Black History Month 2020 Highlight: Part 1 February 3, 2020 – Posted in: Highlights, Readings & Excerpts – Tags: Black History Month, Fiction, Kagiso Lesego Molope, Such a Lonely Lovely Road, This Book Betrays My Brother, Young Adult
Kagiso Lesego Molope just recently won the Ottawa Book Award (English Fiction) for her YA release of This Book Betrays My Brother, which was originally published in South Africa …where it won the Percy Fitzpatrick Prize by the English Academy of Southern Africa!
For her latest novel, Such a Lonely, Lovely Road, which is a story about two men coming out in South Africa, she became the inaugural winner of the Pius Adesanmi Memorial Award for Excellence in African Writing (2019).
TO UNDERSTAND My BROTHER’S importance, they say you have to picture a wedding ceremony. Not the one they call a White Wedding, where the bride wears white and only those who are invited attend. No. I mean the big one, the traditional wedding, the one where everyone and their second cousin comes, invited or not. They say you must picture the dancing, the singing, the drinking, the cooking, and the dust rising and falling beneath the many dancing feet as they go up and down the street singing and ululating and inviting neighbours to join them.
Imagine all this, they say, but at the centre of it all, place a baby. A little baby boy.
I am told that the news of my brother’s birth spread to the south, to the east, and so far north that it crossed the border and went into Botswana, where it was welcomed joyously by aging and long-lost relatives. My parents received letters and telephone calls from places neither of them had ever even visited. This was not simply a birth, but a great and momentous family event.
A son, in my mother’s family, had been in people’s wishes and prayers for many years. In fact, if you look back on the family tree you will see that all the males there are spouses, not children born to a long line of matriarchs.you will see that the last time there was a baby boy, he was my great-great-great- grandmother’s brother, and he died in infancy. The thing about family history is that it all depends on the person you speak to. There may be agreements here and there, but the story you walk away with depends on what the person telling it wishes to reveal and, perhaps more importantly, not to reveal. I tend to file away what I am told in my head with a little note saying who told me the story. I think they should be labelled like the gospels, as in: The Gospel According to Paul or The Gospel According to Peter. I say: The Day I Started Walking, According to Papa; The Day Basi Won the Maths Prize, According to Mama; or What People Thought When Mama Was Expecting Basi, According to Mama. It helps me make sense of a lot of things.
This is all a bit tricky when you are a child, of course. But you learn, as I have learned, to pick and choose your story- tellers very, very carefully.
Case in point: a distant, often-drunk aunt whom I only ever met a handful of times, revealed to me that there were boys outside the family fathered by some of the men on the family tree. Children unacknowledged. But she is, like I said, a distant relative. And a drunk. I couldn’t tell you how we are related except that it’s through my father’s side—and this is a large part of what discredits her.
In any case, you could listen to rumours about unacknowl- edged babies, but of course you’d be a fool because what you hear outside the family is not true. Let’s call them ditori, a popular way of saying “lies” where I’m from.
What matters are family stories as told by the women who lived them.What they say is closest to the truth.
What is not disputed is that my great-great-grandmother had three sisters and four daughters, my great-grandmother had two daughters, and her own two sisters only bore girls. Our mother was our grandmother’s third and final girl child.
My mother has told me in my aunts’ absence that there were times when her sisters knew—just knew, in that way that only women can—that they were carrying boys. They could feel it. It was from the way the baby kicked, or from how high the baby was lying in the womb, how high they were carrying. “The nose can tell you,” I’ve heard women say. “If a woman’s nose is wider and larger when she’s pregnant, then she’s having a boy.you’re prettier when carrying a girl.” Or: “Look at how sick she is at the beginning. Only a boy makes you this sick.”
My aunts, according to Mama, would walk down the street and some elderly woman would call out, “It’s a boy! Just look at that nose!” In my mother’s case, as we know, they were mistaken. She knew when she was carrying a boy. She never needed any of the old women to tell her what was going on inside her.“He was so fierce,” she would say with an easy laugh, her eyes going up to the ceiling as if her whole body was trans- ported back to that time, as if she were pregnant again.
“He kicked when there was noise. He kicked harder when people clapped—always the star. Eish!” she’d say, holding her belly with both hands. “I never slept with him in here. Never slept. As if the waiting was too long for him.”
The point is, she knew. It was difficult for her sisters, she understood. So many years and so many hopes dashed. That was heartbreaking, she could see, but when it was her turn, well . . . it was her turn.