HAJI MOHAMED DAWJEE: When I could wake up without worrying about aches & pains


I used to think that my favourite childhood memory was when my dad bought me my first tennis racket – only after successfully managing to bounce a tennis ball with a broomstick 100 times. Or the time I turned 10 when he told me to go fetch something on the bed in his bedroom and there stood my first 6 string, in the summer of ’94. But now, on a summer’s day 27 years later, I can safely and very assuredly say that my favourite childhood memory was when I could sleep in whatever shape or form I wanted and not wake up sore or stiff in the morning.

Oh those delightful nights when I could fold myself into a pretzel, or bend my back into the shape of an inside out C or wake up shaped like an upside down question mark. This is the stuff memorable moments are made of and I have only now realised the preciousness of those memories as time has ticked over and often left me lying still as a corpse in the bed because my ear folded over during the night and left me with a terrible ache in my cartilage the next morning.

I wish I could say I was exaggerating. I wish I could say I was being overly dramatic and that age ain’t nothing but a number and appreciate the fact that there are actual geriatrics out there who are outrunning me or outspinning me in the gym with a perfectly fine piece of ear-bone every single day. There are people out there who have lived through wars, possibly two pandemics and potentially buried the loves of their lives who are running on life’s treadmill still aching arches or not yet here I am complaining. And I wish I wouldn’t but my god. It is tough to get old and no one warns you that the age sets in this hard and this young an age.

On about day 226 of 2021 I exhaled my first “oof”, as I sat down. What surprised me more than making what I then only referred to “old people sound” was the fact that I actually took great pleasure in the recitation of that word. It was the audible equivalent of something heavy leaving your body. In literal terms, it is actually and always will be the great signifier of being happy to be off your feet … Of taking at least some of the force of gravity away from your body and resting giving to it with your whole bum instead of your whole body. And then, after this contemplation, after this slip in consciousness of how old I actually am, I caught myself in shock and said: My god. Is this where I am now? Am I “oofing”? Me? A 37-year-old who walks at least six kilometres a day, goes to the gym for an hour a day and spends another hour at sunset long-boarding? Should I be long-boarding? How can I cruise and oof at the same time? But so it is and here I am.

An illustration, if I may, of the vast variety that old age has suddenly, quite literally, knocked me off my feet with, which I simply cannot stand – pun intended. Just this past week my experience of age was such: I had a spastic colon consistently for about four days. The first three days I fought through on a cocktail of crying on the inside and just pushing forward in an utter state of denial. By the fourth day, the cocktail glass was empty and I was doubled over in pain – I am ever so grateful that the doubling over did not give me a back injury. I retreated to bed for the few minutes I could spare and took medication I have only seen pensioners take.

As the evening neared, the pain settled. I was not spending more time on ye olde latrine than with my own son and I felt that great sense of being reborn when one is healthy again. But alas, day 5 saw me stir in pain once more as I woke.

“This will not happen again!” I got out of bed with great gusto to attack the day like a springy youth. After a short while I realised all that pain was because it was the time of month when a woman’s unfertilised egg must exit the body. I have never had this experience before! This four-day pre-emptive spastic pain. Am I pre-menopausal? What does it mean? Will this happen every month?

In the haste of chasing after the day full of youthful vigour, I completely ignored the fact that as soon as I got out of bed I had to untwist my knee before even thinking of putting any weight on it. Why? Because I did not pay enough attention to the position of said knee while sleeping. Again, is this where I am? Do I have to lay awake all night and keep an eye on a wandering knee?

I walked a bit but I needed a rest on the couch. However, being the semi-pro delusional athlete that I am, I realised that sitting would just stiffen it and so the best thing to do would be to just walk it off a bit. Give it a bit of a stretch. So once more, I unravelled my leg into a straight line instead of a static acute angle and while cracking it back into shape and shouting silent cries of pain, I locked my jaw.

This has happened a few times in my sleep but never, ever during the waking hours. I’m used to unlocking it and so I did but I would be lying if I didn’t mention that the thought of my jaw simply staying like that forever would save me a lot of time. At least my mouth would already be ajar in shock the next time 87 hits me, a 37-year-old, on the head, or the ear, or the knee, with the blunt force of a Zimmer frame cast in iron.

Haji Mohamed Dawjee is a South African columnist, disruptor of the peace and the author of 'Sorry, Not Sorry: Experiences of a brown woman in a white South Africa'. Follow her on Twitter.