That night the sky was breathtaking. A black blanket, crisp and clear wrapped around the earth. Stars like fairy lights, hung effortlessly against the darkness in an arrangement so perfect, that only Mother Nature herself could have formed it. The moon had positioned itself amongst the splashes of radiance. It hovered, as if in awe, above the tranquil town. It pressed its blue face against the glass in my bedroom window and cast its blue light. I had just finished wiping the last water droplet off one of the dishes from dinner. I grabbed the plate gently and packed it neatly into the kitchen cupboard. I set off for my room where I grabbed my warmest pyjamas. They were about three sizes too big and electric purple in colour. I loved those pyjamas mostly because they were a gift from my grandmother. I missed her on most on days. When I did, I would pull the warm fabric over my head and wear it to bed; it made me feel closer to her.
I was seven years old when I first learnt that the ability to be a pillar of strength could be a superpower. Mother, to my surprise, had come home early. Because of her demanding job, my brother and I didn’t see much of her growing up. We knew she loved us and worked hard for our own benefit, but sometimes not having her around was hard. She felt terrible about all the important events in our lives that she missed because she of work. No mother could feel content with knowing more about her patients than she did about her own children. Because of this, she made an effort to make time for us. Every night upon her arrival she would saunter into my room; slide herself into my bedding and position her weary body alongside mine. She had a special story book she read from each night. It had a large green cover and its pages were filled with tales about heroes and the obstacles they faced. Some nights, when even the sun had lowered itself into the blanket of mountains that littered Newcastle’s scenery, mother would come home only to find the entire house had long fallen asleep. On nights like those, I would lie awake and try to keep my eyes from shutting. But despite my efforts, fatigue would soon take its seat upon my eyebrows until my eyelids became two halves of something that could not be kept open. As hard as I tried I could not fight the inevitable.
On this night she climbed into pale pink covers. Instead of holding in her hands the large green covered book as she usually did, she came with nothing. She told me she didn’t need the fairy-tale book this time because the story she had for me was a true one. There was something about her voice that brought me profound peace the way only a mother’s voice could. Her words moved like music through my ears. The little hairs inside them stood up and danced the way the trees do when the moon sings to them. I watched my shacking left hand go numb and my fingers make nests between the spaces in her hand. She squeezed my hand tightly and pressed the back of it gently against her soft lips.
“You , my angel, come from a long line of phenomenal women” , she began.
Of all the stories my mother had read to me before I ploughed my head into my pillowcase and went to sleep, none had fascinated me much like this one. As a child, I was not one to be moved by mythological tales of beings of great strength and courage celebrated for their bold exploits. But when I was seven, my mother told me an epic tale that gifted me with my very first superhero.
My new found conqueror wasn’t one with characteristics typically found in story books, tragic plays and films. No, she was a heroin unlike the vampires in Twilight or a soldier of war in ancient Greek folklore. My hero was ordinary to the naked eye. She was old lady, short and hunch-backed. Her skin was blacked with the burdens of a bitter past. Her broken English and my hindered Zulu made verbal communication nearly impossible. Still, we had a connection that very few could understand. Our eyes were identical, and the connection between them seemed more powerful than any word. I knew the bags that lay beneath her eyelids were laden with horrors she could never un-see, and that she carried these memories with her where ever she went. She could never tell me what these memories were, but I knew they were there. Often we sat together in silence and let our perfectly matching auras commune.
Gogo was a woman that was difficult to love. She had this habit of carrying the world on her shoulders, so much so that she became oblivious to her own wants, her own needs, her own pain. Her personality was defining and for some suffocating. Her character could be seen in everything she did, even her Sunday outfits were accessorised with larger than life hats. Her aged physical appearance masked the immense inner strength which lay dormant inside of her. But regardless of her outward appearance, Nodange Magubane was unquestionably strong. She was the lady who lost her father at the age of five- strong. She was the person who ran to the hospital when she was in labour- strong. She was the women who had to bury her youngest daughter-strong.
I was 18 when I first realiased my grandmother would never be the same again. I was walking down from my first test in university went she called me and ordered I report straight home because children my age should be in Cape Town on their own. Did you know that 10% of people develop a chronic disorder of cognitive abaility severe enough to interfere with daily life. This is called Dementia. I don’t know if I am more afraid of the rapid mood swings and confusion or that the disorder will lead to my grandmothers torturours death, all I know is that I am afraid. Sure my hero wasn’t of divine lineage. She couldn’t walk through walls or breathe fire. Yet, my grandmother is one of the bravest people I know. I knew this even before hearing my mother’s tale of her mother.