The drowning boy

The clothes are a river turning against boy, he almost drowns in them and not because they are big, in fact, they may be a size too small. Words tumbling from the cracked lips, wanting for lip balm, are bubbles. Some cling to each other and others separate too soon. And so they become a series of little accidents.

He simply is consumed by nervousness that I imagine he feels held hostage. And so how can one mock the need felt to protect the little boy they see when they look at him. Never mind that he is almost fifteen. But then what does age matter anymore? It means so little now when children become adults too soon.

On one untainted day they are little bundles of joy running around, looking up to their heroes that come home after long days at work. Wanting for the comfort their mothers’ glorious arms provide just before bed and the sweet voice of bedtime stories and lullabies. Hating bedtime because it means they can’t watch more catoons.

Then one day it happens. The child is shoved aside by an adult not belonging in this body of a child. They have no hero to look up to or maybe they do but it’s just not the same. Their mother’s arms are not comfort enough. They stay up past what used to be bedtime worrying about things they shouldn’t have to worry about.

That afternoon while all the other little girls and boys still children, race out from under the church asbestos, happy they need not suffer the heat radiating from the sun any longer, he remains. Slowly he makes his way to his spot. A little hidden, not wanting too much attention and a little exposed, just enough to attract a few customers.

There’s a slight tremor to his hands when he gets the boxes of three leaves tea out of the recycled plastic bag. He brushes off invisible specks of dust off his torn and worn jacket. His trousers barely touches his ankles. My heart breaks just a little at the sight of him. Thrice now, I have seen him try to keep his head up and smile at a person he hopes just might turn back and buy the boxes of tea.

I must stare for too long because he turns to look at me. Unable to hold his gaze, I look away. Then I turn back and wonder, would it be alright if I bought all the boxes of tea? It would mean all my savings spent on him. I smile in his direction but his eyes on me are unseeing. I think of grandfather.

Later I will learn that he was hawking for his school fees, his father unable to raise it. And early that evening he will walk home, a distance too far to walk. Only one box of tea will have been bought. BoPapa will drive my siblings and I home and all the way I’ll think of his brother’s son hawking for his school fees. I will say a prayer for my cousin and a lone tear will drop.

When it’s just begun

In the blissful weeks to follow after your worlds collide you intimately begin to make a collection of promises, dreams, wishes and inevitably plans for the future. Because magically, love makes you believe it could be forever and surpass even that.

Never mind that you set out determined to be cautious this time around so as to protect your fragile heart. Not to fall for the sweet gestures, the unexpected calls to check up on you, the slow walks in the rain, the poetry in the moments they create with you and all else that comes with being with them. And you don’t. You don’t fall. But you don’t realise also that you can grow in the love.

Before you know it you can smell their perfume on somebody else and realise you know and love how they smell. And in about two rainbows and sunshine-filled weeks together; you may or may not have adopted some of their mannerisms and them learned to imitate your quirks. For instance the hand gestures you make as though conducting an orchestra when talking passionately. It takes three weeks to start the agonising habit of checking and waiting for messages from them once you get your hands on your phone. And when they reply, so do you, instantly. You’ll disregard all the warnings from instagram posts and well-meaning friends about how that makes you seem needy.

Don’t they get it? You need him.
You reread and reread the beautiful letter they wrote you. And you’ll still marvel at their pretty cursive having always assumed that their kind knew only how to write frog like lettering. Eventually you will store it in your box of intricacies because you want to save it and because you don’t ever want to lose it. It’s one of the reasons why you’ve come to love them. They were the first to do this one oh so important thing for you. Write you a letter.

And after four weeks when they search in their bag for the surprise, you wait, barely holding the smile and excitement back. You are six again, it’s Christmas and you have been good. You can hardly wait to see what Santa has brought you. And out comes the bracelet. It’s in your favourite colour, as blue as the sky but it will seem brighter because everything is brighter lately. It’s a promise bracelet they will say.

They will slip it carefully onto your tiny wrists and softly say to you while looking into your eyes, “This, this is a promise that I will keep all my promises to you.” Butterflies will take flight in your belly and warmth will waltz through the entirety of your form. And your now strong heart because of all you feel for them will beat wildly. You will believe and hold onto the sincerity displayed on their face when they say those magical words.

On afternoons spent together you will sit impossibly close on the single green bench at what has become your spot together, their strong veined arms occaionally grazing your smooth ones. Leg to leg and thigh to thigh, only two layers of black denim between your skins, nevertheless the warmth will sip through and form a current.

You will both feel it teasing your spines eliciting a miniscule shiver. You can tell because you catch them staring at your glossed lips. You’ll know what they are thinking because it’s week six and you can look at each and know what the other is thinking or means to say without so much as a word spoken.

While they stare at you in the current filled silence they will study your blushing face with piercing intensity and engrave every feature in their mind and you too will drink your fill of their glorious fearures. You’ll notice that they have not shaved and resist the edge to place your hand on their face to feel it. You’ll notice too that they don’t blink when they are looking at you just as was teasingly mentioned by a friend.

And when the sun goes down, your smiles will fade because now comes the part you dislike. The separation from each other. And you’ll say as much to have them say, “I will miss you.” After you say it too and eventually make your way back home a question will form in your mind.

