Tess’s first memory was from the time that she was on the ship. She had travelled on the Union Castle Line with her parents from Southampton to Cape Town. She could not have been older than three. She could remember how sick her father was, he seemed to be vomiting over the side of the ship more often than not. He hardly spoke to her, he hardly did anything except battle for breath – and then her mother took ill as well.

That was her overriding memory – of being alone in the bowels of this frighteningly large vessel. By then, her father had already contracted phthisis, from working down the gold mines in Johannesburg. He had come back to England to fetch his wife and daughter to bring them home to Johannesburg, but it was not to be. By the time they reached Cape Town, Tess’s father had died on board the ship and her mother had fallen dangerously ill, with what they later discovered was the Spanish flu.

Tess’s father had been boarding at the convent in End Street, Johannesburg. The nuns had taken him in as a favour and in return, he did all of the handiwork and maintenance that was needed around the convent and school, which was attached to the convent.

When Tess and her ailing mother disembarked in Cape Town, her father’s friend was there to meet them and got them onto a train to Johannesburg. It was to be another treacherous journey with her mother dying before they arrived in Johannesburg. Alone and orphaned, one of the nuns was there to meet them and the Holy Family sisters took Tess in.


As Tess sits on the balcony of her flat in Yeoville a lifetime later, she thinks back to that time of being a young orphan living with the nuns. Sitting on her wicker chair with the floral cushion, Tess watches the passersby and greets them by name. Others greet her and even if they don’t know her personally, they all know the white Gogo living in Pope Street. She is, after all, the only white person living in that block in Yeoville which has long since been taken over by people from all parts of Africa. One of those people had been her father, about whom she knew very little – only what the nuns had shared with her and her few early memories of him on the ship.

When Tess was first married, she lived in the centre of Johannesburg and in those days, she would hear many different languages being spoken on the streets: Yiddish, German, Polish as well as English, Afrikaans and Zulu. She thinks about her father and whether he had had an accent. In those early years, people had come to Johannesburg in search of gold but now, they come in hope of finding a job. They leave their homes up north and come south, searching for employment and a better life.

‘Just like you,’ she says to her father, as if he were sitting right beside her, watching the passing scene.


As Tess sits in her wicker chair, thinking of days gone by, Meshak walks past and greets her with his familiar, ‘Molo Gogo, how are you this morning?’

She returns his greeting and wonders what work Meshak has managed to find in Johannesburg. Not mining, because all the mines are far away from the city now. She is glad that there’s no risk of Meshak contracting phthisis as her father had. She imagines her father again, sitting beside her. She turns to him and he smiles back at her as if to say, ‘See, no cough. No shortness of breath.’

She is always seeing dead people and so it is not unusual for her to imagine that her father is sitting right next to her.


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Trish van der Nest is a lawyer, turned homeopath and Bioethicist, author of two recipe books and has always harbored a desire to write.

She is the mother of four grown up children and married to Mike, also a lawyer.

She is a passionate cook and horse rider and is working hard at developing the habit of daily writing. She spends most of her time on their farm in the North West province.

She is inspired by a quote attributed to Picasso, who, when asked why it was that he continued to work in his studio, even in his later years, his reply was that “when inspiration comes, I want it to find me working.”