10 minute read

Who Will Bury You?


“C ome in, come in, Mai Mfundisi. I’m so happy you could make it. It’s not every day that the Reverend’s wife comes to visit. Please, sit. And I’ll get the tea. Yes, it’s just me here. Been that way since my Tino left for Canada last year. My only child gone to the other side of the world. I’m still not sure why she left so abruptly. For so many years, she’d been watching her age-mates board planes to try their luck else


where, and she was content to remain with her mother in Zimbabwe. But one day, she decided that she had to go. She said to me, ‘This place is suffocating me.’ What does that mean? I have never been able to understand how home can suddenly no longer be enough. But you can’t tell these young girls anything these days. So, all I could do was put an extra bottle of Mazoe in her suitcase and tell her not to forget to come back home.

“Those first days after she left were so lonely, Mai Mfundisi. I would lie in bed at night, staring at the ceiling. The house was so silent I could hear the ticking clock at the opposite end of the house. I would lie there and wonder what my Tino was up to. She dutifully called every other Sunday evening, but I felt like I was just an item on her to-do list. And she didn’t like to tell me what she was up to. She always redirected conversation to what I was doing in Zimbabwe, what the neighbours were up to, who was pregnant, who was getting divorced, that sort of thing. And when she did speak about Toronto, all she spoke about were her classes, the weather, and how busy the subway got. There was no mention of life beyond school. How could I bring these kinds of tales to the women at church? They were telling me about planning for their daughters’ weddings, about the cars their sons had bought and about their grandchildren’s antics. And what did I have but tales of hours spent alone in my house and a child who didn’t seem to care about anything except her books? And it was after such an unsatisfactory conversation at church, after listening to stories about other people’s daughters becoming wives and mothers, that I went home and when Tino called on Sunday, I found myself asking, ‘Aren’t you tired of being alone, Tino? If you never marry, who will bury you?’

“Tino suddenly being on the other side of the world really highlighted to me how much of an introvert my child has always been. You know, Mai Mfundisi, she used to spend so much time alone at home as a teenager that I had to force her, yes, force her to go out with people her age. While other parents were crying about their daughters being out all night, I was worried about a child who never seemed to want to go anywhere or to meet anyone. If I left her to it, she would forever be behind her bedroom door with her books, only emerging from time to time for meals. And she’s never changed. I don’t think she’s ever even had a boyfriend. And now this child is out there fending for herself. Who will greet her when she comes home? The question worried me so much that I started to wonder

how I could help her. But I didn’t know anything about her life in Canada. How could I know anything when she gave me so little?

“Then one of the women at church mentioned she was impressed by Tino’s photos on Instagram. I pretended to know what she was talking about, but it was news to me that Tino was on Instagram. Why had she never told me? I knew what Instagram was, but I didn’t think it was for an old lady like me. But if that was where my child’s life was, then I would try it. I downloaded the app and searched my child’s name and there she was, ‘Just Tino.’ But the account was locked so I hit follow, then sent a message to my Tino asking if she could let me follow her on Instagram. And at two in the morning, her reply arrived, a simple “Okay.” One word I had lain awake hoping for. So I opened the app and went to her profile.

“And there it was, her life. Photos of her many firsts in Toronto: her first farmer’s market surrounded by mountains of colourful fruit, her first plate of poutine with

overflowing gravy, her first pair of winter boots with a fur trim. Photos of Chinese, Thai, and Ethiopian restaurants, of New-Age art exhibits, and of pastéis de nata in Little Portugal. Videos every time she walked into her favourite Nando’s and they were playing Oliver Mtukudzi. And selfies, so many selfies, all these images of her staring into the camera with an excitement in her eyes I had not seen since she was a child.

“Now when I came to church, I had something to say. When the other women at church asked me what Tino was up to, I could tell them. ‘She’s settling in well. She’s learning how to ice skate. You should see the Indigenous art she’s collecting. So beautiful. She says it reminds her of Zimbabwean art.’ But Mai Mfundisi, you know the things the women at church say. Now that my child was living the First-World life, those with children still in Zimbabwe knew they could not compete on that front, so they changed the competition. Each week they would ask me, ‘Is she still not married?’ as if one week could be enough time for her to meet a man and marry. Their questions got under

my skin. I carried them home after church and when my Tino called on Sunday afternoon, I heard myself say, ‘Don’t you think it’s time you started thinking about marriage, Tino? If you wait too long, who will bury you?’

