“Come on, let’s go and get your mother! She’s been drinking.” My Ntante is looking at me impatiently, but his eyes are twinkling with amusement and he has half a smile drooling off his face.
Earlier he had come home, I had been alone in the compound. I had spied him through my window as he staggered across our front yard with his cane. “Khotso, Ntate!” – Peace, Father! I tried to welcome him home.
“Oh!” He turns with delight. “My baby!” Ntate has taken to treating me in a grandfatherly way lately. I walk out of my door, and he stops and turns to me. His eyes are bloodshot, but he doesn’t smell of alchohol… dagga?
“No Mother! No Father! You are here all alone! Who will cook?” He turns to see a chicken dancing on the window sill of the coup. “The chickens!” he gasps. “Are they inside?”
“I don’t know, Ntate,” I admit to this irresponsible oversight.
He opens the door and shoos the chicken inside, then steps in after it. After a moment, he comes out, satisfied. “They are there.”
He turns to walk away, as he typically leaves the scene without ceremony. I go back inside.
Then he calls to me, “C’mon! We must go! Your mother! She’s been drinking!’
He’s standing a few feet from my door, and he repeats.
“Drinking? Drinking?” I start smiling also. “My mother’s been drinking? M’me oa ka?” My quiet evening will now have a twist. “Ok, Ntate, I must turn off the stove.”
“Yes, that’s good,” Ntate nods approval. “Turn off the stove first.”
Then I am out the door and he takes my hand, a granddaughter helping her stoned grandfather, going to retrieve mother, who has been drinking. We go next door to the neighbor’s joalang. I enter the dark room of the rondavel. There are no windows. I block the light as I enter the doorway, it is now dusk and I feel like I have caused an eclipse.
Fortunately my Ntate went in first and I see him sitting on a bench, hands clasped on his knees. I realize he is waiting for me. I sit next to him. Across from us I can make out a figure sitting in the dirt floor, legs outstretched.
My Ntate points, ‘There she is!” accusingly but almost laughing. “She doesn’t want to come home.”
I look over, put my hand up to ‘shade’ my eyes and jokingly to show that I am looking for her, and say, “M’me oa ka? My mother? Is that you? Have you been drinking?”
She bursts out laughing, Ntate laughs, I laugh. After a few minutes in Sesotho I cannot understand, she stands up and we follow her outside.
“Take her hand!” instructs my Ntate. I take it, and she offers her arm, too. Together we start walking back to the house. Then my Ntate pauses and lingers, hanging back, aware that a friend of his has just arrived to visit the neighbors and for beer.
I look back at him, and he says, “You have helped me a lot!” Then he turns to greet his friend and join him for a drink. When I turn to continue home, I see my mother already walking across our front yard.