The House On The Hill 1/5

By Drum Digital
10 February 2014

Gabisa had lost interest in life but then hope surfaced.

Gabisa turned her head away from the light streaming in from the passageway.

She tried to close her ears to the sounds of the nurses’ voices, the squishing of their shoes on the hard linoleum floors and the squeak of the medicine trolley being pushed from ward to ward.

Why was it, she wondered, that hospitals were the worst places to get any sleep and rest? Even at night there was the clanging of metal bedpans, the phone ringing down at the nurse’s station, and the ever-present whimpers, groans and snores of her fellow patients.

But the silence was even worse. Silence summoned the memories. Like ghosts they would emerge from the shadows of her mind and dance and laugh and make her ache for the time when her heart overflowed with joy. The days that echoed with her children’s happy shrieks and her husband’s

singing as he built on yet another room to the house on the hill. Then the memories would disappear, leaving an emptiness that was now her life.

Gabisa pulled the thin blanket up around her shoulders.

She would not think about the past. She would not think about the house on the hill.

Closing her eyes against the gloom in the room, she willed the darkness to rise up and swallow her. Her leg hurt. Old bones, the doctor had said, take much longer to heal.

Old bones. Cold bones. What did it matter?

There was no one left now. Just herself and a big, old, empty house.

Her children were grown up, married and gone. All busy with their own lives and their own families.

They wrote letters and sent money, of course, but she couldn’t hug a letter or watch them enjoy their favourite beef stew with homemade chakalaka. And she didn’t need the money. Nathi’s pension was more than enough.

Nathi – the man with the big heart – whom she’d loved more than life itself and who had died just over a year ago. She hoped he was somewhere in heaven, laughing and drinking beer and building wonderful things, like the house he’d built on the hill. There it was again, in her mind’s eye; the solid walls painted butter-cream yellow, strong thatched roof and windows that sparkled in the early-morning sun. Our house – ikhaya lethu. He’d built it on the hill, Nathi had told her, so that she could look down into the valley and feel like a queen. The rolling foothills of the great Ukhahlamba would be a throne behind her. And Gabisa loved it.

She planted a garden in the front and filled it with colourful flowers – sweet-smelling wild honeysuckle and frangipani.

People walking along the small footpath in front of the house would often stop and smile.

“Very nice,” they’d say. “But you can’t eat that.” “That is true,” Gabisa would say, smiling back. “But I’ve planted mielies, tomatoes and spinach at the back.”

-by Gail Dore

To be continued...

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