The smell of ginger biscuits met me at the door as I entered the house.
‘Mama!’ I called. I ran to the kitchen, but couldn’t find her there.
‘I’m here, dear,’ she called from the bedroom. As her warm arms embraced me, she smelt even better than the biscuits.
Every time my mother took out her jewelry box, a sadness like a tear unshed would appear in her smiling eyes. Her mouth, though, would tell another story. Her mouth was forever laughing.
She opened the box and stared at her masterpiece, her favourite piece of jewelry. It was mine too. I knew that she was going somewhere, dressed so nicely, and the necklace? A lovely piece of art made of colourful beads – not just any kind, for they tell a story, a love story. Whenever I tried to put it on, she would slap my hand.
‘Careful now,’ she’d say, ‘this is precious.’
‘Why?’ I asked. I knew the story, but wanted to hear it over and over again. Mama didn’t mind repeating it. She was a very patient woman, and I was a very curious child. Every time I listened to the story it sounded even more beautiful. It is Mama and Tata’s love story, told by the necklace.
‘Are you in a hurry , Mama?’ I asked.
‘No,’ she said.
‘Good. Then please tell me the story of the beads.’
‘Well, we were very young, me and your Tata, and so in love. We were both so shy and innocent, I was thinking, how will I let this guy know that I like him without humiliating myself? I learned that he had the same thoughts. He was the one who at last took the initiative. He bought the best beads made by sis Mbele. He bought red ones, white ones and brown ones. Your Father took his time to make this necklace. Its pattern is unique, each colour symbolised something. The red beads say: I love you. The white ones say: please accept my love. The brown ones say: meet me at the river.‘
‘And what did you do at the river?’ I asked.
‘You will know one day when you meet your own lover there,’ she replied, smiling.
I love this love story, so why did I feel sad when she wore this necklace? I felt lonely, lost and confused. She was going somewhere, leaving me behind. Was she coming back again? Tata just left and never came back. Mama said that he was in heaven.
‘How do you know for sure? I asked.
‘Well, a man who is able to love like your father will certainly go straight to heaven. See you later,’ she said, blowing me a kiss, fear pinching my heart.