“But then three months ago, another girl began to show up in the photos, a Zimbabwean named Nicole, skinny thing with a big smile and mischievous eyes. You know the ones I’m talking about, Mai Mfundisi? The kind that signal a person who sees rules as challenges. But I didn’t say anything. I was just so glad my Tino finally had a friend. And the two of them were always smiling, eyes gleaming with delight. But when I asked Tino who this other woman was, she was evasive. ‘Just a friend, Ma. Don’t worry about her.’ Yet this girl showed up in every other photo, her hand always entwined in my Tino’s hand. This Nicole, she’s also almost thirty and still unmarried. I wonder if her mother also worries her child will never marry?

“Anyway, it was encouraging to see that Tino at least had one friend. As I looked at the photos Tino posted, I realized that in my mind’s eye, Tino always appeared alone, but now, finally, there was someone beside her. I loved seeing her being silly with Nicole. One of my favourite photos was of the two of them standing by this big red heart-shaped sculpture. They stood at either side of the heart, peering around the walls at each other the way newlyweds do around a tree when they take their wedding photographs at Harare Gardens. And there was even a video of the two of them singing to each other at karaoke. It was this song called ‘Nights with You’ and Google says it’s a song about best friends. Oh Mai Mfundisi, I can’t tell you how happy it made me to see Tino laughing with this girl as she belted out ‘I just wanna spend my nights with y—’

“— are you ok, Mai Mfundisi? Tea go down the wrong way? Have a sip of water. No, no need to apologize. Now, what was I saying? Oh yes. Seeing how happy Tino was with Nicole really made my heart warm. Anyway, about a month ago, Tino posted a photo of what she called ‘her happy place.’ It was a library of all places. I mean really, Mai Mfundisi, a library? I will admit it was a beautiful library. It had glass walls, so when you looked up you could just see row after row on floor after floor of all these magnificent books. But the picture is unimportant. What I cared about was what she said underneath. Mai Mfundisi, she was celebrating six months in Toronto and you could feel the happiness in her words. I haven’t heard such happiness in her words since her father passed. Let me show you so you can see for yourself what she said. ‘I didn’t know it was possible to be this happy.’ Mai Mfundisi, I know this happiness. It’s the kind of joy that comes

from meeting the person who makes your heart sing. I wanted to ask if she had met a man, if she had a boyfriend. I wanted to ask if it was serious. But when she called on Sunday, my words tangled up with my fear of saying the wrong things and what came out was, ‘Don’t you dream of walking down the aisle in a flowing white dress to greet your husband? If you have no husband, who will bury you?’ “I sound like my mother-in-law when I say that. These are her words, words she said to my husband after ten years of marriage had produced just the one daughter. ‘My son,’ she would say, ‘who will bury you if you have no sons?’ She told him to marry another woman who could give him a son, but a drunk driver smashed into my husband’s Corolla before that happened. And now these are the words I say to my daughter?

“Sometimes I wonder why my Tino tolerates this question. The Tino I knew in Zimbabwe would have swiftly told me that this was an unproductive conversation to have. But she’s different now. Something in Toronto has changed her. And when she calls, I can hear it in her voice, a joy, but also an anxiety, almost as if she’s afraid to tell me she’s happier since she left me, happier without me.

“Last week, Nicole disappeared from the photos. In fact, there haven’t been that many photos, just all these Bible verses about enduring all things. And then on Thursday, Tino called unexpectedly, ‘Just to check on you, Mama.’ I tried to say the right things. I tried to keep the conversation light. But my tongue these days has a mind of its own. I regretted the words even as they slipped out of my mouth. ‘Tino, if you don’t find someone, who will bury you?’ And my child, my strong, unflappable child, began to cry.

“I don’t know, Mai Mfundisi, why I’m like this. I don’t want to be this woman. Why do I keep saying it? Sometimes I think that maybe when I ask who will bury you what I’m really saying is who will be there at the end. When her father died, I had my Tino to live for. Who will she have when I’m gone? I know that my questions won’t make her marry any faster, yet I have this overwhelming sense of time running out. And this is why I really brought you here, Mai Mfundisi. In your position, you’ve probably spoken to other women like me, perfectly reasonable women who are suddenly unreasonable over the question of babies. So I wanted to ask, I need to know. Do you think there’s such a thing as a ticking grandmother clock? You know, like a ticking biological clock. I remember when I approached thirty, how I felt like my body was betraying me. I had spent my twenties completely fine with being unattached, but as thirty approached I was suddenly worried that I would always be alone. My head and my heart knew

I would be fine, but my body began to wear my resolve down and the sight of my friends holding babies began to make me feel envy instead of joy. Does my Tino ever feel like that? Does she ever lie awake at night like I do, staring at the ceiling, wondering who will be there at the end? Does she ever ask herself who will bury her?