A Brother Like No Other

The loss of Faried Jacobs and the pain of letting go

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He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother: Zuleiga, Faried and I bracing the cold in Hout Bay on one of the many family trips we took together.

You took me by surprise. I expected that I would simply fly down to be at your bedside at Groote Schuur Hospital to hold your hand and you would look at me with a bemused smile, as you usually did, and say, “This is nothing. How long are you staying? Will you be sleeping on our couch in the lounge?” But you didn’t. The doctors had sedated you. You let go of my hand and slipped off into the next realm while we weren’t watching and I had to say good bye by placing my hand on your forehead as your life force evaporated.

The grief of this farewell swept me off my feet. In that single, helpless moment, the memories of the various strands that have always held you and I together, flooded my consciousness like a merciless tsunami of emotion. In truth, five days after your passing, I am still out at sea, lost among the debris. I’m hopeful that some of these fragments I am now recounting will bring me some solace.

I think you know that you had a huge impact on my life from the days of my adolescence. Our dad, the kind soul that he was, was moving on in his years and you, and your wonderful wife Zuleiga, guided me along during that confusing time. You were not the only one. I was luckier than most. I have always been loved, unconditionally by the rest of my siblings, their partners and children. But your influence was, like the meaning of your name, quite unique and unusual.

During summer vacations I was your clumsy teenage labourer in the building projects where you were the foreman and supervisor. My job was to clean your and dad’s boots after a full days work as well as all the bricklaying implements caked with dry mortar. Faried, in those days, I remember you as both frightening and benign. Once, while we were building a factory, the project owner’s son came onto the building site and started to hurl abuse at our father. At the height of this young man’s tirade he suddenly went flying head first into a nearby wheelbarrow. You had knocked him clean off his feet with a spade to the side of his head.

You had seen the owner’s son as both a racist, self-righteous prick and an abusive employer. Those were two things that you never tolerated. Years later, when I became a political activist, that moment would strengthen my resolve for the freedom struggle. But Faried, personally, you were also an indulgent supervisor. You never tolerated mediocrity but always hired artisans and labourers who were down on their luck. Some of these even had drug problems. And despite you being fluent in the foul language that pervades the building industry, those under your command always knew they could never have a better boss.

In some ways, of the seven children of our parents, you were the perfect combination of our mother’s forthrightness and our father’s gentleness. Your language may have often been crude, but your actions were saintly. It took us years to realise that your verbal outbursts was driven by the, yet untreated, diabetes that contributed to your final demise.

Now that you can no longer talk back to me, I can tell you that you were also a terrible capitalist. You had a butchery in Mitchell’s Plain once that became unsustainable because you kept on giving the meat away to the poor customers in the area and to relatives who fell on hard times. Later, you owned a construction company and hired the kids of relatives who needed a job. When you closed shop later, you did so without regrets. The Qur’an talks of bad businessmen like you. It says, “They chose others above themselves though poverty became their lot.”

What I can also now tell you, is that you never knew your place. Let me remind you: you are a middle child. You were supposed have issues about being overlooked, feeling excluded you were not being the youngest (like me) and not having the responsibility and privileges of the eldest. You were supposed to have confidence issues. Instead, you rose to be the rock that all of us had come to rely on. Even our oldest siblings will agree, you were our de facto big brother. And they don’t even hold a grudge about that. As Fuad, our boeta (eldest brother), put it, “Faried was supposed to bury me.”

You had this one important rule that I have now inculcated into my own children: sisters and brothers do not lend money to each. They give money to each other without expecting it back because money can be replaced but relations cannot. And don’t think for a minute that I did not realise that you often shared your resources with me when you were in need yourself. This fact I would often uncover later.

Of the many things that you did for me, the one that will leave the biggest gap, is the role you played in the lives my children. You managed to reach out to each one of them, with their unique personalities, and made them believe that they were the most amazing in the world. When you came to visit, they were beside themselves with excitement because they knew their Uncle Faried would tease them, spoil them, indulge them, love them. They have flowered into these amazing three women and young man because of the additional light their Uncle Faried gave them.

For now, that is all I can bear to share. Maybe, when I feel more anchored, I will place more fragments onto the page. So go well dearest brother, my confidant. Godspeed. I helped place your body in the ground but your spirit is ever alive, though some of us find it hard to believe.

 

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