Chelsi readjusted her sit bone on the reed mat beneath her. On her approach, a few moments ago, another woman had evacuated it for her. She was one in a sea of women sitting, legs stretched out, on reed mats and mealie meal sacks. They chatted quietly among themselves, many staring over at Daisy who was busily situating herself on the mat beside Chelsi. A fire burned on her other side, lit the night before to keep the overnight funeral attendants warm.
All the women were just becoming resettled when sudden wail disturbed them. Chelsi looked through the fire to a small grass hut at the center of the compound. She knew that is where the body of the dead woman lay. In life they were the woman’s private quarters, but when death seized her last the previous evening it, became her funeral house.
“Maama! Maama!” a woman cried from inside the small room. When the news had spread of the woman death, woman and men, who were seated apart on benches in the distance, relatives, friends, from as far as a two hour walk away began collecting at the house. Only the women of the family would grieve with the body, but their force was enough for the whole community.
Her friend, Ba Paskarina, nudged her arms. “Ba Chels,” she said in a hushed voice to ensure she had her attention. The old woman began to stand, carrying her mealie meal sack with her. Chelsi nod with attentiveness but watched before acting. She was not as accustomed to funerals as some other volunteers had become and was still shy to ensure she was observing conventions. Ba Paskarina shifted over to the hut, spreading out the mealie meal sack in the shade up against the grass wall. She settled herself and patted the space beside her. Chelsi could not deny that it was becoming hot in the sun, so she moved to be beside her friend. Daisy on the other hand stretched out in the open space.
Through the wall Chelsi could feel movement from inside the hut. The wailing had momentarily ceased, and she could hear some soft words being spoken but could only make out a few. “Bamaama…. ya… ikala… ya…” Ba Paskarina stared silently at her hands, turning them over and over in her lap. Usually, she was an outspoken, confident woman, much bigger than her size. But today her somber manner was cut to fit. Chelsi knew the deceased woman had been a close relation of hers.
When first invited the funeral, Chelsi had been apprehensive about coming. She did not know the deceased woman, she did not know the wailing women. Lacking grief she thought she needed to not feel awkward about her attendance, she had felt anxious when first sitting down. Now though, she understood her attendance as part of a chain of support. Her presence was a comfort for her friend, who in turn was a comfort to her sister, who was supporting the body her wailing niece, over the loss of her mother, as she led her out of the hut and into a nearby house.