The Pepper Tree

I hardly remember how it stood, but I do remember how it lay on the ground after it fell, the big pepper tree. I remember, the morning after the big storm, rain-soaked earth and fresh root upended and the smell of it permeating the air of the after-rain.

It had stood three feet from a fence that separated us and the neighbour but fell whole within our yard. Its pink pepper-berry spilt about like blood and ruby stone. I remember it continued growing from roots still clenching on to earth. Its branches standing up from the centre of the yard where it had fallen and climbing up at the burning air of the North West province, to droop once again and provide much pleasant shade.

Auntie Annitjie rubbed the warm oil of the leaves into the mahogany skin of our scrawny chests whenever we got sick with flu, or she boiled the leaves and bathed our heads in the spicy vapour until we swallowed it into our lungs or vomited the pungent taste from our weakly stomachs.

Before it fell, I’d perch myself high up on its crown – let my eyes swallow the whole silver-brown sky, with its afternoon sun and its birds on the wing, and stare farther out into the distance, down towards the terminus where my mother was to return.

I’d see the last bus wind away into the curling of eventide, and would feel my gut coil, snake up through the diaphragm to gnaw at the apex of my heart.

Then I’d climb down slowly, carefully, carrying her shadow in the black moon of my eye. Reimagining I knew how she stood, allow her to slowly shrink into creation before my feet would touch the ground.

Later in the evening, Auntie Annitjie’s warm peanut soup would gently unknot my constricted belly, and I’d go straight to bed, to reimagine my mother once more standing in the centre of my dreams.

Copyright © 2019 Abbey Khambule. First Published by Kalahari Review, 2018