The woman who raised me is dead. I’m thinking about how she never even got to see the sea. The way it rushes out to meet you like an old friend, happy to be reunited.
That’s what I kept thinking the first time I stood, fully clothed, waiting for my first wave as it came galloping towards me—seemingly happy I’d finally come. At the end of that first trip all I had to show was a heavy suitcase, and sand on everything I had touched.
Mma being dead is not a thing that happened an hour ago. She’s been dead for almost three years now. I never feel closer to her than I do when near this big body of water. I’m sitting on a giant rock close enough to the sea. I can hear the waves clearly. They are whispering and sneaking and caressing the earth like a gentle lover. I love the secret language of the waves; there is always promise of inhlanjululo. The sea is seductive in the way it tries to lure and draw you in as you stand at its mouth. Waves rushing to greet you like you are the best thing they’ve ever seen and they cannot stand to be apart from you so, and as the water retreats, it gently pulls you in, taking you with it. Wanting to prolong the contact. And you, of course, are mesmerised. How far deep the contact will take you, you aren’t sure but who can walk away from a love this grand and enduring? I love how the waves sneak around. Even in the darkness, I feel as though the sea knows I’m here. The swish feels like performance drawing me closer to its embrace.
I came here, to this rock, to this town, with a boy and now that I’m this close to this gentle, treacherous force of nature, I cannot stand him. So, I crawled out of bed, careful not to wake him. It’s not even a consideration thing. It’s a this little house, the smallest and ugliest; the only one we could afford to rent for a week; my favourite house in the area is suddenly too small to hold us both thing. The two bedrooms seem to have merged. I can hear him breathing when I escape to the other bedroom in nothing but scratchy, plaid pyjama bottoms and a bra.
My mother always said I slept ready, with my bad bra habit. Then as I grew taller, more independent, she started fearing that I was strapping up to disappear in the quiet of the night, never to be heard from again. The shorter my school skirt got the more vocally apprehensive she became.
She spent a lot of my childhood looking for, praying about, and burning impepho, asking that my other mother be led home. Her only daughter. The woman who gave birth to me. We spent most of my high school years watching miserable reunions as people found each other in seven-minute inserts on Khumbul’ekhaya. I spent those nights imagining their awful attempts at assimilating with each other again, trying to recapture the past and realising everything had changed. As the woman who raised me prayed, I wrapped myself in the mantra that, “people who leave don’t matter.” We should not cry for them or pray about them. They are gone.
Then one day, after what I believed would soon end in us doing even more of her exercises and stretches, the woman who raised me was gone. I cried for her. I prayed about her. I drank too much wine looking to fill a dull space that formed somewhere in my ribs. I finally knew what it was to hope for an improbable reunion with a loved one. The reunions she and I have in my dreams are never miserable or trite. We still have a lot to say to each other; all our jokes hitting their marks as they always did. At the end of my first visit to the sea I brought her back sea water. Like I said, that trip was one of bliss and heavy suitcases. My fake timberland boots were still wet with too much sand clinging to them, so I shoved them in a Jwayelani plastic bag and placed them at the bottom of the suitcase. Next to the boots was a label-less two litre soft drink bottle with sand and seawater in it. The bottle was secured with a generic blue plastic bag I’d received when I bought amadumbe from a woman selling them from an orange milk crate on the side of the road. I tied the torn piece of plastic on the mount of the bottle and then secured the cap. Just like my mother taught me.
The soil on her grave was still fresh then, as fresh as soil is after six months. I poured the sea water on it and shook out all the beach sand. My boots had been damaged and all my clothes in that suitcase had come out sandy and filthy but the water bottle made it out intact. My second time at the sea was a blur but I made out with a bottle of water and sand and a shell. I put it on the enamel plate with impepho that my mother used to burn for her only daughter. I keep the plate under my bed right where I lay my head.
