Sibusiso is sitting on a chair in Thembi’s sweltering shack. Thembi turns her gaze to him. She says, “I can never thank you enough for being here, Sibusiso. You are a good—”

“It is okay, my sister,” Sibusiso butts in. “I just couldn’t abandon you in your time of need. Don’t try to speak, just make sure you get better. Get your strength back.  Do you need more water?”

“No. I’m fine. I’ll tell you—” Thembi is attacked by a terrible bout of coughing. Sibusiso watches her struggling until she regains composure. “I feel so tired and weak. I sometimes look in the mirror and ask myself if I’m really scared of death. I have suffered, my brother. I’m still suffering. And every day it gets tougher to look in the mirror.”

Sibusiso doesn’t say a word. He just listens to his sister, looking at her with compassionate eyes.

Thembi’s mind wanders as she lies on the sponge mat. She ponders about the essence of life. She feels ashamed that she no longer feels the preciousness of the present. She has heard it said that it is a miracle to be alive even for one minute; that one should not worry about dying. But she is worried.  She wonders how many years it will take her children and her brother to heal from her death; how many years it will take for her memory to fade from their minds. Will I be resurrected in the afterlife every time Ntombi, Sipho and Sibusiso think of me? Have I done enough as a mother and sister? Thembi’s body is still, but her mind is full of questions.

Sibusiso can see she is in deep thought. Pain strains her face. “Try to rest, my sister. Don’t think too much,” he says.

Outside Ntombi smiles as Sipho describes the car he has drawn in the soil.

“What’s the name of the car, Sipho?”

“It’s a Mercedes like the one on Uncle Sibusiso’s phone screen,” says Sipho, while making a pattern on the rims of the car in the soil.

“Wow, it’s beautiful,” Ntombi tries her best to hide the pain in her heart. “So there’s Mommy in it? What about me? Where am I?”

“Hhayi bo! What about you?” says Sipho.

“I see,” says Ntombi, feigning disappointment at being left out of this drawing.

Sipho looks up at Ntombi. “Fine. I’ll also buy you a car, if you like.”

“Well, that means I’ll have two cars,” says Ntombi.

“How? Where will you get the other one? From Uncle Sibusiso?”

“No, silly! But since you mentioned Uncle Sibusiso, I think I’m going to own three cars. One that I will buy myself, the one you’ll buy for me and the one Uncle Sibusiso will buy for me,” says Ntombi.

“With what money?”

Ntombi laughs, “Hhayi bo!! I’ll be working, running my own business.”

Clouds have moved towards the sun, but it is still hot.

Thembi looks into Sibusiso’s eyes.  “Where are Ntombi and Sipho?” she asks.

“They are right there outside. Under the mango tree.”

“My brother,” her voice is barely audible.

Sibusiso moves the chair closer.

“My body is heavy. I can’t move my toes and fingers. I’m always running out of breath.”

Sibusiso offers her a glass of water.

“I don’t need water,” Thembi’s chest heaves violently. “I need to sleep. I’ll feel better when I wake up.”

Dark clouds fill the sky. There is a sudden drop in temperature. The wind picks up.


Tell us: What do you think Ntombi and Sipho need after Thembi has died?