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A Woman’s Prayer: A Short Story by Sihle Mthembu

When the sun throws itself home towards the hills, the air becomes wet with the kiss of the misty lake nearby. It becomes lonely here and each one of us from washing in the river, chopping wood in the forest or grinding maize on the brute stones of the hill, we all must gather our lives and go home. The men left us here for the city in search of fortune and gold. Some have been gone for years without even a letter. Every week we crowd the post office hoping that letters with our names will be called out. Often this is not to be and sometimes there are no letters to speak of, and although as short as the journey home may be it is one filled with great deal of despair. I, too, was once lucky to have heard from James my husband. The joy I felt was similar to that of my wedding day. I keep all the letters he writes in a small shoebox and when I have put Thandi to bed I read them and pray the gods keep him safe wherever he may be. Sometimes I wonder if the city makes these men forget that they are someone’s son, someone’s brother, someone’s husband and even someone’s father, but I try not to dwell too much on those thoughts. One would go crazy if she were to wonder about what men get up to when they are not guarded.

It’s very quiet here at KwaMathe. Patience and Ruth are the only friends that I have and we often go together to the river and wash our clothes. “When do you think you will be hearing from James again Miriam?” asked Ruth.

“I don’t know. Maybe soon. You know how these post offices can be” I replied. Patience smiled and turned her head without saying a word. From the look in her eyes I could tell that she thought I was fooling myself, and maybe I was. There was a prolonged silence and all that could be heard was the swash of the lake. “Tell me, Patience, when was the last time you saw Margaret?” Ruth asked

“It has been quite a while” Patience answered on her smooth voice. “I heard she was sick” Ruth added. It was then that I asked “is she sick with the flu?”

Both Patience and Ruth busted out laughing. “No“ said Ruth  “she has AIDS”


“Yes AIDS!”

I don’t know what shocked me more; the fact that Margaret had this vile disease or the fact that these so called friends had the audacity to laugh about it. I quickly started to rinse my clothes without another word. The wind was starting to blow and it was cold but I would not hang my clothes on the trees. I looked up at the sky and saw a few birds fly past and by now my bucket load was already on my head and I began to walk home.

Just as I was about to reach there I walked past Margaret’s house. I saw her son Sipho who was still 8 as he sat on the front door with hunger and desperation in his eyes. Some have asked me how I saw that? I always tell them we women just know. I could not walk on, so I left my bucket at the gate and entered. “Where is your mom?” I asked the little boy who did not reply and so I simply let myself in.  The house was filled with a stench. Margaret lay on an old bed; she had messed herself a great deal. Her hair was pale and she had lesions all over her body but she could still recognize me through her bulging eyes.

“Miriam” she called out

“Yes, yes Margaret”

“My life is gone Miriam” she said in a weak voice. I did not know what to say to her.

“Find someone to love my son, find someone to love my son Miriam”

I nodded my head and she began to breathe heavily. She held my hand and squeezed it tightly and smiled. She closed her eyes and I saw the last piece of life she had left leave her.

Sihle Mthembu
Sihle Mthembu
Sihle Mthembu contributes from South Africa.


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