Ayanda watched Thabo cross the car park. She wondered where he was going and where he had come from. He didn’t seem to have a car parked in any of the bays. Perhaps he lived in one of the huge houses overlooking the ocean.
She climbed into her car and reversed slowly. All she could think about was Thabo. The sight of him strolling casually through the area had started a shiver in her spine.
He was so different from the normal crowd of people that flocked to the beach on a hot and sunny weekend. He was lean, powerful, thrilling – and there was something else… She tried to pinpoint her impression. Was it something perhaps … dangerous … about him? Unknown and mysterious?
Yet he had held Olerato with such tenderness in his arms. It was clear he was fond of children.
It was early afternoon of the same day. “Just one more story, please Mama,” Olerato begged, looked imploringly into Ayanda’s eyes.
“This is most definitely the last one, Olerato.” Ayanda put on her sternest voice.
“I love you Mama,” the mischievous child said and jumped up from her bed. She wrapped her arms around Ayanda’s neck.
“I love you too, little miss,” Ayanda said. “But it’s time for your nap right now. If you don’t get your sleep you’ll be as grumpy as an old rhino tonight.”
Olerato was soon sound asleep. Ayanda stood up slowly, stretched her long legs and then placed the book back on the shelf. When she turned around she stood gazing down on Olerato for several moments. A surge of love poured through her at the sight of the little girl curled up fast asleep on her bed.
Olerato reminded her of Gloria in so many ways. She shared many traits with her biological mother.
She’d been taking care of Olerato for over two years now, ever since the terrible accident that had killed both Gloria and their father.
Ayanda tiptoed from the bedroom, though she knew it was highly unlikely that Olerato would wake up now. She went into the kitchen and made herself a cup of rooibos. Then, walking into her own bedroom, she sat down in front of her laptop but she didn’t switch it on.
Instead she thought back to the very first time Olerato had called her Mama.
She’d had a long day at work, covering the story of the floods that had plagued Port Elizabeth for the past week. She had spent the afternoon interviewing people who had lost not only their homes but all their possessions too.
Some of the roads had been closed because of the continuing heavy downpour. A couple of bridges had collapsed. The rivers had overflowed and tragically the water had carried a young mother and her son away. Still others had gone missing. Ayanda was 22 at the time and had seen more hardship in her young life than most people see in a lifetime.
She’d rushed back from Walmer Township to Sea View to pick Olerato up from the day care centre. The child had only started at her new day care the previous month, so Ayanda didn’t want to be late. Olerato was still trying to adjust to life without Gloria.
Her editor Juliet Brown knew of her circumstances. “You can type up your articles at home and email them to the office. That is until you get Olerato settled. It can’t be easy for either of you.” Juliet’s voice was full of concern.
“Thank you, Juliet. I won’t let you down,” Ayanda promised.
She parked her silver Tazz on the road outside the pre-school. There were a lot of harassed parents collecting their little ones after completing a day’s work. Ayanda was quickly realising that life for these parents was a constant juggle of work, home and families. It wasn’t always easy to get the balance right.
She recognized a few familiar faces and smiled a greeting at them. Ayanda’s mind was still on her work and the articles she’d have to write after settling Olerato down.
She spotted Olerato standing at the entrance, waiting for her, her jacket on and her Barbie backpack on her back. It was July and bitterly cold.
“Mama, Mama!” Olerato squealed as soon as she spotted Ayanda. She threw herself into her aunt’s arms and hugged her fiercely. “I’ve missed you. I want to go home.”
Parents moved in and around them both, but Ayanda was oblivious to everybody, except the little girl clinging to her body. Tears gathered in the corner of her eyes but she hastily wiped them away. She wasn’t going to break down now.
Up until that very morning, Olerato had called her Aya. Was it only a slip of the tongue that she now called her Mama? No, it wasn’t. From that time on Olerato called her Mama. She also stopped asking her when Gloria was coming to fetch her. It was as if Olerato had decided in her own mind that Ayanda was her mother now.
Ayanda was relieved but saddened at the same time. Often she recalled Gloria’s words to her: “Look after my little girl, Ayanda.” She had kept her promise to her sister. She loved her as if she was her own child.
But she had kept a scrapbook of photographs plus other mementoes to give to Olerato when she grew older. She was too young at present to be told the horrific way her birth mother had been taken away from her. She wanted Olerato to have as normal life as she could.
Tell us what you think: Is Ayanda right to allow Olerato to think she is her her ‘Mama’?