I can’t believe how little interest my mother seems to have in the matter of my father’s health. All she cares about is my marriage to the king. She has changed. She seems consumed with the idea of money and status.
“How long has he been like this?” I ask as I look through the cupboard for my father’s clinic card and any medicine that he was given by the clinic.
“It started shortly after you left. Ma’Ngesi told me to tell him to stop worrying about you.”
“Worrying about me?” I ask, surprised.
“Your father seemed to believe you would be better off with that loser boy. Better off without an education! Tsk. I told him to stop worrying,” she says with a flick of her hand, as if she is brushing the whole situation off. “He brought this on himself,” she finishes, without even a hint of sympathy in her voice.
“What?!” I scream angrily. I am ready to give her a piece of my mind.
“Sizie, come here, my child,” my father interrupts. He looks at me sincerely as he asks me to kneel before him. “Don’t argue with your mom about this. Let her be. I know you mean well, but I am fine. I will get better.”
“You two had better not be gossiping about me,” my mother says from across the room.
I immediately stand up, trying to ignore her for my father’s sake. She sits on the other side of the room mumbling words into her cup of tea. In that moment I hate everything about her. She’s grown insensitive to her husband and everyone around her –except the king, of course. I walk out of the main house in order to avoid another argument. I need to pack my things and leave.
“Knock! Knock!” my mother’s voice sings. “Siziwe, the king is here!” It’s four-thirty in the morning.
“OK,” I say, grabbing the things I have packed, and walking out of the hut in my skinny black jeans, sneakers, a top and hoodie.
“Siziwe, what are you wearing?” my mother says angrily. “Go and change!”
“Mama, we don’t have much time. We have to get dad to the doctor,” I say, dismissing her as she is coming towards me with a scarf.
“Siziwe, go and change!” she says again, not budging on the topic.
“Ma, the king bought these for me.”
The king nods, as my mother turns to him, ready to continue the fight. I ignore her and push past as I help my father to the car. He is dressed up for the occasion.
“Bantu, help Sizzly,” the king says, as my mother continues to drone on about my outfit. Bantu scurries forward awkwardly.
My parents and the king take the back seat and I take the passenger seat. As we drive, in silence, Bantu keeps glancing at me, trying to judge my mood. My father’s constant coughing is the only sound. I sit there praying for my father. All I care about is his recovery.
“Let’s get him inside,” Bantu says as we pull up to the doctor’s rooms. I hadn’t even realized we had arrived because I was so consumed by my thoughts. I jump to help Bantu carry my father. His mortality is a reality I haven’t thought about since I was eight years old, and our teacher told us about a little girl who had lost her parents in a fire.
We go straight into an exam room, thanks to the king’s appointment. Seeing the doctor reminds me of Lizo, who had often spoken about becoming a doctor and helping sick people in the village. I think about how I won’t be able to meet his brother.
“Hey! Siziwe Mbeki,” my mother exclaims, snapping me out of my faraway thoughts. “Take out your dad’s medication for the doctor.”
The doctor looks concerned as he examines my father then goes through the sachets of tablets. He nods as he looks at each one, while my father sits coughing.
“Sir, we need to get you to the hospital urgently. I’ll write a referral.” We all look at the doctor in shock.
“What is wrong with my dad, doctor?” I ask standing up quickly. I want to understand what’s going on.
“I am concerned about his coughing. His pulse is very weak, and he was only being treated for a fever. Whoever was examining him wasn’t doing their job correctly,” he says. I shoot my mother a stern look. She sits silently on her chair. I can’t stop tears from rolling down my cheeks.
I can see worry in my father’s eyes. He calls me towards him in his hoarse voice, holds me for what seems like eternity, while the doctor fetches the referral letter from his receptionist. My mother continues to sit motionlessly in her chair.
“The doctor says we must take your father to the hospital immediately, Sizzly,” the king says, as he and Bantu entered the room.
