Father, it has been said, even after your death, after the spectacle that occurred at your burial.
“He was a spinster, that great-uncle of yours”, said makhulu.
Your sister would sob after uttering this acrid phrase, for it weighed bundles of disparities in it.
Let me revisit the untold story. For it will be dangerous to reveal only one aspect of it: starting at the spectacle that took place in our home, during the send-off ceremony. Which is a common ritual done prior to the funeral departure, for the graveyard or church, only if you were a churchgoer? Out of foolishness, I thought the ritual was coined for those enthusiastic and passionate strangers, who attend funerals regularly on weekends, to have a chance to see the face of the corpse in person, instead of extravagantly decorated obituaries. The casket we buried my uncle in, was displaying a rather unusual photo sync. “We”, because of the village men and their counsel, refused to be a part of the burial. They refused to be part of the omen, as they proclaimed it as such. When the elders have spoken, their word is the authority and can’t be negotiated because of great-uncle that didn’t bury both of his parents and siblings. The matter of fact is that he didn’t attend burials at the village, when he still resided there, prior to his voyeurism.
We were stunned by this amazement. The punitive pun, that we were witnessing with fixed eyes. Fixed at a stunt. Fixated on the examples of purism reforms. Was the casket dripping of stanched blood? A pultruding an unpleasant smell. The pastor being stunned at this, meanwhile his red-lip bible was blazing in flames. Pastors or church-mousses, ought to know this kind of display, they ought to know this criminalized act.
A dying uproar sprouted from uMakhulu.
Even after that spectacle, after your send-off. The gossip-mongers in the village would neglect their daily duties, to mock your existence or to consolidate their sons not to tread in the footsteps of Bhomoyi, my great-uncle. He was notoriously known in his youth by his contemporaries, whom he grew up with, to have made bad choices during his prime. He dwelled on the untrodden path he chose to travel. Now he’s a “nothing”, but a figure of speech, used for ukuyala amakhwenkwe emigidini (traditional ceremony when a boy comes back from manhood/circumcision) into a dignified journey. I guess a tree falls the way it leans, so they say sayings and here-say. It didn’t make a difference when the harmattan wind was blowing from west to east.
At the tender age of twenty-eight, an age acceptable to take a wife. He took off and went on a sojourn, into the wilderness of Port Elizabeth. Prominently known for its prolific mixture of cultures that are forced into a tin, a space with sheebeens, throughout its context, including its subordinate dorpies like Dispatch and Uitenhage. Here he thought he could find his green pastures in a bile city. Planted two kids, and thought space was too rooted and rigid for him. So he took off, and uMakhulu lost contact with him since then.
His first voyage, was to Limpopo, in a village called Muyexe. A poverty-stricken photo sync. A place lost in translation. There he stayed with a widower and accepted her with a package of three children in the bargain. Quite strange. She died after four years of marriage and he was forcefully evicted by her late husband’s brothers, claiming that ‘‘He will rob our nephews of their legitimate right’’.
As we listened with contempt to his fable journeys and inexcusable savouring. We finally deduced where he resided next to the misspell in Muyexe. Sophiatown, in Johannesburg. Overcrowded with contemporaries of an ill doctrine. Walls tarred with sketches of paranoia. There he would occasionally accept amatorho– odd jobs just to get by. Welcomed by the Mokoena’s, into their backroom flats, situated at a church missionary. He stayed with them, not until he fornicated with the Mfundi’s wife when their marriage was hitting rock bottom. Marriage debacles, of which he abandoned in his village. They were caught red-handed by Luvuyo, the 16-year old, presumably the eldest. He reported this to his father, with no alteration at the spectacle.
Uncle couldn’t finish the story, he started to speak madness. A comfort space for exclusion. We excused ourselves while ducking the heavy insults from umakhulu, insulting his mad brother and us, for revisiting a painful past.
“That was his own making, no one should be blamed for “ukuxhuzula kwakhe (his epilepsy)”.
He once mentioned Somerset East in his expeditions. An acid space, filled with violent episodes of moronic ironies. Clashed against its periphery of existence. There he met his wife, at the age of forty-five. They shared one daughter. They lived well together until his wife was stoned to death, suspected of ukuthakatha– witch-crafting by the community. He took off and dumped Boniswa, at her uncle’s house. Cradock and Welkom seem to paint a vague and obscured memory in him, but his familiarity with Sesotho language, should prove his misspell at Welkom.
Soaked in alcohol, he would perform misguided steps, sometimes he would fall attempting these strange acts. He wasn’t well respected in his village. Promising young men would insult him for not having performed rituals or “igogogo” -to cleanse himself from bad luck.
“Weak old man, poor and stingy fool” and things like “no man is an island”.
He would get beaten up sometimes, for the sharpness of his tongue, that resembles a circumcision knife.
When drunk, he would falsely talk and incarcerate himself with unfulfilled promises of erecting the iron roof at his parents grave site and replacing it with a proper tombstone, with the peanuts he got from the government. But it was 5 years ago. These silly talks worry umakhulu and his death too. The loneliness worries her; the spectacle worries her.
The stanched blood must be the exhaustion from all these earthly things and voyages from the world filled with his contemporaries. A world of purism reforms and idiotic geniuses.
“Mzukulu, ek is Simon van der Stad, who made a journey in 1975 into Namaqualand’’ He would sometimes loosely say that phrase when drunk, by referring to himself as Simon, who made a journey. If we want to be official, Simon Mhlangenqaba Bunu. He definitely made a journey, “ukutshipa” if one is to address it informality. His life was contradicted by journeys.
Sitting at the send-off ritual, and watching a spectacle. Blood covered the floor. We commenced with the burial, we buried him with his hat on, so to appear traditional. We had nothing to offer the ancestors, of the coming world, we had nothing to offer him as well, his padkos. For great-uncle, was a poor form of a man. Boniswa – he’s abandoned child, who was left at her uncles – sat next to me in a grotesque posture with her head, stuffed deep in the mud. Deep in labour pains of the world, she carries, inside her will. Crying for the begotten temporary picture. A picture with patches of isoclinic colours and judgements. From the voyages.
“He was a spinster that uncle of yours”, makhulu is sobbing.
Sobbing at a fallen tree, fallen into the wilderness of its own mind. Fallen in silence.
Because it’s the only language familiar to us. The only means of communication with our ancestors, it is this silence we adopted and explored to make assumptions about the world outside the world we know. A world that could heal the wound in the minds.
Should we follow in the footsteps of our elders or do we have a choice to carve our own paths? What do you think?