Saying goodbye

“Saying goodbye,” Palesa said as we walked her to the taxi that would take her and Katleho from Oliver Tambo airport back to the shack village in Daveyton where they live, “is always hard. But what are we gonna do? You have a soft heart, M’e Makie, but it’s strong. You can cry listening to a song on the radio, but you have a strong love that can handle anything. I saw who you were the first time I met you. I could not speak English at that time, but if I did, I would say, this is a woman with a soft heart that is very strong. If I would even kill an ant, you would say, ‘Awwww.’ So you’re a vegetarian. I’m not like that. I’m African. I have to be hard, hard. Still I always know you love me, and your love makes me stronger, even now. When I feel scared sometimes, I remember how you believe in me, no matter what, even if I try to kill you. It was not me that tried to kill you, it was the sickness, but if I did kill you, you would be dead. I know why Seth and Manko are angry with me. Our mother would be dead if I killed you.  I have another mother, but you are their only one. So they have this very strong feeling, and I respect them for that. I am glad I didn’t kill you, even though I did try my best, because I had that thing in me that made me want to kill you. But it’s gone now, and I am glad you have a soft heart and a strong heart to love me no matter what. How long did I live with you?”

“Nine years.”

“I remember, and I also remember that I am an African woman, and I am strong enough to do what I have to do, and part of that is because of you. Sometimes I believed my mother when she told me you would never want to see me again. But it was not me. It was a sickness. Maybe Manko can’t love me. I don’t blame her. If I was her, I wouldn’t have the heart to love a person who tried to kill me. But in my heart I always believed you would love me, no matter what. And my heart was right, you see? Because you are here. And I am here. And we’re not dead. We’re still loving each other, and I still know your heart.”

Palesa is a talker. She talked almost non-stop from the time we met at Oliver Tambo, around noon, till dusk, when I put her and Katleho on the taxi to go back to Daveyton. I recorded some of what she said on video tape. I wrote down all I could remember after she left. I am still remembering and writing. Still saying goodbye.  Writing this is part of it.

On my last visit to M’e Mpho’s house, we had a little time alone on her couch, eating raisin buns I’d brought from the new bakery at the bottom of the hill. She said, “I will get to Heaven first, and I will come back for you when it’s your time and take your hand. My mother told me this, and I am waiting for her now. And I am telling you. Don’t forget me. Leave a little tea for me in the bottom of your cup each day, and I will know you remember.”

I think about Palesa saying she knew my heart from the time she met me. I felt the same way about her, and about M’e Mpho. M’e Mpho often said, “You can never know another person’s heart. But I know yours.” Freed of our lives in these bodies, with these geographies of place, class, color, and culture, who are we to each other? Mutual admirers, friends, people who care about each other in eternal ways? There is much that separates us. But I think we understood each other, and maybe we still do, in the way that I experience with the people I love deeply.

What is it that we call “the heart”? Some essential perception of another person’s core of goodness, another person’s being-ness, perhaps. I think this seeing really does transcend what we look like, what we have or don’t have, do or don’t accomplish. Of course, I could be deluded, sentimental, and wrong. But as I sat driving beside M’e Mpho on the way home from the ocean, feeling a little weepy, I said to her softly, so the kids wouldn’t hear,

“I am happy we went, but I am also sad….” I searched for words. Without looking at me she reached out and patted my leg.

“I know, my dear. I know.”

I felt that she did know. Not that it would take extraordinary perception to see both the joy and the sadness in that moment, but I had a feeling that some part of her that was not her history, her circumstances, her story–some part of her knew some part of me that was not my story. Some part of both of us that had nothing at all to do with our stories looked, comprehended, and recognized–acknowledged–the other. Light meeting light becomes light.

Not one to end on a sentimental note, ever practical, M’e Mpho said, as we walked outside her house for me to begin my last descent from that enormously dusty, over-populated hill where she lives, “If you find a person with a lot of money, tell them I need a roof for my verandah–four planks of wood and three pieces of [corrugated] zinc. In case my mother delays to come for me, I would like to sit in the shade here.”  We laughed. I could still hear her laughing as I began my descent.


About Kendall

Aging drama queen (former professor of theatre) writes, takes pictures, and messes about.
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27 Responses to Saying goodbye

  1. These words you’ve been posting are some of the most beautiful I’ve ever read. I just can’t express. Thank you, Kendall.

    • Kendall says:

      Moonbeam, what is so beautiful is what they said. I’m just writing it down for them. One thing I’ve never mentioned is that Palesa and Manko “wrote” (told me) a story for a very interesting collection called Running for Their Lives. Palesa lost her copy of that book during the upheavals of her life in South Africa, so she wants me to send her a new copy. It’s now available as a Google Book. Fortunately, she now has an address I can send it to. She said, “I’d like to write another story sometime.”

  2. Darlene Olivo says:

    I love having access to what is surely your next book, my dear. In your words I enter a reality unknown to me, one that is both terrifying and amazing (not the overused version of that word, but one that evoked Castenada). Spill it forth for you have many readers. Love, Darlene.

  3. Leif says:

    Your words are so profound, so deeply moving and true – for all of us – that I hesitate to write anything in response. “Light meeting light” as you said. And we who are with you and know you and love you can only rejoice – can weep and rejoice…

  4. Kendall says:

    Thank you so much, Darlene and Leif. Remember that part of the I Ching…”She sobs and sings.” That about wraps it up. It was a great journey, and you were such good company.