After five days in the hospital my father is still connected to an oxygen pump and drips. He struggles to keep his eyes open when we speak to him. My mother sits in the corner of the private room and mumbles to herself. As an escape I go and sit in the Catholic Church across the street and pray.
Early one morning, I’m dozing in a chair in my father’s hospital room, and I hear voices coming from the passage. I listen closely. It’s my mother and her best friend from church, Mam ’Zitho.
“I have to talk to you my friend. Thanks for coming. Why did mam’ Mthembu give me these herbs? Why did she give me herbs that it seems will kill my husband?” my mother asks desperately.
“Oh oh! What did you do, Kholiwe? Why did you listen to that cruel woman?” her friend replies.
“She told me the herbs would soften Sizi’s father’s heart, so he wouldn’t call off the wedding. How could I have been so blind to not see mam’ Mthembu had a motive of her own? How could I have not seen she was jealous of my princess, Philiswa? To try to kill my husband because of an inheritance? Money that she could have gotten anyway?”
“Oh, Kholiwe,” Mam’Zitho says patronizingly. “I told you not to let Siziwe marry the king, but all you wanted was for her to go to university.”
“Philiswa, I can’t let my daughter marry him,” she says, as if she is only just realising this.
“Kholiwe, tell the doctors about the herbs. You have to, in order to save your husband’s life.”
“My family will never forgive me,” my mother says, sounding muffled, as if she has put her face into her hands. My father coughs and they quickly come into the room. I sit still, doing my absolute best to pretend to be asleep, and ignore my anger towards my mother. When they see we are both asleep they walk back out into the hall.
“Now, you have to tell the doctor,” Philiswa tells my mother.
Tears run down my cheeks as I take all of this information in. Then my phone starts to ring. It is Bantu calling. I don’t understand why he is calling this early in the morning. I let it go to voicemail and think about Bantu’s offer to help me find Lizo, and about Lizo’s brother who was supposed to meet me by the tree.
“Yes?” I answer when Bantu calls again.
“Sizie! Sizie, mam’Mthembu has done it!” he sobs into the phone. There is a woman crying in the background.
“What are you talking about, Bantu?” I whisper as I hurry out of the room.
“This witch killed the king. She poisoned him! She didn’t want to share him with you and your family. She is crazy!” Bantu yells.
The phone slips, hits the floor and parts fly in different directions across the tiles. I slide down the wall in shock, and cover my eyes as I begin to sob.
“What is it, my child?” my mother says as she pulls my arms away from my face and kneels down on the floor in front of me. Soon Mam’ Zitho is there too, picking up the pieces of my phone. I sit there, stunned.
Minutes tick by. I am watching my life unravel. How could God reject my plea by taking the king? Wasn’t He accepting it? Why wasn’t He? Isn’t He the just God that is touched by a pure heart? I came with that; I came with no silver or gold. I had none of that but a heart that recognised He could turn a bad situation to be good.
Just as I am being helped up, I hear a breaking, coarse voice calling my name, several times, and a cough from my dad’s room. We all rush inside.
His eyes are wide open, as if they were never shut. We all begin to praise the Lord.
“How long have I been unconscious?” my father asks.
“Almost a week,” I say, grabbing his hand tightly. “I’m so glad you’re awake,” I say, beginning to cry again, in relief.
“Me too,” he says squeezing my hand.
“Welcome back Mr Mbeki,” the doctor says as he rushes into the room, expecting the worst.
“Let’s leave your mom and dad with the doctor,” Mam’ Zitho says and she leads me out of the room to get some water.
“Why were you crying?” she asks, once we have our glasses of water.
“Bantu called to say the king has been killed. Earlier I had asked God to heal my father in exchange for me marrying the king and with the king dead I thought my father would surely die.”
“God works in mysterious ways, my child,” she says pulling me in for an embrace.
Tell us: What do you think is Siziwe’s position in the kings family now he is dead?