Five Women

She walks with a limp
But she was not born with it
When she got her seventh child
The one who died at four years old
Something happened at birth
She started to walk only three months later
With a limp, permanently.

She lives in some space
But it is not a house
When it rains heavily the space becomes a stream
When the sun burns severely the space becomes an oven
The space is free for her and four children
Their father was a freedom fighter, died and buried amongst unknown others
With nothing left behind but deeper poverty.

She is the keeper of the store, the only parent of two children
But she does not have the keys to the store
She wakes up at 4 a.m. to arrive there at 7 a.m.
She waits at the gate for the owner or wife
Who comes there after breakfast and dropping their children in school
If it rains or shines, she waits for the owner
Who unlocks the gate for her to clean and arrange and sell
Who pays her earnings that make two children survive, barely.

She is the mother of one
She had conceived fifteen times in 10 years
Pregnancies that disintegrated
Infants that died on delivery or within few months of delivery
She believes that only one was for her, not many
She accepts that one was equal to many
She cannot find words to convince her husband, her mother, her sister-in-law.

She goes around with most of her face covered
It was not like that until ten years ago
After many beatings her husband had picked up a kettle and knocked her face with it
It was the kettle of boiled water that she had prepared for his bath
He said later on that he did not know the kettle had water at all
He said that he was also very drunk at the time
She goes around with a new permanently damaged face.

By Bunmi Makinwa

July 11 2014

Bryanston-Johannesburg

Walking in the quiet streets of Bryanston, Johannesburg
Does he belong, yet every day walk the streets he must
Passing runners and joggers and strollers and their dogs
They reflect proof of ownership in their bearings
Nods and glances exchanged amongst them confirm approval
Of one and each, even if no words are spoken
Coded non-verbal certainty speak tons
Of who is part and who is without
They are in, he is out.

Walking in the quiet streets of Bryanston, Johannesburg
Does he belong, yet every day walk the streets he must
Does he belong to the leafy, quiet streets
Where big homes swallow big cars through stern gates
Flowers and lights form majestic rows alongside wall fences
Bearing electric crowns marked ‘danger’ for emphasis
Protecting valuables whose origins question silence
Trees are part shade part shield, of gleaming sky blue pools within
They have it, he has nothing.

Walking in the quiet streets of Bryanston, Johannesburg
Does he belong, yet every day walk the streets he must
Made stranger by looks of interrogation
Even by owners who yesterday he greeted with large toothy smiles
With whose home staff he shares talks and lunches on street pavements
With whose dogs he grins and laughs loudly in fear when they bark at him
Walking in the quiet streets of Bryanston, Johannesburg
Does he belong, yet every day walk the streets he must

The streets where his ancestors called home but worked as labourers
The streets where his parents worked as child minders and gardeners
The streets where he is gardener to three homes, coming and going
The streets where he hopes his children will drive and not walk; dreaming?

By Bunmi Makinwa

April 24, 2014