A journey through age is one of life’s many mysteries I’ve yet to comprehend. Nothing ever stays the same. One year you are cradled in your grandmother’s back as she goes about her daily business while your mother is at work, and the next you are the one holding her hand to make sure she doesn’t fall. Indeed life is not meant to be a fairy tale, in mine I am greatful for love found and love lost-to be rediscovered again! I have loved and been loved in return. Through it all, there has been time frozen moments, endless walks down rocky roads, childhood friends I lost along the way and the new friends acquired in most unlikely places.
A particular December day, in Limpopo’s hot summer in 2006 is one of those rare moments in my life I always look back with multiple Ifs and should haves. But if anyone had to walk on that road- It was me! Clad in my new favourite capri pants I refused to board a bus loaded with relatives to our annual family gathering at a nearby village- because I could not leave my grandmother at home by herself. In her prime as a single mother my grandmother would work the fields of her bosses in the farming communities where my mother spent her early childhood. In those days she would tell me 10 cents was a lot of money. Her own fields would be the last she tended to after earning those few cents to support my mother and her two older brothers. That’s was ages ago, she’d say. Fast forward to 2006 my now old grandmother still refused to just sit down and let us do all the running around for her.
My pace home from the bus stop got faster with every step as I kept imagining the picture of my fragile grandmother on a hot day tending the weed in the field-just because she “cannot sit with her hands”, a phrase she loved to us. The sight of an old woman with a hoe, heavy in her hands is exactly what greeted me when I got home. Despite all her endless aches and pains her strong headedness can only be match by a younger great-grand daughter my mother is now raising. Even though the sight was sore to my eyes, her zeal and inner strength always amazed me, even though I knew she was no possessed her Matriarchal physical strength of her youth. Do you see this family- I built it with my own two hands with no man to help me. And it’s true, the first four roundavels that made up her family’s compound where built by her as my uncles would tell me every time he had one too many.
Earlier in that same week, of that summer day, my grandmother insisted on walking unassisted as I was taking her to the hospital. “I can walk on my own” she protested. I took her hand anyways and we took a stroll. To me it was giving my hand to steady the walk of a woman how had used up all strength to make our family what it is today.
Back to that, I stood in front of that hoe and offered that she might as well injure me while she is busying hurting herself. Her pain, my pain-it was that simple. In the evenings in the room I share with her I’d be the one to rub ointment on her body to help relax her muscles and aching limps.
After begging and pleading with her, she finally agreed put down her working tools and allow me to prepare a bath for her while the sun was still up. I put all the things she would need to avoid having her walk up and down in the outside room generally used as a bathroom.
The realisation that she now had to be taken care of must have sent waves of shock in her head. She never allowed herself to rely on anyone. Once I was a tiny offspring she’d bath and here I was all grown and preparing a bath for her. She struggled to place me as a grown up.
She looked at me for a while and said “You should let me do what I want because very soon I am going to die”. I told her she was not going anywhere and asked her what she would do if God decided to take me first. “I am your grandmother you must let me work,” “I am your grandchild you have to let me take care of you...” that was my reply. That was the last conversation I anyone ever had with my grandmother.
Within minutes screams of passing by children cut on top of the TV volume as they called for someone to come out because my grandmother had fallen down. It must have taken less than a second for me to sprint from my room to her aid. I tried picking her up and she could talk with saliva foam building in her mouth. Try as I may I couldn’t move her. At that moment I became that child she referred to moments earlier -a helpless one at that! Time stopped and the whole village grew muted to my screams. My new white pants tore just like my whole life at that moment.
She lay there in my arms with my tears streaming down my face onto her body. In moments clouds gathered and light rain fell on us, as I sat there trying to cover my granny with my t-shirt. After what seemed like a life-time. I heard a soul and soon help arrived. We carried my now ancestor to our room where she lay her hand firmly clutching onto mine and not letting go. …muttering what my two elderly neighbours who came to help thought was a “don’t leave me, mma”. She had always called me her “mother” because that’s who I am named after. She held onto me so tight with her hand even as she struggled to breath. Repeatedly saying I must not leave her.
My whole family had gone to celebrations and none of their phones were working. And we waited for an ambulance until a neighbour could reach my father through his friend’s phone. Even at the hospital I was the last to see my grandmother alive. I have learned as much as I possibly could from this great bag of wisdom, but even now I still think what if? So much what ifs! The night before her funeral there were heavy downpours that washed away roads; I was the only one in my family at the other wrong side of the village. I fainted and when I got there she was already buried.
That’s one journey I would never forget I made.