Mother by Rose

In memory of Jaynine Richards
11 August 1938 to 6 February 1998

Today my mother would have been 80 years old had she lived. But she died more than 20 years ago.

I nearly lost her when I was nine. She had septic arthritis and nearly died. She ended up spending seven months in hospital and I lived with her parents while we waited to see if she’s recover. Ever since then I was terrified of losing her.

And she was terrified of losing me. I had nearly died at eight months when I contracted haemolytic uremic syndrome. I haemorrhaged internally, burst a hole in my heart, didn’t pass urine for 12 days. My liver shut down too. She saved my life by rushing me to hospital before all of this happened, when she realised my fever was something sinister. She was a nurse. So I was in hospital thanks to her quick thinking when I hemolysed the first time. I was transfused almost immediately. Because I was a baby, I didn’t need a whole bottle of blood (this was 1969 and transfusions used bottles, not bags). Everyone thought I had stabilised, but Mom hid the remaining blood in the back of the ward’s fridge. When I hemolysed again, I could get blood immediately.

I survived partly because of her. But I was left with permanent medical problems. She taught me how to manage my condition when I was a child. So when she was not able to look after me I could look after myself. From the age of seven, when I started the renal diet, she explained to me what I needed to do, what foods were good for me and how to manage the diet. When I was a little older (around eight), she started to explain the medication to me and encourage me to manage that too.

 

It was a good thing she did. She fell ill the year after and my grandparents had no idea about my medications. I had to explain the types and doses to them. Back in those days (the late 70s) kids like me had to take meds made for adults, which we had to cut by hand into smaller sizes. I took charge of that.

Both Mom and I survived. But not too many years later I was going into kidney failure and once again she was trying to keep me alive, taking me to endless doctor appointments, clinics, path labs. She never gave up. She had a type of relentless optimism that everything would be all right. I often didn’t, but she wouldn’t let me give up. And so I survived again, this time through years of chronic ill health, dialysis and a transplant.

This time there was more to monitor and she was more afraid that she would lose me. But she didn’t. In the end I lost her, unexpectedly one hot February night. She couldn’t breathe and had chest pains. We both thought it was her asthma, but it was her heart. She died before the ambulance could reach us.

 

She was a passionate, complex person whom I often felt I needed to mediate to the world. She could seem so strong and yet be so vulnerable. She was so easily misunderstood that I wanted to interpret her to others. Show them the person I knew, because I knew her better than anyone. But after she died I kept finding fragment of her life that surprised me. I never knew until after she died that she had a damaged heart from childhood rheumatic fever. Maybe that’s why she grabbed life, fought for it and wouldn’t let it go. Why she always insisted I do what makes me happy, that she wept about cruelty to animals and man’s inhumanity to man.

She knew how to love and she knew how to live. And when it came to the end, she didn’t know how to say goodbye. And nor do I. I dream about her still and in my dreams she is always alive.

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“One and a half arms”. By Lunga Njikazi. Edited by Rose Richards

This is what happened as I was walking to the bus stop this other day. It was still in the morning and the weather was chilled enough for a weak guy like me to walk a stretch without often having to stop and catch a few breaths and swallow my heart as it tries to beat its way up my throat. It’s a daily experience I can’t explain, but I walked with ease that day that even this guy who was trying to kick-start his car didn’t think twice to ask me to help a pair of chaps who were pushing the car. Me? Push? No, I can’t push.

I don’t think the guy will ever greet me again, but who was being selfish here? A guy with a car who never had stopped to give me a lift now asking for help from me even when it’s evident that my arm due to the swelling that it’s been through enough or me refusing to help without giving a reason even though I would never mind a lift to the damn bus stop that is still a good walk away?
I am working on a driving licence prior my relocation to Cape Town that is due in five months and even though my grant doesn’t take me far, I shall have to come up with a plan. First of all I need a job and a driving licence is like a Bachelor’s Degree nowadays and whether you make a success using it or not is up to you. As a man with only one and a half arms I only see myself as a manager or a waiter if I go back to the dining out business.

I don’t know much about being a waiter, but I have seen managers at their best and I know I can be a better one than most as I have been to chef school and worked three years in four kitchens before I was diagnosed with renal failure. Before I embarked on my culinary journey I finished a semester with flying colours in IT which makes me very much computer literate and what happens in a restaurant, I know it, but how am I going to be employable without a driving licence? That is what goes on in the mind of a full-grown man with one and a half arms.

