The first lesson

Shook from semi-solid sleep. No dreams the night before. Above me, the face of my aunt with invisible strings of some emotion tugging at eyes and mouth.

come kiss your daddy for the last time.

Did she speak those words? Or do I use them now, as putty in the gaps of that day?

Still there he lay, still.

Eyes closed, a cruel imitation of sleep.

My grandmother with her eyes bleeding salt and furious prayer frothing from her lips, while my father’s brother, the Imam, ties a strip of white calico around my father’s head and jaw, wrapping a gift for Allah?

Because that was where daddy was, they told me. With Allah.

What six-year old knows of ritual and rigor mortis.

My aunt leads me to where he lay.

Sleeping daddy. With Allah.


That I remember.

But not much of the rest.

Just the house, a haven for tears.

And the women, these nebulous shapes in black, on the blankets spread out where the lounge furniture used to be.

Tissues and tears. And prayer.

And a bulk swathed in white in the middle.

Where was my mother?

I found her in another room, looking small and distant, as only the bereft can.

I was held close, smothered by the heaviness, infused with her desperation and stifled by what I didn’t understand.

Not then.

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I am a writer and photographer (look up my work on based in Johannesburg, South Africa. I have an MA in Creative Writing from the university currently known as Rhodes. My writing accolades include winning the 2014 Writivism Short Story Prize and the 2020 Ingrid Jonker Poetry Prize for my debut collection, Zikr.

4 thoughts on “The first lesson”

  1. Hey sweety…

    You’re one of the finest people I know…I tell my cuz that she should never really despair bcoz she’s 50% her mom…and that in that way her mom will always b a part of her…like ur dad will alwayz b a part of u…I dont think that helps much…but thanks 4 sharing…venting always helps.

    Hang in there…we love u

  2. Nothing prepares you for life like losing a parent. When you’re a kid the reality doesnt hit until you way into teens and everyone thinks you’re ok. No amount of people chanting the usual its meant to be can help. All you can take from this is to appreciate the people still around. Like R said, I’m sure he would be proud of you as you are.

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