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?’

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