“Melody, dear, tell me what’s the matter,” Mevrou Jacobs said.

“It’s nothing, sorry,” I said. My eyes were squeezed tight, and I was white knuckling her sofa cushions. But she couldn’t see me, and I’d only been reading for half an hour, and I didn’t want to lose any money. This month, the cheaper brands were not cutting it. I was having to buy the maximum protection, from those swanky packets – R40 for only 18 lousy pads! But what could I do?

“Melody, I listen to you read twice a week and do you know what I’ve noticed over the past three months?”

“No, Tannie,” I breathed.

“One week a month, your voice sounds pinched, as if you are in pain. Is something hurting you, dear?”

I looked at this woman, living alone and blind, and still cheerful and doing life. And there was just no way I could tell her the truth; that I couldn’t handle a basic fact-of-life that almost all women go through. It was stupid. Like Ma says, I just need to learn to handle it. “I’m–”

The words got lost in a terrible cramp. I was clutching my belly, the pain circling like flashing fire flies, trying to remember to breathe, because if I hold my breath, it only makes it worse.

I barely heard her move. I hardly registered her bustling around the kitchen. But I did feel her old, tiny hand, gently push something warm into my lap. “There, dear, just put this there, and maybe it will help.”


She sat down next to me, and placed a hand on my back, slowly rubbing it.

“Did you know my son doesn’t live far from here?”

“No, Tannie, I didn’t know that.”

“Hmm,” she says. “He and his wife come up at least twice a month from the coast, sometimes more. Did I tell you what his wife does?”

“No, Tannie, I don’t know his wife.”

I glanced up in time to see Mevrou Jacobs smile, a soft smile, that smile of an older person when they are so proud of their children. “Kholiwe and my son met at university. She’s a wonderful soul, I am so blessed to have her as a daughter-in-law. She’s so clever. In fact, she’s a full-fledged gynaecologist.”

“A gyno-what?”

Mevrou Jacobs’ hand kept rubbing my lower back, round and round. “Maybe, when they come for a visit, I’ll have you over for a ladies’ tea. Then you can talk about what’s happening to you, without embarrassment.”

“It’s nothing.”

“My dear, I have lived a very long time. It is normal to have some cramps. But from what I have witnessed, you are having more trouble than that. This is not the way it is supposed to be. Maybe it’s time you told me why you need extra money so badly.”


Tell us: Do you have anyone old or retired like Mevrou Jacobs in your life, not related to you? Do you sit and talk with them? Do they give you advice?