My first story is a fictional story “The Women In The Bathroom” and has been in the making for a few weeks. It’s serious and hopeful and was written to support the #UNWomen’s #HearMeToo campaign and the #16Days of Activism For Non-Violence Against Women and Children Campaign.

(Please note the content and language may be explicit for some readers)

The Women In The Bathroom

Shardha squeezed the Colgate toothpaste on the toothbrush, and hoped that Nandha wouldn’t moan that it wasn’t Aquafresh like they used at home. In her haste to pack their school uniforms and books, she didn’t think about packing toothpaste.

“Nandha, we are going to be late. Hurry up.” She tried to whisper across the passage from the bathroom to the bedroom where her brother and her had slept last night. He was always dragging his feet but she knew after what happened last night, it would be harder for him to get going today.

She could hear her aunty Raksha in the kitchen. Her aunty was newly married to their maternal uncle Mitchell but Shardha and Nandha felt as if they knew her forever. Shardha was grateful that aunty Raksha had the sense to suggest that Nandha and her stay at their home last night.

The night before seemed in one part like a distant memory yet in another part she could remember every word yelled between her parents; when every punch and kick happened and she could still see the madness in her fathers’ eyes as he pounded her mother.

“Some things you can’t unsee”

Nandha and her were also yelling and crying; begging him to stop but he just hit their mother harder. Their screams were heard by their neighbours who like so many times before, knew to phone their uncle Mitchell.

Shardha was a pro at calming down her brother enough so that atleast he didn’t make a noise when he cried. Her mother staggered to the bathroom, ignoring the whimpers of her children. Or maybe she was deaf after all the yelling? Shardha found that easier to believe. When uncle Mitchell and aunty Raksha arrived, their father was gone. Shardha opened the door and then the big gate. Her mother was still in the bathroom.

Every time he did this, her father left for a while. Sometimes it was just a few hours. Other times it was weeks before he returned. Then when he came back, it was like nothing happened. Mum and dad would be happy again until the next time she spoke out of turn or forgot to ask his permission before she bought something or who knows what silly things she did to make him angry.

Shardha’s thoughts were interrupted by Nandha. He came into the bathroom, his eyes puffy from crying himself to sleep; and the same terrified look he had the night before. Shardha, handed him his toothbrush and whispered to him to please try to hurry up. Then, quite unexpectedly the bathroom door flung open causing both children to jump with fright. Aunty Raksha stumbled in. She looked away from the children while she leaned over the bath tub and opened the tap.

Shardha thought she saw red on her aunty’s hand but her mind resisted the allusion to what it might be and she tried to dismiss it. But she couldn’t unsee the deep red stream flowing from her aunty’s face, mingling with the water as it cascaded down the drain. She knew, she knew that her aunty was silently crying and a scary idea entered her mind.

Did her father come here and do this to her aunty ? Was he cross that she had taken them with her? Was he in the flat right now? Shardha’s mind was racing as she tried to understand why her aunty was also a woman in the bathroom like her mother.

Just as her confusion was becoming panic, her aunty stood up with a towel over her mouth and nose and said “Shardha go get your lunches from the kitchen. I’ll take Nandha down to the car. Go get your bag, Nandha.” Shardha knew better to ask her aunty anything now. She went to the door, opened it and listened. She couldn’t hear her fathers’ voice. She could only hear her uncle getting ready in his bedroom.

She slipped out of the bathroom and walked slowly down the passage to the kitchen. There were the lunches. She grabbed them and turned back hoping to catch aunty Raksha and Nandha and to walk down with them. As she turned back into the passage, she could hear her uncle talking to his friend from next door. They were on the balcony off the lounge.

Uncle Mitchell sounded so angry. “Bloody bitch. She thinks she is too smart.”

Uncle Mervin asked him “What? Raksha? What happened bru? She wasn’t looking right when I saw her on the stairway now. She having a problem with your sissies kids being here?”

