The Roses

A Short Story

by Shameelah Khan

I don’t understand isiXhosa,

but this is a dialogue.

He stood in-between the books

A look of tenderness


Bound by

The un-fixing of spaces

Traces of Chapman

A forgotten library

Preserved African knowledge


Documented in the tongues,

of the returned land,

And Isixhosa

A poem by an un-known Womyn

Written under the skin of his hands,


Our mother


The lamp re-structured

The healing

Into the words

That fell from his lips

In IsiXhosa,

“Cry to the Sky.”

I don’t understand isiXhosa,

But I listened

I reached for the sun today. It was constrained by the magic realism of my inner-conflict. These were the undocumented questions we had whilst taking that train to Mama- the town beyond the sky where our healer lived.

“Will we really get there?” I didn’t look at him. Even after all these years, I had struggled to.

“We got here.” He responded.

Not many knew about how the blends of flowers were brought to this country with the men who stole our stars. But not the Roses, those were ours. They took from the sky of Mama. They had left us in the dark. He knew all about history though- he knew everything about this land and how he got here. I had never known. He teaches me. Guides me.

Before the decision to travel to Mama, we had spent one evening in the place we had grown together.

I remember it as I remember my prayers.

That night, we had read the books we knew were going to get left behind.

Knowledge was a trade in the spaces we had been born. Our mothers had not heard these poems in any lifetime so we wanted to send it home to them. He said they should read it but I said they should save it.

Half of the world was documenting the snatching of the last African star and the other half were snatching it. The Spectatorship of Ethics, it will later get written about- theorised. And then there were those who didn’t know where to go- we were savouring the last of the Roses. Only a few of ours were in the garden outside and just last week, I saw him putting them into a deep slumber.

“Watching the last one fall is like watching them take everything left.” He cried.

“But we live here my love, we have always lived here.”

He reached across the room and held out a book to me. I hadn’t read The Book of Mama before and I didn’t know if I wanted to. It was a sorrowful-night and he was a witness to how my body carved out pain. The way our pain worked was through scripture of skin and sin. Layers of them unfolding as our touches thrived from wanting too much and too little of loss and love making.

He had instructed me to read out loud, as always.

Page number 10. The Song of Language, chapter 22:

“This is in isiXhosa.” I didn’t understand isiXhosa, but this was a dialogue, “What does it say?”

“A cry to the Sky.”

The sky of Mama.

She heard us- I am sure of it. Her consent was heard through the way we had imagined fractures of Divinity. For the first time- in a long time- it had rained. We were lying there, naked and afraid of the night sky disappearing above us, but the sound of Mama’s’ tears hitting against our roof was a source of movement. Empowerment.

“What if She never stops crying?” I whispered as he fell in and out of consciousness.

“We have to leave.”

“Where will we go?”


The train came to a stop. We didn’t know where it would take us next but the nourishment of the day would seize those unwelcomed thoughts. He had fallen asleep. I liked that he found pockets of time to rest. The men who had taken our last Star had not realised that Mama would cry and that the land would not have time to hold in its capacity- the strength of all of Her water. They wouldn’t dare to steal that though. They couldn’t possibly take that from us too. If he was awake, I know that he would have disagreed. They have taken so much already.

When he woke up to no more rain, he looked hopeful.

“She wants us to travel to her.”

I reached into my bag and handed him my grandfather’s faded-grey handkerchief. He unwrapped it and found the last of the Rose petals I had savoured.

“I thought they were all destroyed.”

“They aren’t from the ones in the garden. I kept them from your grandmother’s home.”

He reached over, took my hands in his and kissed them. A sign I associated to gratitude.

“Look at the Sun peeking in.” He said.

We were finding the way to the warmth.

He placed his head back and closed his eyes, falling back into a deep sleep. I rested my head against his shoulder, remembering how it was when the starry night sky was ours and the roses were singing.

My heart whispered then, “Mama, will we find home?”