On the last day that I would hear you speak, you called me early in the morning, both of us were on our way to separate hospitals for surgical procedures. You recited Psalm 23 in SeSotho, and I didn’t even know you in that light. When we said goodbye, I promised to check on you as soon as we were awake.
You never woke up.
You, Maker and Braza never lasted beyond what life had measured for you. But I…I have a right to my memories of you.
I was at your bedside a few days after my surgery. I felt your cold skin and looked into your hazy eyes. Praying to God and speaking to you, I imagined that you heard me. At your funeral I was on crutches, all your children called up to stand next to your earthly remains, I found the courage to get up there and take my place when your eyes were closed as a testimony to immediate family, to the neighbours, and to myself, that you cannot ignore a man’s legacy, you cannot wish his realities away even at death.
I own the memory of your steadfast fatherliness, your impeccable housekeeping, of your hard work and creativity. I’ve watched you administer your authority in silent appreciation and defied the same authority when in my view you were not being fair in your judgements. I’ve watched you use every hour of your given days exploring new talents, assisting others, finding means to provide for your big family, and solving life’s problems. I admire you still as the soberest thinker I have ever met, with narrow eyes that saw in the big scheme of things and a perceptive heart.
Although you did not last to this age, your memory keeps my treasure full to the brim and I testify as a child that you raised. I only wish I had the right to call you Dad then. I reserve what I have – the right to memories of my father.
It has been 10 years.
It takes a dream to remind me of the disadvantages of my childhood.
I was that child who sat still in my home, book in hand, either reading or writing my thoughts. My mind was never absent from my immediate surroundings, I recorded it all – the laughter, the conversations, and the love shared. I watched my mother’s face when the family was happy, when she and her husband were playful. There were joyful times when they would roll sheets of paper into balls and hit each other while the rest of the children joined in on the fun.
Outside of this little coven, my physical and emotional scars were more exposed. I was the other child and so labelled during introductions, never as part the family and never embraced as one of them in the streets. Neighbours had their favourites too- this was made evident in the pitch of their voices, the glow on their faces when the group of us greeted them one by one. Oh, and the gifts that all the children were given, that I wished I could share in as well. During these strange disappointing times, my mother’s warm smile was enough.
In this car where my dream located me, I was with the people who knew my Stepdad closely, I was sharing the memories in our short ride, and we all laughed and commented with our most cherished moments. And I recall how he and ‘Maker’ (our neighbour) would spend some nights listening to jazz greats like Dizzy Gillespie, and others. From Zakes Nkosi’s Our Kind of Jazz album, Hoshhh Hoha blasted through the room, setting the tone for the weekend while Maker and ‘Mnaks’ (a street version of my stepdad’s last name) tapped their feet and reminisced about the past. Maker lived right next door to us and when he called it a night, Mnaks stood outside and made sure that he reached his door safely, and the two of them bade each other good night.
Some moments are more vivid, like ‘Braza’s’ (another friend) spirited walk when they met to share a joint. And on one day Braza brought me a box full of books! I spent my quiet days pouring over the writings.
Memory takes me back to when I had joined a local church. Mnaks must have shared the news about me attending church- a Pentecostal church, with Braza who had just arrived and took a chair next to where we all sat outside and started rolling his joint, he turned towards me and said, “Eish, kana Pati o holy!” (I forgot that we now have a saint among us).
During my dream state car ride, my reality hit when I mentioned that I was often asked if my Dad was a doctor by my peers. This was because I grew up during a time when a kid that wore full school uniform properly with polished shoes was thought to have come from a wealthy family, so, most kids thought that I came from a secured family. “Yes, my dad is a doctor!” I would say in affirmation. The faces around me frowned and the conversation died. The men’s stares reminded me of what I had no right to, calling him “Dad”.