The Way Home

Home hasn’t been home since 10 June 2006 when my mother stood from the couch in our living room, walked out the door  for for the hospital and was brought back on the back of a shiny black hearse, but that is how things must be in this lifetime. And in my frustrations and grief for the death of a life I once knew, I yearn to return to a home, even if it is not anything like the one I used to have. So I ignore my sentiments and try to avoid the paths flanked with memories of her kind and beautiful face. And when I sight a vague reminder of the love in my departed father’s eyes whenever he’d move his glance to his wife’s kind and beautiful face, I look away and start to search for another path to take. That was home, the memories are home. But I can never go back to my home so I must seek another way to a home, some home.

So I kneel and weep myself into a stupor at the end of every hard day for six

years then rise at last when I can cry no more to call a gardner. A man who lives in my neighbourhood has a few ideas on what could be done to make the mess we call our garden liveable again. He sounds like he could know what he is doing and is only asking for R900 (about $118 US) for a complete overhaul of the whole story, so I take my chances and knight him my guide down his suggested path back home. He promises me that the exercise would be transformational, painless and done in no time- two days tops to be exact, he says. I begin to shuffle my feet forward and in no time am on a way home.

He brings in two “workers” he will be supervising to ensure that the work really will be done in two days. The garden looks splendind by sunset and the grimace on our parents’ house caused by its grief over the passing of its owners, the lovely and happy black couple with three young girls, begins to fade. Even still,  much needs to be done before home begins to look at least aesthetically familiar to me again and the gardner-man promises that another R150 (a mere $19,25) would help steer me onto the path home. They would clean the decaying roof and packed up gutters up for us for that price. Seems fair. Why not? So I merrily trudge forth down the path home.

Day two ends and I am beginning to feel more like an upstanding member of my neighbourhood, one who cares enough for herself to look like everyone else around her. We all know that closets are for secrets and they do not need to be tidied for anyone. Gardens however are the window to the soul of the family and no one tries to say a hearty “hello” to a neighbour whose window is still covered with the black ash dressing of mourning, just incase misery might just want company that day. “You will need to pay another R700 ($  ) to have the garden refuse removed from your front yard, ” says my miracle-working gardner friend. Reasonable as that may be, I am a good couple of hundreds short of even beginning to imagine being able to afford that money, so I explain my situation. The aim here is not to swindle anything out of anyone but to see if there is another agreeable way I could reach home before dark. At last we agree on another R150 ($19)- because that is what I actually have left- and a creative compromise. The refuse would be gone by ten the next morning and what is remaining would be buried on soil to make compost.

Day three: it is now 13h37 or 01:37 pm. There is a ridiculously large pile of refuse portruding through the fine picture that was to be my renewed and beautiful front yard and no hope of getting it off and out for good before the Easter weekend. About twenty minutes ago, I politely told my miracle-working gardner friend that though he’s led me astray, I would take it upon myself to find my own way back to the path home, thank you very much. He had sent one of his “workers” to wait for the refuse truck which subsequently never arrived. Poor man had spent the entire morning waiting just as I had. At the end of this tideous wait, his employer offers him R70/$9 to move tens of kilograms of refuse from one corner of my garden to the next. After miracle garden man abruptly leaves, his worker tries to strike a private deal for himself with me: he would work for me if I would negotiate with him directly. He and the other worker had been paid R150/$19 for two days of very hard manual work. I am frozen in my tracks as I realize that this path, this detour was not how I had planned to get back home.

South African gardeners get paid a standard average wage of R150 ($19) a day for 8 hours of work. Some homeowners don’t even bother to offer their gardners a meal let alone beverage or water and so that R150 is stretched by its recepients in many creative ways to mate ends. These two men had done so much more for me in two days than I had been able to do for myself for six years. I am full of hope because I see my life changing before my eyes. I am no longer frozen solid in my grief, suffocated by the state of decay all round a place I call “home” because two men who sought to fend for themselves, gave their all into making my garden and roof look beautiful and safe for my family and I. And though they were fated to being my living angels through the one I once thought of as a “miracle-working gardner friend”, R150…a measley nineteen dollars is all they are worth to him.

I am told this is the South African way, that everyone does it. The way home has certainly become foreign and unfriendly if you cannot even count on sighting the spirit of botho/ubuntu/ humility everywhere along its paths. Home is where your children treat the gardner like a respected uncle and your husband shares his provisions with him like a brother. If this is how I am expected to heal and mend and find my place in the world again, I fear I will just have to find some other way home.

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