The smell of mangoes, peaches and guavas and the moan of mating dogs

WHEN her mother told her about Siphiwe Nkabinde’s death, Nomazulu knew she had to make one of the most adult decisions of her life, as she had to decide if at all she will let this death suck her back to the church.

“Dead? When did it happen?” Nomazulu asked her mother, again, confused.

“I heard about it this afternoon.” Her mother gave out the information in torrents as if not to give her a chance to keep asking questions. “It should have happened this morning or last night. She is to be buried the day after tomorrow.”

Her mother was busy putting in order tomatoes, onions, oranges, apples, bananas and cabbages that had remained of her stock that day. It was not much today. She had had a good day of sales. In the economic hardships caused by the closedown of industries in Bulawayo, people stopped buying a lot and vendors like her mother were struggling.

“I never heard that she is sick. What killed her?” Nomazulu asked once more.

She had stopped washing the plates that filled the kitchen sink, and was looking directly at her mother.

“But you also did not hear anything about her wellness,” her mother retorted. “What you have heard is that she is dead. If you want to know if it’s true and what the cause of her death is, then attend her funeral.”

Her mother kept busy organizing her vegetables. She did not lift her face to look at her daughter.

Siphiwe was a16-year-old girl at the Catholic Church parish in the township; the same church that Nomazulu’s family attended. She had sat for her O Level exams in the past November and results were expected in February of the year they had just started. Now that she had died, it was now all inconsequential.

“I don’t know but something tragic must have happened,” Nomazulu broke the silence that was beginning to engulf both of them. “Such a sudden death. She was just too young to die.”

Her mother laughed, a dry laughter; and said nothing.

“Did she act as Maria this past Christmas?” Nomazulu asked.

“She did,” her mother was forced to say something. “You speak as if death cares about age. Isn’t the young who are dying like flies these days?”

Nomazulu thought of Siphiwe as this beautiful girl full of life who used to sing at school and in the church choir, and took part in drama and dance activities as well. She had featured in a number of plays at church, and was a regular feature in the passion play and the Christmas play. She always played the part of Mary, the mother of Jesus and portrayed her as a young virgin who suddenly discovers that she is pregnant out of wedlock. Unknown to Mary, her lover Joseph wants to dump her until an angel intervenes. Any image of Mary, the virgin, that Nomazulu had was that of Siphiwe; now late.

“You just have to attend her funeral or else people around here will not forgive you if you don’t,” her mother said.

Nomazulu knew fully what her mother meant. She knew that people in the township will hate you all your life if you did not attend funerals and burials. They can forgive you for skipping weddings and parties, but never with funerals. She remembered a neighbor, uMaNcube, who once accused her mother for lack of decorum because she forgot to tell her that they had lost one of her late father’s sisters in the village. Her mother had tried to explain but when uMaNcube left, it was clear that she is not convinced and not amused at all.

However, in this case, she was in a dilemma. She had stayed away from church and the community in the township for close to a year and a half because some people in the church were convinced she was a loose girl who got a baby out of wedlock. She wondered how she would suddenly appear at church because of the burial of Siphiwe. Nomazulu adored Siphiwe and wanted to attend her burial. Moreover, for a young woman, raising a son, staying away from a burial was against the culture in the township. Only witches avoided deaths, funerals and burials. However, attending this burial meant returning to the church, where some woman had told her she is on the side of evil.

This time it was her mother who broke the silence that was threatening to swallow them: “They say it’s a botched backyard abortion.”

Nomazulu was shocked that her mother had said it. She, however, knew that it had taken her mother guts and bravery to say it. People in the township rarely talk about abortions. They would rather use parabolic language that sometimes sounded vulgar, but never spoke about it directly. It was as if they were afraid that, if they spoke about it directly, young people will take it lightly.

“You will have to attend the funeral and burial,” her mother spoke again as if not to allow her to think deeply about what she had just told her.

“I’ll attend as long as MaNdlovu allows me,” Nomazulu reminded her mother of what drove her out of the church and the community in the first place.

Nomazulu had been in exile from church for close to a year and a half now. When she fell pregnant, and the responsible young man ran away to South Africa; one of the catechists at church, MaNdlovu, told her that she had to do the honourable and “spare the church the embarrassment.” She stopped going to church on that Sunday. Her mother had tried hard to talk her out of her exile. She kept herself cloistered in the house and rarely went out.

“You bother yourself about a lot about people,” her mother said. “After all people are busy preparing for an ordination to bother about you”

“An ordination? Who is getting ordained?”

“You mean you are the only one in this township who is not aware that Bhekumuzi Khumalo is getting ordained into Catholic priesthood this Saturday?” her mother sounded surprised by her daughter’s question.

Nomazulu was mesmerized by her mother’s love to model her speech on the Bible passages, and pleasantly surprised by news of Bhekuzulu’s ordination.

“Bheki! Haabe! So he is finally through with his studies?’

Her mother was shocked by the ecstatic response, and looked at her daughter, quiet, as if she had lost speech.

“He was my senior at school,” Nomazulu explained. “He was in the same class as Thulani.”

Bhekuzulu was in the same stream with Thulani, Nomazulu’s brother, and Melusi, the young man who had impregnated her before fleeing to South Africa and leaving her a single mother. She had looked up to her brother and his friends, but when she got pregnant she felt they had betrayed her. She had felt bitter and thought nothing good will come out of that generation. News of Bhekuzulu’s ordination surprised her and made her think, she was probably wrong to dismiss her brother’s generation as hopeless.

“And your brother chose a sad life, full of alcohol, girls and nothing else,” her mother sounded bitter. “Some children chose to work for God.”

“I want to attend the ordination by all means necessary,” Nomazulu could not hide her excitement.

“You can’t just appear on ordination day,” her mother said.”You will have to attend the young girl’s funeral, do you understand.”

That night, Nomazulu lay awake; listening to overripe mangoes, peaches and guavas hit the ground hard as they fell. She listened to mating dogs bark, fight and moan outside. All her life in the township; it was the delicious smell of mangoes, peaches and guavas, and the unpleasant barking and moaning of mating dogs that marked the Christmas holidays, the end of the year  and the beginning of another. As she watched the moonlight, shine through the thin curtain of the bedroom she shared with her mother and her young sister; she made a decision to buy the right to attend Bhekumuzi Khumalo’s ordination by attending Siphiwe’s funeral and burial. It was as if Bhekumuzi’s ordination solved her dilemma. She now wanted to be at church at all cost.

Ends.

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