“Why would I want to find him?” I took the last puff of my cigarette and stuffed the stub inside my empty bottle. A pack of mint gums lay on the floor near Thembi’s radio. I unwrapped one and popped it in my mouth. “He’s the one who left; he’s the one who must come back to us, if he wants to.”

“I know, but aren’t you curious to meet him, maybe hear his side of the story?”

“The man doesn’t want to be found, Thembi. He probably doesn’t even remember he has children at Sibaya.” I blew a big bubble with my tongue, and let it burst. Thembi frowned at me. She hated the sound. “That’s his side of the story.”

“Don’t be silly, Lena. You don’t know for sure he doesn’t want to see you,” my cousin waved me off as she usually did when I challenged her many ‘sensible’ ideas. “Maybe he’s tried to get in touch but can’t. Maybe Gogo burns his letters. Just think about it, that’s all I’m suggesting.”

“Sure.” Of course I wasn’t going to think about anything. I hadn’t seen Joe, my father, in over six years. In my opinion, he was as good as dead.

“Anyway, do you know what happened in this crazy house yesterday? Mama dearest came home drunk – again. Baba was so angry he’s threatening to take her back to the hospital.”

“I can imagine how Auntie reacted to that.” I was relieved the conversation had moved on to her dysfunctional family.

Thembi’s family’s lived only a few houses away from mine. Auntie Lindiwe was my mother’s older sister and was the family drunk. When she was on one of her drinking binges my auntie was like a hurricane; she wreaked havoc wherever she passed. Anyone and anything provoked her. Once she threw a shoe at her husband, Uncle Sizwe, for interrupting her while she was talking.

Thembi rolled her big brown eyes. “She started crying and writhing on the floor, swearing by her dead father it wouldn’t happen again. We all know Baba will never put her in the hospital for a second time. He almost lost his mind when she was gone.” My cousin let out a heavy groan and gulped down the rest of her drink. “I guess I’ll just have to live with the situation until I’m old enough to leave this stink of a home.”

Auntie Lindiwe’s unhealthy relationship with alcohol had come as a shock to the family. Grandmother said Uncle Sizwe found her one afternoon sprawled unconscious in the family room, with a half-empty bottle of whiskey in her hand. My mother said my aunt was overwhelmed by the responsibilities of caring for three small children and running a household, and that alcohol helped calm her ragging nerves. Though it wasn’t his fault, Grandmother blamed Uncle Sizwe for my aunt’s alcoholism. She never forgave him for marrying my aunt right after matric. Grandmother was convinced her daughter was destined for greater things, like becoming a medical doctor – not a housewife who abused substances.

We would often help clean up the magazines scattered on the floor and spray her room with a bathroom air freshener. I hid the empty bottles in my backpack which I often disposed of at the community dump on my way home. Then Thembi would help her start dinner.


What do you think? What is difficult about having an alcoholic in the family?