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Days in Swayimane
23 May 2011

WE sit on the stoep ouside our old room by Kwa-Zondi in Endlavaleni, Swayimane, on a quiet Sunday afternoon. The air is still. Ntsimbini Hill looms above in the heat, calm in its presence to the west, bulwarking the horizon. Church is over. The songs of praise have dissipated into quiet afternoon rhythms. Lunch. Children playing under trees. Conversation. In many yards, the tired repetitions of men caught in hangovers, the evening trapped in dry shadows under their eyes. The taunt of defeat deep in the warm blood of their reddened eyes. Only the Zion drums still beat now, down in the valley, restlessly, their throbbing pulse contending with the drowsy heat.

Mzamo, our sister’s child, is sitting inside the darkened kitchen with her children and our brother’s children, eating.

Thobeka and I sit quietly together. We talk to each other, slowly, in the intervals between our silences, our worlds circling each other, linking in meaning. While we sit here, my mind pauses at times and I pass back into memory.

The first time I came to Swayimane with you I drove slowly, unsure of the roads, yet instinct traced a path in the intuition of my blood, certain of the direction of my life, knowing each choice I made curved me closer into this country’s existence. It was in winter­, early June, in the early twilight, when I picked you up for the first time from your work. From then on I visited you and your mother every Sunday night. She was semi-paralysed from a stroke and suffered from diabetes. We would pray and read the Bible together, then eat supper. At about 8.30 pm I would leave, then trace my way back over the network of hills, leading me out of Swayimane. Through the night I would enter Wartburg, then exit down the hill in silence with the stars above me towards my home, New Hanover, thoughtful, the lights of Swayimane still flickering in my mind, stretched from hill to hill, cutting through scarred valleys in witness to the night’s silence.

I never felt doubt in what I was doing, but often I wondered what would happen when our two worlds met each other, face to face. In a way I didn’t care. I was doing something unique. I found myself drawn deeper into a wordless understanding, into a renewal of meaning. And every time I left Swayimane I would hurl a cry of exultation towards the silent sky as I passed through the last curve of the road and turned straight towards Bruyns Hill. And each time I wondered if it might be my last visit, whether problems would eventually arise.

On visit five, when I was ready to leave, you wiped tears out of your eyes. Your mother was slowly getting weaker. I told you to continue to have faith in God and then I kissed you. I did the same thing the next week and on visit number seven, the night cool and silent around the warm blood of our lips. Then on visit eight I didn’t kiss you, but hugged you. We both said let’s be good friends, let’s not rush anything­. And we were happy.

On Saturday, September 5, at 7.30 pm you sent a “please call” to me. I was on the road to Wartburg at the time. I phoned. You told me you were going to call an ambulance for your mother. Must I come, I asked.

“No, don’t waste your petrol. You’ve done so much already. It’s my responsibility.” But when I got near Wartburg, instead of going straight into the town I took the Bruyns Hill turn-off to the left. I felt a restless sense of destiny following me. I arrived at your house 20 minutes later.

I stepped into the house. Sis Dudu was there and Mzamo and Sli, your other sister’s grown children. I greeted them. Your mother was on a mattress­ on the floor semi-conscious. I kneeled down and stroked her head.

“She just fell asleep now,” Sis Dudu said to me.

I turned around and noticed you for the first time sitting quietly behind me, a radiant smile on your face.

“Let’s take your mother to hospital,” I said.

We put your mother into my car on the back seat between you and Sli. Sis Dudu sat in the front. The road to Montebello Hospital from Swayimane is long and curving, and at night thick with mist. I drove slowly. Near Montebello there were massive potholes. The car jerked uncomfortably in the dark over the road.

We arrived at the hospital.

“Let me go call a doctor or nurse to come help us. As I started to walk away, I saw Dudu touching your mother. I turned back.

“Kyle, I can’t feel my mother’s pulse,” she said.

I felt her. You were looking at me. She was still warm, but her pulse was gone. A nurse came. You got out the car, and started walking into the hospital, crying no, no, no to the silence around you.

We buried your mother, Ma Vidima, near the entrance to the homestead on September 12, next to your brother­, Sfiso, and other members of the family.

I promised to continue visiting you on Sunday. But then your panic attacks began. So I started coming more regularly. I also began to meet more of the community. My departure grew later and later. I grew more connected to the people. We grew closer together­.

But things were tight at Kwa-Zondi. Most of your family left to stay with other family. Family in Durban asked you to stay with them there. You mustn­’t stay alone. In Durban? What’s good in Durban? This is your home until you are married. You won’t be alone. I am going to stay with you. And then we must get married, to make everything collect. Simple.

I stayed in Swayimane for the next five months, contentedly. I also started taking you around more to different places, and we got to experience for the first time people’s varied reactions to us. Some people loved us, some people gave us dirty looks. We quickly learnt that wherever we would go, people would look at us. In Swayimane, we were famous. Taxi drivers would shout “Sibali”, which means brother-in-law, in greeting when I passed. This nickname soon spread throughout the community.

We began discussing marriage seriously­ with family. We didn’t want to waste time. We were happy. I paid sicelo to your family and we were officially engaged in the Ntsimbini hall in Endlavaleni, Swayimane, at the beginning of February.

Our marriage took place on April 10.

We were blessed with a wonderful day. We live now just off Main Road, New Hanover, but Swayimane is still a home to us. We go to church there and visit friends and family. I plan to build a second home there one day. Now it is September. Thobeka’s mother’s funeral was on the 12th, this day, last year. A lot has happened quickly, with faith. It is also Steve Biko’s [death] anniversay today, which reminds me of the work ahead for us, as all South Africans, to create a nation of unlimited possibility through our actions.

I have found peace here in a small room, lying alone, listening to a community, listening to a wind that carries­ a deep silence behind it. And in that silence to know a past resonant in pain, courage and history. I listen to a wind that carries a deep stillness in it, and carries past us, living new, to a tomorrow. I have been surrounded by a sense of knowledge lived not in words but in actions. I have discovered the power of our memory. I have found strength in fragile-seeming things, faith in the humble ones. It is good to be among our friends and family, among our people, where news of a neighbourhood rolls off tongues in poems of life in all its variety­, strangeness and ribaldry.

It is time for us to go. We say goodbye and get in the car. When we pass people they shout out “Sibali”. Ten minutes later we are by Bruyns Hill, the mountains of Swayimane turning into dusty shadows in my mirror and ephemeral mist coming in from the east, crossing the lines of hills silently and unstoppably.


KYLE Allan is a 24-year-old poet, writer, businessperson and festival organiser. He has had poetry published in Fidelities, New Coin and Kota2 magazines, and has started a small poetry magazine called Sibali. He has organised several community and arts festivals.

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