After I was released from jail, but house arrested and banned, I was able to get one of the last exit permits given and went to London, and from there to Canada. When the ANC came to power I asked my daughter if she would come with me to South Africa. She thought about it but said, sadly, she would miss the rain.
This poem was written after a visit to South Africa and my mother’s death.
Ninety nine days out of a hundred
It’s not a clear yearning any more,
Not a burning dream of yellow grass now.
It’s settled down in me to a dull anxiety,
Crouching, unnoticed, like a low grade fever,
So still my cheeks don’t even flush
In this cool place.
After all these years
More years now than there were before,
It is still waiting – patient, quiet.
Like a dog lying in the grass
But with a biting memory:
There’s a rosy African sun again
That warms the brick wall of your courtyard,
Fluttering on the underside of silver leaves,
Rustling softly in the morning,
Stuttering with the birds,
While we drink our rooibos tea
And there you are.
Just a shakey memory
Hovering ghostlike at the outer edges of my eyes,
Shifting with each blink,
Reeling with the opening and closing of my own lids,
My strong mother.
Now, here I am, here,
I am the strong mother.
After all these years in this place
As many more than my own daughter has lived
These are the ninety nine days
Ann Nicholson was born and (mainly) brought up in South Africa. Entering Art School in Johannesburg she happily made contact with anti-apartheid activists but, unhappily, was refused entry into her third year after being caught red handed putting up an ANC leaflet in the men’s washroom. She was later arrested, tried in the Fischer trial, and jailed. On her release she left South Africa for London, then on to Canada, where, as a single parent, she worked as a teacher and counsellor. On her retirement she finally enrolled at Emily Carr Institute in Vancouver to at last complete her art training.