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Dead and alive amen

by Bono Sigudu (she/her/they/them) | Edited by Janine Samuels (she/her)

Image by Mayur Gala

I’m waiting for a few folks I love dearly to die so I can be myself” – Danez Smith (they/them)


One December day, my grandmother and I lay under an avocado tree under the burning Venda sun with pineapples and litchis glowing inside a bowl. The air is a furnace with the temperature soaring to 43 degrees Celsius, but we keep hoping trees would blow some humidity, usher rain. With a sudden pace for an old woman, my grandmother rises to show me her legs: puffy and swollen. The skin has white discoloration, like snowflakes, that was apparent on her daisy skin.

“Look at my legs, Rendani… No, Rofhiwa… No, …” She searched in her head for my name in her aging brain, stressing because there was a particular detail about her legs that was pressing her so much she had to share with her grandchild who is soon to be a doctor.

“Bono.” We said it together after I intervened to help her with grace. Her brain scrolled through all thirty-something names of her grandchildren and mine was failing to emerge.

The Vision.

She is ninety-four and feels mortality in her swollen feet and aching knee joints.

“Moments before my mother died, her legs made gigantic pools of pus like these.” She points at her legs, and seems to catch a glimpse of her mother in the alternate universe she co-exists in. I start to palpate her flesh, ready to investigate how the feet of a dying woman felt.

I ask her if I could make her anything to eat, trying to distract her from the theme of death, one I was too acquainted with in closed doors and midnight darkness. The pandemic has not spared us from added perpetual grief. We lost one of my maternal grandfathers and we could not go to the funeral to properly send him off because it was during strict lockdown regulations. Along with the other personal and communal griefs which choke our throats in daylight, I was not ready to admit to myself that when my grandmother dies, I will have to find a new form of communicating with her.

“No. Just get me a pinch of pap. I have to take my pills.” My grandmother responded. Her appetite had reached a trough visible in the way she was picky about what she wanted to eat. Sometimes she forgets that she had to eat but would insist that everyone else be full. I would sometimes give her a slice of cake which she would devour with ecstasy despite her dislike for sugar.

When taking medication for her arthritis and joint pains, she took a blob of pap and inserted two tablets in the middle, then gulped without chewing.

Her dementia did not erase the previous point that she wanted to make regarding her feet. She continued, “These are strange times, my grandchild. I never thought I would have to wear a mask to survive.” She brushed her ear and the side of the mask that had red and blue pattern of munwenda, a Venda traditional attire. She hung it on her neck for when an unexpected by-passer came inside the yard to greet, although they should not, knowing that my grandmother is at high risk.

“Soon, I will be buried under the marula tree.” I wonder how often she felt the strong inclination towards death, when the spirit starts communicating its departure from the body, and whether I had taken some aspects of that too. I was afraid to confess to her that I too see my death bed daily, that I have to put on an armour in defiance, sometimes for her, to make it through the next day.

I threw a sentence that sounded like a joke but was more of a prayer.

“No, you won’t die now, Kuku.” The informal word for a granny. “You will live to see me graduate as a doctor.”

I wanted to squeak that maybe she will see me be more too – be myself, be queer, narrate stories through her, be wayward and have a riotous existence filled with beautiful intimacies. I wanted to hear her say that she will still love me in that rainbow. It is painful to constantly be anxious of how the people you love will receive the news about the people you love. It’s difficult to not be scared to be unloved by them for being you, that perhaps their fears about what the world will do to you will surpass the hope of the life you can and should live. That they will love you enough to encourage you to live freely for yourself.

“The first doctor of this family.” She glimpses with pride. “Bono.” She smiles. I was grateful that her memory pulled my name, that she did not strangulate her prefrontal cortex to pull it out of her mouth.

She rises again, with the limping legs and a disjointed hip. This time she goes to the hut she made for her chickens she was deeply attached to, her Rhode Island Red breeds, and showed concern for them, as if they were her second bunch of children. Even though she was too old to do anything, she still could love with abundance. She gently carried one small chick and put it on her right palm. From there, she admired the brown and black feathers and smiled. It seemed that her temporary hiding place – outside of aging, loneliness, and the pandemic – was feeding her chickens.


Bono Sigudu (she/her/they/them) is a twenty-something year old Fifth year Medical Student, writer, lover and queer intersectional feminist curious about exploring new and old ways of thriving in a Capitalistic society. They were shortlisted for the K & L Prize for their story, 'Dust Chewers'. They have published fiction in Isele, Roadrunner's Review, and others. Instagram: manna_flowers.

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