It was early, the sun had yet to find the horizon and the moon was growing dull in the early morning haze. 5:00am.
I wanted to stay in the warmth of my bed—deep in the embracing comfort—but this was not the day for snoozing.
I pulled the covers away and fumbled quickly for extra layers of clothing. The nights were slowly becoming warmer, but it was still very cold outside of my toasty bed.
The light. The kettle. The mug. And the can of instant coffee.
I moved back to the dresser. A long black skirt. A long sleeved brown shirt. The best funeral garb I had. Out of the drawer came a thin, black scarf. Hair up in a bun and the scarf wrapped neatly around. Shoes—brown slides. Not the best outfit I had ever put together, but it would do. Everyone would be happy to see my head covered, my arms covered, and the skirt. No one would care about the style or lack there of in the ensemble.
I sat to wait. I heard Rakgadi return. The sun had risen but was veiled behind a thin layer of clouds.
6:00am passed and 7:00am approached. Maybe Rakgadi had changed her mind about taking me along. Maybe it was all too much for her and she wasn’t up to being my chaperone today.
No—the familiar “sissy” soon came. I opened the door and came out of the house. There was a look of approval from Rakgadi, and I know a look of envy from me as I noticed Papis’s jeans.
We walked to the gate, left our yard, and walked the path to Rakgadi’s sister’s house. All the while the singing of the night before continued and amplified as we neared the tent prepared for the funeral guests.
The funeral service lasted well over an hour. It was too sad for words, and many of the words spoken I did not understand. As it drew to a close, the guests began to make room in the yard for the make-shift hearse. Majority of the guests would follow to the nearby cemetery. I stayed behind with Rakgadi to help with the final preparations of the meal the guests would soon return to.
Rakgadi was unsteady and unsure of herself. She walked slowly into the house and sat down on the sofa. No words. No tears. Just a blankness. I held her hand, rubbed her back and sat in silence with her.
Ten minutes passed and she forced herself to return. To remind herself of the task. She moved slowly to the back of the house where the preparations were going on—still in a daze.
“Aus Natai” from one direction. “Aus Natai” from another. All were asking her questions—they needed her guidance. She looked towards her name each time it was spoken, but past the person speaking. Several minutes passed before she became herself—giving answers, directions, and finding the many tasks that her hands needed. I followed dutifully along, helping where I could.
By the time we arrived home that day, the exhaustion was well worn on Rakgadi’s face, and my own tiredness was beginning to take its toll. Rakgadi gave a simple thank you for my help. It was more than what was needed. We both knew it. We both felt it. Our relationship had changed that day.
“Family” was no longer a word thrown about, but it was what we were. Since, our meals together have become more frequent. Our talks together more intimate. The way we move about each other in our day to day more familiar. And our mutual love for one another deeper.
I have always known that tragedy has a way of bringing people together, but over the passing of these days, I saw it played out in my relationship with Rakgadi. And although we still have many days when culture and language just don’t translate, we have a deeper understanding of each other that pulls us through those moments. Ours is a relationship that I could not nor would want to do without in my South African journey.