There are some things I could not possibly do without, and one of them is my daily afternoon rooibos tea. Serowe, where we live, is a small dusty town in the middle of Botswana that ought to be famous for its harsh weather but instead is famous for being the place where the “Buckingham Palace” of Botswana is located. The winters are frigid. I remember my years as a student, shivering, walking to school as a trail of warm steam escaped from my nostrils, robbing me of the warmth I so desperately needed. I have never been overseas, in fact I have only left Serowe once for a mandatory class excursion to Gaborone, the capital city. But I assume this is what it feels like to be abroad, where judging from what I have seen in the movies, it is always cold and snowing. Human beings were not meant to live at temperatures of 10 degrees. My mother in her infinite knowledge knew this, and that is why in the afternoon when I returned home from school, she would offer me a cup of rooibos tea to warm me up.
Serowe’s saving grace is that the summers are equally harsh, which I absolutely love. The afternoons are scorching hot, and no work can possibly be done. The only remedy is to spread a cowskin mat under an Acacia tree, sip rooibos tea and slumber away. For a hot beverage, it is always refreshing, even in the 30-plus heat of Serowe.
My mother rarely said she loved me, but whenever we sat down together to have a cup of rooibos I felt loved. I was confident that even if I were to come home pregnant, she would not disown me or rant about the dishonour I was bringing on the family. I was secure in her love and I wanted – no, I was determined – to pass this type of love to my children.
Years went by, I grew up, and mother passed away, but her legacy of love lives on. Just like my mother, I made rooibos tea for my child. I drink it while I chat to Thato, the apple of my eye, the culmination of the love that I and Fred have shared ever since we got married 18 years ago just after graduating from high school. Thato is more than a son to me, he is proof that true love does exist. His father and I met while we were in primary school and have loved each other ever since, and now, at age 17, Thabo stands as a testament of unconditional love.
After school, just as my mother did all those years ago, I make rooibos tea for him, in winter to warm him up and to cool him down during the summer. One afternoon, I had taken the first tentative sip of my rooibos. I gently swirled it around my mouth. It needed more sugar. My hand reached out for the spoon but stopped in mid-air. Thabo had burst into tears, bellowing like a wild pig being choked to death. A pang of guilt hit my guts. What was he crying about? What had I missed? Had I done something wrong?
A few seconds ago we had been happily joking away. I was teasing him about what a terrible mother-in-law I was going to be, because I loved him so much I couldn’t possibly share him with another woman. Married women in Botswana are famous for their fractured relationships with their bo-matswale, and I was not going to be an exception.
Did the boy think I was being serious? I was sure I would not get along with his wife when he finally got married, but I was not going to be evil to her. “What is wrong, Thabo?” I asked. Did I really seem like the kind of ogre who would make life miserable for his poor wife just to show her that her husband was still my big baby. There were plenty of bossy old women in the village, but I’d never seen myself as one of them. He stopped sobbing, but kept his hands over his eyes. “Mama, there won’t be any wife for you to pick on …” Then he bellowed even louder. “Mama, I am gay”.
I shushed him quickly, not sure if it was trying to console him or just get him to stop making those wretched sounds. I reached over him to give him a hug, and as I did so, a movie montage played through my mind. What were the signs I had missed? He did have a lot of women friends, but I had thought it was because he was charming, a “player” as the kids say these days. He liked cooking, but he also played sports, and he certainly had never been very fashion-conscious.
I thought about the wedding that will never be. I supposed I would have to come up with another excuse to buy a designer dress and make the neighbours jealous …. But, wait, maybe he will marry a man. A good man. A designer even. To design a beautiful dress for me to wear at their wedding. I will be the most beautiful woman at his wedding.
I hugged him tightly. Yes, I will never have to share him with another woman. “Baby, it does not matter,” I heard myself saying, “I still love you.” And, after all, had I known he was gay as a child, would I have not loved him? Of course not, I would still have loved and raised him exactly as I have the past 17 years.
“Whoever you fall in love with and decide to spend the rest of your life with, he must just love drinking rooibos tea, that’s all.” He let out another god-awful bellow, this time a mixture of laughter and a pig’s grunt. I reached over for my cup and took a hearty gulp of rooibos. Nothing had changed. It still needed more sugar.
About the Author
Anthony Sedibo Phaladi currently lives in Nanjing, China. He has previously written for Q-zine under the names Oscar Louw and Lebo Fraiser. He grew up here and there, but he calls the internet home. He is writing his first novel. He says ” Living is using your life to tell a story.” Anthony is currently looking for a job in the LGBTQQI sector and can be reached through Facebook. Please follow him on twitter @Sedi_nj. This story was inspired by his mother.