Gogo’s house was a solacing sanctuary in times of distress. Contrastingly, she was a raging fire of judgement that scalded any in the vicinity. 

I remember when we fled from my father’s house in the wee hours of one summer day. At the door, we were welcomed by her signature glare of refutation. “You could’ve done so much better than him,” she repeated, a line that had become a cliché. She rewrapped her blue gown around herself, clenching it in a vice-grip between her frail fingers. 

The click and then the melodious humming of the kettle subdued my own bubbling pot of molten anger. Gogo’s steaming cup of rooibos and sweetness calmed even the most perfect storms.

We had finally settled. Our massive pieces of luggage, which were really refuse bags ready to tear, had been crammed in one room. We had walked up and down the steep, rugged path with them. Yes, we had slipped and tumbled along the way, like potatoes rolling out of the sack. What added salt to the wound had been occasionally running into familiar faces. Then, my eyes would shoot for the cracked pavement, or dusty grounds, whichever it had been at the time. My feet seemed quite interesting to stare at. A few strenuous trips later, we had that luxury of sitting. The break of daylight came, it was a good morning. 

And there we were, in her fortress. We stuck to the walls outside like gegecko, avoiding Gogo, whenever she shrilled, “WeXolile!” That was the only name she knew, as Xolile was the eldest, inkosazane. We had mastered the art of staying under her radar. Who wanted to be bombarded with chores whilst listening to her rants of how terrible her son-in-law was? Or how your religion was wrong? And so our days were spent playing cat and mouse with good old grandma!

Sunset was announced by the swishing of the gigantic trees as the chilly winds picked up momentum. That prompted her afternoon routine. She circled the perimeter of the house, a bucket of holy water in hand, sprinkling it on the rust tinted, corrugated iron roof. A few droplets would seep inside. The crackling of water pounding the roof jolted awake anyone who had dared took a nap. 

“The evil spirits, never rest. Wait, wait.”

I froze on that spot. No running then. 

“I haven’t sprinkled there yet,” she said as she sent a handful of the liquid my way. 

She carried on diligently, leaving no stone unturned, or rather, I thought, no surface unsplashed. A giddy giggle crept up my throat at my lame sense of humour. As if suddenly remembering my presence, she handed me the quarter-full bucket of water. I did carry on, with less determination, until the once-dusty ground was a rich brown muddy colour.

“And tea!” she shouted.
There I was, following the routine. Clicking on the kettle, I admired the simmering darting bubbles, and the rushing of the water as I poured it into the teacups. The teabags stained the liquid fiery red, only to be lightened by a beautiful explosion of cream after adding the milk. I stirred all the cups. The aroma dragged my siblings from their hiding spots. I glared daggers at them as they rushed in. Cups and spoons clinked. I sucked in the said aroma, and my anger swirled and evaporated. A smile graced my face. Tea was always a welcome guest, a love I shared with my Gogo. 

A year later, death claimed her. It was that sudden. At death’s door she had apologised for her transgressions and unfair judgements. She was a cup of tea herself, roused and stirred, and now still and calm. But she still warms my heart…