Is this what love is? This need to have you by my side constantly…

Waiting for him to come home

I’m running down the corridor. I have just closed the curtain through which i was peaking. I just don’t want to miss boPapa baka coming home. BoMma says a very scary man will see me through the window and come and steal me. She says that’s his job, stealing little girls who peak. I close the curtain hoping the voice I heard belongs to the one I’ve been waiting for since I woke. I’m bursting out the door and running out the house to the gate just in time to catch him as he comes in. BoPapa baka is home.

I cling to his legs and hug him. He’s carrying my favourites, fruits. I wish he had brought apples only. I do not like bananas, I like the apples more, especially when boMma tells my sister to slice them for me.
She makes them into moon shapes.

BoPapa catches me and lifts me up high I think I’ll touch the sky. I laugh and laugh and laughs. It comes out in bursts of delight. He laughs and laughs and laughs. Our laughter fills the air. Then he calls me my favourite nickname, “Mfana waboPapa.” A direct translation would have it meaning, “Father’s boy.” It does not mean that between nna neboPapa baka. It means I am his, I belong to him. I am his little girl. I like being his little girl. It means that I can kiss him goodnight. My older sisters don’t do it anymore, they say only babies kiss their fathers goodnight. I want to be a baby forever. When I am older boMma will tell me that I would cry to sleep in his arms at night. I’m father’s little girl you see. BoPapa is my greatest love.

Father carries me and walks into the house. “Tell me. How was my girl’s day today?” At four, I already am a story teller. I tell him about the bed nest I discovered. “Papa, the mother left the babies all alone. The babies will die Papa.” I’m still distraught over it. I tell him about the food I cooked today, my very own matope dishes. Four years old me is proud of the cake she baked, the sadza she cooked and the green veggies relish she made. I don’t tell boPapa about the ripe tomato I took from the garden and are raw.

BoPapa gets the keys from the window sill and opens the door. I know him so well. I rush into his room first my little legs carrying me as fast as they can. I grab his cushioned stool that he will sit on. Once he’s seated he’ll send for my older sister and tell her to slice my apple into moons, the way I like it. He knows me well too. I start to untie his shoe laces as I do every day and tell him not to polish his shoes because I will. It is my duty to make sure that boPapa does not go to work with unpolished shoes.

The year is 2005 and four year old me lives for these late afternoons when boPapa comes home from work.

Our laughter

Laughter in the next room beckons me.
The women of this house pick out their laughs according to their source of amusement,
Same as they pick out dresses for occasions.
Soft and delicate when laugh with their lovers,
When I speak of my baby they say
I could put a babe to sleep,
And when he makes me laugh they say
If ever the sound of the stars twinkling were heard,
My laugh would be it.
Warm and kind when they laugh with a stranger,
One that could be more.
That laugh says,
“Welcome. Come in.
I don’t know if you mean harm but I hope you don’t because
I’m about to let you in.
Feel free to stay. Feel free to leave,
But if you do, don’t take any parts of me with you please.”
Loud and boisterous when they laugh at matters that challenge them.
Matters that wound them,
Matters that anger them,
Their laughter the weapon to mock these matters,
For every thinking they could be stronger than these women.
These women who have laughed together
When called worthless by the man
Who should have taught them
What to look for in their men,
Instead from him they learned what to run from; men like him.
These women who have laughed together
When the woman who bore them nurtured hurt and anger within them,
Tore them down and apart at kitchen sinks late at night,
And at bedroom doors early in the morning.
Now these women fear they will suffocate their children with love
Because they will love them twice over.
For the love their own mother didn’t give
And the love they deserve
And when these women mother their own they will laugh a whole woman’s laugh
Throw their heads back,
Dark eyes glinting,
Full lips quivering,
Arms wide opening,
That laugh will say, “Come my baby. Let me love you. Pour all of me into you. Let me be your joy.”

I needed you

I must have turned my head at every red car that drove into the parking area hoping it would be yours. The wait like light-years. The feeling, this need for you, unusual so I was naturally unsettled. For the last three years I had convinced myself that I didn’t need you, at least not emotionally. The distance between you and I has become a constant. And so when my world seemed to shift and phase, this distance remained, a comfort.

Eventually the red car was yours and it is you that walked out of it with that urgency that drives just about everything you do and your gait which I can always pick out from the largest of crowds even a herd of cattle albeit and you walked through the gate. And so I took little steps to you although really my heart needed me to run to you. To find comfort in your arms. All the tales about how I used to cry to sleep in your arms and not my mother’s become undoubtedly true. But I don’t run to you because you never would have caught me. When I got to your side I hesitated for a moment almost forgetting my place and putting my arms around you. Only to remember that us touching was forbidden, my arms falling limply to my side. Then you looked at me and I looked at you and all that needed to be said without words was spoken.

And you must have known I needed you because you were there for me. Without holding my hand you held me together through the day. Without putting your arms around me to give me comfort you soothed me with words. And somehow that was more than your arms would have been.

