s understanding. 2044 isn’t easy for any individual, or family. And before we get too deep in the morning, where is your brother Mxolisi?”

Zandile answers precariously. “Honestly? I think I heard him come back in the ungodly hours of the morning. Then I’m sure I heard him leave soon again. Haven’t heard him since, but he usually does this.” She pauses, “I’ve noticed he avoids meeting you, so he comes back in the noon when you’re working, but I’m sure he’ll grow out of it.”

“I’m not convinced. It seems to be worsening daily and I’m starting to think there’s more to this,” Thembi sounds sad.

In the middle of their conversation, there’s another knock on Thembi’s bedroom door. The door screeches, opens, and closes again. It’s Grace, sounding cheery as ever.

“A good morning, to both of you, my dear children!”

Thembi looks obviously surprised. “Goodness, mother! Not you too! Why so early in the morning?”

Grace is astonished by that reply. “What’s with the unpleasant mood, darling? I think I know what will do…coffee for two?”

“Say no more Gran-gran! Two cups of strong coffee, coming right up!” Zandile responds with the greatest enthusiasm. She jumps up from her mother’s bed, and walks towards the bedroom door. The door screeches and opens. She busies herself, and walks out and it closes.

“Mama, why are you also up so early?” Thembi gathers the strength to confront her bold mother. Grace however, is unfazed.

“Never mind that, my dear. Now tell me, what is this chit and chatter I’m hearing, between you and my dear Zandi? I think I have more reason to worry.”

Thembi lets out a deep sigh. “I guess we were chatting about everything, and you have no reason to worry because Zandi and I are fine mom. We were just talking about work and Mxolisi.” She pauses. “I was just wondering about his whereabouts, that’s it, no chit-chatter, I promise.” She smiles wearily and hesitantly while Grace listens intently.

“Indeed, darling, it’s getting the better of everyone. And this is why we should stand together, these times are trying.” She pauses. “Your son will come right, he will overcome and I believe it. Now, don’t worry yourself young lady, or else you’ll have a heart-attack or something – and we do not want it.” she says so compassionately.

The door screeches and Zandile opens it quickly, but without interrupting. She carefully walks in into the bedroom, where both her mother and grandmother are cosily sitting. She gives each woman her own cup of black coffee, together with a bran muffin. Then she climbs back in bed, right next to her mother, where she studiously joins in the conversation.

“It’s like you heard me! That’s exactly what I said to her… I warned her about her heart failing.” Zandile adds to the conversation, and laughs.

“Well, that was quick,” Grace responds with equal enthusiasm.

Zandile decides to use sarcasm. “It’s the new century grandma. It’s called a Solar Kettle…doesn’t even need plugging…keeps the water at warm temperature for up to 6 hours! 2044 has sure offered South Africans some amazing technology, even us in the townships.” She says sounding proud of her knowledge.

Thembi scolds at her. “Please darling, don’t be sarcastic with your grandmother.” Zandile whines.

“But I’m being informative. Grandma’s clueless when it comes to the new technology…”

“Stop it, Zandi! Neither me nor your grandmother asked you. Some generations would consider it forward and ungracious.” Thembi tries to be the bigger person, but Zandile is astonished.

“No mom, you’re sensitive, always defensive. And I don’t blame you – you do come from the era of the Guptas and the Zumas. I read it all in my history textbooks; those were days of political terrorists.” She pauses. “It was such a shame, really… Look at Grandma, hasn’t retaliated in any way, and do you know why? Because she resides from the era of the Madibas… the peace makers.”

Grace can’t help but laugh at her granddaughter’s remarkable statement.

“Well, that’s because you two are talking about me as though I’m already dead. I’m right here. But I keep quiet because it’s always interesting to hear both of your individual perspectives of South Africa. We’re women of three generations; the Madibas, the Zumas, and the Solar Kettle and heaters,” she pauses while laughing.

“Thembisa my dear, don’t be so serious. I appreciate my grandchild, for who she is. She has a strong mind and that’s something I admire. In my time, our character wasn’t so developed. The old South African regime never allowed it, and would never dare us to try it. But on some level, while things change, they still stay the same. The family issues and struggles which you are faced with in 2044 were no different for my family in 1960, and were no different for my own family when I had you in 1990. So I appreciate and value this little precious child’s humour. It’s enlightening, and a reminder of how South Africa is getting better in its humanity,” she laughs proudly.

Thembi lets out a sigh of understanding.

“I guess you were right mom. This trouble with my son has taken the best of everything. I didn’t realise how much I’m affected by it.”

Grace responds to her daughter warmly. “Don’t sadden your poor heart, my dear. This too shall pass,” she pauses. “Now, let’s all chit and chatter about our plan for today. I’m thinking brunch, just the way you both love it.”

Later that day, Mxolisi decides to come home. In his return, he finds his grandmother and sister, entertained by sola television. His mother is out, visiting a friend who lives in the same neighbourhood. Upon his prodigal return, he upsets his grandmother by ignoring her inquisitions of his whereabouts. He refuses to answer any questions, and he locks himself in his bedroom.

When his mother returns later that evening, as usual he goes to open the gate and garage door for her to come in with the car. Then, he quickly goes back to the house, one assuming that he doesn’t want to be bothered by anyone. Just as his mother enters the front door, into the TV area, upon greeting her mother and daughter, a gunshot is heard coming from Mxolisi’s bedroom.

Troubling as he is, and troubled as he was, no-one kwa Gumede saw it coming. So who can explain this gripping family tragedy?