I raised my eyes to satiate my curiosity of him sucking at a pipe with those sunken cheeks and the sight I experienced gave answers, I believe, to many a question I had. The cheeks became sunken due to lengthy, and, I imagine, savoury sucking at the pipe. He did not look hungry, indeed he was hungry.

Other side-effects of smoking dagga, I have heard from hearsay, were an excessive loss of weight and insatiable hunger. It made me wonder; was uncle smoking himself away to the grave? Why does he cherish the thought of joining my grandfather so much? Has he lost interest in life such that it is a sentence, a life sentence, for him to be still breathing? My mind stopped wandering and my eyes registered what I had been gazing at.

“You seem preoccupied, what is the matter?” he asked.

“Nothing. Nothing is the matter,”

“I hope what I have said to your mother is not the matter bothering you,”

“No! Not in the least,”

“Then what is the matter? It is not good to bottle up issues you know. Believe me, the more we talk the lighter the burden becomes. Talking from experience.”

He paused and then continued.

“Look here Motjhana, you might have interpreted from the way I talk to your mother about serious issues that I take life lightly. No my sonny, I am lightening up my load, I am mocking my fears. And I am laughing at the choices I made that have led to my situation now, some of them are acts of God but there is one that haunts me, day and night,” he said looking at the stew pot wistfully.

“I can’t laugh at nor mock it,” he heaved a sigh, arched his brows and, I don’t know if he was shrugging or raising his pipe, said, “It is eating up at me, and it gains strength from my denial. But that is up to your grandfather, if he is ready to receive me he will let it be, if he is not he will deal with it.”

I couldn’t take any more of this despair-filled talk.

“Actually, uncle there is something bothering me; the accordion bus. I am still concerned about the kind of music it will play once I am on it.”

“The inside of the accordion bus is its heart, and like man, it sings what is from its heart and you will be in it. You are a good boy, you listen to your mother and run errands for her, and therefore I predict a good tune.”

“But when…at the time of your accident…uncle Themba passed away in it and you, you got out of it badly hurt.”

“You mean I lived, instead of me it was Themba. I, the prodigal son, lived while the hope of the family is no more.”

I wanted to say I didn’t mean in it like that but he continued.

“Something happened on that day that gave me a second chance,” he looked at himself. “Actual not a second chance but an alternative over death. I had a heated argument with your grandparents, I remember, and I left them with sore hearts. Strangely I knew there was no blessing in that but I steeled my heart against that. Soon we were on the bus, it had just begun moving and the music started playing.

“At that moment guilt began to haunt my conscience. I know foreboding music when I hear one and it turns out that was one of the tunes in the interwoven melodies. Fear assailed me and I clasped my face in my hands and sincerely asked for forgiveness from the Mbele’s forefathers.”

Once more my mother came to check the pot.

“But even after my prayer the ominous tune never ceased. It was a very sad journey for everyone because each and every one of us understood the music from the accordion bus. And we all knew that we were all in for it, but who was so unlucky, that was a question we couldn’t answer. Although there were ample of gleeful tunes playing simultaneously with that tune, we were still scared. The bus gained speed with music still beautiful but tinged with one thread of sadness. Even the motor mouth driver, Mr Buthelezi, was quiet that day.”

“Mr Buthelezi is natural quiet and reserved, is this story about the accordion bus again?” My mother cut in.

“Ignore your mother, she has never been on the bus, hence the attitude. We took a left turn into Shabalala Street, this as you know is the street that intersects with the big street that takes us to the freeway. The bus droned on to that big street, the Railway Street, when we got to the interjection the bus turned right into the big street but we still had a sharp bend to pass. Be that as it may, Mr Buthelezi pressed hard on the accelerator.

“We were approaching the bend when the tune that started off as a flat drone increased in volume. Mr Buthelezi was horror struck, he had never had problems with curving along the bend regardless of the speed with which he approached it, and before we knew it he had lost the bus’s control and it was on its way to deliver the fate of one of the passengers who turned out was our, my and your mother’s, brother.”

“A raw lie, the bus was not serviced and they were on the freeway when the clutch bowls -”

“Clutch plates -” I corrected.

“- would not work.”

Do you miss him? That is what I wanted to ask my uncle but I didn’t. I knew if I asked my mother she would respond with a gigantic YES. The story of the accordion bus sounded absurd but that was only when my mother was around. I was indecisive as to whether I should side with my mother or believe every word my uncle said. But he had not shown any signs of lying. No aversion of eyes that keep looking on my left, and his eyes were always wistful while his mouth relayed what seemed like what his mind was reeling off. It had always been like that whenever he told this story, and after telling it he would always shake his head sorrowfully.

But lately everything my uncle talked about was always sorrowful, especially when he spoke about the poison eating at him. He seldom chuckled, the chuckles stopped frequenting his face the day I heard him and my mother arguing about him taking medication he so eagerly refused to take. Although his voice was calm, his words were arrogant.

“I don’t believe in those things.”

“These are the tablets prescribed by the doctor, please Nkosana you are very sick. Don’t you know that?”

“My sister, have you seen the size of those things? Does your doctor want me to choke on those, he wants me dead before my time, doesn’t he?”

“No one wants you gone but you yourself by refusing to take your medication. OK, what are you going to do then, eh, tell me?”

“I will take medication but not one prescribed by your doctor. I will take herbs.”

“Whatever the traditional healers have prescribed will not help, Nkosana. We have been through that already.”

“I am not talking about that, I am talking about this.”

He must have shown my mother what he was talking about. I couldn’t see what it was because they were in one of the bedrooms, but whatever it was my mother never liked it.

“That is not medicine, Nkosana. That is illegal. You will get arrested if you were seen with it. Please child of our mother hear my plea. Please.”

After that they were both silent. I was eavesdropping and because of their silence I tried to leave the kitchen as stealthy as possible but the hinges of the door betrayed me. That was then, when my uncle was well built and sinewy, but right now he seemed to be lingering in a long season of depression and he was not a pleasant sight to experience.

“Supper is ready, you can come inside and eat,” my mother declared.

***

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