The man who I call Dad is a hero honestly. One of the things I love about him is how he teaches lessons. He is a teacher by profession and by calling, so you can imagine living with him is like being at a boarding school. I’ve learnt the hard way, the funny way and the way way( will explain this one some other time)😉. My Dad uses every opportunity he gets to teach his life lessons, I mean every opportunity. He will also not leave you wondering what lesson he is teaching, he talks well too, I mean a lot😂.

One day when I was in matric, a lady who lived two doors away from us knocked at our door. We lived in a relatively big bright orange complex which was like one big family. We knew each other and what each member could offer.

We would cook Pap and vegetables mixed with beef for our Afrikaans neighbors, they would make us koeksisters, the Indian neighbors would share their amazing curries and we, of course, had those who just ate and offered heartwarming compliments. A simple slice of cake would receive a compliment that felt tike you have prevented a war or performed a miracle, I guess compliments is what they brought to the table. I knew where to go for Afrikaans homework, for baking recipes, for dress-up and photoshoots, for novels to read, for swimming buddies, for bible study, for interesting conversations about life e.t.c. The list is endless but you get the idea, we were family.

This lady who knocked on this day was an exception, barely got visitors and had never knocked at our door. I think my parents had chatted her up before or she just came to the nearest black neighbors, I don’t really know what criteria she used. Anyway, I ran to the door and said hello, she just waved her hand at me. I was so confused, she handed me a letter with one hand and put the other over her mouth to speak. She made sounds that I best heard to be “please help, read”, and she stood there waiting.

My parents were sitting in the lounge, and they could see and hear what was happening. My dad waved at her and said to me “come with the letter, let’s see”. I went to them and opened the letter to start reading. Before I could start, my dad invited her in to sit and she did. Lesson 1: hospitality. She sat down and started crying, “go get some tissues for her” mom said grabbing the letter that was in my hands. I quickly brought the tissues and gave them to her.

I tried to get the letter from my mom but she wouldn’t let go of it. My mom moved to sit next to her and started comforting her and said that we would help her. My mind was all over the place trying to imagine the contents of the letter. If she was anyone else in the complex I would have come up with reasonable theories. I barely knew this lady so my mind thought of crazy scenarios and I was going crazy. I really just wanted to get hold of the letter but I knew if I insisted on reading this letter in the presence of this lady I would be in trouble. Lesson 2, patience.

My mom walked her out, still holding the letter. She walked her all the way to her house and stayed there for a while. I asked my dad what the letter said but he was deep in his thoughts, most probably planning how best to use this to teach me a lesson. He then said to me, “We are going to help this lady with food, she is alone and needs our help”.

Why does she need help? why us? All these questions would be answered when mom returned. The plan would be laid down to teach me lesson 3; a very important lesson for a girl going to university the following year. I tried so hard to get my dad to tell me but he kept on saying that I should wait for mama. I didn’t want to wait. I mean the mysterious lady had finally revealed something about herself. I wanted to know now, I wanted to know what we were getting ourselves into. This help we were offering, was it beneficial to us in any way? Was she offering anything in return? I was so miserable until mom came back and handed me the letter as if she had not tried to keep it away from me before. Mom looked drained, tired, overwhelmed and was on the verge of dropping a few tears herself.

She opened her mouth to say “baba Rue, that lady is suffering, she is in real pain”. I wanted to listen to mom but the letter was calling me. I quickly opened it, it was written on a paper torn from an old diary. Not too many words; explains why my parents read it so fast when I ran to get the tissues.

The handwriting was like that of a child learning to write for the first time. Inconsistent sizes of letters that went up and down across the page which had very clear lines to write between.

I read the letter:

“I have AIDS, can’t talk, can’t cook, please help with porridge” She also wrote in not so many words that it would only be for a few days until her mom came to fetch her to go home. The next few days were going to be crucial, not just for her but for me too.