The Last Time We Spoke

Photo by Stephen Elliot in association with

I stood beside her hospital bed, scarcely recognizing the emaciated woman lying against the white sheets. She was a shadow of the woman I’d met just one year earlier. But when she spoke, I realized that disease may have wreaked havoc on her body, but her spirit was as strong as ever.

We came from
two different worlds,
though they were only
a few miles apart.

Nokusa lived in a tin-roofed shack in a community where rats raced across the dirt roads, bypassing the scattered litter. Like most in her community, she lived without electricity and running water as she grew her little business, trying to climb her way out of poverty and help support her grandchildren.

I lived in a neighborhood of homes with crowded pantries, flat-screen TVs and well-kept gardens. But on Saturdays, I would pick Nokusa up and we’d go out for tea. We’d talk about God, family, business. We challenged each other and laughed together. At first, she was shy and unsure.

I was the first
“white friend”
she ever had.

Slowly, our friendship grew.

I found myself struggling to reconcile the joy and gratitude that shined from Nokusa when I considered the challenges and circumstances she lived with every day.

And then Nokusa got sick—very, very sick.

Not long after visiting her in the hospital, I got a call from Nokusa. Her voice was weak, but still carried a sense of strength. I held the phone close as she thanked me so sweetly for the time we’d spent together over the past year.

With my heart heavy, I choked out a cheery goodbye.

It was the last
time we spoke.

Nokusa passed away the next day. Nokusa’s strength and faith have left a mark on my life. I was Nokusa’s mentor, but she taught me much more than I taught her.

There are people that we know all our lives who never leave an impact. And then there are people, like Nokusa, who briefly enter our lives and leave us changed forever.

Businesswomen, Johannesburg

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