Slice of life: A gathering to say farewell

Ismail Vally shares his memory of losing someone well known, but better loved.

Ismail Vally shares his memory of losing someone well known, but better loved.

The garage door stood open, an awning over the heads of the women squeezed inside. In the driveway, brothers, cousins and friends stood talking, gesturing at the women seated at the tables inside. The rest of the men were seated in another space across the driveway.
But the men who lingered there had the work of passing steaming bowls of biryani and sojee inside. It was important work. And in the afternoon heat, they stood in the driveway, ushering newcomers into the few empty seats closest to them.

The garage was already full. But there were vacant seats in the far corners of the garage. It just wasn’t possible to get there. So the men standing in the driveway, accepted with the small smiles of a freshly wounded grief, the well wishes of the people who continued to arrive. As servers squeezed themselves between the tables, delivering the plastic bowls of steaming food to trestle tables adorned with a simple paper cover, there was no space for quiet contemplation. And yet the air, already heavy with the early summer heat, was filled with a sense of closure.

The faces of people you’d last seen many, many, years ago, now older. Faces you knew as children now parents themselves. Some-one was looking for a bowl to refill the white rice. Someone else was looking for sojee. In the paper plates,potatoes broke easily beneath hungry fingers.

This was not an occasion for the performance of our acquisition of other people’s mannerisms. We ate with our hands as we had always done. And the food was good. It had to be. After all, we had gathered in the name of someone who had so generously fed so many himself. We had gathered to mourn, but in those moments, huddled together in a too-full garage on a too-hot afternoon, we had gathered the fragments of ourselves in a moment of togetherness, sharing a memory of someone well known, but better loved. — Khadija Patel, in memory of Ismail “Joe Jeeva” Vally, 1934-2019

Khadija Patel

Khadija Patel

Khadija Patel pushes words on street corners. She is the editor-in-chief of the Mail & Guardian, a co-founder of the The Daily Vox and vice chairperson of the Vienna-based International Press Institute (IPI). As a journalist she has produced work for Sky News, Al Jazeera, The Guardian, Quartz, City Press and the Daily Maverick, among others. She is also a research associate at WISER (Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research at the University of Witwatersrand) and has previously worked in community media. In 2017, she was among 11 people from across Africa and the diaspora who were awarded the inaugural Africa #NoFilter fellowship from the Ford Foundation and in 2018, she was awarded honorary membership of the Golden Key Society. She is passionate about the protection and enhancement of global media as a public good.  Read more from Khadija Patel

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