Just as Mama wanted, my belly is hidden. I’m wearing a big white dress that she bought me three days ago. “As if this family hasn’t been shamed enough. Everyone will be coming to the funeral. Everyone will know you are pregnant,” she said, flipping the dress at me. At that moment, I wished she could just lock me in my bedroom so I wouldn’t have to attend the funeral. But I have to bury my brother. Even though the last time we spoke, he didn’t know who I was.
The madman’s sister is pregnant, did you see her? How long do you think she’s been pregnant? Who impregnated her? I’m not surprised she got pregnant at such a young age!
The way people stare at me when I enter the tent for the ceremony, I know that’s how they’ll gossip. When they reach their homes tonight, after Lucky’s body has been lowered into the earth, they’ll talk about the food the caterers have prepared, the ridiculously hot weather, and then my belly.
So why try hide the bump? Should I rather announce to everyone in attendance that one Saturday night, a man I’d never met before grabbed me on my way home, pushed and pressed my body against his car seat, and forced himself on me? That he was so strong, squeezing me down like a shoe crushing a cockroach, that when I tried screaming and kicking, my entire body felt paralysed? That somehow – for a moment while he humped on top of me – I jumped out of my own body and stared down at myself? That I saw myself lying there in his car, helpless?
When I told my mother what had happened, she said I was lying. She said I was a rotten-spoilt-promiscuous drunkard. When I found out I was carrying, she said I was an irresponsible, stupid girl who doesn’t even know who got her pregnant. That I was bewitched. She also said I was sent into this world to make her suffer.
Would people also want to know that every weekend when I was out, I’d find my brother sleeping on cardboard boxes on street corners – all alone, cold and starving? That when I bought him some food and sat with him as he shivered like a street kid hankering for drugs, he’d always ask, “What is your name?” As he stared blankly at me, I always replied, “I am Dikeledi – your little sister.”
I always wished I could take him home. But we had learnt to let him be. When his sickness started, he disappeared. I looked all over the township for him. My mother searched and searched for him, thinking he probably got lost in a dump somewhere. But after eight long days, he walked straight through our gate, smelling like a bucket of spoiled porridge. Lucky knew where home was. He just didn’t want to be here. Soon after we bathed, dressed and fed him, he went right back to the streets.
Mama concluded that someone in this township had bewitched him. That this particular wicked witch, who’d stolen his mind away, had died, and taken my brother’s brain to the grave.
After the old, tired pastor has given his long, tedious sermon, Mama, who is wearing a black silky dress, and Uncle Masheane, in a black-and-white suit, take the stage. They describe Lucky as “the most intelligent boy” they ever knew.
We all know about Lucky’s gifted brain. Everyone in this tent knows my brother was a genius. In his matriculation year, he got eight distinctions. That year, my brother’s face was plastered on newspapers and television. We were all so proud of him. My mother, ever the show-off, threw him a party. I’ll never forget the look on Lucky’s face. It was a face of a boy about to take over the world.
But when he got to varsity, everything went south. I didn’t know about his depression until he came home in a body I didn’t recognise. He was so thin that when I touched him, I thought his flesh might flake away. But of course, genius that he was, he graduated cum laude.
Lucky couldn’t find an accounting job after graduation, so he worked at a restaurant as a dish washer, then as a taxi driver, transporting locals. He finally got a proper job just a year before he got sick.
Uncle Masheane almost breaks into tears when he says that, even though Lucky suffered a terrible, lifelong “headache” and died such a horrific, confusing death, he will remember his nephew as a “people person”. He’ll always remember Lucky’s bubbly personality, his silly jokes, his killer smile.
I sit here in the front row with Maite. Tears coat my face and pained neck. Maite rubs my back and whispers softly, “He is in a better place now.”
I look at Mama and Uncle Masheane, standing there delivering their grand eulogies, and I feel anger about to erupt from my throat. How dare they? How dare they make it seem like they weren’t ashamed of my brother’s madness?
Ausi Thembi, the madwoman, arrives when we’re leaving for the cemetery, her jeans pulled up high over her stomach. We pass her on our way to the cars. Mama and Aunt Lisbeth go on ahead in Mama’s car, while Maite and I get into Uncle Masheane’s. Then I notice the man. He’s wearing a maroon suit and a black hat, and is leaning on a silver Peugeot 306. His face is obscured in a crowd of his friends; I shift on my seat to see him better.
I study him: his face, his eyes. It’s the eyes that convince me that it’s really him, standing right outside my home, at my own brother’s funeral. The shock sends tremors throughout my face. My belly spins and my heart hops out of my chest. He’s chit-chatting and laughing with his pals, while I’m fixed to my seat as if I’m trapped in ice.
I recognised the car first. I was thrown out of it on a gravel road six months ago, in my torn clothes and bloody undies. Discarded like an empty beer bottle after a satisfying burp.
I open my mouth to say something, but the words get stuck; nothing comes out. Uncle Masheane abruptly drives away. I look back, but I can’t see the man anymore.
All I can see is Ausi Thembi, struggling after the cars like a bear walking on two legs, all the while rubbing her head with a dirty yellow handkerchief.