Leaving the second bedroom and fleeing to the kitchen isn’t much help either. The kitchen where, in the last two days, the boy has made me very dry toast with too much butter and just the right amount of avocado and black tea, just like I like it. The kitchen where he fiddles with a red pen like an unsympathetic teacher, drawing moustaches on famous people’s faces in the Heat Magazine we found forgotten in a drawer. The kitchen where he makes me my favourite lentil soup to eat with garlic bread; where he irons his shirts even though we have nowhere to go this whole week. This very kitchen where we fucked on our first night here and it felt so good. Though it wasn’t quite as dreamy as the Beyoncé song suggested it should be. The carefree spirit with which she sighs and croons clearly says that she’s already got post-watermelon aid all booked to come clean the next morning.
Right then it felt too close to the bedroom we call ours even though, that first morning, I counted over 30 steps making my way from the rough carpet to the airy bedroom with its small shower. I counted over 30 steps with my size eight feet but tonight it seemed too close to his sleeping body, his hot breath and that beautiful face with the three tiny moles that my fingers love more than anything. I couldn’t stay in the kitchen.
On our first two mornings when I sat across from my boy with his strawberry jam on toast—we met a woman while walking around the town who makes jam and puts it in small mayonnaise bottles, which he’s now hoarding as you’d expect. I could see this rock out of the small kitchen window. It looked like a little mountain with its small wild flowers straining—their lithe stems and leaves and flowers stretched wide for embrace.
Early into us being here, before I started wanting to run, I told the boy to sign the Heat Magazine with the very realistic red moustache he’d given Kim Kardashian. The issue is from 2009 and I hope the house owners keep it forever. One day the boy is going to be a renowned artist. The Heat Magazine experiment, which I named Red: ink and jam at breakfast – the HEAT experiment, will be proof that we once existed together. The sea too, has seen us together. Often in embrace, but sometimes sitting so far apart you’d swear I didn’t know that he’s got a lyric tattooed on his pelvis and that he always kisses my shoulder blades when he finds me naked.
In one of my most enduring memories from when I was about five years old, I’m so tired from running around and eating. This memory carries to the present. I always feel the satisfied exhaustion weighing me down whenever I call upon that memory. My two-tier princess dress is lightly stained with beetroot and cake. Lightly because I’d spent the day being careful to not get dirty. This would be my new Sunday dress for the coming 50 weeks. But it’s the end of the day and the bow on my head is now lopsided. The music outside shows little indication of fading. Mma and I have come inside for the evening and we are watching the news. They show a montage from around the country’s beaches. Tens of thousands of people jumping around and clamouring to get a nice soak of the water. It’s a loop of brown bodies leaping into the water or retreating from it.
Those images of the first day of each year, of hope and new slates and joy, eventually became a ritual for my mother and I. Even when I stopped wearing layered dresses or sitting indoors while parties raged just outside our gate, Mma and I would sit at each other’s side mesmerised by the sight. That was our kind of pilgrimage. Our Mecca. Our Moriah. Nothing seemed more beautiful or more spiritual. She never even made plans to journey to any shore. Not even a request for seawater left her lips when people announced their coastal plans.
The waves sound even closer as the sun begins its morning stretching routine. I wrap the blanket closer to my skin and make my way to the airy bedroom with the small shower and the boy. I already have a mental measure of how heavier our suitcases will be at the end of the week: jars of jam and a peeled plastic bottle holding seawater and sand. Somehow that doesn’t seem very heavy as I plan to offload the “I Love You” I’ve been nursing since the moment my boy tucked his head in my neck less than an hour after we met.
Nomali Minenhle Cele (b. 1992), aka Depressia Dube aka Fak’izaka Slytherin, is a writer from a mine dump city, currently casting spells in Soweto. She writes real and made up stories about black girls. Find her tweeting her mini-deaths as @Peachesmoony. This is her second Jalada publication. Her other writing has appeared in Arts24, Huff Post SA and Mail & Guardian.
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