One second I think of doing something great and a within less than a minute you are back in the land of depression. You can’t not be depressed when a person asks you to hold open the door of the bus with your half an arm. See, when I’m wearing something long sleeved one would swear it’s a very much alive arm that people seem somehow pissed off when, “No, I can’t help you. Not with this arm. I can’t. It’s not meant to be used for anything that calls for strength”.

You can’t not be depressed when everyone is allocated with chores and your name is not mentioned because you have “no other arm”. I hope I will be still armed with the will to fight when baby cousin Nali goes to initiation school. The other one is a girl named Lisekho Ntokozo, which means joy in both Zulu and isiXhosa. She also brings joy to my heart every time I happen to think about her. One of the few people I want to live longer for even when my arm won’t help me find a job and hopefully make my life in kidney failure bearable, but I still get haemodialysis through an AV fistula that was ploughed in it and I reap what it bears every second day. That’s all that matters at the end of the day.

But in five months I will have to find a job that will pay for my medical bills. Dear beloved ones who are both stressed and depressed.

“Bribery – Am I still a kid?” Written by Lunga Njikazi. Edited by Rose Richards.

Perhaps we all bribe ourselves to do something. I think that in order to do something that you feel like you are willing to compromise something else to do it. But to do something you do not feel like doing, you must bribe, or to be diplomatic, promise yourself something.

Millionaires buy Rolexes and Rolls Royces and hard labouring men buy booze and drink it all up within two days over the weekend dawn till dusk in misty township shebeens. Six bottles of mild alcoholic beverage such as beers after work with money drawn from small brown envelopes they receive their hard-earned wages in. Tiny little things that leave the workplace fattened with notes only to be half-thin when the sun finally sets. Shebeen queens don’t refuse anyone liquor even when it is clear he has had enough because that is how they make money, by having something sold by all means necessary. Putting up with people who have problems they lack courage to address until they have a drink or two to give them that courage full of intoxication.

I bribe myself too when I go to hospital, even though one would mock me and say I eat too much. Funny because we all eat when it suits us. So I get off the taxi by the shop where they sell nice fruits in town when I go to hospital for dialysis. I even get off there when I am really sick because I know I will already be feeling better halfway down the therapy session duration and will be longing for something nice to eat.

I usually don’t know what’s wrong. The usual extreme fatigue that makes it even hard to pretend I am well, but I always find a way to drag myself to the Promised Land, which is haemodialysis unit in Addington Hospital that is located in Durban, South Beach.

I love fruit so much that even the lady who runs the shop knows me by my first name, the days and time I come by and my usuals, two small apples and a pear.

“I hope they are nice and sweet,” so I tell the lady after a brief chat that is often left hanging. Like we are chatting in WhatsApp.

My bribe consists of fruit, a vetkoek and cheese, apple juice and a lollipop. A lollipop that always sparks an unpleasant exchange most of the time. I always have to defend the sacred lollipop and myself at the same time. Some people have the nerve to ask me whether I am still a kid because I always buy one.

Am I still a kid? We all grow, but not all of us mature. After all, what is maturing if you gonna base it on how we spend our money. Buying a lollipop everyday is a sign of lack of maturity, but is buying liquor when your kids are starving the kind of maturity I need in my life? No.

How I survive every month on government disability grant, God and only he knows because I spend hundred and twenty rands each day and I got thrice every week. Count it up.

Won’t stop bribing myself though because waking up at quarter to four at the crack of dawn in the harsh colds of dark winters one needs to bribe oneself. That’s what I call it. With the hope that one day I will get a kidney transplant and will be able to afford a better bribe to wake up and go to a workplace so that I can take my cousins who have became much like my siblings to better schools.

My sweet little brother died at a very tender age of less than four months. At least he got to enjoy a bribe before his saddening departure to at least tone down the loudness of the cries asking for a new nappy or breastfeeding. Little brother, you will be missed.

Postscript by Rose: I still bribe myself and still with food.As a student it used to be milk. Half a litre on the sly, from a carton. Totally forbidden on the renal diet. Nowadays it’s mainly chips and biltong.

“Mother” by Lunga Njikazi. Edited by Rose Richards

Lunga and I have often talked about writing about our mothers, but we each have put off doing that. Somehow we seem to find a reason not to write the pieces we discussed or we end up writing other pieces. I think part of the reason is that we both lost our mothers young. I was 28; Lunga was much, much younger. I have yet to write my piece, but here is Lunga’s.   – Rose

Twice each and every month the mother who gave birth to me came to the Eastern Cape bearing gifts for everyone and more for me. Sweets, chips and every other thing that was hard to come by as my mother (the mother who gave birth to the mother that gave birth to me) had to make ends meet with every penny while medical aid ripped her salary apart. We slept with our stomachs filled, no matter what it was we had for supper and it tasted good because it was prepared with love or at least sometimes we would assume she cooked it since she bought the groceries.

