In a completely unexpected twist to The Everyday, my parents were robbed at gunpoint in their home a few nights ago. Here’s the story…
Every-so-often, at the end of a hard day, my mom, dad and I decide that we’ve “had enough” and “we deserve to treat ourselves” to a special restaurant dinner. In truth, more often than not, we’re really just in the mood for something other than the usual grilled-chicken-breast-and-green-salad that I torture myself with every night, and the-breyani-that-just-won’t-go-away that my parents torture themselves with every night. (Breyani is the kind of dish you cook to feed a family of ten, or a wedding reception of five hundred. If you cook a SMALL breyani on a Sunday, you can expect to eat it for at least a week. *groan*)
So on Tuesday, we went off to the Cape Fish Market for a sushi / bento box / whatever-the-special-is dinner. Whenever we’re together we have a good time, my mom, dad and I. We drank wine. We debated what makes a good fish soup. I treated them to their first ever Original Martini. (My parents don’t usually do cocktails, so this was special.) And we talked for ages about how sad it was that Elvis died the way he did. (Martini = Elvis = WTF happened to Elvis??!)
Eventually, reluctantly, we said our goodbyes and went our separate ways.
Being the crime-plagued South Africans that we are, we’ve made it our tradition that we call each other the moment we get home to make sure that everyone’s safe. Seeing as I’m just four minutes from the restaurant, I thought I’d give them some time to get home (±20mins) and called Rockstar. He’d been trying to call and I was completely oblivious, scoffing tuna and swilling martinis at the restaurant. We chatted for a bit and said our goodbyes, and after a while I realised that my folks hadn’t called. (“Maybe they’d stopped for petrol or bread for their lunches the next day. I’d give them the benefit of the doubt! Don’t I HATE it when the immediately assume that I’m dead if I don’t call them in 10 minutes, flat?”)
Never in a million years did I think that my phone would ring (an unknown number) and my mom’s neighbour would hand her phone to my dad to tell me that they’d been robbed at gunpoint in our family home as they arrived from the restaurant.
My mind went blank. I thought about “the long drive” from my house to theirs. I could hear the neighbours talking to the cops in the background and imagined how I’d be getting in the way. I couldn’t make the mind leap from “oops” to “WTF”. It all seemed inconvenient, surreal, unnecessarily unfair…
Unfair on me.
It was my brothers, a million miles away, who shocked me to my senses over the phone and made me get behind the wheel and drive to them.
Their street was full of cars when I got there. The electronic gate wasn’t working when I hit the remote. A cop told me that the security company had pulled it off the rails so that they could get in. The neighbours stood in dark corners with serious looks on their faces, some of those faces not instantly recognisable after years of ignoring each other in the street over stupid petty shit. I looked up in the poor lighting, saw dad and said hello. When he came into view, it was his brother. My godfather, looking drawn and pale. And the whole time the disbelief turned to fear one heartbeat at a time.
I saw my mom first… We gave each other our special wry-smile-look; the one that says: *sigh* Can you believe this shit? I’m so tired. Please tell me I don’t look crap. My makeup wore off an hour ago. Who are all these people in my house? I hope there’s good toilet paper in the toilet and not the recycled single-ply crappy stuff we use just for us…
And then I saw my dad. His hair was all crazy. He was talking to the cops. His hearing’s not so good so, along with the trauma, his answers were coming out all wrong, disconnected and confused.
We figured out that two armed men had followed my folks into the yard, creeping behind the car in the dark shadows as they drove in from the restaurant. They hid in a corner while my dad disarmed the security system and my mom headed for the kitchen light switch, and by the time she turned around, the gun was in her face and a hand was over her mouth.
The two armed men threw them to the ground in my old room, making them lay, face down, yelling at mom and dad not to look at them the whole time. They hit dad in the back of the head with the gun a few times and made sure to punctuate every question/demand with a sharp kick to the ribs.
Dad whispered to mom to stay calm. She has a heart thing and he was worried. He tried to touch her hand to calm her, but she was scared that the robbers might interpret the touch as a secret signal of some kind and shoot them. She pulled her hand away. She shook her head and made him comply.
