Early in the dark before pre-dawn, the telephone jangled them awake. Her sister’s chokey voice said, “Dear-love, Mum is dead.” She pushed the bedclothes aside, leaving her husband to acquire the details. Practical issues asserted themselves. She would make a cup of tea, wake the family, give them the news. Pray together. There were letters to write to family members overseas, the appropriate sympathy cards to send.
Refusing the offer that she stay home, she joined the family in the bookstore where they worked. “It’s better to be busy.” The word sped. Other staff members – church members – laid their sympathies at her feet.
“Will you go back?” they asked. “For the funeral.”
“No.” Her answer was final. “I have no passport.” And no money, her mind included.
“You must go,” they insisted, “your family needs you.” They knew how to twist the knife. She closed her office door, returning to her work.
The others gathered in the pastor’s office, to pray, they said. Her husband called her into his office. Wearing his pastoral face he said, “Get your passport application forms, have the photos taken.” It was easier to obey than to question. From office to office kindly officials directed her. At home that night her papers were inspected: passport, visa, airline tickets, traveler’s cheques. While she slept her younger son packed her suitcase.
Entrusting her to compassionate airline staff, the family waved her onto the plane.
Too late for the gathering at the funeral service, family members welcomed her in smaller groups. Waves of familiar faces washed over her, laving her with kindness. Small decisions were offered: “Should we…?” “Do you think…?” “Would you like…?”
Gentle, inflexible cousin Lilian was a trusted port in every storm. Their eyes met and held. “You must forgive. For your own sake, you must forgive.”
(Forgive? Her whole being shrieked in silent agony. Who must she forgive? God? For opening the door and welcoming her mother home? The unidentified murderer, who deliberately ran her down outside the nursing home? The police, who shrugged and didn’t care? Her family, who tiptoed round, afraid to jar her fragile mind? Herself, for not being there?)
Exhausted, her eyelids drooped, breaking Lilian’s hold. “Yes. It is essential to forgive.”
Important decisions were already made. It was foreordained that her mother’s ashes would lie among the high rocks of the Drakensburg. Her children gathered at the foot of Giant’s Castle. Dora held out her hands as her brother-in-law took the urn from the car. His refusal was rough and flat. “I will carry it.”
Resisting the urge to seize the urn and cradle it, she turned, took the first steps, her brother keeping pace. They climbed silently together. The tears drained from her head, her throat, puddled in her breast. They found their rhythm as they climbed, steps evenly matched.
“You okay?” William’s query broke the silence in her mind. They stopped. “I think we’ll make for that krantz, go this way.” Her eyes followed his pointing finger, acknowledging their route. They looked back at their sister, and her husband carrying the urn. Unspoken resentment surged again. Dora faced back up the hill.
A fresh breeze tempered the warmth of the summer sun, curving the grass in flowing waves. Fluffy clouds softened the tall horizon. She wished she could just keep climbing, all the way up. Like a record caught in a groove, climbing, over the top.
Reaching the sun-drenched krantz, they turned. Dora felt the world fall away beneath her feet. The deep valley stretched for miles. The silence was complete, easing the tension of her unwept tears.
“Cup of tea while we wait?” She accepted his offer gratefully. Sipping, they discussed the changes in the years since she had left. Now and then they spoke of their mother as if she were still there. Vera and Fred came up, Fred resting the urn in a hollow niche. They shared their sandwiches while they discussed the best place for a cairn.
To one side the hill fell away in a steep jumble of rock. Dora yearned to empty the urn over the slope. The breeze was strong enough to carry the ash away. Symbolically, their mother would be free.
A site selected, the cairn was built, the urn closed safe inside. They walked back down the hill.
Her brief visit soon wore to an end. The family came to say goodbye, waved her to the plane. She flew back to the other side of the world.
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