When we went see my mother at the hospital she was very sick. They had just amputated her leg. She had lost tremendous weight. Her skin clung to her bones, her hair was frazzled and her eyes sunk into her skull. We were distraught by just how frail she looked. But my mother was still smiling, making jokes and telling stories; her personality was still intact – it was promising to see that the disease hadn’t taken away her spirit.
From her room, which she shared with a convalescent, she had the full view of a big construction project that was taking place next door. The university was erecting a new building, grey, modern and statuesque, at this point you needn’t be an architect to tell how the thing would look. It was project which teemed with and air of possibility, life and vibrancy, in contrast to the dilapidated archaic hag that was the state hospital.
With nothing to do, my mother watched the construction every day with a curiosity I’d never seen in her eyes before.
“Ho wa sebetswa mona,” she said, watching vicariously as the work carried.
I remember feeling a heat on my face, sweat breaking on my brow, the prospect of her not living long enough to see it completed striking me. I imagined us huddled around her in the living room as we have always done, joking, chatting and listening to her life lesson anecdotes of erstwhile friends and estranged relatives. How me and her would frequent speakeasies on slow weekday afternoons. How she will tell her friends how we nursed her, of how she had cheated death once more. But I feared our luck had ran out. Still, I had to smile.
“O tloba shap,” I said, I knew they were empty words – I knew I was saying them for her sake. “Re entse rele hantle,” I added, for her peace mind, wouldn’t do her any good to worry about us now.
It’s two years since her death. And as I drive by the recently completed Human Sciences building, I wonder if there is a metaphor there. I wonder if there is a lesson there.