I don’t smoke. I don’t drink. People think I’m boring or uncool every time I refuse a joint or a bottle. If only they understood my reasons, because everyone has their own story, which explains the decisions they make in life. My story is about my uncle.
His sloppy footsteps and use of the walls for balance gave him away. Somehow he always managed to safely get home from the shebeen.
It was midnight. My eyes were fixed on a soccer match. Malume had his own separate room at the back of the main house. I could hear him moving there, clumsily but surely. He never shouted or cursed like many drunkards.
Silence settled in. He had probably collapsed on his bed.
I sat on the couch. My brother was fast asleep in our bedroom and my mom was away for the night. The lightbulb in the lounge didn’t work, so the only light was from the TV and the kitchen. But somehow, one of windows got brighter. We didn’t have lights outside, so I slowly stood up and lifted the window curtain.
Fire poured out from Malume’s room. I ran to our bedroom.
“Ekse?!” I shouted at my brother. My voice was trembling and my hands were shaking.
“Malume’s room is burning!!”
“Huh…?” His drowsiness frustrated me.
“Are you crazy?! Wake up, I said Malume’s room is burning!” I rocked him aggressively.
“Where are the keys?!” He jumped out of the bed and shouted at me.
The key for the veranda burglar hid like a needle in the sand, but we finally found it. We ran to the back of the house. The fire was getting bigger.
“Inyandzaleyoooo!!!” I cried for help.
My brother kicked the door until it fell inwards. Still…we couldn’t get in. Malume couldn’t get out.
“Malume?! Malume?!” My brother called for him, but he was as quiet as a cold dead body.
“Go get buckets!!”
I ran as fast as I could. I carried two 20 litre buckets filled with water. My brother took one bucket and poured water on the fire; I did the same. He got soil from the ground using his bucket; I did the same. We poured soil into the room and the fire got smaller.
“Go to the neighbours and ask for help!” I ran to the neighbours whom I knew had a car. We had to take Malume to the hospital! “Koko! Kakhulu!!”
I knocked on the door. The father of the house opened the door just enough to see me.
“Malume’s room is burning. Please come help.”
He recognised my voice, opened the burglars and said, “Go! I’ll bring the car!!”
I ran back to our house. More neighbours were there, throwing more sand and water to put the fire out.
It was now at least possible to go in and take him out. He was still conscious but he smelled like half cooked beef. My stomach turned and my gut twisted. I held back an ocean of spew.
The car was parked outside our maroon and rusty gate.
“Lift him up from that side!” my brother yelled at me.
I tried to hold his left arm but my hands slipped. I felt as part of his skin slowly fell from off from his arm to my hand, like an onion’s skin peels off in hot water. My eyes were drowned in tears. Malume looked up at me. Our eyes met.
“Mjustu?! Shavito?! Help me, mshana! Help me!” His cries brought more tears to my eyes.
I was scared. Someone else helped carry him to the car. I couldn’t sleep, I mean how could I after everything that had happened? Malume was always smoking. He was always drunk and his room was always submerged in dirty clothes.
The sun still came out at dawn. I went out of our room and into the living room.
“He died when we got to the hospital,” my mom said sadly.
My body unveiled chicken skin. My eyes were a cascade of salt water. My mom, brother and the neighbour who had just spoken, sat at the living room with faces of loss. I ran back to our bedroom and cried. My soul crumbled and my spirit died. I swore never to drink or smoke in my life. I stuck my cries deep in my bed sheets and stayed there for the rest of the day.
Tell us: Has a traumatic experience ever played a huge impact in your life?