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To Read Again

‘Close that door. Please.’

A door banged shut. Sethunya returned her focus to the book she was reading, flipped back a few pages to find her place, but just as soon as she had found it she heard a door open again.

She closed her eyes and tried to remember something she had read about staying calm. She instructed herself to shut out the sound of the door’s creaking hinges as a breeze nudged it almost-closed, and then back open again.

But when the door bounced against the doorframe and creaked open once more, it set off a pounding in her head.

She could not hold herself. ‘Kgaola mogatla!’

A stifled giggle. Quick footsteps. A door closed.

All festive season long, she had repeated other instructions, automaton-like: ‘fill the ice tray before putting it in the freezer; don’t leave the tap dripping.’

The last Sunday of the year, she attended the all-day church service but as soon as she had arrived home she felt the angst building at the sight of the house lit up like a night train.

‘Why the bloody hell are all the lights on?’ She had immediately felt remorseful. Not after a whole day spent in prayer.

When the kitchen door opened for the fifth time, she did not speak. She breathed in deeply, then out again.

She got up from where she sat under the morula tree, whose sprawling branches created shade from the sun.

She had brought the sapling with her when she was transplanted from her mother’s home to her husband’s house with instructions to create a home of her own.

As she closed the kitchen door, she thought back to when she was a fresh newlywed, summoned by her aunts and uncles, and her husband’s aunts and uncles, who had gathered to hear her explain why the village was whispering that she was threatening to leave her new home.

Even in her own head it had sounded petty to include reasons like a door left open, a tap left dripping, empty ice trays, as evidence for why she could no longer bear to stay. No.

Not when other wives told stories of house salaries being drunk at the local shebeen, black and blue eyes and such.

How could she confess that she was afraid of the recurring dream that denied her sleep?

That she feared she was becoming her father’s sister, the one whose mouth looked like she was sucking on a lemon.

In the years that had gone by, she had stooped to pick up stray toys in the passage.

She stopped complaining about the toothpaste cap discarded on the rumpled bathroom mat.

She combed out the strands of hair left entangled in the brush, drained forgotten dirty bathwater.

Specks of coffee dirtying the white sugar no longer infuriated her, nor did cigarette butts tossed into the vegetable patch.

She collected them all to deposit in the bin, together with the almost-full beer cans forgotten on the armrest of the sofa.

She Doom-sprayed the cockroach scurrying across the dishes left to overnight in a sink almost overflowing because of a tap not shut tight.

She hid her favourite chocolate in her handbag, where no one could find it.

She stayed aloof from the perennial flow of strangers in and out of the house.

She measured her life in anniversaries, each year commemorated with a lavish celebration attended by friends and relatives.

Their smiling faces filled her photo albums. And each day concertinaed into the next day, the next day into the next.

Until one morning, she decided. Despite that warning of doom years ago shared by her father’s sister at the dawn of her new life: that the sun would surely set in the east if she ever left her new home, Sethunya folded a few clothes and book into the tiny suitcase she had arrived with that morning so long ago.
She left.

In the morning after that recurring dream, she woke to find herself in a strange room.

She rushed out of bed, to fling open the windows of the room and gaze at the morning sky.

In the east, the sun was rising. She remembered then and smiled.

Then she made herself comfortable on the unfamiliar bed, pulled out her book from her bag and began to read from page one.

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