My Mother’s Erratic Memories ~ Sbusiso Mnguni

I’ve never met my grandmother, except from my mother’s lips, in which case, I know her very well. Her spirit lives on my mother says. She’s an unextinguishable flame that could not be doused even by the passage of time, soaring the vast, capricious Alkebulan sky like all great Goddesses who reigned over these sacred black lands since time immemorial. 

“I go to the forest sometimes when my chest is heaved with emotion, and I feel her presence weaving itself in the mystical silence, beckoning at me with her broad beamy eyes that singe with fervid warmth.” 

“But don’t you worry,” she teased.

“Her spirit is alive in your hearts too, my little angels…in yours and yours and yours,” tapping our cherubic noses in that ticklish, affectionate manner of hers.

This is not a poem, but that’s how my mother channels the memories, as if to a rapt audience. And every time she does, her eyes glimmer with the gold of the sun. I look at my mother now, old and rumpled, and I see my grandmother’s unrelenting strength wrapped around her like tendrils of a Rhoicissus tree, and her spirit living vicariously through her. 

“Did I ever tell you about Nomkhubulwane the Sangoma?” The way she told the stories, it was as if my grandmother were different characters all at the same time. She did this intentionally to keep us intrigued. 

“Yes Mama, you’ve told this story about a thousand times already!” 

“Well…I’ll tell it again just to be sure,” feigning amnesia.

“She knew all about the indigenous herbs and medicine there is to know. Whenever I had a bad cough, she got up at the crack of dawn and disappeared into the forest with a lopsided gait. I felt pity for her but she never wavered, she was as tough as a baobab and stubborn as itsheketshe. ‘Weakness is wickedness my dear’, she used to say.” 

“She’d return from the forest carrying iboza tufting like embroidery from her tawny arms that spanned to eternity. Later, while on a stump of a baobab, she pounded the leaves to a pulp with her special stone, yodelling a hymn to chase away the bitterness of the medicine.”

“What about the Goddess of harvest then? Have I told you that story?” She knew we wouldn’t be able to resist by now, with our tiny hands cupped on our chins. There was a way in which her voice fluctuated to keep us in suspense. It had a visceral response in us.

“Well…your grandmother Nomkhubulwane,” her eyes beamed again when she mentioned her name. 

“The villagers would gather like a throng in a banquet and watch her cinched to the ground like the roots of a dandelion, clucking her tongue in incantations, summoning the rain queen to make rain after a long season of drought. The rain queen couldn’t resist her soft cry, it was a daughter’s lament to her long lost mother, emblazoned with a deep despair only a mother knows, her fluttering voice whimpered like soft rose petals against a lover’s cheek.” 

“The rain goddess bemused, would shed a giant tear that fell on your grandmother’s ancient lap, scudding to the ground in all directions with such haste that the fields would soon be flooded with a robust, lush greenery. The villagers would rejoice and shower her with mirthful ululations.”

Every time Mama retells these stories, they enter our hearts with a new vigour, we receive them like the soil receives rain. They occupy a room of their own in our memory. They sing a song of their own in our lips. They beat a rhythm of their own in our hearts. We know with conviction that our grandmother never left us, she is always there, here. Her pervading spirit inherits our earthly bodies, and we inherit her immortal soul. We no longer wait for Mama to sit us by the fire or take us to the forest and tell us about Nomkhubulwane. 

“Mama…Mama?” my younger siblings would imbue her. 

“Tell us, tell us about Nomkhubulwane!” My mother’s eyes would beam again, with a tinge of ineffable joy this time, hearing her mother’s name crowing from her daughters’ lips.


The writer is a freelancer who loves experimental prose. He writes to give ear to the little stories our stories tell.

Photo Credit: Photo by Jennifer Enujiugha from Pexels

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