Category: Ben J Langa

For my brothers (Mandla and Bheki) in exile – Ben J Langa

You have seen part of the world
Met some very nice people
Experienced the hardships of fresh air
Longed for the warm home-fires
Around which we sat on winter nights
Listening to pa tell us stories
Or reading passages from the bible.

Those were the days, my brother Mandla,
Some days they were, my brother Bheki.
Do you remember those days?
When we were young and happy together
Playing cops and robbers, hide and seek,
Pinching bottoms whilst in hiding –
Young and happy together?
One day it would rain
And before the night was out
We’d be carrying brooms, sacks and buckets,
Urging the water out of our house.
You do remember those days?

Maybe I do not know where you are.
You left in the stealth of the night
Maybe hiked miles in fear but determined
To finally reach new worlds unknown.
Some days I happen to clean the house
Exploring every nook and cranny.
I find here and there memories of our youth
Written on scraps of black and white photos.
I shake my head in pain of loss,
Say to myself, ‘Gone are those days.’

The old woman is still around, brothers,
Heavy creases run down her mahogany face;
They are dry rivulets opened by heavy rains of pain.
At night, alone in the vaults of darkness,
She prays.  In her prayer she talks about you.
Mama cries at night – by day she laughs,
Tending sisters’ small children.
I know she longs to catch but one glimpse
Of her flesh and blood. Of her own womb.
Sometimes she talks about it,
Swallowing lumps, hiding tears behind eyes.
Mama is strong. Very tough.  She was carved in teak.
In the evenings when we’re together, she sometimes
Sings the songs we used to sing together.
Then she goes to sleep. I wonder if she’ll sleep.

On Xmas Day mama makes custard and jelly,
Reminds us how we all looked forward to Xmas
Because that was about the only day
We ever tasted custard and jelly.
Big bowls of jelly would be made
Then taken to the kindly butcher
(Remember, we didn’t have a fridge).
Some time before our big meal
She’d send one of us to collect the bowls.
I remember we would handle those bowls gingerly
As though our whole life depended on them

I do not know, maybe, what you’re doing out there.
I know you’re alive, yet longing for the home country.
You loved this country deeply,
So much that you could leave only to come back
When it has gained more sense.
Our neighbours (the ones you knew so well) are still there.
We meet at the tap (it’s still outside) and chat.
They ask about you. They care about you.
Those days you do remember.

In all our pain and agony we rejoice,
For the tensile steel strength of our souls
Transcends borders and boundaries.
However far apart our bodies may be
Our souls are locked together in a perpetual embrace.