The fluffy rug made dad’s chest close up so he asked if he could sit up, or turn his face in another direction. They said no. There were more kicks to the ribs.
They interrogated dad about the valuables, and with his bad hearing, he couldn’t answer them. Mom answered and they kicked her in the leg for having “a big mouth”. They called her a bitch. They made her give up the pin numbers to the cards in her bag, while the gun was at her head. They went through her handbag, carefully going over her salary slips, but missing dad’s firearm license, a clear indication that there was another gun in the house that they could have used / taken with them.
They took the:
Crap floral dinner service we hated
Cup / saucer set (we also never used / hated)
Kettle (Emptied it out, leaving a trail of water behind them… Hey?)
Jewelry (what little was left after the last burglary ±2 years ago)
… All piled into my dad’s car so that they could take that too.
As we look around, we keep finding other things they took along the way.
It was only the next day that we realised dad’s hearing aids (worth ±R12 000) were in the car’s glove compartment. He only used them at work, so he’d stored them in the cubby after hours…
The horror and devastation that comes with realising that you might have lost your parents in such a tragic way is something that truly shakes you to the core… as a daughter, child, sister, sibling.
But if I had to name the one MATERIAL thing that was taken and that cuts me to the core, it would have to be my parents’ wedding rings. Not my dad so much, because he often took his off and played with it, twirling it between his fingers like a coin and accidentally dropping it on the floor.
My mother’s wedding ring is a different story all together.
She was a skinny waif of a girl at 21, when she married my dad. Three children and 37 years later, when the robber jabbed at her finger with the gun to give it up, she wasn’t sure that she PHYSICALLY COULD take the ring off. It had bonded itself to her now curvy, 60-year-old body. It was a part of her, skin, flesh and bone. But every time she tells the story, she thanks The Blessed Mary / Her Guardian Angel for slipping it off her finger “like butter”.
To the naked eye, it was just a simple wedding ring. A plain gold band with 3 tiny diamonds in an old 70s style. Nothing special to look at.
It wasn’t worth a great deal of cash money, but to me its sentimental value is incomprehensible.
It was a solid, sturdy ring – a symbol of their strong love and bond that has been tested but has stood the test of time.
And of those 3 tiny diamonds, only 2 remained. The third was lost in one of my mother’s many sessions at the outside wash trough, washing our cotton nappies by hand. Not because she was trying to be a martyr of some kind, or to spare a buck or two, or because she gave 2 hoots about the environment, but because she simply wanted nothing less than crisp, clean, snow-white cotton nappies for her babies. Only the best.
I don’t think that the person wearing that ring right now is very happy with the old, out-dated style and missing diamond. Her boyfriend could not love her very much to steal such a piece of crap for her, right? And I am sure that with every breath she takes her arm grows heavier and heavier with the weight of that ring. The weight of all those memories. The weight of the symbolism and what that ring represents.
It may look like a broken old piece of crap from the 70s, but that style is a tribute to the decade that my parents were married in… a tribute to the decade that I was born in.
That missing diamond is a symbol of the hard work, the physical sacrifices that my mother made to make my brothers and me the incredible people that we are today.
That strong, sturdy design is a metaphor for my parents’ marriage that has stood the test of time.
As a 35 year old single woman, that ring has represented The Dream… Every time I looked at it, I saw two young people, deeply in love, pledging to stick with each other and support each other through thick and thin, no matter what. It’s almost like it’s the missing piece of bone that would make that left hand whole. And I guess that’s why, at 35, I’m not married yet. My parents have set the bar far too high.
I’ve seen perfection and I won’t settle for second best.
Could it be that in Africa today, life is cheap? With people dropping like flies from poverty, crime and AIDS, people here have “bigger things” to worry about? When we’re being told to rape infants so we’ll be cured from AIDS, could it be that stealing actual/material “things” have come to mean nothing in the grand scheme of things? That’s why we can take someone’s wedding ring today and think nothing of it. It’s meaningless when we’ll all be dead from AIDS / poverty / crime tomorrow, right?
Shame on you, Africa.
Shame on you.
Those animals took the rings, but they couldn’t take the caring, married hands that touched and consoled and calmed each other with true and lasting love in a time of extreme violence and pain.