I heard her the first time.
When she spoke softly and tried to gently nudge me awake.
I screwed my eyes slightly tighter, concentrating on keeping my face blank in the futile hope that she would relent and go away.
But instead, she raised her voice, prodded me more determinedly and starting peeling the blankets off my body – before I could restrain myself, my hand had instinctively shot out to counter her action and snatch back the bed covers – still with my eyes screwed shut.
She paused and I could feel her penetrating gaze.
She knew I was awake and now she also knew I did not want to wake up.
I am not sure now, but perhaps she paused more to rethink her strategy in light of the new information she had gleaned.
Because when she next spoke it was with that soft, common-sensical and cajoling tone of a negotiator who knows that their requests are quite reasonable.
“Vuka De, asambe uyegeza” she said in Ndebele [Wake up, you need to go and bath].
Giving up the pretense of sleep, I opened my eyes and made no attempt to mask the resentment I was feeling before responding churlishly, “Ah Dess, hamba wedwa” [You can go alone].
She wasn’t taken aback by the attitude, instead she laughed indulgently and said firmly that it was time to bath and she was going to help me and we should do it quickly before the bathrooms filled up with people.
And as she spoke the tears pricked at my eyes – self pity.
I was tired, I said.
Tired of moving and the pain that moving caused me.
She was not the one with an injured hip, she did not know what it felt like to try and get into those high tubs with my injured hip protesting any movement let alone the elevation required for me to all but jump into those damn Swinton Hall tubs.
She did not know what the shooting pain felt like as it exploded from my hip joint and coursed through my body in protest over any attempts at bending to scrub my feet.
She should leave me alone, I said.
But I have never known Destelia Monalisa Ngwenya to bite her tongue when what she had to say needed to be said or to shirk from a necessary task regardless of the attendant unpleasantness associated with carrying it out.
Destelia and I have been friends for over a decade now and in June of 2004, she spent a week bathing my 3-month pregnant self after I had been hit by a car and was unable to move owing to a hip injury that I sustained.
She would wake up in the morning, put up with my moods and my misdirected anger to help me to the bathrooms, half-lift me into the seemingly high tubs, let me bath the upper part of my body which I could reach without straining my hip and then take charge of the rest so that I wouldn’t have to bend or hurt myself in the attempt.
After the bath she would half-lift me out of the tub again, help me back to my room where the task of getting dressed often involved wearing my underwear last because again, the process of wearing underwear involved bending which had become such an excruciating exercise for me.
I remember one morning where I staged a one-woman mutiny and refused to wear my underwear at all.
I wasn’t going to go through that pain again. No. Not for all the words in the world.
I was going to just spend the day without any underwear because it hurt, hurt, hurt TOO much trying to put a pair on!
I remember her laughing, saying “De, you know you can’t go out without underwear”, and I asked why not? Who would know?
And besides I was done with hurting myself every time I had to move.
And wearing underwear required two simultaneous movements that combined to inevitably set my hip on fire – the act of bending and the act of lifting my legs one at a time.
She would stand there, cajoling, encouraging and reminding me that we needed to hurry up, because I still had to eat the porridge that she had prepared and then take my pain medication.
We had exams throughout that entire week and my friend was pulling double shifts to see me bathed, clothed, fed and then she would have to contend with trying to revise for her exams while playing nursemaid to me.
I know I said thank you to her countless times that week and over the years since then but it never feels like it is enough.
I was a sulky patient, wallowing in self-pity and wondering why all these things were happening to me.
First I get myself knocked up and then I get myself run over by a car just a day before my first year final exams at the University of Zimbabwe?
Why was all this happening? Where was God? Why did my parents have to die and leave me… (I really hate it when people play the ‘I-am-an-orphan’ card so it took some severe depression to get me to that point, lol).
I must have been hell to be around but Destelia was totally unfazed.
She kept showing up every morning to get me ready for days I didn’t even want to face anymore – days she all but bullied me into facing.
And usually, when all the bathing, dressing, eating and taking of pain meds was done – she’d text my male friends to let them know I was ready so that they could come and carry me off to whatever exam venue we would be writing from.
Sometimes it was my female friends who formed into teams and carried me from one point to the other – taking turns to rest and relieve each other of the weight that was me and my useless hip.
Among those who carried me to write exams that year was Falimehang and Nomsa (I can’t believe I forgot her surname and she used to speak Venda! But she was Polite Ndlovu’s girlfriend at the time, lol…hoping those clues help my former college mates to jog my memory); there was Jacob and Sean; and there was Mmeli and Yvonne.
I know I thanked them.
But I must do it again to remind myself of the good fortune I have met with in my life and to let them know that their kindness will always mean a lot to me.
For sacrifices that went above and beyond the call of friendship; I want to say thank you but words are not enough.
With gratitude to Destelia Monalisa Ngwenya – for being there and for saving me from myself more times than I care to count or recall.