She bears the burden no man can know. Her hands, dry and cracked from her toil, move busily as she bends over her ceaseless work.
A nursemaid, caregiver and nurturer to her children, constantly on call day and night, worrying, fretting, preparing. Wiping tears from their eyes when the children fall, dispensing wisdom, nerves fraying at silly questions and chores not yet done. Mending clothes, stretching the food, making do when all she wants is a time to close her eyes and be at peace.
Her own tears fall when solitude eventually finds her in a woozy, exhausted state, but there is no-one to wipe them from her eyes. As she pours the warm water from the cracked jug over her ravaged body, her mind still races with the thoughts of the children she must feed and shelter.
There were times when she thought that surely death would be a welcome reprieve from the endless violence, the humiliation and the pain of bruises and shattered bones left to heal themselves. From the pain of the petrol he poured onto her body and set alight, laughing at the sound of her screams of agony and the sight of her begging him for help.
She sees it anew as though it were yesterday. Feels the excruciating coolness of the water her son throws on her burning, smouldering flesh. His anxious young voice cracking with pity and despair. Being rushed to hospital and waking up with only memories of pain where her legs once were.
The police want her to lay a charge against him but her children beg her to spare their father. As always, the mother’s heart, not blackened by the flames that licked her flesh, succumbs to their pleas.
A burnt shell, she arrives back home to find out he has left her and is living with another woman nearby. Oh Allah, why do you test me with such hardship? How can I bear so much pain? Where is Your mercy? I am Your servant. Deliver me from this torture!
The wheels of the low metal trolley squeak and turn with excruciating heaviness as she uses her rough hands on the hard tar to propel her along the road. Each day she pushes herself into central Johannesburg to buy the brooms and mops she sells from her home to support her children. She does not complain any longer. She is still a woman, looking after her children, like all other mothers do. So does the phoenix rise from the ashes of violence.