  5. John Guarino says:

    Sitting here, feeling, what I have to say so trite, thank you for sharing all this.

  6. Kim Sharp says:

    I am sitting here Sunday morning in the comfort of my easy chair close to tears. Reading your words and those you transcribed for your loved ones on this amazing journey of yours are nothing short of amazing. Most of us and surely I have never come close to the courage it took to make it happen. You my friend LIVE your life and I envy your courage. Your rewards are great. Though voyeouristic so are mine and I thank you.
    Hugs, Kim

    • Kendall says:

      The line between courage and foolishness has never been clear to me. Fortunately, I never have much cared about that line, being the foolish woman I am. Thanks and big hugs back to you, Kim.

      • La says:

        If you’re a fool, Kendall, you’re a holy fool!

        I know one when I see one…my dad’s another. When I was very small, I remember the night he quickly packed his little volkwagen to follow the freedom riders and offer his support. He hugged mom and me, bowed his head and prayed aloud: “Lord, help me to make a good plan. And if I can’t come up with one, give me the guts to proceed without one.” 🙂

        I suspect you may have prayed that prayer, too, from time to time….


  7. Barbara Charman says:

    I read and reread Palesa’s words. There is such wisdom there, an understanding of who she is and was and the strength to communicate that to you. I hear parts of you in her.
    I marvel at your ability to climb the barricades and be where you need to be and make those reconnections with those you love.

  8. Margareta says:

    You have my deepest admiration for what you have done.
    And by the way:
    Is there a way to give her that roof?

    • Kendall says:

      A couple of people have asked that question, Margareta, which does my heart good. However I believe she was teasing. She has no idea, nor have I, what it would cost to cover her verandah, if that little square of concrete can be called a verandah; and I think if she had access to money, there would probably be other priorities that would claim it. My feeling is that she was giving me a way to exit laughing. She was making a joke, I think. The difficulties involved in finding the wood, the zinc, and the workers to install it boggle the mind. I think in truth she is satisfied, at peace. She had her trip to the ocean. She swore that if she had that, she would “be happy until I die.” Pointing out that it would be nice to have a roof over her front porch was a way to laugh at herself, at me, and at fate. Gilding the lily. That, in any case, is my interpretation.

  9. Kim Sharp says:

    I have been thinking bout that “veranda” myself. Perhaps we could all pitch in and get her a beach umbrella. Fond memories of her recent trip and a place in the shade to call her own. Just a thought.
    BTW Kendall I have been like a kid in a candy store with your photos. I think I have painted bout 6 so far. Your composistions are wonderful.
    Thanks! Kim

  10. Kim Sharp says:

    Can you tell it’s late? I didn’t mean off course – I meant of course! I have one painting of my grand daughter at the beach and the other two are portraits from your collection. Do remember I am new at portraits but your photos have inspired me enough to give it a try. Let me know what you think.

  11. Kim Sharp says:

    As I was perusing over some of your writings I was struck by how honest you are. That’s just one of the things that makes them so good. Most of us would edit-only write the pretty parts leaving out the painful, hurtfull and socially unaceptable stuff. Even here I am conscious of self editing and I am praising you for your honesty- I cant do it myself for fear of coming off wrong. The first time I met you I noticed that. You were doing a reading and part of it was sexual in nature and it shocked me- didn’t offend me but I found myself looking around to see others reaction. There was none. It was plain good writing. Writing that grabbed our attn. Now I am rambling so will shut up. Just know you teach me and it is good.

    • Kendall says:

      Thank you for this wonderful comment, Kim. I always feel I have not been honest ENOUGH, always worry that I am sanitizing or skipping over the difficult bits, so I am grateful for your perception and your appreciation. I want to say again how much I enjoy your watercolors based on pictures I took in Lesotho. I saw them on display yesterday at Friendly House and was deeply touched by them. I’m so glad I know you.

  12. Keith says:

    My favourite word in the Japanese language (but then, I really only know a few) is ISHINDENSHIN which describes a circumstance when two people understand each other without the need for words, literally from heart to heart. I feel this word very strongly in your writing about Lesotho, and about M’e Mpho in particular. Even if Palesa uttered some of these the words originally, you have woven them into a very powerful and vivid fabric; and they are powered by the emotion that you feel, whether you realise it or not. There is no artifice here, as far as I can see; just the pure honesty that others have also recognised. Thank you for allowing us to follow you.

  13. Reitu says:

    Reitu Masena here. Am trying to find how to get your book entitled “Basali” Am actually promoting in on my FB wall and people want to know how to get it. Thanks.

  14. patispeaks says:

    Limakatso, I chanced upon a copy of the Me’ Mpho’s stories on Amazon, what a joy reading her story that came to me and no doubt to other readers who may be familiar with the Basotho and South African language. Her voice comes through the pages you put together amazingly. Thank you, Limakatso for the role you played in the lives of ordinary people. I too am a Mosotho woman, born and raised in Soweto, Johannesburg. I will be looking into more of your writings. Blessings

    • Kendall says:

      Thank you for this beautiful comment. M’e Mpho passed away in January, but she loved her book and loved sharing those stories. It was the great privilege of my life to be part of making her voice, her story, and the stories of Basotho people available to others. I think you might enjoy Basali! Stories by and About Women in Lesotho. I am especially happy when these stories reach the hands and eyes of Basotho people, as there is too little literature available, either in English or Sesotho, from that very rich culture and that very beautiful language.

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