Blog Getting Personal

Memory, a whip in calloused hands

Lying pale, against a backdrop of starched, white sheets, a tube prying open your mouth, reaching into your throat,  fetching you a little more life.

‘But her blood pressure,’  ‘After this pint of blood we’ll know’, ‘Maybe she’ll be fine’,  ‘Ma, moenie bang wees nie. Ek is hier,’ ‘Kidney function’, ‘Take her home!’, ‘Adrenalin,’ ‘She’s stable’,  ‘A death in dignity,’ ‘Pulse’, ‘She’s 85,’ –

It’s the monitors behind you keeping time.

For just a moment, your eyes open and don’t roll back, you look at me, right at me, glassy-grey eyed, ‘Raboo mama?’ I ask tentatively, pausing from my prayer, in hope. But your eyes roll back again. They shut. Your body contorts in pain, or fear. ‘God, make light what it is she must endure.’

I tuck a strand of greyed hair back into the scarf they’ve so strategically draped over your head and remember how just two years ago you chided Aunty Shahnaz for forgetting to come dye your hair.

You’re writhing again, I stroke your brow, continue my prayer in your ear, my tears inconsequential to the fact. I don’t want my memory of you to be this.

I don’t want to tell the children I-may-never-have of the woman who lies on that bed, I don’t want my memory of you to be of the woman who’s sat in that wheelchair these five years. I don’t want to remember you a speechless woman in a darkened room.

I want to remember you the woman in her blue-checkered apron, that Eid at your house when Sulaiman protested his Nehru suit by walking only when forced,  I want to remember visiting you in that big, beautiful house that was yours, the smell of your cooking wafting through the kitchen, I want to remember sitting in your TV room, watching a Liverpool game, while you light up a Stuyvesant, and chatted to Mama . I want to remember you the sister of my grandmother, the friend of my grandmother, our Big M, the eldest, the matriarch, kind, gentle,  beautiful woman.  I want my memory of you to be of the woman who walked her own path, not this one slipping away.

I stand beside your bed, bending down to brush my lips against your head. I’m watching you die and memory is a whip in calloused hands.

(The brief sum of life forbids us the hope of enduring long – Horace)

They are not long, the weeping and the laughter,
Love and desire and hate:
I think they have no portion in us after
We pass the gate.
They are not long, the days of wine and roses:
Out of a misty dream
Our path emerges for a while, then closes
Within a dream.

Ernest Dowson

Getting Personal

Before I forget #1

Our fathers were friends. We became friends and together we whiled our childhood away.  They were days of wishing our fathers owned CNA, just so we could have every Sweet Valley book we wanted. Only Aaliya was smart enough to swear by Nancy Drew instead. Of Friday afternoon street cricket with Vijay. Vijay, the Hong Konger who spoke with a London twang and walked with an irreverent swagger but never minded a bunch of kids haranguing him to stay for cricket. Of Friday nights, the four of us, Sulaiman, Ragiema, Aadila and Nabila packed into the back seat of my dad’s car, giggling and squealing all the way to Eastgate. Of days playing hide and seek in the corridors of a Makkah hotel. Of murmured agreement of long-held suspicions on the hallowed mats inside the Mosque of the Prophet. Of first crushes and first conquests. We’d rather not own up to them now. Of days we checked out of school early, ostensibly sick, Zaheeda and I, careful to be home in time for the 11AM MNet film. Of attempts at tennis. I never thought a serve could be that hard. Or that the courts would be so large that the ball would bounce three times before refusing to cross the net. Of days and days and days playing Kiddie Bekker during break. Of kicking the ball into the yard of their newly-wed, new neighbours, over and over again, until an exasperated woman wearing only a man’s shirt asked us, a troupe of girls on her doorstep apologetically entreating her for our ball, to climb over the wall and fetch it ourselves should it ever fly over again. ‘Well you know what they are up to…’ someone whispered excitedly. I nodded sanguinely, pretending I did. Of the times we argued, and then made up. Of KTV kids market days where I first learned the word ‘scrunchie’. It was all hair stuff to me before then. Of days eating pop corn, watching Now and Then. Of days I first had my hair done at a Killarney salon. Of days walking from school to their dad’s surgery, noisily filling the waiting room with our bags and complaints and then taking advantage of the account at Video Shakti next door. Of a Winter holiday spent at Shireen’s culinary school where Fatima was teacher’s pet.   Of school afternoons staying in for netball practice, Zaheeda and I contested the shooter’s defence bib. My netball career was short-lived. My affinity for sports always falling short of active participation. Of the only times I left off my hijab. Of nights at the theatre, of PJ Powers playing Janis Joplin. Of nights watching the Springbok cavalcade depart beaten from Ellis Park when we’d been next door, holidaying on ice.

Winter nights, Summer mornings, we really did grow up together. And then we grew apart. Now we meet in the Grand Bazaar of the Plaza, at other friends’ shindigs, delighted to see each other, ask after each other’s parents, comment on how much time has passed, remark at how much Sulaiman has grown and then promise to get together for coffee sometime.