“Ma, I know you’ve been sick, but everything will be alright. You were sick before, but you got better.” Hope is heavy in Ntombi’s voice.

“You have grown so much. I’m so proud of you. What happened to me yesterday? I remember talking to your uncle, but after that I…” Thembi suddenly winces from pain that seems to come from deep in her stomach.

“You tripped and fell, Ma. We carried you inside and looked after you until the fever got a bit better,” says Ntombi. She holds her mother’s frail hand in hers.

“I’m sorry you had to see that,” says Thembi. Shame pulls her gaze to the bare concrete floor.

“It wasn’t your fault, Ma. But Uncle Sibusiso was furious with you because you fell after you had refused his offer to help you get back inside. But all that matters is that you are okay now.”

Sipho and Sibusiso are on the bench outside in the front yard. Sipho loves jokes and his uncle has a bag filled to the brim with jokes. It’s always impossible to separate the two whenever Sibusiso is around to visit. But now he is around for a different reason: to be the pillar of strength for his only sister. He tells Sipho of the time he was scared to approach a girl he liked.

“I was scared of this girl. Then your mother called me while I was playing with my friends. When I got there I found she was with this girl I liked next to her. She said, ‘Nomsa, you know Sibusiso. He is my brother and likes you.’ And she left us like that. I didn’t know what to say.”

They both laugh. Sipho’s laughter brings sudden heartbreak to Sibusiso because he knows that this happiness will soon turn to sadness when Thembi eventually dies and leaves this innocent, happy child.

“Let me tell you something, boy,” says Sibusiso after much laughter from Sipho. “I don’t know if you’ll understand, but things and people that we hold dear will someday leave us with a huge gap that is impossible to fill.”

Sipho is dazed and confused by Sibusiso’s words. “What things? What people, Uncle Sibusiso?”

Sibusiso realises his nephew’s confusion. “Let me put it like this: do you remember that Optimus Prime toy I bought you?”

Sipho nods, but Sibusiso can see that the boy is still confused.

“Do you remember how you felt when you lost Optimus Prime?”

Sipho nods, and his eyes fill with the sadness of the memory of his lost toy.

“And your mother called me every day, telling me how you slept late at night because you searched for it every day before falling asleep.”

“I never found it. I still miss it,” says Sipho.

“Yes. Life gets like that sometimes. We lose what we love and it is gone forever.”

Sipho nods.


Tell us: What do you think about the way Sibusiso is preparing his nephew and niece for his mother’s death?