Deal Me In Reading Challenge: I drew the eight of clubs.
Story: The Homecoming, by Milly Jafta [from The Granta Book of the African Short Story].
Comments: This is a particularly short story, and on the surface of it, very little happens. It’s just one scene: a woman (aged 55-60) gets off a bus someplace in rural Southern Africa. She is met by another woman, her (adult, obviously) daughter. Each woman takes one of the traveller’s two suitcases, and they walk towards their home village. After a while they stop for a rest, exchange a few words, and then continue walking. That’s it.
The narrator is the older woman. She is returning home after a lifetime (about forty years, she says) working as a domestic, far away from her home place, in a job where she was always at the receiving end of commands and instructions. In that time she has had three children. Now she is retiring, coming back permanently to the village she left as a seventeen-year-old. She is touched by the gentle words of kindness that her daughter extends to her, simply by asking her if she (the daughter) is walking too fast for the older woman, and by telling her how happy she is – they all are – to have the older woman back with them.
It is indeed a touching story. But I had a lot of questions, especially about the daughter. Who taught her to be kind and gentle like this? Why is she not harsh and sour towards the mother who has always been absent? Who reared her? Is there a grandmother somewhere in the background? If the mother has really been away for so long, this daughter can no longer be in the first flush of youth herself, yet she is described in quite youthful terms. Are we not to believe the ages, or the descriptions?
I was also curious about the bigger picture: Why did the woman not come back and settle in her village earlier? Is she married? Is there a husband/father of the children? Or are the three children from different liaisons? And what happened after the women got back to the village, both in the immediate and longer terms? Is there really the warm reception that the daughter promises? Does the mother settle down after such a long time away?
The whole story read like a scene from, or which could be developed into, a much longer piece.
I think I’ll be inventing stories about the people I see on the bus for the next while!
Milly Jafta is from Namibia. “The Homecoming” is also found in Opening Spaces: An Anthology of Contemporary African Women’s Writing (1999).