Bebenya has a dream about that feeling, or half-memory, from the early days in Durban – of holding a small hand, hot and sticky. There’s more detail now. She’s only a little girl, maybe six or seven, but she has to slow her footsteps, because she’s walking with someone even smaller, a very little boy.
Then her hand is empty. He’s not with her any more. She’s lost him, and panic is rising. She’s searching frantically, calling his name. She’s in despair. Next comes terrible guilt, and a relentless sorrow–
She wakes sweating and crying. It’s a real memory, not just a dream. It’s coming back. She’d been distracted by two friends – Zeni and Dibote maybe? – who had a new skipping song and wanted her to help turn their rope.
The guilt and sadness still weigh heavily on her as she gets out of bed and goes to Tsietsi’s tiny room. He has fallen asleep with his earphones in, and he’s disorientated as she wakes him.
“Huh? What’s happening?”
“Listen, Tsietsi.” Bebenya is urgent. “That big girl you used to think you remembered hitting you? What did she say?”
“What?” He shakes his head. “She was shouting, but she was crying too much to make sense. And after she hit me … well, she hugged me. That made me embarrassed, so I was glad it wasn’t a real memory.”
“But it was!” She could almost hug him again now. “I’ve remembered. I lost you, and then I found you again. I was so relieved, after so much guilt, because I’d been playing with my friends and let you go, and after the sadness of thinking I’d lost you forever … God, I suppose that must be how she – our mother – has felt, only bigger and worse, because I really was gone. For years …”
Something is happening to her. Bebenya has a sensation of – of letting go. She’s letting it go, the anger she has felt against her mother. Tears fill her eyes. How terrible it must have been to lose her daughter and spend years regretting sending her on that errand, wishing she could have that awful day again and do differently, and wondering, always wondering, what had happened to her daughter.
“Mama!” Bebenya chokes out, running to her parents’ room where her father jumps out of bed and switches on the light. “Mama, Papa … oh, we’ve all had such a terrible time. We need to help each other, somehow – somehow! Mama!”
Her mother is sitting up in bed, holding out her arms. Bebenya falls into them.
* * * * *
“We’ll all need all the help we can get,” Bebenya explains to Gosiame, telling him about it next day when they meet outside the house.
“I’ll help any way I can,” he tells her.
“I know. I’m counting on you. But Gosiame … nothing is going to be easy or quick? You know?”
“I know.” He’s reassuring. “Small steps, one day at a time, and lots of patience. That’s how we’ll do it.”
His smile is so warm, and she feels so safe with him, that Bebenya can’t help smiling back.
Is this what the beginning of happiness feels like? She thinks it might be.
Tell us what you think: Bebenya is lucky to have met someone as youthfully wise and understanding as Gosiame, but what are some of the difficulties and challenges she’ll face going forward?