Bulelwa lifted her head and looked across the dim fog of the room towards her gogo. By the light of the candle she could see Gogo’s eyes watching her, above the damp cloth that was covering her mouth and nose. Even through the poor light and the fear, Bulelwa could feel the love and strength radiating from the old woman, towards her.

Bulelwa moved across to her and their hands found each other. She was amazed by the strength of the squeeze that Gogo gave her fingers. Her hands were still so strong. The skin on them was a thin as paper and they were rough and wrinkled but they were still strong.

Bulelwa raised them to her face and rested her cheek against her grandmother’s rough palm. She closed her eyes, and she herself was not sure where the wetness she felt came from – were her eyes watering from the smoke, or was she crying?

These were the hands that had held her tight as a baby, and had taught her how to hold a knife to chop vegetables, how to stir the mealie pap in the pot.

Bulelwa could see it all so clearly now – her gogo hanging out the washing to leave it flapping and cracking in the summer wind under a hot sun, her gogo standing in the kitchen, the radio on loud, ironing her and Lunga’s school uniforms, while the two of them played games on the floor around her feet.

Lunga – where are you now when we need you?

Bulelwa felt her hot tears squeeze out from between her tightly clenched eye lids. She sniffed loudly. She could feel her heart pounding in her breast.

She did not want to open her eyes. She did not want to see how the fire was progressing, or how close it was. She did not want to see the flames outside the white picket fence that Gogo had made Lunga make and paint one day. She did not want to see the vegetable garden that her grandmother still ordered them both to plant and to water every day, even in the drought, with the water they had washed themselves in …

“Go and water the garden Bulelwa!”

Bulelwa heard her grandmother’s words as clearly as if she had spoken them. She opened her eyes. Her grandmother was silent, her eyes closed, her breathing laboured.


Tell us: Do you have a grandparent who plays such a big parenting role in your life? How do you feel about him or her?