“Is uncle Maurice white?”
We exchanged looks, my husband and me, then we turned to look at our five-year-old son standing there, looking back at us.
“Come here Cody,” my husband beckoned. He sat our son on his left thigh so that he could look up at him and still have me in his sight; I was sitting at my husband’s right.
We had been surfing tv channels, gossiping about work while essentially enjoying each other’s company. My job kept me away from home a lot, so each time I was home, we spent as much time as we could together as a family unit. Cody was bathed and ready for bed, in fact, I had just come from his room where I had tucked him in and that was usually ‘goodnight’ for him. So, whatever had made him come back out must really have been bothering him a lot.
“Son,” my husband started. “Who told you your uncle is white?”
“In school yesterday, the other kids had asked me why my uncle is white. He is not white, is he? Not like paper or the bathroom walls, how can he be white dad?” His confusion was clear on his face, his innocence shining through.
My husband explained to him how ‘uncle’ Maurice wasn’t really his uncle. He and Maurice had been friends since childhood. My husband had married me, but Maurice had stayed single. He visits us often and stays over, and my boy Cody has always called him uncle. It makes it easy when I am out of town and my husband’s busy, Maurice goes to pick Cody up from school. It was on one of those occasions that his classmates had grown brain and taken it upon themselves to point out to him that his uncle is white.
My husband’s explanation seemed to satisfy him because, he crawled up onto my laps and kissed me before returning to hug his father. “Mom, please come and tuck me in again. Pleeeasee…”
On a flight going from Port Elizabeth to Johannesburg I had an unaccompanied minor on board. She was no more than six years old, pretty with kinky black hair adorned with colourful ribbons and a skin the colour of milk chocolate. She had such wide eyes and a ready smile. Her voice was tiny and melodious like wind chimes in the breeze, her laughter tinkling like tiny glass pieces rattling together. She looked so innocent and vulnerable standing there at the entrance, that when the Senior Cabin Crew handed her over to me, I wanted to gather her up in my arms and tell her she will be alright.
Throughout the flight, I kept going back to her to check up on her and chat with her. It was during one of those chats that I asked her to tell me about her self. “Tabitha,” she said in answer to my question about her name. I already knew this, but with kids I have learnt that exchanging names was the best ice-breaker.
“Pretty name,” I said. “As pretty as you, but prettier than your dress.” Her eyes grew wider and she flashed me a bright smile.
“Really? You really think so?” She asked.
“I know so.” I said solemnly. “So where is Tabitha going today?” I asked her.
“I am returning home to Johannesburg.”
“You must be really excited,” I told her. “Who were you visiting in Port Elizabeth?” I asked her.
“I was on holiday with my nuna. I enjoyed my time there, but I am happy to be going home.” She told me.
“Where are you from?” I asked her. Her spoken English was really good, and her manner and carriage were almost adult-like. “Are you Zulu? Or Xhosa? Venda? Tswana? Tsonga?”
She laughed her tinkling laughter before answering me. “I am neither of those. My mother is English and my father is Afrikaans.”
“Do you have brothers or sisters?” I asked her.
“Yes. A brother and a sister, but they are already in Johannesburg. They left yesterday.”
I played a hunch and asked her if she had ever wondered at the difference in their skin colour. Again her eyes grew wide and round like saucers.
“How did you know their skin is a different colour than mine? Do you know them? Were they on your flight yesterday?” Yho! The little girl could ask questions for all of Africa.
“No, I don’t know them.” I told her honestly.
“Well, my nuna says I am dark because I was made at night. Allan and Isabel were made by father and mother during the day so they are light.” She said this with a wistful smile which quickly disappeared and she was her perky self again.
I told her I had to return to work, but made sure to come back every chance I got. Here was an obviously adopted child being lied to by her foster parents. At the door of the aircraft in Johannesburg, she solemnly shook my hand and told me this was her best flight ever! “I wasn’t even afraid of anything.”
These were stories shared with me by two of my friends who fly for South African Airways. Any inconsistencies are purely my error. This does not however take away the nature of the human race. We try to protect those we love and care about, sometimes (most times) by lying to them. We forget though that life happens.
A friend lived with resentment for his ‘parents’ for a long time because they made him question his originality and all that he had ever known and believed.
He had been born out-of-wedlock and his mother had gone ahead and married someone else. He grew up to know the man as his father, and the children of that union as his siblings. Then they travelled home for a burial when he was thirteen years old.
At a gathering of the extended family members, food had been served for the number of children present and they had all been invited to come and take their meals – in order of seniority. When he stepped forward to take his meal, an aunt had asked him to return to his place in line, she stressed that he should go to the back of the line. He was further confused when even his siblings were allowed to take their food before him. It was in this state of confusion that he went to his parents. He said his mother wept throughout her narration of the circumstance surrounding his birth, but all he remembered was blood pounding in his ears, anguish in his heart and shame. All he really cared about was his father’s whereabouts. In that instant, a lot of comments by some of the adults in the house, and snide comments by some of the other children made a lot of sense.
I have heard the story of a white couple who adopted a black child. They got a nanny from the child’s tribe. They said much as they loved him and wanted to give him every opportunity in life, they also wanted him well grounded in the culture of his people. They wanted him to be aware of his origins. They are still a work in progress, but they are working.
Personally, I think the best way to protect those we care about is by telling them the truth, letting them experiment and experience for themselves, and pray for them. I may be wrong, but after all is said and done, life happens to each and every one of us, and it hurts more when you find that those you love and trust had actually lied to you.
As I once heard someone say: “It is one of the sad truths of our existence, that nothing is more dangerous than true love giving way to unchecked rage”
PS: I never truly realised how many (female) lawyers read my posts, not until they decided to take it upon themselves to remind me that I stopped writing one week before the day I said I would.
All those talks of ‘strict liability’ and ‘palliative’ do not faze me. This is not an attempt by me to ‘mitigate damages’ (their words not mine), it is just something I am doing for my conscience and my peace of mind.
That is my story and I am sticking to it.