In 1999, a hit was released by Destiny’s Child called Shemaney. If you didn’t know this, don’t worry, neither did I.
My sister insisted it was a hit but days later when the song played on the radio the lyrics were, ‘Say my name, say My Name’ , and not ‘Shemaney, Shemaney’! However, she sang with such conviction that we allowed her her truth, jokingly calling her Shemaney from that point on.
Shemaney was our family’s keeper. She kept us financially secure, morally intact and spiritually aware. I could do neither of these and as the unruly last child most days were spent accruing mileage running away from her ‘sasa’ (broom). Years later we made our peace and I forgave her for running after my life and she forgave me for making her run after my life in the first place.
She had a hoarse croaky voice which miraculously fluctuated from a high-pitched croak when she was angry or happy at her Biology students; then descending to a deep rumble when serious. All the while her neatly arranged ‘buiniga’ (afro) would bob subtly in synch with the metre ruler in her hand as she made her point to her students.
Her petite frame was always clothed in beautiful tropical prints and while she preferred muted colours she always bought bright ones just in case she felt bold enough to wear them one day. That rarely happened allowing me to take liberties with her bright clothes. I often resembled a brightly adorned Christmas tree and she the respectable adult who held the switch.
A few months after I left Fiji, she skyped me as usual to say hello. We talked at length about things I do not now remember. After a while I begged, “Other news buj?”.
She looked ready to abruptly end the conversation, so I quickly prompted her again.
Then her pitch went low.
Looking anywhere but the camera, she quietly whispered that she just got back from seeing the doctor and was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer.
I looked out my first world window and hated everything I saw. I hated the latitudes and longitudes that circled earth, I hated time that would not stand still and above all I hated myself for being inaccessible in her time of need.
She fought a valiant fight but sadly lost her battle with cancer on Boxing day 2014. The big sister who could fight anything, found herself having to battle against her collapsing lungs which had breathed life into our family.
We buried her in the presence of her students who gave up their school break, colleagues and our friends and families. The assortment of people that assembled on our front yard properly represented the type of person she was – accepting without question and loyal without fail.
After all the formalities but still unable to sleep at three in the morning my nieces and I put on our flip flops for a visit to our neighbour’s lemon tree for ‘draunimoli’ (Lemon leaves). As we did, we were chased by dogs; not the fluffy, snuggly and fall-in-love with me British types; but Fijian ones which were trained to kill, eat and destroy!
We all ran for our lives, but I fell and scraped my knee. The dogs were closing in and they sensed victory. I closed my eyes and resigned myself to being eaten alive. After all, what’s a few gnawed limbs when you’ve lost your heart?
I then heard Shemaney’s daughter with her mother’s serious bass tone commanding me to get back up on my feet. Her face was so sincere with her mother’s quiet confidence and her mouth curving at the same places her mother’s did. Through her pain, Shemaney had prepared and conditioned her daughter well. Her purpose complete, she knew it was time to leave. When all I saw was hate, all she did was love.
I stretched out my arms to hug my niece Tieri and as we hugged the lemon branches we held made grotesque shapes in the dark. The dogs stopped their pursuit and ran off in fright.
Tieri (Middle) with her cousins scanning the horizon.
I cried all the way back home and it wasn’t from the pain of the scraped knee. A familiar feeling of love now settled somewhere where my heart used to be, it was only a matter of time and it would fully heal.
So Shemaney had told the truth till the very end. She hadn’t died as they said, she lived. She lived in her beautiful confident daughter who had just lost a mother but found peace still and she lived in the many students whom she had taught and are now accomplishing great feats.
She lived in every good thing I see.
She was my Real Thing.
Her name is Salanieta Lalagavesi and I miss her every day.
To everyone who have lost loved ones to cancer there’s too many of us to count- we will all heal one day.