I think of psychoanalysing Umberto Eco. The secrets he would have told
me. I imagine that he told himself to work to the afterlife of the
bone in his writing until he reached the harmony of the flesh and
blood. Where does he live now and for whom? Now I see the dynamics of
life and learned somehow to live with them. Sobbing into a pillow at
night. I want to tell his soul about preservation but it’s too late.
He has passed on. I want to tell him about the art of survival. That I
wish that I could grow wings and fly away. Men on the other hand
dominate. I want to fly away with wings the size of the origin of
mountains. Meaning, the age of dust. The innocence of mothering. I
want to tell Master Eco that in any revolution the people will give
and take until it hurts in the letting go. That sweet release.
In pictures there was the image of devout about him. This is what
unites us. Mum is an authority. While I am flight. You are the
mysterious, Umberto Eco. The mysterious flame. Rings of people growing
and growing graduating to a circle around you the day of your funeral.
The universal order. You are an island. Alive, there were nerves of
steel and a glint in your eye. Part of the driven, committed, devoted,
passionate few. This, this is not goodbye. You burn right through.
Steps, you taught me, (like my mother) must be gentle.
‘It is not good to remember too much about the past. Where’re you
from, the type of people you’re from.’ Anne’s mother said in passing
as she took the frozen chicken out of the freezer to defrost for
Anne agreed with her mother. It wasn’t good to remember too much of
the beauty and magic of childhood, she thought to herself.
The ‘damaged whirr clapping’ against her brain cells. She liked to
think of the intensity of her manic depression and kidney disease as a
‘damaged whirr clapping-clapping-clapping’.
Day and night. Night and day. A ‘damaged whirr clapping’ against
Anne’s collected platelets pushing, pulling and pulsating against each
other. Their concentration precise. After darkness there will be other
shields. Other exits. Other phoenixes rising from years of fiery
memory. The earth’s shadow sends/has a message. The storm’s posture is
disguised. The brave heart is a blessing.
Reeds, starlight and water at the river’s edge in winter has an icy
edge to it. The physical world for Anne is nothing like the fashion
pages in a popular woman’s magazine. Her every smile, fuss, gaze alive
as if waking from a dream at Tara. In the ‘foetal position’ of the
hospital room. In the hospital swimming pool she was like a small fish
from a river unlearning everything in the cold ocean-sea.
Like a startled gull out of reverie. Its density trembling. The warmth
and departure of this private world of the drumstick, chicken breast,
thigh and wing of the Sunday roast disappearing into thin air. Into
mouths, down throats.
‘Remembering birthdays is not as important as remembering that I am
still your mother, Anne.’ Her mother began to peel the onions for
soup. ‘Rinse the lentils for me please’
‘Another lecture, mother. Really! You think I need another lecture at
my age?’ Anne gritted her teeth, rinsed the lentils anyway.
‘You have always had these high expectations for both the men and
women in your working life. Don’t waste water, girl.’
‘I’m not wasting water ma.’
‘You’re wasting water from where I am standing. Is it really so hard
to obey me. I know what I am telling you and why? Why can’t you just
trust this old woman who is also your mother? Just watch what you’re
doing is all that I am saying. You think I’m an old woman with nothing
but time, aging, boredom and truth on her side.’
‘Of course I don’t think that. I have a lot of respect and admiration
for you. You had a family at my age. A son and two daughters. A life
partner. I really don’t understand why you call daddy your ‘life
partner’ not soulmate or husband.’
‘There are many things from my time that you will never understand.’
Anne’s mother tucked her feet into her slippers underneath the table.
‘You think that I don’t understand anything.’ Is what Anne really
wanted to get through to her mother but she decided to remain calm.
‘Think child of the invincible passage of having children, childbirth.
Raising children was not without difficulty and sometimes bitterness
and resentment against your life partner, your soulmate is what
happens. Your prince will not always be a prince.’ Anne’s mother wiped
the tears from her eyes.
‘Are you crying ma?’
‘No, it’s the onions.’
‘It looks stormy out.’
‘Rainclouds are gathering.’
‘Perfect day for soup.’
‘Diving into marriage is not for everyone child.’
‘Oh, I know that mother. You don’t have to tell me that twice. I was
careful. With the relationships I had in Johannesburg.’
‘Oh mother, do you even have to ask about my sexual orientation?’
Anne made a face but not before her mother caught her smiling.
‘These days the young experiment. Call it spreading their wings.’
‘Well, I didn’t do anything like that in case you were wondering. How
does it feel though mum?’
‘How does what feel?’
‘You’re all at sea, girl.’
‘Am I a disappointment mum, I mean the way I turned out?’ What Anne
really wanted to ask her mother was why she had never told her that
she had turned out alright, that she was proud of her, that she loved
her unconditionally, would always support her, and remain loyal to
‘I swear sometimes you’re a thorn in my side. Peel those potatoes.
They have eyes, see? They see. Like me they have eyes at the back of
their head and that is all I am going to say on the subject of what
you want to talk about. Please don’t bring up the past again, girl.
Sometimes you see things that aren’t there. You crave having that
feeling. It seems to nurture your soul. Peel those potatoes. Didn’t
your therapist, that Afrikaner, call it therapy? You haven’t even
started on the potatoes yet.’
‘Well I’m starting now. Don’t shout. I can’t seem to do anything when
you shout at me mother. Look, I am starting on the potatoes.’
‘It’s you who are always comparing yourself to you sister.’
‘Look its beginning to rain. The bleak-dismal-miserable gloom has been
‘In marriage girl, (listen to me because this is important) marriage
is like a field. And every green field has a harvest. Feast and
famine. You have the wife and the husband. Years will pass. Children
will be born. Vows are sacred. Every kind of familial ceremony. Where
there is a tribe or a coming together of people.’ Anne’s mother
sighed. ‘Your father had beautiful hands. Sensitive.’
‘Daddy was a sweet man.’
‘Your father came from humble beginnings. Selling newspapers, bones,
bottles as a child. He wasn’t a product of his circumstances. They
made him into the man he later on became.’
Anne thought to herself that the eyes of mothers must be made of fire.
Anne no longer drank in the lines on the faces of older men. Traced
them with her fingertips. She felt that in a way she had lost the pale
winter of her sister. September’s ghost. Anne’s sister. Anne felt she
could no longer be independent.
‘I cannot catch up to her, mum.’
‘Bali is an island, Anne. Your sister will eventually come home. Don’t
give up on her.’
Anne imagined her parents putting up house. Her mother walking around
arm-in-arm with her father choosing furniture in a store. Her mother
had always guided her soul.
‘You are beautiful. I just don’t understand why you to hear it from
me. Child of mine. Daughter of my soul.’ Anne’s mother brushed her
hands in the flour as she made the dough for roti. With the back of
her hand she wiped her forehead.
‘I want to hear it from you because you are my mum. You are my manna.
You taught me how to be a socialite in Johannesburg.’ These words and
more were on Anne’s lips.
‘Losing an ex does not matter half as much as losing as sister. What
to do with this childhood pain that moves within me.’
What I want is to be loved, mum. Mum, I am difficult. When will I grow
up? Stop playing with dolls. Stop writing poetry. I am thirty-six and
still left out in the cold. Still living up to my parents’
For isn’t every woman hard at work at being complicated and complex at
the same for half of her life.
Her youth. When she possesses the rituals of makeup and perfume,
beauty and truth. Confidence and positivity. Peacock blue eyeshadow.