I never understood why the mother who gave birth to me stayed only a day and left for Durban again. Turns out she too was trying to make ends meet for herself while saving for the designer clothing she would buy for me. Then I didn’t know or care about brands and now I know they were expensive clothing. Big brand names, now that I think about it. She always would buy me presents when I went to see her in Durban, but now the best present I would love is a kidney. Don’t matter the whether it comes in a cheap packaging or not.

Many times I battle with the thought of how better life would be if my mother was still alive until thinking about my maturity. I ask myself whether it’s good for grown ups to really need a mother’s love. My mother died very early and I really don’t remember how it felt like. Perhaps she would have stayed by my side when everyone within my family looked at me like I did something bad when I went to the internet to ask people for a kidney. Sometimes I find myself crying thinking about how I must ask for help from people I am not related to. How my own people start an argument when one must help me with something. People I didn’t even know before I got diagnosed with renal failure have become my family.

I think about how life would be if I had a mother who would come to see me in hospital when no one even thinks about calling me when I get admitted. Sometimes I tell myself I will go somewhere far where they won’t even be able to trace me. I shall get there and find me a thoughtful woman who has wife characteristics and marry. We will then adopt a baby and a pet and live happily without even touching the word family. Not that I hate my family, but because without my mother whom I remember was the one to show me affection family isn’t there. Perhaps that’s why I didn’t feel any. I would then tell my wife to bury me without my family’s presence when my heart gives in and kidney disease tear us apart.

A mother I celebrate with through the kind of love I get from my guardian angels, I like to call them. And I know mother’s day means a lot. I celebrate it wishing I had a chance to experience a mother’s love.

Memories (Part 1). By Lunga Njikazi. Edited by Rose Richards

Sad is the day when the dialysis matron tells you that you are going to have a meeting with the renal department doctor of the day because you already know that they are going to give you a long set of words you don’t have interest in and you know the conclusion will be your dismissal from the services of the hospital. You’ve been getting services free of charges that would have cost you and arm and a leg if you were to pay for them.

Haemodialysis is a very expensive treatment and the money involved is the amount that not even in my dreams a person like me will see in this lifetime. So I was lucky to have not been called to that doctor’s office because I am sure that if I had been called for that meeting, it would be a few days before my last day on earth.

So my doctor paced into the room with her tonic red hair that is just cut by the earlobe bouncing to make her look like she was on a horse that was running ahead of others headed for the finish line. The finish line turned out to be me to my surprise, but I was not so shaken by the sight even though the lady was not in her best mood. She never has been after all. She put on a serious face. The same serious face I saw in the morning of the first day I woke up in Albert Luthuli hospital. I was thirty five kilograms above healthy weight and couldn’t walk then and she had to make a plan to get me to the right weight.

I now understand why she was so serious on that first day, but I didn’t understand what could be serious after three years and counting of healthy living other than being dismissed like many of my dialysis brothers who passed away days after being told they couldn’t be accommodated anymore.

I remember everything seemed to happen in slow motion as she started punching keys on the portable computer that kept patients’ information. After every sentence of typing she looked up then down at myself animated on my bed. After about four minutes of no verbal communication she uttered a few words to ask when I planned to get medical aid.

I was quiet for a second to digest the question because I had to think carefully of what I was going to say. “I don’t think I can afford to, doctor,” I said.

Another two seconds stare at me again which I thought was the last nail to my coffin, but it turned out I was wrong. How could I doubt Dr Azor after such enlightening conversations as we have had in her office? She was my favourite doctor from the word go and after she told me that they were going to accept me in the provincial dialysis programme, I favoured her even more.

Being accepted meant they had to move me to another sub-hospital now and the truth is that it has not been sweet there, but I don’t think I would like to go back to Albert Luthuli Hospital either as seeing the insides of the building brings back sad memories.

(TBC)

“My grandmother. Dearly beloved” By Lunga Njikazi. Edited By Rose Richards

My grandmother was a heroine and that is all I will remember her as. If she had any flaws, I never saw them and if she did something bad, I did not hear of it. I know that there is a good reason I never did and for that reason I do not want to hear about it. Ever. That is how I was raised in my grandmother’s house. Bygones were put where they belong, in a heap of bygones where they shall never be taken to the next generation or dare try my grandmother by trying to exhume them.

