More than material, the cost of going home is emotional. If you, as in my case, left your hometown, as Hendrix would have (with the thought of buying it and fitting it in your shoe), the annual goduka ritual is more an act of dislocation than it is of completion.
Besides my parents, only a few childhood friends hold up Durban as an idea of home.
Perhaps because mourning forced separation, reunions with friends are desperate. They inevitably involve spontaneous sleepovers and a chance for my son to play with vaguely familiar children he will never form any lasting bonds with. We have become our parents, forgetting to pack things, going on trips we can ill afford, yet dreading another whole year of ridiculous school fees.
As a friend once said, having children and going on holiday are rich men’s sports. Wish the fucker had told me sooner. The reasons I partake in the latter are now purely anthropological, sometimes financial. The travel must pay me. If not now then later in life, one way or the other.
I didn’t grow up with Christmas trees and wrapped presents on the 25th, so the pressure of always bearing expensive gifts at the end of the year isn’t quite there. But I was born after a particularly generous sibling, so the end of the year usually means trying hard not to look like the stingiest member of the family, which I am.
My parents live in a housing complex not far from the Durban beachfront. In December, it is like being at the scene of a seasonal human tsunami. No, it is not the centre of all the extended family activity. It is just (almost) at the centre of human beach traffic that could swallow you.
Seeing them in December is not a good look. I spend most days horizontal, my body taking days to acclimatise to the high levels of humidity. I’m a case for the paramedics, being fanned back to life and fed.
My mum will spend these days refusing to let me stuff folded R100 notes into her palms. (What is expected of me are not piecemeal contributions but a holistic appraisal of my parents’ lives as pensioners.) Added to this will be the role of grandmother where, for a few days to a week, she will allow me again to slip off to some unclearly explained destination all for the pleasure of bonding with a five-year-old who spent the entire year telling me what his holiday plans were — in a word, “Durban”.
Think of all that that word means to a little spring-legged kid. He is one for simple pleasures. As long as he can ride his bike along the promenade, wrestle with his grandfather and get toppled over by a wave in the ocean, he is cool.
I avoided this annual age-old ritual, told about orally and in history books, until I could no longer dodge it.
And now, when I have made begrudging peace with it, it is no longer about me.