“No f&*%! Not problem with the kids. No, no she likes them. She wanted to bring them last night. My sister and my swaer got into it again. So we brought the children here while they cool off. But this bitch, thinks because we took the children, she can talk about my sissie. This morning she was chuning me that my sissie must think about the children. She said my sissie can’t keep letting the children see this. What the f&*%? She thinks she knows better than my sissie?

Shardha drew a deep breath. Her eyes widened in horror. She knew why aunty Raksha had a bloody nose and mouth. The tears filled her eyes and her throat felt dry and painful.

“I clouted her a solid one. Bloody sh**.”

Uncle Mervin “ Hey bru, sometimes you have to show these things their place. Your wife, you know with her education and all, she needs to be brought down a bit. Good you showed her quickly how to shut the f&*% up. “

“She finally managed to fully open her eyes.”

Shardha tip toed down the passage, not wanting to see her uncle and not wanting to hear anymore. She was just six years old when she understood that nowhere was safe if you were a woman.

Twelve years later, that memory came back to her as clear as day. Somewhere in the distance, she could hear a baby crying. It took her a few seconds to realize that it was her baby that was crying.

Her eyelids felt so heavy as she tried to open it. She became aware of the cold tiles against her cheeks. Then she remembered. He was angry because she left the hotel room to buy food for the baby. She didn’t wait for him to come back.

How could she? The baby was hungry and he was already an hour later than he said he would be. So she raced like a mad woman to buy mash and gravy from Kentucky Fried Chicken. But she was wrong to leave. She knew, she knew it as soon as she opened the hotel room door and saw him glaring at her.

As it all came back to her, she also felt the stabbing ache in her jaw and the burning sensation running through her arms as if it was on fire.

“You bitch. Who did you go to meet?” He fisted her jaw. She went down, landing on the beautiful Italian tiled floor.
“You want other men to look at you? F&*%*#@* whore! Just like your father. You want to sleep around.” Kick to her face but her arms were up trying to block him. She blacked out.

As Shardha remembered what just happened to her, and her baby’s cries became more frantic; she lifted herself onto her elbows, then onto her haunches. She stood up and steadied herself on the wash basin as her head spun.She finally managed to fully open her eyes. She saw herself in the mirror; bloodied and wretched.

Her heart ripped itself in two as it called out to her “When did you become the woman in the bathroom?”

Shock turned to focus. Her baby’s cry sobered her fully as the realisation of the weight of her life came crashing down on her. Her daughter was not going to be like her. Not ever.

She went to her baby. She knew what she had to do. Run.


Glossary: South African Indian slang particular to Indians who moved from Durban to Johannesburg in the 1970’s and 1980’s.

Bru: Close mate or friend

Swaer: Brother-in-law

Sissie: Sister

Chuning/Chun: Telling/Told

As I wrote in my previous post (5 September 2018) I made the choice to leave a full time job and to pursue a career as a writer and speaker http://amillionbeautifulpieces.co.za/2018/09/05/i-am-bravely-making-the-scary-choice/.

Making the transition from one career to another is quite daunting. Then to do something so different as working for myself and being based at home is another paradigm shift. To work from home where my adult daughter Savannah (autistic and has physical challenges) spends all her time, adds another dimension that requires planning and patience.

Before I made the choice to make this change I thought long and hard about this. Working from home means that I have to be unbelievably disciplined. Especially when as a mum, it is usually my job to make sure that everyone has everything they need all the time.

Part of the planning process meant that I had to decide what and who I had to do without. Meaning I would not be in a position to attend certain social events that would be beyond my new budget and it means that I had to forsake having a full time helper.

I am truly blessed to have a lovely lady who comes in one day a week to help me. I am in awe of her. She literally scrubs down everything and makes the effects of this one day very meaningful. However for a family of five there are many domestic chores that must be done consistently.

This was my first challenge: to have a plan of action on how I was going to get through the household chores and my work at the same time. I can’t function in chaos and am known to morph into Maleficent on a bad day when I feel out off control. Therein was the first challenge. How to control the external so that I could control the internal?

Challenge two is somewhat more complex. It requires that I must be emotionally wise and mentally strong. That makes me feel tired, even as I write it. Yes, challenge two is how to manage challenge one while I also have to be my daughter Savannah’s primary caregiver.

