I finished washing the dishes just as Mama knocked on the door. I took a quick look around – the house was squeaky clean – before I opened for her.
Mama looked worn out and I knew she would be hungry after work. She was a domestic worker and her boss, Mrs Abrahams, had asked her to come in on this Sunday to help clean up after a lunch she was having. She would pay her double for the day. So Mama went.
“Lizzy sweetie, boil me some water. I want to soak my feet in some warm water. I am really tired.” Mom sat down on the couch with a sigh.
“Kulungile Mama,” I said as I put the water on to boil. “Mama would you like a slice of buttered bread and some coffee as well?” I asked her.
“Ewe, mntwanam I would love that,” she said.
I spread Rama on three slices of bread for her then I made her a cup of coffee with three teaspoons of sugar – just how she loved it.
“Oh, enkosi Bhelekazi,” she said, calling me by my clan name as she smiled and took the plate and mug of steaming coffee from me. My heart skipped a beat when I heard Mama say this. It was so sweet – to be called by my clan name. It was moments like these that I treasured. That’s when I felt close to her. But they were few and far between.
I filled a shallow bucket with warm water and put it at her feet. She took off her shoes and lowered her feet into the warm water.
“Atsho kamnandi la manzi,” Mama said gratefully. “This water feels lovely.”
I took chicken out of the fridge and began to chop potatoes and onions for supper.
“Won’t you bring me a towel,” Mama called. “I can’t sit here idle all day. And have you done your homework?”
I fetched a towel and put it on the floor by her feet. She took them out and I dried them for her. Her feet and ankles looked so swollen. I wished she didn’t have to work on the weekends – and so hard! I wished she didn’t have to do the piles of ironing that made her legs ache from standing. That’s why I wanted to work so hard at school, more than I did now, so that I could work for my mother in future so that she could rest.
I wanted so many things for her. I wanted us to go out somewhere nice for a treat. I wanted to have enough money to buy her a lovely new dress. Mama hid her body under baggy clothes. When Mam Zondi tried to get her into something more modern and flattering Mama pretended not to care.
Mam Zondi would joke and say: “Noluthando, you need to get your mother onto that show How Do I look? They give you clothes that flatter your figure. She needs to show off that body of hers.”
Mama would quickly say she was too old: “Andimdala for ukoneka inyama yam ngaphandle.”
Mama folded the towel and went to put on her pyjamas. She called me from the bedroom and I went to her room and climbed into the single bed next to hers. I loved it when she was in the mood to be cosy, and to chat.
“Kaloku mabethunana ndiyatefa mna,” I would whisper. “I am my mother’s only child.”
“Good night sithandwa sam,” Mama said and switched off the light.
Tell us what you think: What do you think of Mam Zondi?