Black clouds dominate the sky by late afternoon. They bring a thick cold darkness to a day that started bright and hot. The wind howls fervently, picking up soil particles and tiny stone debris. The mango tree dances to the many directions the wind is blowing. Sipho and Ntombi are still outside, and feel this drastic change in the weather.
“Sipho, we should get inside!” Ntombi shouts over the howling wind.
As they rush inside, Ntombi’s mind is taken to a treasured memory of not so long ago. She remembers the comfort her heart felt when she came back from school in weather similar to this storm that is brewing. She remembers the comfort she felt when she got in, to find her mother busy with supper, the shack warm with the smell of her chicken soup. She wishes things were still the same as that day, but she closes the door to find Thembi is still lying on the mat on the floor, her body ravaged by lung cancer.
They sit on chairs around Thembi and listen to the howling wind. It sounds as if it is attempting to rip the roof off their shack.
Sibusiso gazes intensely at his sister on the mat. Thembi is sweating, despite this weather that has suddenly turned chilly. Her eyes are closed; she is breathing through her mouth. She has a doek wrapped around her head. Her chest heaves violently. He remembers how she seemed to lose her mind when they received news of their mother’s passing but became strong after the initial shock had subsided. Thembi was the one who organised the funeral. Sibusiso remembers that Thembi didn’t shed a single tear when their father died. You have always been the strongest one, my sister, he thinks.
Ntombi walks over to the wardrobe mirror and brushes dust from her hair. Everyone is wrapped in their own thoughts for a moment, their eyes away from Thembi, except Sipho. The little boy stares at his mom. He is the first to see that Thembi is shivering.
“Ma is getting cold!” Sipho cries out.
“Let me get her favourite blanket,” says Ntombi.
Ntombi stretches her hands to the top of the wardrobe. She gets Thembi’s favourite blanket – the one with the leopard print. She unfolds it and gently covers her mom from just below her chest because she has trouble breathing. She hovers over Thembi for a while, hoping she will open her eyes and smile and tell her she is a beautiful girl.
“Ntombi, please give her space to breathe,” says Sibusiso politely.
“Okay, Uncle Sibusiso. I’m sorry,” says Ntombi in a low sad voice.
She heads to the stove to start preparing supper. Sibusiso can see Ntombi straightening her back; he knows she is holding back tears.
“Wash the rice first to clean the dirt and excess starch,” says Sibusiso.
“Okay, Uncle Sibusiso. But I was going to wash it anyway,” Ntombi lies.
“I know you were, my niece. I know you were.”
The flame of the paraffin stove glows orange and yellow, with a bit of blue on the edges. Ntombi places the pot full of rice on the stove. The flame reaches out from under the pot, sizzling the drops of water on its silver outer surface.
Tell us: What shows us just how much the children love and care about their mother?