He thought of his mother. She had asked him to bring her back to her birthplace and he had done so, though perhaps only by a trick of words. But what if this farm was not her true birthplace? Where were the stone walls of the wagonhouse she had spoken of? He made himself pay a daylight visit to the farmyard and to the cottages on the hillside and the rectangle of bare earth beside them. If my mother ever lived here I will surely know, he told himself. He closed his eyes and tried to recover in his imagination the mud-brick walls and reed roof of her stories, the garden of prickly pear, the chickens scampering for the feed scattered by the little barefoot girl. And behind that child, in the doorway, her face obscured by shadow, he searched for a second woman, the woman from whom his mother had come into the world. When my mother was dying in hospital, he thought, when she knew her end was coming, it was not me she looked to but someone who stood behind me: her mother or the ghost of her mother. To me she was a woman but to herself she was still a child calling to her mother to hold her hand and help her. And her own mother, in the secret life we do not see, was a child too. I come from a line of children without end.
He tried to imagine a figure standing alone at the head of the line, a woman in a shapeless grey dress who came from no mother; but when he had to think of the silence in which she lived, the silence of time before the beginning, his mind baulked.
— J. M. Coetzee, from the novel Life & Times of Michael K