Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Africa (03/05/09)
TITLE: Home Where I Belong
By Debbie Roome
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My life in Johannesburg began in 2002. Josiah, my husband of six months returned from the gold mines, bursting with good news. “I’ve come to take you to the city, Thandiwe. We can have a better life there. I’m earning good money and we’ll rent a home in Soweto.”
The city was a great shock. I was thrust headfirst into a sprawling monster, scarred by flat-topped mine dumps - synthetic yellow hills that breathed fine dust across the land. The house Josiah promised me was downsized to a tiny room in a hovel shared by four other families. Many times I wanted to run away, to flee the glaring street lights and incessant traffic. The burning tarmac and raucous drinking houses. The terrible violence and wars between the taxi bosses. How much I missed my beloved Valley of a Thousand Hills. I longed to breathe the fragrant air and hear the chickens scratching in the yard. To sit and grind corn with my sisters and sing soulful songs as the coppery sun dipped behind the inky lake.
In 2004, Josiah took sick. It was a dismal winter night when he told me the truth. A night so cold that ice seemed to saturate the air we were breathing. We lay in bed, curled together like suckling puppies as he whispered in my ear. “The clinic says I am infected, Thandiwe. I have Aids and there is nothing they can do for me.” I still remember the seconds after he told me. The quiet, melodic ticking of the clock. The dogs howling down the street, the buttery moon that shone palely through the window.
“Josiah! How can that be? I have never been with another man.” As I spoke, the realization sunk in.
“I’m sorry Thandiwe. Those months I was away at the mines were hard. I needed a woman.”
Josiah died eighteen months later but I have lingered, my flesh consumed by this terrible sickness.
Joyce comes bustling in. “Moses is here, Thandiwe. I’m going to call help to get you outside.” Moses has prepared a bed for me in the back of his ute. A soft mattress with plump pillows and a warm checkered blanket. It’s hot outside but the warmth cannot reach my bones. I am permanently cold these days, my skin like black marble, my breasts like shrivelled apples against my sunken chest. My helpers lift me in and the clinic sister gives me a shot to ease the jolts and bounces of the five hour journey. My last vision of Johannesburg is my dear friends bunched around the ute. Joyce is crying but I cannot comfort her. Indeed, I cannot even lift my hand to wave farewell.
It’s afternoon when I awake and my mother is embracing me, her face twisted with grief. “Thandiwe, why didn’t you tell us?”
“I shake my head.” Aids is a scourge, a disgrace, something the doctors avoid writing on death certificates. I wanted to spare them months of shame so I waited till now. My strength is gone, my meagre reserves drained by the journey but I am at peace. “Please put my mattress outside.” I whisper. An hour later, I’m cocooned in blankets, my head propped up so I can see across the valley. The hills are purple in the distance, the grass yellow and studded with pole-and-dagga huts.
As I drift in and out of sleep, my family gathers. My siblings and cousins, parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles. We cry together and they arrange themselves around my bed, the hot African sun dappling our skin and love warming our hearts. I am content as I feel my strength ebbing, flowing out as I exhale for the last time. I’m home at last. Home where I belong.
Pole-and-dagga huts are traditionally constructed with a framework of branches or poles and walls of packed mud. The floor is often made of smoothed cow dung.
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