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Abenea Ndago: A Funeral in Ladybrand

I am Tafadzwa. When I left Harare last month for studies in South Africa l was unprepared to meet my kind-hearted white friend Adelheid. My age, you know, mid-twenties. I say “unprepared” because I have enough white friends in Zim. 

In the Free State Province of all places. Free State was the heart of the old Orange Free State which Britain left for the Afrikaners to do their thing in, to make exclusively their own.

So Adelheid and I have become sisters. I mean an actual sister like my twin sister back at home in Chitungwiza where I grew up in Zim. Adelheid shows me where the university library is, the lecture halls, the catholic church, which I attend, the supermarkets outside campus, and where to do shopping in Bloemfontein City. We always walk together on campus and when I arrived she turned down a chance to live in a hostel room with one of her fellow white girls.  Forget what the world says about South Africa being a rainbow nation because live on their own is what young white boys and girls my age do when they come to college. They huddle together and do not really mix with blacks except probably for show. But Adelheid. She decided to share a hostel room with me.

The other week I realised Adelheid does not like these white students because she comes from a farm in Ladybrand. The small South African town is over one hundred kilometres east of Bloemfontein City. She told me a lot about Ladybrand and the direction to the family farm house where her ageing parents live.

When a white South African comes from “the farm”, it means the other white youth who grew up in cities like Bloemfontein consider them rural and boorish and not streetwise. The farm-born like Adelheid speak English with a thick Afrikaans accent. The rough “grrh” sound struggles out of their throat.

Three months now. So, Adelheid’s mother has died in Ladybrand and I knew about it yesterday but not through her. I came from the library and found she had travelled home. The note on the table read: “Tafadzwa. I’ve a small emergency at home. My mum. Will be back soon. Adelheid.” Followed by her large, hurried signature. And she texted me the same.

I have determined the burial day and will surprise my roommate on Friday. Wait, is it improper? No. I do not think it is. After all, in Chitungwiza, a funeral is a funeral and you need no permission to attend one. Death is not a family issue. It is a monster for all humans to wrestle with irrespective of race. And they feed you at Chitungwiza funerals even if you are a stranger to them. You came to share their pain. I do not want any food myself. I just want to surprise Adelheid. It might leave an unrubbable impression on her, you know?

Our taxi to Ladybrand left Bloemfontein at eight in the morning. One hour and we now whisk past Botshabelo and Thaba Nchu. Up the hills, past Tweespruit, deep and fast. Look at those. The high mountains to the right. South Africa’s border with Lesotho. Up again past grazing horses and misty hills. The road is wide and good.

We begin the descent. Oh, right there. I see it now. Ladybrand sleeps inside a hole down below to our left. I guess from there I will have to hire a cab to Adelheid’s family home on the farm she told me about. Yes.

The cab pulls by the gate after our drive through the farms, horses, and sheep. This must be it. I see white and a few coloured people in the compound. They must be ready to leave for the cemetery. Let me pay the driver and alight.

Is anyone here? Good, there is the black guard. Ntate will hurry up and call Adelheid for me.

‘I just came–’

‘Of course, Tafadzwa.’ Adelheid’s pair of cheeks is pink and colder than any I have ever seen in Zim. ‘But who invited you?’

‘Invited me?’

‘You heard me – who?’

The black Ntate stares at us.


Image: Co-Pilot

Abenea Ndago
Abenea Ndagohttp://amzn.to/2zzeu1c
Abenea Ndago is a Kenyan writer/scholar. He has published Voices (2017), Crossing the Border (2018), Lord Kitchener (2023), and several short stories.

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