Short story | This is not a sad story

Words by Julie Nxadi

Photo by Ofentse Mosala

I grew up young. In back rooms, reading books in the corners of Madams’ houses, seen but not heard. My mother kept me close. “Read to me” — as she hung up panties that were not her own, smiling at my literary choices. “Julie, who is this Stephen King?” Never, ‘Julie aren’t you too young? ‘

“Are you ready to work, Julia?” they’d ask her two days after chemotherapy. It wasn’t a question. Sick and tired she would work. Me — toes at her heels, reading out loud. Her — pushed gently by a parallel frequency where hotels won’t let you leave and all black characters are magic.

I grew up young. I had to figure out the difference between what I could take and what I was taking. My mother would wrestle death once a month in the bed we shared. Poison scratching through her veins. 2am on a Wednesday I would stand in our dark bedroom/kitchen/lounge and grind together all the tablets like the doctors showed me. ‘I hope they work, I have an oral tomorrow and my teacher already hates me because my cursive is so untidy’ I would think as I fed my mother the potent cocktail. “I hope they work, Miss Lynn asked me to wash windows tomorrow and she is already cross because I have been away.”

I grew up young. This is not a sad story. I see my mother’s strength and humour and wisdom in my daughter every time I look at her. My child will get to be a child. My mother said that people are better than they think they are, but they are also much worse. I never knew if she was talking about herself.

This piece was first published in Edition 10 of Ja. magazine