via The early years – Adventures of an African father
My uncle shuffles into the room, his jacket turned in at the lower edges. His knees are bent as he stoops forward, arms giving him momentum as he manouvers towards his favourite chair. Aunty walks in with a tray laden with a flask of steaming mixed tea, which she intends to place on the coffee table in front of me. I rise to my feet and take the tray from her, carefully placing it on the table, then pouring both of them some tea.
The tea, normally rich and dark, with far too much milk flows quickly and is a soft and light brown, with a hint of milk for colour. After my Aunty’s brief prayer for our time together, we exchange greetings once more and sip the tea in a pleasant quietness.
Uncle clears his throat and places his cup onto the stool beside him. Aunty picks a call on her mobile and leaves the room. He turns to me and spells out why i have been summoned. Aunty swarms in, with a plate full or steamed arrowroot and sweet potato slices and sets them down before us. Uncle throws her a glance, as if to ask her to leave. She ignores him and offers the traditional treats and he takes the plate from her avoiding all eye contact. He bites into his arrowroot pieces and sips more tea which Aiunty quickly tops up.
Uncle leans back, suddenly as if totally satisfied by the refreshments, he picks his notebook and asks about things my sister and I need from our father. I share a short basic list, wondering why an intermediary is necessary, as we are both adults and speak with him often. I am amused, as is my Aunty, whose brow suddenly creases, as she sips her tea. Curious. I ask indirectly, if there is any cause for distance. His words are delivered slowly and evenly, “Your father is taking on another wife.”
I take a pause, calmly placing my tea cup back onto the stool in front of me and listen, noting his particularly cold demeanour and even voice. Aunty drops her tea cup, the golden liquid staining her small cream rugs. Uncle slowly rises, face contorting with anger and impatience and slowly exits the room. I stand and run into the kitchen for a floor cloth and wipe up the tea, sweeping up the pieces broken cup. She is my mother’s sister and is as startled as I am at the reason for my visit. Our hearts are crushed and our warm blood spattering within our chests, like the golden drops of tea. We work quickly and in silence, cleaning up the mess. We rise onto our feet, it is then she draws me into her open arms and hugs me for a long while. We are both silent but in shock. Three weeks after Mum’s funeral, a wife has been found to replace my mother of 49 years. The shame is too heavy to bear.
Uncle watches us over the top of the stairs, as he stands in the shadows, watching and waiting. As I pull away from my Aunty, I feel her warm tears soak into the left shoulder of my cotton blouse. She shifts to return with the wet floor rag into the kitchen and I rush after her with the dustpan holding the pieces of the broken cup. It is then I realize how irreplaceable her sister and my mother, is to her. I bid my goodbyes to her in the cold kitchen and she leaves through the back door, gently sobbing with her back to me. I walk to the front door, perfectly aware of my angry uncle’s small frame lurking in the shadows. Thoughts of angry retribution on him flash through my mind, then I turn and say goodnight over my shoulder. He startles but shrinks further into the shadows at the top of the stairs. I leave, head held high and determined never to speak to him again. It is indeed the end of a very sad little man I had considered an ally. It then occurs to me how cowardly wicked he has become. I smile as I leave his compound, pitying my dear aunty.