January ate February. February ate March and all the while, the greedy cancer ate up Mama’s body. Papa said the doctors said the cancer had metastasised. She had a first round of chemotherapy. When it seemed like she was getting better and her hair started to grow back, a second round of chemotherapy again plucked it out. After that, Mama spent most of her days sitting in the shade of the big tree in our garden. She always wore her pink gown.

Papa combed through books and magazines. He brought home miracle remedies. “The woman who lives at the end of our road said you should try this. It cured her sister. She says you need to drink it just before going to bed.”

Mama smiled and nodded but when I went to read for her in the evening, the cup with the black mushroom mixture was still on Mama’s bedside table.

I waited, and prayed for a miracle to keep Mama alive. I believed all the people Mama had saved from graves would pray for my mother. Eventually that was all I believed and all I clung to. I thought that one day I was going to walk into Mama’s room and I would find her up already, singing that song that she loved.

I promised myself that if she got better that I would help more around the house.

“You need to do things for yourself, Naledi. I need you to learn how to do these things. You know I won’t always be around.”

So I tried harder. I got up early and made up my bed. I cleaned the house for Mama and remembered all the things Mama had said I should do. Papa took his medicine on time everyday without prompting. For short spells of time, Mama seemed to get better but in May the ambulance came to take Mama to the hospital.


I was in the kitchen on the Sunday morning when the phone rang. The sound of the telephone ring had become like an alarm. It made Papa and I stop whatever we were doing before running to answer it. Papa got there first. “That was the hospital, Naledi. Let’s go.”

But before we left, Papa held me close I felt his heart beating, louder than mine, out of sync with mine, and all I could think of was that Mama’s heart please beat the same as mine.

I do not remember much else from that day, except the smell of medicine that stayed in my nose for days and all the people who streamed into and out of our home. I remember loud singing and I remember people looking at me with sad eyes.

When they thought I was out of hearing range, they whispered: “Why Sis Beth? Oh, of all people…If only they had found it sooner…at least she had no small children.”

I was eighteen, but I felt like a small child. I still needed my mother.


Tell us what you think: Do teenagers still need their mothers?