I am sorry for all the gut-wrenching pain you endured because of us. You didn’t deserve any of it. Not the names given to you, not the hidings that were administered so freely with sjamboks.
Songezo – an addition – can be a beautiful name with the right intentions. But when I looked at how you were loathed, I realised the name in your case meant – the burden – isongezo. They nicknamed you Mbikanye – utterly ugly – but you were far from it. You were an epitome of beauty, and yours emanated from the trenches of your soul.
Your mother was our grandparent’s helper, I am told. A help who, as the family story goes, sampled goods she wasn’t supposed to. And you were the result and you paid dearly for it, as if you asked to be born. It’s funny though, no one ever made the men responsible for your mother’s pregnancy pay for wandering away from their marital bed. Instead the paternity of your father is a secret that is guarded more closely than the Coca Cola formula. If my father and his older brother had things their way, your identity is something that would never be discussed, even though one of them is responsible.
I never met your mother, but I believe she did what any woman in her position would have done as the last act of love – to leave you with people who are in a better financial position to take care of you. The people responsible for you being.
Watching how you were often side lined and given the hardest tasks at family gatherings with no one to defend you, killed me, but my silence was betrayal too.
You took on the tasks with great gusto, maybe the hope that in turn you will be looked upon favourably. Instead you were shooed to the side or beaten up.
By abandoning you your mother thought she was affording you a fighting chance. She thought you would be loved, educated and cared for; you were blood after all. Had she foreseen the hardships that lay ahead for you, I doubt she would have left you at our doorstep.
You left school in grade six. No one intervened. It was like nothing happened. Perhaps you were just looking for attention. Soon after, you were in and out of jail for petty crimes. They all said they knew you were trouble. They never thought for a second that, it was a cry for help.
There were times you disappeared for months on end – nobody ever bothered to look for you. No one ever stopped and said, “let’s look for our son, lest he’s lying face down in a ditch somewhere.” When you eventually did show up, you always looked like you could be fed more, hugged more, loved more – I wish I did all of this for you.
Upon your return from your expeditions, you often had treats for us – your little brothers and sisters. You loved to see us happy. I remember how you always scooped me into your arms – threw me high up in the air – watch me convulse with breathless mirth. You threw me up in the air even when I protested that I was a big girl and didn’t find that entertaining anymore. I wonder if you felt it was better being out there with strangers who treated you like you are blood, than being with the blood that treated you like you were a stranger.
The last time you came home, I could tell you were ill, your skin tone had changed. You were much darker than I remembered. I asked if you were alright, you smiled and said everything would be fine – you were always so positive. Even then, as weak as you were, you were ‘asked’ to fix a truck, as usual you never complained. A gear box fell onto your chest, you spent nearly six months in hospital and no one could ever find time to visit you – there was always something more important to do. Then one day a call came in from the hospital. “Songezo Ngumbela has passed.”
I’ve never seen a burial planned that quick. You were laid next to our grandparents, in the main homestead. No tombstone, just a mound of soil, that will erode with the rain and the winds of time. Then one day there will be nothing left. And it will be like you never existed, just the way they’ve always wanted it.
I wish I loved you more.