Dogs bark outside. There are voices, whistles, and the dogs start to howl. I hear footsteps. Suddenly there is silence. No dogs barking, nothing. I lie under my blankets on my back. Any other position hurts my stomach. I lie awake. I want to vomit. I am starving. A glimmer of hope crosses my mind. Perhaps my big brother has gone to hunt. I am worried about umama. Where could she be this late? I hope she decided to sleep over in Dikidikana. It is not safe for a woman to walk alone in the night.
When I dream it is a crazy dream about lots and lots of food. It makes me even hungrier.
There is a knock on the door. For a moment I want to ask, ‘Ungubani?’ (Who are you?). But, I remember, there is no light. I remain under my blankets. I don’t utter a word until I hear an all too familiar voice: “I wonder where my children are?”
I jump up, run to the door, feel for the door latch and open it. Mama pushes the door open from outside when she hears my effort with the door latch. She isn’t carrying any bags. I want to cry with disappointment. She strikes a match, saying “Bring the lamp Mphum.”
“There is no paraffin Mama.”
“Bring it mntanam, my child. Tonight we will have light. A kind family has helped us.”
I feel my way back to the kitchen table. When I bring the lamp she asks me to get the two-litre paraffin bottle from the step outside and fill the lamp. She strikes another match and holds it up for me while I fill up the lamp.
“Now please bring in the bags from outside, Mphum.”
I happily grab the bags from the mud stoep. Under the lamp in the kitchen I unpack the contents. Ah! Amaqanda! I unpack watermelon, fish oil in a small cold drink bottle, mielie meal in an ice-cream tub, and amasi.
I cut a big piece of watermelon for myself and Mama while I heat the oil to fry eggs.
I put Mama’s piece of watermelon in a saucer and take it to her in her room. I find her sitting on her bed with her face in her hands. When I walk in she turns around to face the wall. “Mama, bamba ivatala.” She waves her hand, signalling that she is not eating now. When I turn around to go back to the kitchen I hear her snuffling. “Mama, yintoni, what is it?” I ask.
“Nothing mntanam. Please eat.”
I sit down next to her on the bed. My mouth is watering for the watermelon on the saucer. The pain of seeing my mother this way is overwhelming though.
“Yintoni mama?” I ask her again.
“He… he… attacked me, Mphumeleli.”
“What !? Who Mama? Where?”
“Near the Sheshegu River, my child. He pressed a knife against my neck and ordered me to sit down.”
“What did you do Mama? Do you know this person?” I asked, shocked.
“No mntanam, it was already dark. I did not see his face.”
“But what happened then mother? Tell me.”
“He kicked my plastic bags and asked me what’s in them. I told him, ‘I have food for my children’. He laughed and said, ‘They won’t miss the nicer stuff in there. I will eat when I am done with you.’ I begged him to leave me and eat some of the food.”
“Then what did he do Mama?” I gasped.
“He said… he… he pushed me and I laid there on my back. He told me to be still or I will die. He took out a quarter roast chicken from one of the bags and took a bite. He said: ‘I am taking this one.’ I just kept silent mntanam,” she said quietly, her voice broken.
Tell us what you think: How might Mphum be feeling while hearing his mother’s story?