Drive to the expensive old age village you and your siblings have placed her in, nestled between green acacias, which are in turn nestled in the soft purple of sap smelling Jacarandas. Greet the man in the security booth with the closed smile of someone who needs a favour. Let the hard-boned, hard-faced man recognise you from earlier visits, this way he’ll let you in without asking for identification, he is the king of the boom gate and his word is law. Drive through the pristine neighbourhood of pastel one-bedroom bungalows, housing mostly pink-faced men and women with deep wrinkles, whose children visit every weekend for a braai, filling up two bakkies at a time, while some don’t visit at all. Find your mother’s small yellow house, in the middle of a teal one and an eggshell one, orange peel textured and clay tile-roofed.
Once you knock on the door, listen for the sweet, trembling timbre of her voice — she always sounds like she’s singing a lullaby — then pop your head in to see the wrinkles at the corners of her eyes deepen and her bright white teeth flash. “You don’t have to come every Sunday,” she says. But you know you do. Notice that your mother’s hair, fluffy and sprinkled with salt and pepper, could use a wash, and let your heart sink when you remember her shaking hands are probably the reason it does.
Put the kettle on to serve your mother her tea, rooibos with two spoons of sugar and a slice of lemon, and prepare her combs and hair products while she sips it carefully and while you make small talk about your job. She will ask about Kamo and Jillian and Mihlali, and finally, slowly and stealthily she will ask about Nande. You broke up months ago and she still asks about him, she doesn’t know how much you want to forget about your now-married colleague. Allow your heart once more to sink deeper into your belly while you smile bashfully at your mother, you don’t want her to know how much this hurts you, you’d do anything to keep that smile on her face.
Mix the conditioner with some water and spray it onto her hair until it is wet but not dripping, take the red comb that stays on her old wooden dressing table — one of the few things she brought from your family home before it was sold — and start with the work of detangling. Comb through her springy coils, starting from the tip, working your way to the scalp. Be gentle, just like she was gentle with you when you were a young girl. Recall how she let you sit on the floor and she sat on a chair, your head nestled between her knees, and she sang while you grimaced at the pain. You are standing behind her now, she is still sitting on a chair. Walk your mother to her white tiled bathroom and use the shower nozzle to wash away the product, make sure the water is not too hot, watch out for her eyes. Think again of your childhood. Notice how little hair she has left on her brows and lashes, while she closes her eyes and lets the water relax her. Rinse and condition and then rinse again. Your mother’s wrinkles look like the lines of an old tree bark, framing her eyes and her mouth and all the way down her neck.
Use the mentholated cream she was prescribed for her swollen joints, feel her bones protrude from her skin, feel the ball-shaped growth of her knuckles. Ask your mother if she has taken her pills and see her sigh and look at you with a pout. Massage the cream into her hands, her feet and massage some oil onto her temples, where her hair grows in small whites coils. Remember when she used to have hair so long and large and black, it bounced when she laughed on the porch of your family home and blew around her face in the summer breeze. Now you have her youthful hair and she has your childhood clumsiness. You also have her eyes and her mouth and her long neck, she has given you so many gifts and taken nothing in return.
Wait for lunchtime over another cup of rooibos, until the samp and bean soup that has been simmering on the stove is ready, it is your mother’s favourite. It is yours too. Eat the soup with your mother out of two large bowls, watch the steam rise to the low pale ceiling of her bungalow, eat the soup in comfortable silence. Sit on the same sofa as your mother, but first place her feet on a stool and tuck a small blanket snuggly around her legs. Watch an afternoon soapie together and be entertained by the simplicity of the melodrama. See now, from the corner of your eye how your mother smiles after every spoonful of hot hearty soup. Let your heart sink one last time today, but here, let it float back up again when she places her warm hand softly on top of yours and holds it tightly. She is not shaking now.