In 1954, in an American state called Alabama, a woman by the name of Ann Hodges was taking a nap on her couch. As she slept, a black rock, a bit bigger than a grapefruit, burst through her ceiling, bounced off her furniture, and nailed her in the thigh.
The meteorite didn’t kill her. It did, however, leave a massive bruise, which some say looked like a massive pineapple. But I’ve seen the photos, and it reminds me of a giant feather, as if it fell off an angel’s wing. This incident would send Ann Hodges into the pages of history, as the first recorded victim of a meteorite.
(BTW, a meteorite is a space object that falls through our atmosphere. It lands here on Earth, instead of burning up into nothing, as a shooting star does. It’s like a chunk of rock.)
The second recorded victim of a meteorite should have been my mama. It was the 26th of April, 1994. Mama was up late doing laundry outside. “I wanted no obligations for the next day,” she later said, “except the one that mattered most.”
So scrub-scrub-rub-a-dub-dub my mother went, making sure the clothes were clean for herself and her new husband. She worked under the cover of God’s night tent, which twinkle-twinkled like fireflies. Head down, too focused on her work, she never noticed that the sky was crying bright, fiery tears.
My father still remembers the day. He was captivated by the sky’s show, and imagined it was God celebrating the dawn of South Africa’s freedom. The sight drew him in so completely, that he uttered not a single word to his wife to take look. “In all my life, I’ve never seen anything like it,” he said, “and I haven’t seen anything that compares since.”
One bundle of light shot downwards, closer than the rest. Tata opened his mouth, but no sound emerged. Into this peace, where there was only the sound of snoring horses and my mama’s washing going shh-shh-plop-plop, the object hurtled.
“Ai!” Mama yelped, as a mighty splash filled the night.
A horse snorted in surprise as Tata rushed over to find Mama clutching her left arm. Water was everywhere, the clothes and soap had slumped into the tub, and a peculiar smell rose up into the air, like an undulating cobra.
He said, “My wife, are you okay?”
“Do I look like I’m fine, my husband?”
Alarmed, Papa had suggested going to the clinic the next day.
“We don’t have time for that,” Mama had said, and smeared her injured arm in a gel she made of sour fig, aloe, and other ingredients lost to the tale.
“I stood in that line all the next day and voted,” she proudly says, every single time this story is told. “I never complained. Because I was, for the first time, making my mark, with people who had waited their whole lives to do the same.”
Later, when the tub was emptied, they found a small rock, shaped like a chicken dropping, between the size of a grape and a lychee. She was lucky it had only grazed her, rather than scoring a direct hit, given the length of the injury.
On its own, the mysterious rock looked mostly harmless. It was perfectly smooth, but it was the speed it travelled that burned my mother. It left two indentations, which my Tata often calls, “the thumbprints of angels”.
My mother’s scar is nothing like Ann Hodges’. It looks like the talon of hawk dragged down the inside of her forearm, in search of her bones. But she wears it proudly, as well as the rock that caused the damage, on a leather thong.
“Sometimes, Khanyisa,” Mama says, “you have to feel pain in order to move forward.”