Words by Dorcas Utkovic Photography by Shutterstock
My name is Sheba and I am a woman. One day I left home without my lipstick.
…Clementine is beautiful to look at. I always tell her about her inner beauty. But she prefers beauty that is visible to the naked eye. She’s not afraid of judgement.
“It helps build my character,” she would say.
Clementine is made of sugar and spice – all things pretty and delicious. My watch tells me it’s 2:55 pm. We arranged to meet at two-thirty. I can’t say I’m surprised; despite our arrangement, she will be ‘fashionably late.’
Finally, I see her crossing the road, darting here and there as she dodges around the cars. She enjoys the stares from drivers and pedestrians alike, giving small waves and nods as she goes by.
I choose our favourite big table that faces the entrance.
The young waiter drops the menus and quickly pulls a chair for Clementine.
She wears an Aztec patterned pencil skirt that sits well above her knee. At thirty-eight, her infinitely long legs are capable of carrying even a shorter number. Her cream silk blouse responds to the fan above our table. She removes her CHANEL sunglasses to reveal her impeccable makeup. Our cheeks touch as we kiss the air.
“Where’s your lips Hun?”
Just as I thought, she recognises my bare lips. This is the first time I’ve been without my ripe cherry since my mother presented it to me. As I’m about to launch into an explanation about the absent lipstick, I can’t help but reminisce…
A FEW YEARS AGO
Every girl dreams of her wedding day at some point right? Well, perhaps not ‘every’ girl but I certainly did. When I was a little girl, every Sunday after church we would play weddings. The older girls would choose the youngest girl with the prettiest dress to be the bride. Oh how I wished to be picked, but mine was only ever just nice enough.
My Mama would always say, “You’re more than pretty. You’re special.” every Sunday morning while I’d pull my frilly white socks past my tiny cuff.
“This, you will learn when you have children of your own.” She would keep saying.
“Children!” I giggled because I could never imagine someone calling me mama. She is mama; the woman who would apply sulphur-8 to the scalp of my cornrows. She is mama; look at her – so tall and graceful with heavily sun-kissed skin. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone more beautiful than her. She smells of the sweetest things that make me want to keep snuggling into her neck long after she has broken from our hug. Her lips always shine so brilliantly with the colour of a ripe cherry. She’s my mama, the one who tells me “In fact you make your Sunday dress look pretty.”
But the older girls would just bypass my dress. This used to bother me but I just stand there quietly watching their fast moving hands as they apply cheap makeup with their fingers.
Here comes my favourite part. Carol, the older girl, is about to apply red lipstick on Zani’s thin lips. It’s not as brilliant as mama’s one but like I said cheap makeup. I shut my eyes and imagine the shiny red thing lathering my honey–coated lips, “Hmm, delicious.”
Suddenly I’m pulled out of my sweet-sweet reverie by the fresh grassy smell of a bunch of weeds.
“Here,” Carol says as she thrusts the thing in my face. I oblige. After all, I am the matron of honour in this elaborate game of wedding(s).
“Makoti ke di nako.” “Bride, its time.”
“Wa jika jika Makoti.” “You are hesitating.”
Someone begins to sing. We all fall into a rhythmic step and the dust grows beneath our feet to settle on top of our shoes.
“Makoti o wa gana na?” “Bride, do you have second thoughts?”
“Wa jika-jika Makoti.” “Bride, you are hesitating.”
Fast forward a few years later and here I am today, a grown woman of twenty-something whose about to play ‘the bride’ at her own wedding. And for the first time I understand the meaning of the song as Makoti to be.
“How’s everything in here?”
A familiar voice soothes my worry in an instant. She tells me to pay no attention to the song. “It’s only a wedding song.” She holds mine with her free hand. The other occupied as always by a small cup of the sweetest red bush tea.
“Would you like some tea darling?”
Someone yanks the back of my wedding gown tighter to make the ends meet. I gasp for some air and think perhaps a cup of tea would be too hot to handle. But who am I to say no to mama’s offer? I have always taken pleasure in sipping from her cup. And when the tea burns the walls and roof of my mouth, I imagine mama’s love burning into me. I look up from her cup and give her my best Colgate smile. She returns it effortlessly. Reluctantly she places her teacup on the dressing table and reaches into her bag. My eyes fixed on her. I’m intrigued. Her actions tell me something is about to happen. She pulls out a small gold elegant box and without a word hands it to me.
I open my nervously clenched fist and allow her to place the box on my sweaty palm. Paralysed by emotions, I feel the tears of joy threatening.
“Don’t, you’ll ruin your makeup.” Mama speaks through a smile that keeps her own tears in check.
I’m shaking. The nerves are killing me.
Oh My God! My eyes widen with delight. Everything stops. The bustle in the room hushes to serenity. Outside, the song is silenced as we merge her world mine.
“It’s something small,” but she thought I might like it.
“Like it? I love it!”
Without another word, she gently pulls it out of the box, twists it open with her trained manicured hands. My honey–coated lips are eager to receive. She brings it closer, tilts my head back ever so slightly. My eyes shut willingly, allowing my nose to take in the sweet aroma of mama’s lips. The one she always wears with pride. The one she would never leave home without. The one she wears now – correction – we wear now, our ripe cherry lips. The one I would never be seen without.
“White Peach Bellini.”
The waiter’s singing voice snaps me back to reality and Clementine chimes her question again.
“Your lips Hun, what’s happened?”
I thank the waiter and prepare to answer her question, but she flicks her new nails in my direction and I know to hold the thought.
You know when people greet each other I doubt that they actually care. If everyone stopped to listen to the answer given to “How are you?” the world would be a better place.
Clementine will never know why I’m without the ripe cherry of my mother’s lips. I have a feeling that she doesn’t really want to know or perhaps it’s not for her to find out but for me to understand.
*Makoti is a transitional wedding song in Sepedi – one of the 11 official South African languages.
Dorcas Utkovic is a writer-artist, who is inspired by change and growth. “I believe that there’s always a silver lining. I get pleased when my cup gets filled to the brim and becomes ready to share its contents”.