When I got up this morning for the first pee of the day, I was barely able to drag my sorry 51-year old body from bed. Aches and pains caused by normal Monday house-clean exercise brought back the realisation that I have been a thoroughly spoiled brat when it comes to household chores, almost since the first day I got married at age 19!! (Yeah, 19 – please teach your kids to be more wise!).
Initially I had Lenie, an older Cape Coloured lady – sweet, hard-working and efficient – only for one day per week, as we had no kids and did not need more help than just that one day of spring-cleaning and ironing every week.
After Belinda was born, we moved to Table View, and it was not long before a mutual friend introduced Celia to me. Quiet, introverted, a Xhosa girl about a year older than me, Celia seemed the perfect personality to match my need for help at home. Initially we bumped heads frequently, with me wanting things done my way, but in later years Celia always thanked me for teaching her the right way to work, especially on how to for instance iron men’s shirts. Whilst I worked, Celia cared for my household as well as my baby. After two years, she broke the news to me that she was pregnant. We held a family caucus, and decided to keep Celia, with baby. Marius was born after a last few anxious weeks when Celia landed in hospital with severe high blood pressure – a bouncing beautiful baby boy! We all soon learnt to love this new addition, even my mom who often visited and some of my favourite photos are with her holding him and Belinda sitting proudly next to them.
Two years later, I delivered Allister, and now Celia and I had 3 kids between the two of us. Marius, Allister and Belinda went through pre-primary, primary and high schools at varying degrees, and the years sped past. Celia mothered all and I in turn made sure that Celia and Marius got included in family holidays, taking them to the Drakensberg, Sterkfontein Dam, Aliwal North Warm Baths, Oudtshoorn CangoCaves etc.
The last holiday was to be their first flights, when I booked for Celia, Marius, Allister and myself to fly to George, where we hired a car and drove up The Garden Route to Knysna, to enjoy the Oyster Festival during July. We had a wonderful time and Marius, 16 years old at the time, had grown into a handsome, well-mannered young man, eyed by many of the girls working in the restaurants we frequented during this period.
Marius eventually left school, after passing matric well, and I managed to give him some money he could use towards buying a small car, with the promise that I would teach him how to drive as soon as he passed his learner driver test.
Throughout all the years in between, a divorce for me, some sad break-ups, family deaths both sides, some normal teen raising issues with our three kids, even some tiffs between us when I was unhappy with life and taking my frustrations out on Celia, we grew to be best friends. We supported each other through it all, we laughed, we ate out often, and Celia and Marius were simply members of our extended family. My kids love saying that Celia is their other mother, which of course is spot-on.
And then two years ago the unthinkable happened – Celia phoned me awake at 5 am on Friday morning 12 February – a few days after my birthday. Marius had been injured in a vehicle accident. Trembling with shock, I raced to her place to help, passing the accident scene on the way. I stopped as they were loading him into the ambulance. The policeman on duty told me it was serious. By 6 am, we were at hospital, and Marius in a coma after sustaining severe head injuries. By 7 am, about 40 young people, all from his class the previous year, had gathered outside the hospital. And this was the trend for the rest of the agonising 8 months that followed. Marius eventually woke from his coma after 4 months and many operations where the surgeon even removed a piece of skull bone, keeping it in the fridge, but thereby making space for the brain to swell without being restricted. Celia slept on the floor in the hospital room at times, people carried food and drink, prayed, the hordes of old school friends were sometimes clogging the passage outside his room.
Marius was moved to a rehab centre where they performed what seemed like a miracle. After about 4 weeks there, I walked in one night, and as per usual I talked to him, not expecting a response. On my question: “How are you my boy?”, he answered clear and well : “I am fine thanks, aunty Suletta!”. I screamed and cried at the same time. And so started the process of teaching him to use his limbs carefully again, to talk, to swallow and after another month the therapists felt he needed more treatment even though the medical aid funds were depleted. We booked him into a state facility. There he fell out of his chair, and landed back in hospital in a critical condition with swelling on the brain again. Celia and I rushed to meet the ambulance that brought him through to Milnerton Medi-Clinic. After settling him in the ICU unit, I went in to chat to him as I had to leave to go back to work. As I turned to leave his bed, he called me back and said: “Aunty Suletta, I love you very much”, and I answered: “And I love you very much my boy, don’t you ever forget that”. Those were the last words he spoke to me before they wheeled him to theatre for the first of about 20 operations over the next two months. He never woke up after that operation and on 16 September 2010 Marius passed away just after 3 pm. I had just arrived back at home after spending about half an hour at his bed before 3 pm, begging God to end this pain to him and Celia by either taking him home, or allowing him to get better. By the time he died, he was a slip of the once strong 1st team rugby-player he once was, and within half an hour at least 50 people of all colours and ages, but mostly his beloved friends, had gathered to come and say their last farewells. It was heart-breaking to see so many young men sobbing on his lifeless chest, but we all knew Marius was at peace in Heaven. More than 500 people attended the funeral, a testimony to the life this beautiful young man lived.
Two days before that fateful day of the accident, when he returned home from church, he got his beloved Aunty Magda, his other mother, to take some beautiful photos of him in his black suit, saying to her and to Celia that if they ever missed him, they could look at the photos – they are beautiful.
And so two years have passed since 16 September 2010, I have re-married, Celia was at my wedding. I have moved country, and had to leave Celia behind. But we Skype regularly, and I miss her, not just because my bones are aching from the physical work I now have to do myself, but because we have been mothers to the same three kids, we’ve shared pain and happiness, and we’ll always be best friends, have been for 26 years and will be until the day we join Marius.