I woke up to a distant memory.
19 years ago an 11 year old staged a mutiny, rebelled against ritual and stood her ground against custom…. *sigh*
I’m making it sound more dramatic than it actually was.
Let me start again.
When I was young I went to boarding school for the better part of my Primary education and the family ritual was that we had to spend one holiday of each calendar year visiting my mother’s side of the family in Tshapfutshe and Tshaswingo, places that were remote and snuggled very close to South Africa.
Each year. Religiously. Without fail. Non-negotiably. We were packed into the car by my mother and transported to my maternal relatives.
I loved my mother’s side of the family but I did not like the discomfort of staying with them.
I adored my maternal grandparents but I couldn’t stand the fact that there was rarely a book to read and I would resort to picking up random scraps of paper in despair just to quench my thirst for the written word.
And my mother’s side of the family spoilt us rotten whenever they got the chance.
Goats slaughtered. Chickens and sheep too.
My maternal uncles would fall over each other parading their prized cattle before my grandmother insisting theirs was the fatter option to slaughter for the new arrivals who graced them one holiday per year.
My mother’s side of the family was full of fun, side-splitting family drama and one was guaranteed days of endless laughter, adventure and ‘royal treatment’.
But that holiday. When I was in Grade 6, I didn’t want to go.
I didn’t have a special reason for not wanting to go – I just didn’t want to go anywhere.
I wanted to stay at home in rural Siyoka, by the Makhado highway, close to the Jopembe hills and about 20 kilometres from Mazunga and approximately 80 kilometres before Beitbridge town.
This was home. It was where I wanted to be. I did not want to be anywhere else.
I was rather untactful in broaching the subject with my mother (something that the 30 year old me can now admit with the requisite winces and cringes).
I had interrupted my mother in the stream of her enthused speech about the pending holiday plans for Tshapfutshe… the clothes that needed to be packed, the date of departure and the estimated day of return as well as the things we could look forward to.
I had interrupted my mother midstream to mumble, “But I don’t want to go”.
Now I have to make something else clear.
These trips to my mother’s side of the family where ritualistic in more than one sense.
They were a ritual because we always went.
One holiday out of each calendar year we would be packed off.
But these trips also represented a more veiled struggle on the part of my mother who would begin negotiating with my father long before the holidays in order to get ‘clearance’ to ship us off.
And whenever we actually made the trips, it represented an immense triumph for my mother – she would have bargained her way into making the trips a reality and keep her family from complaining of how little they saw of us.
My father was stingy with us.
Not in a mean way. Just in a proprietorial ‘these-are-my-precious-kids-and-I-cant-really-trust-anyone-to-take-better-care-of-them sort of way.
It must have been annoying to all our relatives – both maternal and paternal – who wanted to have us over but had to contend with his ‘mother bear’ attitude.
Guarantees had to be made.
Guarantees that we would be safe while we were away. That someone would keep an eye on us at all times and that my father would be immediately informed if anything went wrong.
To understand this quirky behavior that my father exhibited you can read my blog on him titled “My Father – a man of emotions”.
Back to my mother.
So here I was. All 11 years of me. Interrupting my mother’s excited torrent of speech to say, “But I don’t want to go”.
She stopped and looked at me, “What did you say, Delta?”
And I looked at her and repeated a bit firmly, “I said I don’t want to go”.
I am not sure but I must have worn my expression.
My expression that said you can beat me up right now but I will keep saying exactly what I am saying and you can pack me up kicking and screaming to this holiday you’ve planned but I will keep reminding you that I said I don’t want to go.
The others were quiet. Looking at me like I was a troublemaker.
Looking at me like I would get all of them in trouble too.
My mother was Sotho, very light, with a light peppering of hair on a mole on her chin that was made more discernible by her light complexion and she had a fierce temper.
My mother’s anger was like spontaneous combustion when you tripped her up. Instantaneous. Lethal. And unbridled.
Her temper was made more fearsome by the fact that she was – on the surface of it – very accommodating, easy-going and warm until you got on her wrong side.
So here I was, 11 year old me saying I didn’t want to go and spend the holiday with her side of the family after all the trouble she had gone to with behind-the-scenes negotiations to make this trip happen.
I hadn’t meant to blurt it out.
But it slipped out. As a mumble. An ill-timed mumble that unfortunately coincided with her catching a breath in mid-speech.
I had said it and now I did not want to swallow it. Because I meant it.
And because the others were watching me.
And because I knew if she hit me I could take it.
And also because I had a niggling suspicion that if she hit me, my father would not be pleased that my mother was resorting to beatings just to get me to go on holiday.
My father would probably have said (rather gleefully and triumphantly I imagine) something like, “Leave her alone, if she doesn’t want to go let her stay”.
In any event that’s not how it went down.
Instead my mother gave me a penetrating stare as if to weigh the level of my determination by the look on my face.
Then she completely surprised me by saying, “Fine. If you don’t want to go, you are not going.”
Then she turned to face the others and kept talking, more enthusiastically now.
Painting vivid pictures of all the fun those who were going would have – placing emphasis on those who were going.
The conversation took a rather sour turn from there.
My mother spoke of how those who were going would naturally have to go into Beitbridge town and get new clothes.
Those who were going would naturally be gifted with chickens which they had permission to come back with and add to their existing flock.
Those who were going might even see my SA-based maternal uncles who would be coming down for Easter with lots of goodies just for them.
In fact, said my mother, those who were going should prepare a list of what goodies they wanted from South Africa so she would make sure that they were delivered.
And so it went. The subtle emotional blackmail. But I stood my ground.
Yes, it would have been nice to have all the benefits of going without actually having to go but I just wanted to stay home.
And so I stayed. And they left me. All of them. A whole holiday at the homestead by myself with no one except the help.
No one to play with. No one to talk to. Nothing.
That was when I wrote these lines of what was meant to be a poem;
We choose to stay when we can go
And sometimes we choose to go when we can stay
So I guess life is about choosing
I think I may have written a lot more than that but it escapes me now. Anyway.
That incident taught me something. The power of choosing.
If I could choose now, I would go.
I would go to make my mother happy had I known I would have her for such a short time in my life.
But what’s done is done.
I am very big on choices and on owning the consequences of those choices.
I have stayed in bad places because I did not have the courage to admit to myself that I had put myself in a bad situation.
And let me tell you something. Sometimes people are places.
They are places we create in our lives and stick to even when they’re so clearly wrong for us.
I have found that knowing I have the choice to go is what makes staying a delight.
There are places (read people) that I will never leave because they matter to me.
But then there are places (read people) I have come across and walked past.
Regardless of what others may have thought, regardless of what they will think and regardless of all the ‘fun’ they will have on their journey – I will always chart my own path.
I will go where I want to go.
I will love who I want to love.
I will leave whomever I want to leave (as others will choose to leave me too at one point or another).
I will be who I want to be.I will not apologize for this.
I will always be the girl who stays when others go or the one who goes when others stay for no other reason than that it is my choice.
As I turn 30, I remind myself to not inconvenience myself just to fall into the plans of others. I remind myself to live as I believe.
I am what I am.
Of all the things my mother got right (and there are many) – my brother Dalton is the best of them!