And so, the wedding had come, it was a small affair with the reception held right here in the compound. I had never witnessed so many people coming and going and some were sitting beneath the shade, drinking Coca-Cola and Fanta straight from the glass bottles. Children ran around enjoying the freedom which weddings invariably brought them, where the adults are too preoccupied with other things to pay them any mind.
The old men from both families sat beneath the shade, sharing a gourd of ‘shake-shake’ between them and sealing the new family bonds.
Catherine was swollen with child by then and Reuben’s eyes were wiser and he had come into being as a man having used most of his life savings to purchase the 10 cows to pay reparations and lobola to his bride’s family. The pride in his voice at his new-found manhood was unmistakable and though he and his wife were young, all who were present could see that these were young people who were very much in love and they were showered with gifts for their new home. Speeches were made on how to be good spouses and good parents as they were soon to become. The air was full of festivities and as the music came on and people began to dance, more people trickled in through the gates which had been open wide in invitation. The merriment continued long into the night, with the sweet smell of braai meat sizzling into the night air.
A new chapter had begun in the compound in which I called home. Soon I could hear the wails of a crying infant drifting out from an open window. I came to learn that they had named her Iris; her mother would sing to her to calm her, and once I watched the old matriarch teach the young mother on how to carry her baby on her back so that she could go about her day whilst having her child close by. As the days grew into months and as these melted into years, Reuben did well at work, so well that he was offered promotion after promotion and earned himself the chance to study further in Japan. When Reuben returned home he brought a brand-new Toyota purchased from Japan which was the envy of the whole township. Catherine had also studied and was on the cusp of completing her final accounting exams. All in all, life had been kind to the young family. The old matriarch’s vision became poor and eventually it would evade her. She would spend her days sipping tea sitting under the shade on her reed mat, singing the old hymns to Iris who was now full of questions and activity.
“why is mama’s belly so big now gogo?” she would ask
“Well it’s because you are going to become a big sister” the old matriarch would reply.
Iris would seem thoughtful as much as a five-year old’s brain would allow and then her eyes would wander as something else took up her interests. Soon another child was born, they named him Brian. But within weeks of the child’s birth, the old matriarch passed away. It was whispered by the elders at the wake that she had only stayed on this earth long enough to hear his cries and place her fingertips on her great grandson’s soft skin and to bless him before her eternal sleep. And for the second perhaps even the last time, the compound was filled with guests, women cooking in large three-legged pots outside- all could smell the sweet stew, some took turns with large wooden spoons stirring istshwala (cornmeal/maizemeal) that steamed in one of the larger pots. The curtains were removed from the front room where people gathered to share their condolences, there was a red cloth attached to the gate outside symbolising that this was a home in mourning.
Though the old matriarch was gone, the house seemed to grow larger with activity as Iris and Brian grew, and as their parents become much more respected in the township. Live moved on and soon a satellite dish went onto the roof. Then another car was brought for the lady in the house, and extension work begun and soon the house not only had a living room but a dining room was added to it, the kitchen became larger and an en-suite was added to the master bedroom. Yong men started gazing at Iris longingly as she was now on the cusp of womanhood.
Life was still good, but things were about to change….
(Third and final installment coming soon)