Sizwe was dying. We the dormers were in agony. The media was camping at De Rand Hospital, which would soon announce that its efforts to save her life had failed. De Rand is the hospital for the rich.
“Lemu, what you think...what you think about Sizwe, Angel Sizwe?” the long-necked Josh asked.
“Sizwe is lucky to expire so beautifully...” crooned Josh, as if in a reverie.
“She had quite a hold on everyone. Especially the children...” he went on.
“That’s it bra. That’s the problem bra...children,” I interjected, bitterly.
“What you mean, buti?” Josh queried, rising mechanically from the creaking dormitory bed. His neck languidly unfolded like a crane’s.
I was lying on the upper decker looking up at the stained, cracked ceiling. This dormitory was our home. Transkei Adult Shelter.
On your way from Cape Town to Bellville, on Parow Way, you’ll see the robots at the Dr Van Zinjil Road intersection. Now, at that intersection, there’s a screaming sign, Transkei Adult Shelter, 346 metres.
We, the dormers, loved the word Transkei. It held some kind of exotic promise for us. Not the promise of a better tomorrow, but that of liberty within its walls. It made us feel like we were in a better world, away from the real one where we had failed miserably, irrevocably.
“Buti, what you mean with that nonsense about children?” sputtered Josh.
The quiet I had sought here in Transkei to mourn the love of my life was an illusion. Can’t a man find rest?
“Her children stabbed her,” I muttered, almost choking on the words.
“What you mean? Which children? Why?” Josh and his neck were rapping roughly on my conscience.
Hell! Stop nagging! I almost shouted. But I held back.
The dormers had now crowded around our bed. Josh’s stretching neck had summoned them. Since Sizwe discovered me in Transkei, accidentally of course, the dormers had shown great admiration for me. They figured that I was more than I purported to be.
Sizwe’s concern for me, her regular visits and generosity to Transkei Shelter and private talks with me, turned me into a human being in the eyes of the dormers.
Josh was amazed at the media’s frenzy about Sizwe’s tragedy. A beautiful Xhosa woman, rich and genteel, but above all, a philanthropist.
She was leaving a great legacy. The media talked of the big shoes she had left that no one would ever fill. Indeed, I knew the size of her shoes—39. Always bought them at Mr Price.
But they weren’t talking about literal shoes. And that is what bothered me. As we were watching TV with other dormers the night before, and everyone was mournful as the shoe-reporter went on and on, I muttered, “We’re mere humans with ordinary shoes or no shoes at all.”
I walked to the decker in the corner of the dormitory, climbed on the upper bed and covered myself with the duvets Sizwe had brought me last winter. Her beautiful fragrance was still on the pillow, or at least I imagined it was.
It was about 5pm. We had just returned from De Rand Hospital. We had seen her. Pale, pathetic, pitiful. She had held my hand feebly.
The other dormers walked out of the chamber. Her doctor too, after she looked at him imploringly. Gasping for breath, she said:
“Lemu, I’m forgiven?”
And I saw tears welling up in her eyes. Pretty, precious, but no longer the pure Sizwe I had met long ago when my nationality wasn’t a liability.
“I forgave you, Sizwe. It has been a long time now. And forgive me for falling far below your expectations…”
This didn’t please her at all.
She raised her feeble hand to me. I took it. Pressed it tight. I knew it was for the last time. The very last time.
“Lemu, I believed rumours about makwerekwere. I thought you were using me to get citizenship. That you would abandon me with the kids as soon as you got citizenship.”
“Heavenly citizenship?” I thought to myself.
“I understand, Sizwe. True love suffers the most...” I said.
“You’ll see my will. My lawyer will come looking for you...” she whispered. She seemed proud of yet another philanthropic venture.
But my mind was on the citizenship issue. Where was my true citizenship? In Sunday school, we used to sing about our heavenly citizenship...But that was a long time ago, the years of innocence.
I wanted to say to her that all of us are foreigners in this world. But it would be inappropriate. Instead, I caressed her pale cheeks. She was unusually hot. It felt as if her head was drumming frenziedly, madly. I couldn’t imagine the pain.
I walked out. Her eyes fixed on me. I felt them till I dived around a corner, into a narrow corridor enveloped in hospital odour.
When we got back to the dorm, I was hoping for some quiet time. I needed to mourn Sizwe. and weep for my two children, Zandile and Nadia, dumped in Cape Town’s District Six Children’s Home at the onset of the xenophobic war.
The family was a far cry from what we, Sizwe and I, dreamt of. Before I left Nairobi for Cape Town almost two decades ago, I used to think gangs were for young men born in the ghettos, not for my children who would be brought up in affluence, in the fear of the Lord. But life is full of booby traps that do not even need false steps.
And a great family it was, Sizwe, Nadia, Zandile and I. As a freelance columnist for The Cape Times, The Argus, and Times Tribune, I was making good money.
Yes, Sizwe was happy. But I was the happiest of them all. Until the storm struck. The foreigners, the makwerekwere...the venom was everywhere.
But what broke the camel’s back was Sizwe’s betrayal through Mhlongwe, the man she eloped with. A stinking rich brute. Seven years together and then they divorced.
Then, one day, without warning, she showed up at Transkei Adult Shelter. She was visibly shocked to see me.
I had been seeing her on the telly all the time. But she had assumed that I had been murdered in the 2004 xenophobic fighting. Yet, here I was… downtrodden, but still here.
This was a woman who had won international awards for her humanitarian work. She had held senior positions in international organisations for several years. So I was speaking to a celebrity.
“Lemu, it’s you!”
“Sure, Sizwe. It’s me.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll come back. I’ll see what I can do...” she promised.
I said nothing. She had the power of the dollar, the media and citizenship.
And so her private visits began. She became fond of our Transkei. But when we were alone, in her expensive tinted car, she would urge me to abandon the dorm and follow her.
We would rebuild our ruined lives, she pleaded. We would look for our children, rehabilitate them, and live happily ever after.
But we were a wasteland. We needed the kind of redemption beyond the power of the dollar.
I was traumatised. I had lost everything when I lost her and the children, and became a fugitive. Here I was, languishing in a godforsaken dungeon, writing my memoirs.
When Sizwe asked about the children, I told her I phoned District Six Children’s Home when my foreign blood was under siege. They dispatched their rescue team to the house
Three years ago, the children moved to the Cape Flats. I had visited them at the home several times. I warned Sizwe not to go looking for them. They were a bitter, dangerous lot. Sure, Zandile was a man, almost. But my Nadia...my beautiful Nadia...
The dormers gathered and asked, “Lemu, is she dead?”
“Yes. The doctors said the stab went too deep into her heart. There’s nothing they could do for her except minimise her agony,” I explained.
“Where did the stabbing happen?” Josh asked, his neck erect. “At the Cape Flats,” I said.