I know this would be challenging my grandmother in person and if she were to read this, I would not get lunch-money for a month given I was still in primary school when I lived with her. I am sure things would be worse if she woke up, like I wish she would, and found this on my journal.

See, there’s a past that just can’t be brought up and then there’s a past that should be in-order to move on. Today I realise my gran didn’t care. A past should be left to pass with its stories never to be told, especially if they were not sweet. Like almost sleeping with empty stomachs. That past is painful and that’s why my granny would not approve of me talking about it, but something I believe in is that one should know history in order to change the future. Kids out there do not care about preserving anything of value because they do not have the first-hand experience of not having it. Sorry, grandmother, for defying you.

I know days of poverty with my grandmother, but the kind of woman she was made us feel that we were not less than other children who wore designer clothing and when they were talking about having corn flakes with warm milk and honey, all we could relate to is how our grandmother bought a kilogram of sugar with her last coins and borrowed three cups of maize meal so that she could make a runny mielie porridge that would be enough for a family of six. A father about to go to work, a mother also preparing for work and my aunt who would clean after the three of us (Xolani, Sandy and I) had left for school.

Even though we were not well-nourished, we still came back with school marks that put a smile on grandmother’s face though. Holding the report far from her face as if she was observing an X-ray picture with glasses just a little lower than they should be. So I thought.

I remember coming home to my grandmother with a test below 50% that was the pass mark and she asked what was so difficult with it. She always had the answers, because besides how she helped me with the corrections to the test, there are many other things she gave me guidance on.

Often after a while I think about her when I feel beaten by this medical condition that I live with. My grandmother would have answers better the people who are surrounding me. I guess wisdom is better than a PhD after all because my girlfriend is onto her third graduation in five years now in university, but still doesn’t come any closer to having my grandmother’s kind of answers.

They say don’t praise a living person and so I guess I can praise my grandmother because in heaven I am sure she is very close to the maker. Overall I can say my grandmother was everything. A loving mother, a friend and a good source of wellness. I think about her every day, especially now that I live with this condition. She would make living with it an ease and not for a second do I doubt that. Special moments we shared and good conversations we had feel like they had been left hanging or were just too short.

Sorry for delaying your flowers and that you receive them only now that you have passed. I love you and I will always do.

Depression By Lunga Njikazi. Edited by Rose Richards.

Yet again I find myself in a dark hole of misery, of gloom, a feeling of uncertainty, where the heart is torn and can hopefully get mended by some sort of attention from people who are not even aware. These people I could talk to, but no, I won’t make good conversation. Why bother? I could play video games or watch a movie, but neither sounds like a good idea. Why bother? If this bothers you, imagine how it hurts when you are actually experiencing it first hand.

Inside I was crying when I wrote this, and outside all my grandmother could see was an angry young man. I felt like my head was about to explode and to fume-out I shouted at my niece for accidentally spilling a bottle of water. My granny left the lounge where we were silently sitting for her bedroom and called the little girl to come along. I hope she grows up one day to read this piece and learn how sorry I am for every time I mistreated her. I tried to calm myself, Lisenathi.

See, I was the only child my mother gave birth to; my granny also had the only grandchild in me. So for that reason I was treated like a golden egg. You were only born four years after I came back to live with my father’s family that your mother, who happens to be my half-sister had lived with since birth.

I was angry that both my mother and grandmother had been taken too early and what made my anger even worse was that I got diagnosed with kidney disease when I was preparing to move back to Cape Town.

Trust me, I have wanted to run away many times, but my health condition didn’t allow me to. So because I had not the energy to hit you when I felt like, my last resort was yelping. Yelping as the dog I felt my family was treating me like.

I know that does not justify how I treated you, but I tried to explain, dear niece. I love you, but I feel beaten up. The odds of me having my own child are getting even slimmer as my condition is worsening and you might end up my late father’s eldest grandchild if I, the heir, depart from this lifetime without having a child to carry forth his name. You are the golden egg. For a while I forgot about depression thinking about you, but eventually fell back into those thorny thoughts.

One thing I have learned over the past few years dragging my body everywhere is that it is better having something to occupy your thoughts and that’s the reason I wrote this piece. To write something and because it somehow feels like I am speaking to someone and that someone is this paper I am pouring my heart onto. I feel like crying, but how is that going to help? I ask myself. I know I can do better than just sitting here thinking about how depressed I am, but again, a negative part of my thoughts proves mightier than the positive.

How beautiful it is writing when you are trying to write something positive in times of feeling down. I hope I will write a book about how to help depressed people one day because today is not that day. Today I am depressed and I don’t want to repeat how depressed I am.