Grandma told me everything I had spent 16 years of my life adapting to not knowing. The only person I could ask, and did ask, was her. But up until this day she’d just say, “I’ll tell you when you’re older.” She’d promise me a hiding if I persisted with questions about my parents. So I didn’t ask that much.
But now she told me the story of my mother.
My mother, Nosipho Mkhize, was Grandma’s youngest child. Grandma had two other children: my uncles who left to find jobs in Johannesburg but never returned. And never sent money back home.
Mom had left for the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban to study law. She didn’t return home on holidays but kept contact with Grandma and sent her some money whenever she could. At some point Mom dated a married man who was twice her age. Grandma said she didn’t know why Mom dated that man, but she assumed it was because he helped her financially.
“Every time Nosipho had money she made sure to send some home,” Grandma said. “But near the end, before she came back home sick and pregnant, she was sending huge amounts of money and telling me she had a part-time job.”
I’m not sure if it was because of the lack of antiretroviral treatment back in the nineties, or if Mom chose not to use them, but I was born with the virus and she died a few months later.
“I didn’t know what to do. HIV was a death sentence back then and I knew as soon as I laid eyes on her that she wasn’t going to make it,” Grandma said. “Every time she saw me, she’d explode in tears, apologize and promise me that she wouldn’t die before giving me someone who wouldn’t let me down like she had. I told her many times that I had forgiven her, but she never took it to heart.”
Tears ran down my face as I listened to Grandma. I wasn’t sad. I was angry! I was angry that after my two uncles had let Grandma down, Mom also let her down. And on top of that I had to take pills every day to stay healthy, and keep my status a secret, so that kids in school never knew I was HIV positive.
“What about my father, Gogo? Is he still alive?”
“I doubt it, Sbusiso. Nosipho told me she left him before she knew she was sick and pregnant. When she found out and told him, the man called her all types of bad names, blaming her for his sickness,” Grandma said.
A day that had been great half an hour earlier became one of the worst days of my life!
I rolled my fists tight. I clenched my jaw. Itchy tears continued to drip from my chin. Grandma gently rubbed the back of my head.
“I’m sorry, Sbusiso. I don’t think I should’ve ever told you all of this, but you had to know at some point. But your mother did live to give you to me. We have each other, and I know you won’t let me down.”
“I won’t let you down, Gogo,” I said.
A few seconds later I was weeping like a baby in grandma’s arms.
Tell us what you think: Is Sibusiso’s grandmother placing too many expectations, too much emotional pressure, on her grandson?