A mysterious woman helps a young girl to understand her challenges – and how to overcome them
I’ VE often wondered what it meant to be alive. Did it mean being happy? Being free? Having everything I wanted and needed? Being known by everyone who walked the streets, or having the best job? Nomsa was a pretty, young girl who was blessed with both beauty and brains. She excelled in everything she did, from sport to music. It was as if everything she touched turned to gold.
Her looks won her first prize at a number of beauty pageants and her singing voice brought her opportunities to record songs with famous artists. For the rest of us, we couldn’t
help but wonder how her life could be so perfect when ours were so miserable.
Life was unfair – just one look at my tattered shoes told you that. Each day I kicked the rocks on the rough ground on my way back from school and I cursed my situation – it was a long walk, but I had no money for a bus fare.
On afternoon I noticed an old woman sitting under the shade of a big baobab tree.
“Come here, girl, come and sit with me,” she called out. But I had no time for her and slowly walked on.
“I have answers for you, come sit with me,” she called again, imploring me to join her.
The sun’s rays were piercing my skin and I realised the tree’s shade was just the armour I needed to shield my body. Reluctantly, I joined her.
“Good day,” she greeted me with a toothless but friendly grin.
“It’s very hot so please make it quick,” I implored her. “I have to get home.”
“Well, if you’re in such a big rush, go on then. But remember, you might not ever see me again,” she taunted me.
“Just hang on, gogo. You called me over here and now you want me to leave without any of the answers you say you have for me.”
“That’s your problem. You young people, you rush everything. You have no patience. You live life as if it’ll end
today and don’t think about tomorrow or the day after. But have you ever seen a seed that’s planted and gives fruit on the same day?
“Go home and think about this. And then come back and meet me here tomorrow. I’ll give you all the answers you need about your life then.”
THE next day at school I was anxious. What would she tell me? Would my dream of becoming a doctor come true, or was I setting my goals and expectations too high? When the school bell rang, I was already on my way out of the door. I ran all the way to the big baobab tree and was relieved to see the old woman was waiting for me.
“So, here I am. Now tell me what you see in my future,” I demanded.
She smiled. “I’m not a prophetess or a mind-reader. I don’t know what your future holds.” I couldn’t believe it. She’d lied to me and I’d fallen for it.
“Then tell me, why am I here? You said I must come back here today and you’d tell me everything I need to know about my life. Were you just making a fool of me?”
I turned my back and started to walk away when she called out. “Nomsa’s life is no more precious than yours. In fact, your life is way more precious. You just don’t know it yet.”
Now I was angry. “Do you know where I live? I live in a one-bedroom shack with my three siblings and my mother. I have an old school uniform, torn shoes and no bus fare. I barely pass my exams, I’m bad at sports and I sing like a horse being strangled with a rope. What a precious life!”
The old woman wasn’t offended by my sarcasm. Instead she just smiled at me.
“Life’s a mysterious thing. It’s like the weather – some days it’s cold as ice, forcing us to wear many clothes and stay indoors, and on other days it’s so hot we feel like stripping off our clothes and chasing the trees to hide away from the sun.
“The truth is, when it’s hot we wish it was cold to cool down, and when it’s cold we wish it was hot to warm
up. We’re confused. And do you know why? Because we don’t know what we want.
“We ask for one thing and as soon as we have it, we ask for something else. We keep wanting and wanting because we don’t know exactly what it is we truly want.
“I have a task for you. Tomorrow, go to Nomsa and ask her if she’s happy with her life. You said she had everything, but ask her this one question and tomorrow come back to me with the answer.”
WAS I intrigued or frustrated by the old woman’s demand? I couldn’t decide. However, I did as she asked and returned the next day to pass on Nomsa’s reply. I’d been surprised by what the girl who supposedly had it all had told me, but the old woman seemed to know exactly what I was about to say.
“Nomsa said she misses her mother, who passed away when she was five years old, so much. She said her life
is lonely and that every person who tries to get close to her only does so because they want to share her fame. She said they don’t care about her and all she wants is to be a normal girl with a normal family and friends.
“This is something I have, but I always thought it wasn’t enough. I’ve always thought Nomsa was happy. In fact, I envied her life and wanted to be like her.
“But now I’m not so sure. Even though I’m not that beautiful or smart, rich or famous, at least I have a mother and a family who truly love me for who I am.”
The old woman nodded at smiled at me. “Now you’re ready to learn the secret of life. We often make mistakes. We may fall many times but each time we get back on our feet again.
“We learn to differentiate between good and bad. We’re taught how to handle ourselves, how to say thank you when we’re given something and how to accept a difficult situation. This is a life of discovery.
“Then there’s another stage of life – the life in which we know exactly what we want. The life where we chase our destiny, the life where we run a race and hope to reach the finishing line despite any obstacles we come across. In this life we know exactly where we are going, but we’re not there yet. This is a life of purpose.
“Some people reach their purpose stage early, and others reach theirs very late, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is that everyone’s life has a purpose.
“So now you know about these two stages of life, it’s time for you to figure out where you fit in. If being a doctor is truly your purpose in life, now’s the time to run the race that will take you to your finishing line – your graduation day.”
IT’S been eight years since I met the old lady. She disappeared right after she’d taught me her lesson on life. My mother kept asking me how she could find and talk to this woman whose wise words were always on my lips. But not even the baobab tree whispered any sign of her whereabouts.
My early years were rough, but the next stage in my life was better because I’d found the thing every person in this world is chasing – a purpose.
Today, I’m graduating and then I’ll be known as Dr Xulu. Life really is a mysterious thing. As the old woman said, it’s like the weather, blowing hot and cold.
I didn’t grow up with a silver spoon in my mouth, but I kept on running, even with my torn shoes. Thanks to her, I forged my path knowing that my hard life up until then didn’t have to be my future.
‘Have you ever seen a seed that’s planted and gives fruit on the same day?’