Zahieda van der Forte, Maitland
He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother could be a theme song for me and my brother.
I used it as a title, exactly 21 years ago, for a story I wrote about my beloved brother. The story was published nationwide in various newspapers, in English and Afrikaans.
And as I packed up to move house, I came across letters from complete strangers who then wished us well on our journey and struggles ahead.
Then, as now, for his birthday, on Sunday August 29, I want to honour him with my words.
I write today to honour my handsome brother once more and tell him again that I love him and that, “He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother.”
In the 21 years since that letter, so much has changed and so have we all.
My brother is known as Nadeem, Deem, Peter, and, by his “old” friends, as Bun. I have written old in quotation marks because even as he is nearing 70, my brother doesn’t see himself as “old”. He likes to say he is a “young mind and man in an old body”.
For those of us still here, it hasn’t always been easy. I was fortunate. I “got out” and have lived and worked overseas for many years. I finally came back for the World Cup in 2010 and settled in.
During this time, I never saw much of my brother, believing him to still be caught up in whatever shenanigans he usually got involved in. However far apart, he was forever close in my heart, and I always worried about his safety, especially since he had continued to stay in Hanover Park, while I had long moved away.
About three years ago, after not seeing him for a few years, my sister told me that he had taken ill and that they had rushed him to hospital. From the urgency of her tone, I immediately made my way to the hospital to see him.
I was shocked to see how frail and “old” he looked.
He had on an oxygen mask and his eyes were closed as I approached. He must have felt my presence, and he opened his eyes, smiled, pulled the mask down and he said, “Ow, you came.” And I replied: “Of course I came.” And all the missing years disappeared in a cloud of tears, and we were reunited (in our hearts) once more.
He recovered well enough to be discharged after a week, but a few weeks later, he got sick again, and, with the Covid outbreak, was at high risk for infection.
It was then that I offered, much to everyone’s surprise, including my own, that he could recover at my place.
They released him from the hospital with bottles of morphine, and we all thought that he wouldn’t make it. Seeing the morphine shocked me to my core, and his mortality being calculated down to bottles of pain medication kicked me into high gear.
Having him with me was a big adjustment, and he was so sick at the time that I had to feed him three meals a day. At times, sleep was impossible because he would get 20-minute coughing spells every few hours.
Thankfully, by the grace of God, he recovered so well that he never used the morphine (I refused to give it) and he also never needed oxygen again. After three months, his coughing was also a thing of the past.
I knew then that it was being in a clean, healthy environment, with regular meals that also contributed to his increased well being and overall improved health.
One of the biggest blessings, besides getting to spend time with him again, was when my brother’s health improved enough that he asked me to take him to the mosque.
This for me was the biggest victory of all, and we were blessed to spend a wonderful Ramadaan together.
He then was the one who woke up for Fajr before I did and was at mosque for every prayer from that day forward. He is driven by his love to please his Creator,and I couldn’t be prouder of him if I tried.
It was really a pleasure to spend time with him, and although he was enjoying “all the comforts of home” he was missing his daughter. Yes, my “old” brother had a 7-year-old daughter whom he was very close to and missing terribly. From the chats on the phone at night, I could hear that they had a special relationship.
I had not yet met his daughter when I invited her to spend a week with us for the school holidays.
She came, and stayed, and stayed and stayed. Eventually moving in with us as well.
There were so many “firsts”: first birthday party, first time up Table Mountain, first Ramadaan, first cake. Lots of firsts, to last forever.
It was a really special time with both of them, and I loved the memories we made and witnessing the special bond they have.
Unfortunately, due to my lengthy Covid-related unemployed status, I had to ask them to move out as I have to downsize, and there just isn’t enough space for all of us in the new place.
He may be back in Hanover Park, but he stays forever in my heart. And now, so does his daughter, Abdeyah, named after our mother. I love you, bro.