At night grandma Khosi prepared the food and dished up for her guests. During dinner as they ate and spoke, she noticed it again, it was much worse that the last time they had come over to pay her a visit. The white life her grandchildren lived in the surbubs had contaminated their young minds.
She could tell even when the kids were speaking. That twang in their tongue; speaking English with their black parents. That was the problem. There was no sense of reverence in the children’s tone when they spoke English with their grownups; it sounded as though they were speaking to their peers. Grandma couldn’t recall the last time she heard them speak any Xhosa, their original mother tongue. One thing she did know and remember is that their Xhosa was as poor as anyone who tries to utter his first words of the language, like a white person for example. Perhaps her grandkids were white; it’s not a matter of skin colour and ethnicity, but mindset and behaviour, even the accent when they talked.
Grandma knew, that whenever Mfundo and Fezeka made an attempt to chat in isiXhosa – only to grandma Khosi – is that they couldn’t string a single sentence without mispronunciations and without dragging along some English words. And Khosi also knew that the only Xhosa words they know how to write were their names and surnames. She suddenly feared the type of people her grand daughter and grandson will grow up to be.
All of these thoughts her appetite away, she pushed her plate to the side the spoon clanked.
“Mama, are you alright?” Nambitha asked.
Grandma nodded that she was alright, but her frown remained intact. That frown of hers, it added more lines on her face amidst the wrinkles, making her look way older than she actually was.
She looked on the side Mfundo and Fezeka’s plates of dumplings and brown beans. The plates looked untouched and cold, grandma suspected it’s not that the kids aren’t hungry, it is just that they don’t want to eat. This wasn’t the type of meal they ate at their suburb home.
“Hey, you two,” Nambitha said, the kids looked up at her, “eat your food. Come on, eat.”
Ntsika took out a cigarette and got up with his empty plate. Nambitha followed him as well with her own plate and they slid them in the warm water on the sink. She washed her plate and his, while he went out of the house with the cigarette in his lips. She returned, found that the children were now eating but the frown was still glued on Khosi’s face. “You sure you alright, mom?” Nambitha asked.
“Oh yebo ndi’right ntomb’ yam'” grandma smiled a little.
After Nambitha was done with the dishes she joined her husband out of the house. They leaned against the wall near grandma Khosi’s bedroom window.
Ntsika puffed out smoke and got right into it. “Why is your mom so moody?”
Nambitha produced a sigh. “You know she doesn’t support the way we live and the way we raise the kids,” she said. “She’s too traditional and antiquated.”
“You can say that again. She’s too antiquated, although she doesn’t know that,” said Ntsika. “Nor what it means,” he smoked.
“I wonder how she would react if we were to have another child give him an English name, like Paul or Steven,” Nambitha said and they both laughed.
“Eh! I can imagine,” he further mimicked grandma Khosi’s voice in a Xhosa rant she would typically make. He and Nambitha laughed again.
When their son Mfundo was born, grandma was the one who named him, and she’s also the one who gave Fezeka that name when the girl was born.
“Please tell me little Mikey and his sis have finished gogo’s food,” Ntsika said.
“No, they are still eating it. She still looks a little sad,” Nambitha said.
Little Mikey, or Mike, was the name Mfundo was given to by his white teachers at Rose Gardens Primary, it was just a name they called him by; on school documents, registers, books, and reports he remained as Mfundo Mooi. They also gave Fezeka a white nickname: Felicia, and the parents, Nambitha and Ntsika agreed to these names. Of course, grandma didn’t know about this.
“You should’ve told her to cook some lasagne or something. The kids are used to that,” he said.
“And make her more moody? No thank you. And besides, I don’t think my mom knows how to cook that,” Nambitha said. “I think we should have an early night. Tomorrow will be a very busy day.”
“Yeah, you right,” Ntsika made his final pull and puffed, stubbed out the cigarette bud, then he and his wife got back inside the house. They found the kids playing with the remote, flipping through channels.
“Where’s your grandmother,” Nambitha asked them.
“At her bedroom, sleeping,” Fezeka responded.
Tell us: is grandma exaggerating or is it okay for the kids know English fluently?