Later that evening after you find me sitting outside in the dark with just rain clouds and not the stars I’m always after. You sit with me on the hard concrete and while you drink your tea you feed me mundane details. How a car battery works. Where you where and what you were up to before you came to me. All your conversations from throughout the day. And I realised what it was you were doing. Bringing me back to the present because I had drifted away. And so you managed what no one else ever has before, brought me back without my having to eventually find my way back. And that night before bed I said a silent prayer.
“Kea leboha Ntathe. Keleboha boPapa baka.”
Thank you God. Thank you for my father.

“He’s just a crush!”

Yesterday I had a date with my best friend and we shared our day with her friends. I had missed the bustle that comes with getting together with a group of friends. Sharing food, stories and laughs.

I was wearing my open back pretty dress, the one Bonnie always coos about as though she’s seeing me in it for the first time. She’ll make a show of showing off my back and hype me up.

There’s two reasons why I chose to wear this dress out of all my dresses and Tao knows why. Reason one being, I was certain I would see my crush today and the main reason being that I wanted to feel good about myself. The dress always lends me a tad bit more confidence than I have on my own. I needed the confidence because I had decided I would talk to him today. Never mind my social awkwardness.

You know when you see someone for the first time and you feel an almost instant pull of attraction towards them. When I saw him again yesterday, I say again because I had seen him the day before at the library, my heart skipped a beat like it always does and I felt that pull of attraction I had felt the first time. He was in greys, grey sweat pants and a grey sweater. I thought he looked good.

I saw him a couple of times before we went in to watch Endgame. Each time brought with it a flurry of excitement on my side. When Nesi told me he has girlfriend I let the momentary crush on my feelings slide away before I sauntered away to buy my 3D glasses announcing “I know! He’s just a crush!” But I hadn’t known. And he didn’t feel like just a crush. You see my feelings are always holistic. I feel in greater parts. So I’m all in with how I feel about him. I like him and I like him completely. I also like how it feels to like someone. I haven’t felt it in a while.

When I got back to the cinema I told Bonnie my feelings are crushed because he has a girlfriend and I don’t exactly remember but I’m sure she said, “So?”. This made me laugh.

After the movie during which I laughed and cried and cried again, I was outside the cinema talking to Wayne who had proclaimed that he would throw me under the bus if I talked to my crush when I told him about my misson earlier. Nesi sought me out to tell me she had just been talking to my crush, dragging the conversation on and on, waiting for me to show so she could introduce me but I hadn’t.

I didn’t take a moment to think about it. “We are going back!” I declared, “And you are going you introduce me.” I didn’t want to back down. It felt like a now or never situation. Lord knows what I’m going to do with my social awkwardness, I was thinking. I looked to Nesi “What do I do, what do I say after you introduce?”

When we got to him she greeted him again and introduced me. He gave me a hug in greeting and I must say I didn’t not like that. It turns out that he is socially awkward too. Nesi had to say, “Talk to my friend” before walking away to get the ball rolling between us. It was so awkward. If there is anything comfortable about being awkward with someone, I felt it. The comfort was in knowing that I wasn’t the only one feeling nervous.

We talked a lot actually. For two socially awkward people, we did a lot of talking. When his friends called to tell him they were waiting for him and I asked if he needed to go, he said no, he’d see them some other time and I smiled at that. I like his smile and his height and just about everything about him. We shared a laugh or two. I’m sure we would have gone on and on had my friends not come and said we had to leave. Later Nesi would say, “You two were talking like you are not socially awkward at all.”

Bonnie who is all for my crush asked if anyone had his number and I said no that’s just fine if no one does. I talked to him, if he’s interested he will talk to me the next time he sees me or get my number from someone.

You see there’s a mountain and that makes me hesitant. I’ve always said those are movable mountains but this is the first time I’ve been in a situation where I had to think about moving a mountain. After all, I did say, “He’s just a crush!”.

I love you…

You are taking me to the library, my brother is driving. We make a stop at the building next to Macs Garage and I watch you walk out the car. When I noticed it about a week ago I thought perhaps I had imagined it. Now I watch you cross the road and realise you are in fact limping. I feel a pang at my heart and a longing altogether. I realise the pang is sadness. I’m sad because your leg hurts again and it’s probably been hurting for weeks and I didn’t know. I realise also that I don’t entirely remember when it first started to be a bother in your daily life. Was it after the horrible car accident in which we almost lost you? I suspect it was.

The longing? The longing is my want to ask you how long it’s been hurting again? My want to ask you how you are father. My want to know of your well being, which I realise I have no slight idea of. You are always busy at work or off at some place busy with one thing or another yet again. I worry about you father.

I look at you again and notice you grimace. I imagine you accidentally put too much pressure onto the leg. Even with the hurting leg you still are a man on a mission. Your steps still are firm and fast. I watch the gait I inherited from you. Even though I inherited it from you, I find myself about a step or two behind you always. I get to be a step or two ahead of anybody else and have to remind myself to slow down but never with you. I’m always moving faster to catch up.

I look at you again. It makes me feel silly but tears form at my eyes and in that moment I so badly want to tell that I love you. I love you so much Daddy. I would say it exactly this way even though I’ve never called you Dad or Daddy before. I love you.