Rylands library’s short-story winner

The harder you fall, the higher you bounce! Amanda wondered, “Can I do it? What if I fall?”

Watching this tiny little insect, an ant, for a long time, she knew the answer. The ant had picked up a small crumb, which was bigger than the ant itself. Each time the ant tried to carry the crumb, the crumb fell. The ant lifted the crumb each time and carried it until the ant reached its destination. Amanda thought, “If this tiny insect, so strong, so determined, did not give up, why should I? If I fall, I will get up and bounce higher.”

Amanda, at 55 years old, tried very hard to remember her childhood. The strange thing was that she could not. She remembered certain things, but maybe that was normal. After all, who could remember what they did as babies until the age of seven or eight? All Amanda knew was that she went to live with her aunt, her father’s sister, from the age of five. Her aunt lived in Klerksdorp, North West, about 200km away from Amanda’s hometown. Back in the day, to travel from one town to another, especially 200km away, was not easy.

No, Amanda was not an orphan. Without considering how her mother would feel, Amanda’s father “shipped her off”. Apparently, the reason for this was because the school was better in Klerksdorp, but was recently told that he thought she would learn more from her aunt, not that her mother was uneducated or did not know how to raise a child.

Amanda, being the eldest of three children, could not remember being with her parents while growing up. Her mother had no say in the matter. The decision was made by her father. Amanda only knows, from what her mother told her that she always wore beautiful dresses and changed her clothes three times a day, because she did not want to be dirty! Amanda does not even remember when her brother was born, about six years after her. She has no memories of playing with her brother or what he looked like as a baby. He was fortunate to not be “shipped off”.

Being so young, Amanda had no choice but accepted her life and continued living with her aunt. Not that it was an unhappy life. All she wanted and needed, was her parents’ love.

Her aunt, having children of her own who were all grown up and ready for university and college, decided to move to Durban. Amanda, who was now about 10 years old, started a new life in Durban.

Amanda remembers the July and December school holidays, when she flew “home”, where she spent little time with her parents and brother, but spent more time with her cousins who lived in the area. Each time, thinking she was “home”, to stay, her father kept sending her back. Tears did not melt his heart. Amanda started to feel “unloved”.

Through all the pain and rejection, she seemed like a normal, happy child. She had to be strong.

Almost 11 years old, Amanda bounced right back to being happy and excited. Her baby brother was born. The joy she felt because it was during the July school holidays when she was “home”.

Unfortunately, that was also a sad day for her. An uncle, whom she was very fond of, passed away. Amanda overcame her sadness, with the birth of her baby brother. Once again, Amanda thought she was “home” to stay. It was not to be. Amanda was never given an explanation, so she continued living with her aunt.

Two years later, her aunt decided to move to Johannesburg. It was decided that she could not look after Amanda any longer. So Amanda’s father searched for alternative accommodation in Durban for her. He found a family that took on “boarders”, thus, the start of a new life for Amanda, with complete strangers. Almost a teenager now, Amanda felt helpless, hurt and unloved. She could not understand why her father did not take her home. She wanted to be with her parents and her brothers. She had a family, yet she felt she never belonged. Once again, feeling rejected, Amanda had no choice, but to bounce right back.

She did not live with her parents, but a turn of events changed her life further. Her life came crashing down. How could this be happening?

Sadly, Amanda was told that her parents were getting divorced. Her father had met another woman, young enough to be Amanda’s older sister, whom he wanted to marry. How could he do this to her mum and her brothers? She felt angry and confused.

Maybe all this was her fault – her fault that her mother had to go through all this heartache. She felt even more alone and unloved. She did not have anyone that she could talk to – to explain how she felt.

Still living in Durban, Amanda started becoming rebellious and her grades started dropping. Her mum and brothers moved to her mum’s hometown. Amanda’s mum had family who looked after them and supported them.

Her father had remarried and had no contact with Amanda. She hated him. She said she did not want to have any contact with him. How could he not know that the emotional pain and frustration Amanda was experiencing would affect her for the rest of her life. Maybe he thought she was emotionally strong like him. To show love was for the weak. Once again, Amanda tried to bounce back.

Amanda’s uncles eventually arranged for her to come “home”. At last, she felt a little comfort and a feeling of belonging. She did her Grade 9 in KwaZulu-Natal and was quite content.

Then her father, who had no contact with Amanda for a year, assumes the best decision would be for her to go to Johannesburg. He arranged for Amanda to be taken to Johannesburg, not to live with him, but to live with his brother. Amanda could not understand why her father was doing this all over again. She felt like a puppet. Was this how her father expressed his love for her, by “shipping her off” whenever he felt he had the right to? Amanda had also learnt that the day she was born, her father was very disappointed.

He wanted a son. This shattered Amanda and confirmed that her father did not love her. Through all the pain and rejection, Amanda bounced back even higher, each time she fell.

Amanda eventually moved back to live with her family. The years went by and Amanda got married and had two beautiful daughters.