Sibusiso’s chest tightens from the fumes of the paraffin flame. Sipho is next to Ntombi, pouring water into a glass. Sibusiso lets out a cough and opens the door just a crack. He inhales the cold air from outside and looks at Thembi to check if the fumes haven’t affected her breathing.

He glances at Thembi but the fumes assault his lungs again. He turns back to the door and only then processes what he has just seen. Thembi’s chest seemed like it was not moving anymore. He turns back to Thembi, focusing his eyes on her chest. He is overcome with shock because Thembi’s chest is indeed not moving, whereas she was heaving violently just a few seconds ago.

He walks slowly to the mat, crouches next to her and looks more intently at her chest. Her chest is not moving. He places his two fingers on her neck and finds no pulse. He stands up and takes a few steps back. He tries to remain calm, to handle himself with great sangfroid, but the shock of Thembi’s death is overwhelming. He feels dizzy and holds onto the chair as he is about to fall. The chair tips over, startling Sipho and Ntombi.

“Are you alright, Uncle Sibusiso?” Ntombi asks.

Sibusiso is in such a state of shock he cannot answer his niece.

When Thembi was lying on her back on the mat on the floor, she knew death was near. She felt it. She felt the weight of life leaving her body. She felt the heaviness of her closing eyelids. She couldn’t move her fingers and toes. She felt her heartbeat dropping. But worrying about her children was holding her back. Just a few moments ago she had opened her eyes and seen that Sibusiso was there for her children.  She had seen him at the door taking in the air from outside, her children with their backs to her – Sipho drinking water and Ntombi cooking – and this sight had lulled all her worries. It was at that moment that Thembi accepted her death. She allowed her soul to be carried by the wind. Thembi died with hope because her brother had done a wonderful job looking after her when they were kids. She knew he would do a wonderful job looking after her children.

Sipho and Ntombi are startled by their uncle nearly falling to the floor. They have not yet realised that their mother is no longer breathing.

“Sipho, Ntombi, please take a seat right here – on the bed,” says Sibusiso.

“What is it, Uncle?” Ntombi asks.

Sibusiso lets out a long heavy sigh. “It’s your mother. She’s…ummm, she’s not moving. She is no longer with us.”

“What do you mean, Uncle? What do you mean she’s no longer with us? She’s here!” Sipho shakes his head.

“Sipho,” Sibusiso holds Sipho’s head in his hands. “Your mother is no longer alive.”

***

Tell us: How do you think different people react when someone they love dies?