Thank you, Augustine

2013-09-23 00:00

IT started when she was three years old.

In those days, it was still safe to walk in Retief Street. We lived in Greyling Street opposite Eddels Shoe Factory.

I had a helper by the name of Augustine. She was hard-working and loved my daughter unconditionally, and needless to say, that love was returned 10 fold. The only vice Augustine had was the fact that she liked nothing better than a good drink!

I would return most days from work to find my home immaculate, and my daughter in her pyjamas, fed and ready for bed. The only fly in the ointment would be that Augustine would be as drunk as a skunk with a Bible clutched in one hand and my daughter Zeenith in the other, and she would stand there quoting scripture or singing choruses so loud that the dogs would howl in unison.

Sadly, poor Augustine really sucked at singing. She was completely tone deaf. Her favourite song was All Things Bright and Beautiful, and Zeenith would join in just as enthusiastically. I tell you, this never failed to reduce me to laughter, regardless of how tired I was.

On one particular day, as it was my day off from work, I decided to take Zeenith with me as I needed to buy vegetables in Retief Street. She skipped alongside me all the while, chattering away. As we passed the beer hall an old woman shouted in Zulu: “Hello Zeeneti, is this your mother?” Zeenith let go of my hand and ran to this woman, whom she hugged and addressed as Gogo. We carried on walking, with people greeting and hugging my daughter, with someone giving her an apple here and an orange there, and so on. What struck me, and still leaves an impression on me to this day, is the fact that these people whom I did not know, loved my daughter so. She introduced me to the Mkulu who sold mpepo, which, I’m told, is a herb that is used to ward off evil spirits, and she introduced me to Augustine’s best pal, Pat, who was almost as wide as she was tall. I couldn’t believe what a great time the pair of us had that day in Retief Street. On questioning Zeenith closely about the various people we had met, and how she knew them, it came out that every lunch time she, Augustine and Pat would take a walk to the beer hall in Retief Street where Augustine and Pat would drink what Zeenith called “sour” meaning Zulu beer. Zeenith also giggled about how Augustine would tease Pat about how huge her behind was and how it looked as though two puppies were fighting in a bag when she walked.

Time marched on and Augustine left work due to ill-health when Zeenith was seven years old. We moved to our new home in the suburbs.

I will never forget that day in August. Zeenith was nine years old and I received a call that she had been in a car accident with friends of ours. Sadly, my daughter did not survive.

The day of her funeral, I remember taking clothes out for her to wear in her coffin. I looked out of the window; it was a cold, bleak day. I stood there thinking that I musn’t forget to give the undertaker a vest as well, as Zeenith hated to be cold. Realisation hit me then because I remembered that she would not feel the cold ever again.

In church, I sat numbly, watching her class-mates carry in the little white coffin, most of them shaking with grief. As my daughter was so badly injured in the accident, I placed a photograph of her on the coffin showing her laughing, with her hair in pigtails. I wanted everyone to remember her that way. The church service was almost over when her class-mates started singing Zeenith’s favourite song, All things Bright and Beautiful. And then they came, one by one, to touch me on the shoulder, to hug me and just to say I’m sorry, I feel your pain, in Zulu. Yes, they came, Augustine, Gogo, Pat, Mkulu and many others, all Zeenith’s friends from the Matcheni or beer hall from Retief Street.

I had been unable to cry from the time that I had received news of my daughter’s death, but when I saw her beloved Augustine and her friends come to pay their respect, and “lead Zeenith home to the ancestors”, the dam broke and I cried as though my heart would break.

I write this story to thank you, Augustine, for being such a huge influence in my little girl’s life. I thank your friends for remembering her. Ngiyabonga Mama, Nkosi Busise. How I wish my granddaughter Bella could have known you.

• We will be publishing stories by the finalists in our True Stories of KZN 2013 competition in the next few months, before announcing the winners in the last week of November.

MARILYN Collop spent her early childhood on a farm outside Pietermaritzburg. She now lives with with her partner Michael and her two daughters, Rosie and Michaela-Skye.

“Rosie was taken under our wing when she was two days old and she is now 15,” she writes.

“Most times my home is very peaceful, but with two teenage daughters and a menopausal mum, it doesn’t last! My son, Hadley Brophy, is married and lives in the U.K. He is father to my beautiful grandaughter Bella, who is five years old.

“I love sport, especially tennis, and my family laugh at me because I love the Eagles music. I am a strong advocate for gay rights and currently work as an area manager for a direct-sales company.”

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