Today I woke up to the nostalgic ambush of a childhood memory – long forgotten and for some reason – it’s significance this morning was so overwhelming that it emotionally drained me.
I don’t know why that particular day came to mind or what triggered it – I just woke up and had a flashback – I remembered the day mama followed me.
I had gone to our home in rural Beitbridge – haSiyoga where my parents ran several businesses including a grinding mill, bottle store and general dealer store – as was the holiday tradition whenever schools closed; we all trekked to the ‘gwashes’.
Mmawe (mother in Venda) sent me to her big sister’s homestead and it was far away from our home; her leg was acting up and she had trouble walking so I had to journey to my aunt’s house.
I don’t quite remember what she wanted but she gave me directions and worried that I might get lost because I hadn’t been there in a while.
I assured her I would be fine; and set off confident that the imprinted memory of how to get there would suffice – never mind that mmawe had given me some information to the contrary (or so I thought).
I got lost.
The reason was I didn’t follow mmawe’s instructions and the short-cut I remembered once taking turned out to have been blocked by some family that extended its fields along the path and blocked the route I had anticipated taking.
So I re-traced my steps; couldn’t really remember any landmark feature to guide me and had no idea which side of the river I was on.
I was hopelessly lost.
Moreover the turn that mama had said to take was a long way from where I had wandered off to and there was no borehole in sight for me to ask those fetching water for directions.
I wandered for a long time in despair and exhaustion until I happened along a dirt road where I knew I would meet someone eventually.
But with the blistering sun; it was about half an hour before I met anyone and the first people I saw where some guys coming from a grinding mill in a scotch-cart and when I stopped, greeted them and explained my dilemma – they offered me a lift and dropped me off at my aunt’s place because as it turned out they were “somehow” related to my mother.
I say “somehow” because my mother seemed to be related to just about everyone who was of Sotho descent (or so it seemed back then).
The first thing my mother’s sister asked when she saw me approaching was where my mother was. I explained that her leg was painful, that she had sent me, given me directions and although I’d gotten lost – I was finally here.
It had taken me nearly 3 hours more than necessary to get to my aunt.
She laughed at me, joked about my getting lost saying a girl with so much “English” like me ought to know better than get lost.
And then she said to me, “your mother is on her way. I know her. She will follow you. She is like a cow that never feels at ease when one of its calves is out of sight. She will be here soon.”
I explained to her that mmawe couldn’t walk. Her leg was painful. It was swollen – I had seen it myself that morning. And my aunt just brushed my words aside; prepared a meal and left a share for my mother.
Less than hour later; my mother showed up.
She was limping painfully.
She was dragging her swollen foot.
She was leaning against a stick.
She was walking in the full blast of the mid day sun.
Plodding along slowly and each step must have been excruciating.
She showed up round the bend.
Mmawe had followed me after all. Just like her sister had predicted.
It didn’t mean much to me then. In fact I was mildly annoyed that she hadn’t trusted me enough to let me find my own way.
I felt that she had taken away my ‘glory’ in achieving the task she had assigned me. I was put off.
But this morning – when I remembered (for whatever reason) – I felt the tears sting my eyelids. But I didn’t cry.
Today I realized that mmawe followed because she loved me too much to let me walk alone; to risk the chance that I might lose my way. So even though it cost her so much – she followed.
Today I realized that now in the journey of life; I’ll ask for directions or may be not – that I’ll set off for destinations that I may arrive at or fail to get to – that I might embark on trips and find no one waiting or an audience standing on the sidelines.
But whatever the case: mmawe aint gonna follow me no more. Mmawe aint gonna come limping round the bend to see that I arrived safe; intact and unharmed.
Today, I walk the path of life alone and I remember with longing, bitter-sweetness and pain – I remember the day mmawe followed.
She followed and I never ran for her. I wish I had.
Because now – I understand what it cost her – that labor of love.
In loving tribute to Mmawe – Virginia Lamola “Machoeni” Ndou – the woman who finally quit ‘following’ on the 15th of January 2001. My heart breaks anew with memories as sharp and sweet as these. Rest in Peace Mmawe, miyaDelta, Machoeni, MaTlou…robalang kahotso Mme.