Going through my wardrobe yesterday I found myself involuntary bursting into song. I wish bursting meant the song was one happy song, unfortunately for you it was one sad song of the days gone by.
I took a trip deep down sad memory lane with Anita Baker, the song ‘No more tears’ flowed out of the blue from my mouth. I must confess that when I first heard this song it was in the very early 90’s. I was in high school knowing not a single word of English but ‘because’ in my vocabulary. You see, in my time the medium of learning was English in our schools. But because we were in villages with no television or telephone at the time, English was heard only when one visited the city on holidays. When I heard it spoken, I could not even differentiate between it and Afrikaans. It did not bother me too that when I visited the townships people watched television and laugh at comedies or cry over something that was showing on TV. I was just not interested. I just did not understand. My friends were intimidated by it, I was not.
I remember my cousin irritating the others who had some clue of the language when we watched television during holidays. He would ask our elder cousins who lived in the city when they laughed or sighed over something they saw on TV, ‘what are they saying’. He would be shushed every time, yet he kept asking every time. Curiosity. I did not have it. Nonchalant.
Even though the teachers taught us English, they used our language. Therefore a pass was dependent on how well one was able to photocopy syllabus content with their brains. When I start reading my high school books these days, I laugh because I knew nothing at the time of the words that were used in those books. Do not get me wrong, I knew exactly what was said in those books, but not the English words that meant what was written.
So singing this song made me smile inside because as you know, now I know what the words mean plus, I can sing the lyrics very well. I started
‘we used to love, now all I do is cry, you used to make me happy now you don’t even try’
Before I could get any further, I heard my daughter laughing too. I thought she was laughing because of my voice. You know they call it old. They say it has distinctively 80/90’s vibe. I do not even know what that means. It embarrasses my son when I sing at church because, you know me, I sing loud and typically African. My daughter calls it a church music voice.
She stopped me before I could continue. ‘Mom but why do all your 80’s or 90’s songs sound sad and baby, baby, baby all the time?’ I stopped for a second but do they really all sound like baby baby baby! I asked myself inside. Maybe they do hey, ‘at least they don’t sound bitch, nigger, money’ I answered still keeping the melody.
You see, whatever they may have told you about the 80’s/ 90’s, it was a beautiful era for us. I am sure the 70’s and 60’s were also splendid for my parent’s too. Every era holds something beautiful for its generation. For us it was baby, baby, baby.
I deviate again; the reason for this story is neither the English language nor it’s none existence in my vocabulary or the 80’s. But it is about not forgetting. Never betraying who we are and where we come from. It is keeping in our heads where we want to be and why we want to get there.
Remembering is good for the soul. They say live your life so that when you go down memory lane in your old age you are able to smile and burst into laughter even if you are alone. Try not to live so you cringe and blush with humiliation when a thought of your youth passes through your mind.
Live for something, be part of something, stand for something. I used to have a colleague, as early as in her 30’s she said, ‘things we do, sometimes one wishes to take a typex (eraser) and rub them off in the history of the life we lead’ she was regretting a choice she made of getting involved with a married man. Her sister told her that nothing happens for no reason in our lives. She just needed to stop it and promise herself never to do it again.
She did not; she kept on and off with the man until his wife died. She was eventually married to the widow after six months that the wife passed. That was the most taboo thing that I ever witnessed in my mid twenties. A man taking a new wife before he took off mourning clothes he was wearing. This is one of the reasons I left that town and moved to Johannesburg. I was ashamed to be associated with her, yet I was afraid to ask her why.
Everyone called her ugly names. They said she is the one who bewitched that lady with cancer. Yes I live in a community that still thinks like that. That cancer can be purchased from a witch person to kill someone.
No one really liked her. People still don’t but who cares she got what she wanted.
Last week Thursday I received a call from her daughter. It had been a long time since I saw her. She said her mom would really love talking to me can I surprise her with a call. I did.
My old friend, she sounded so frail and tired yet happy to hear from me. I promised to visit her. She still lives in the same town. I drove with my kids the 250km to her last Saturday. I wanted to see the place I spent my young adult life. To remember my youth with my kids next to me. To show them places that meant something to me in my young life.
Her daughter told us to meet as St. Dominic hospital as she was laying there sick.
I did not know this but we drove any way. I found my friend with her two kids. She was very sick, cancer. I looked around for the husband. He was not there.
After the pleasantries she asked our kids to leave us. I asked what happened. She laughed ‘I think someone bought cancer for me’. Yes cancer? Does she believe that nonsense that there is cancer causing powder? I found myself thinking that this place has not changed a bit. I wonder who could that be? I really did not expect an answer but she volunteered it ‘I guess what goes around comes around hey?’ Good. She remembers, I thought. She was still smiling but tears were forming in her eyes. At least you know you never bought cancer for anyone, I said.
‘Yes that one is true, but I really wished her death. I got her life exactly how it was because my husband cheated from the first day we were married and look at me now, at least she had the support and love of the community and family, I don’t. I am reaping what I sowed.
I remember thinking it must be hard for her to remember her life. It must be difficult to look back and smile or re-live that time in her mind. But she needed to; I thought, for her passage she needed to look in her inner self and make peace with her mistakes.
Remembering is good, but not everything we did was good. So sometimes remembering is painful. But at some point we must face it and make amends. The first step is to remember. To remember how we hurt others for our own gains so we can forgive ourselves, accept ourselves with all the baggage that makes who we were, learn to love the pieces of us that no one is prepared to love. In any case if we don’t, who will?
My friend had a choice to stop what became torture before it happened. She chose not to. Now, as her sister said before, there is nothing for nothing. Everything we do in this earth has consequences. Hers was very direct. Karma is a bitch. I somehow felt sorry for her.
In my language there is a saying that goes ‘loo nto uyanzayo uyazenzela’ loosely translated it means whatever you do, you do it for yourself’. I believe this, because when old age comes, all the things you ever done, you will remember. It is up to the things whether they make you cry or smile.’
I do not take light the privilege of being alive and aging. If I would ever be honored with a privilege a walking stick because of old age. If I am given that honor, I hope I carry the walking stick with pride and dignity like my paternal grandfather did, knowing that I remember my young life and its mistakes but walk tall even if my back has bended because of all age, knowing that I have forgiven myself.
I hope to be like my maternal grandfather and call my children and their families for an ‘urgent’ meeting every other weekend. Item for discussion being the day of my death. Talking about that in my 90’s while still as strong as the day I knew him to be my grandpa. With a smile as if narrating a party tell them exactly what needs to happen on the day of death and funeral. Having everyone laughing and debating the practicality of my wishes without feeling sorry for me, like my mother and her siblings did with their father.
I wish I could be able to give instructions with a pure heart that I want to be buried on top of my wife’s coffin that died more than thirty years before, without feeling guilty that she might be upset with me for things I have done after she died.
My two grandparents were not saints, but they remembered, forgave and moved on. Let’s do that while singing with Anita Baker with our distinctively 60’s /70’s/80’s/90’s/00’s/10’s voices in that churchy vibe, who cares? We remember but;
It’s gonna be no more tears for you……no more crying now….see my eyes have run dry, there’ll be no more tears.