“Palesa! Make me tea.” The water in the kettle begins to boil as Palesa prepares to make Mkhulu his favourite tea. She slowly pours milk into his special white-and-blue Santa Claus cup, making sure that she half-fills it. The measurement must be exact.
The cup goes into the microwave and as the milk rises and begins to bubble, the kettle sings. The next step can begin. Palesa places the Trinco tea bag into the cup, scoops and levels two teaspoons of brown sugar and, for the grand finale, pours water into the cup before stirring. She heads to the room, making sure not to spill a single drop.
“You drink too much tea, Mkhulu,” Palesa says as she tucks in the bed covers around him.
“Hai, tea can never make you sick,” he replies with a grin as he struggles to sit up on his own.
She helps him up from the bed that he’s been confined to for the past four years following several operations and kidney failure. The pain has been getting worse and Mkhulu now has a gaping wound on his back that needs to be dressed.
He thinks that Palesa can’t hear him when he whispers a plea to God: “Please think about me. I cannot do this any more,” but she does hear him and it hurts.
Palesa hands Mkhulu his frothy cup of tea, made just the way he likes it. She watches the wrinkles running along his hands as he lifts the cup to his lips and nods. “You’re paying me back for all the years I made you tea, my child. Thank you.”
— Palesa Sauhatsi (24) as told to Mashadi Kekana. Sauhatsi lost her grandfather, James Lele Sauhatsi, in May 2015 and misses making him tea.