As an autistic person with physically complex needs and as someone who is struggling to come to terms with the reality of her life, Savannah largely lives within her own time zone. Some days she might wake up at seven o’ clock and the next day she might wake up at two o’clock. Sleep is a fluid thing for her. On a good night she will wake up twice. On a not so good night we may get four hours of sleep. Of course she recovers the lost sleep …in her own time. We don’t.

When she is wake she needs some physical help. She also tends to perseverate on certain topics and may ask me the same question a few dozen times or may tell me something a few dozen times. She has some medical issues for which neither her doctors or I have worked out as yet when to expect a flare up. Thus being flexible, patient and kind is the mountain I already knew I would have to climb all day and everyday from here on out.

That is not easy for me. I’d love to tell you that I follow some programme on how to maintain my peace but sadly I am still a work in progress. I am frustrated sometimes that I am limited by what I can do because my daughter has no options for her life. Oh, I’m sure that many people want to hear that it is fulfilling to look after one’s child when they are so vulnerable.

What is fulfilling about not being able to afford all the health care that your child needs? Or not being able to have care options for her that did not include and be limited to my aging mother. I’m human. Of course I want to be able to do something that is relaxing for myself more regularly (like not once a year). But yes, I’m a more than a little tense, when I have to leave Savannah specifically because she has been smacked and teased in the past by those who were trusted to care for her.

The perceived fulfillment of being a primary caregiver to your child in these circumstances is just a like fairytale…pretty story with scary undertones.

So here is what I did. I thought about what I can control and that addressed challenge number one. I can control how the house is cleaned and run. And the first step in that was to get rid of anything that we did not need. This resulted in several bags of clothing being donated to three families. We also gave away some pieces of furniture, toys and ornaments.

Basically anything that was just one more thing to clean but had no functional use had to go. I think I can write a whole series about decluttering……..and decluttering when you have a child that does not know how to cope with physical changes in their home. I won’t labour on this for now but I’ll share this story at another time.

As always my concern is that during these changes I want my husband and children to know that their experiences within this is important to me. Therefore underpinning my decision to work from home was several conversations with them about what it will be like to have me around all the time and what it will be like until I am earning a salary again.

Children can’t always think through all the layers that we adults can see. Sometimes as spouses we too don’t have the same view of our shared life. Therefore Michael and I had to talk through what working from home, and specifically working for one’s self in something as unusual as pursuing becoming a writer and being a paid motivational speaker, will mean for us.

We also extended this conversation in parts to our children. We had to talk through life without a helper and what that meant. It is always a struggle as a parent to know how much is too much for your child. I think in the area of being involved in chores it is especially difficult because in South African suburban households many families have full time domestic workers and many children do not have chores.

I also felt conflicted because Talisa and Eli help their sister with her needs everyday. How then does a parent know what is reasonable to expect from an almost sixteen year old and an all most eleven old with busy scholastic and sporting schedules?

Here is what I learnt:

  • Talisa and Eli do not count what they do for their sister as a chore. They were a little taken aback that I would see it that way. Talisa annoyingly reminded me for the umpteenth time that whatever they do for Savannah is what siblings do. Lesson learnt again for this mama bear: my guilt has no place where love lives.
  • The Super-mum title is not mine and I have to keep refusing that crown. As the weeks progressed everyone settled into having me around but they needed reminding that having me at home did not mean I was available to them as and when they wanted me. Hey, I’ve just clocked forty! I can’t do everything for everyone. So after more discussions I’ve negotiated a trade: a foot rub and cups of tea and coffee, and they can keep the Super-mum crown and all that goes with earning that title.
  • Tears are a part of my story. Sometimes I will cry for all that I can’t be. Sometimes I will cry because life is unfair. Sometimes I will cry because the endless cycle of the same emotional roller coaster is unbearable. But mostly I will cry because I love. I count myself extremely blessed to know that.

These are the tears that make up my crown. I wear that one without any fuss.

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