SORRY

I listen to a number of podcasts. This is fast becoming one of my most time consuming past-times. This is the era of podcasts and there’s an over saturation of people with opinions and access to the technology that allows them to share them. Often. I’m not mad at all – it’s just that I’m just incapable of multi-tasking so I have to carve time out to listen to my podcasts. Being unable to have them play in the back ground as I work or drive means that I often listen to the things way after their release. I stumble upon most of what I listen to (shout out to streaming services algorithms). One of my new top 5 podcasts is one that I didn’t stumble upon though. My friend (yes, I’m about to name drop) Natasha Fuyane of Twitter fame, together with her friend Xoli, started a much needed soul-food filled podcast that speaks directly to the diasporan Zimbabwean experience.

Nat and Xoli started #GirlInSkies this year and with each episode, they address the politics of being Zimbabwean – a bottomless rabbit hole filled with sadness and entropy. I think their message resonates particularly with Zimbabweans who find themselves displaced and building what looks like home is countries other than their own. Each episode has required those listening to ask important and increasingly complex questions about their existence, the diasporan life and the likelihood that all the Zimbabweans who are far-flung may never get the chance to return home.

The episode that hit home the most for me so far was centered around apologies. That’s it. That’s the podcast.

Girl In Skies Podcast

Critical questions were asked. They were all tricky. A lot of honesty was shared by the ladies but in the same breath, required of the listeners. The first question that floored me was “Who taught you to apologise? If I’m being absolutely honest, I don’t know. I know that being a Ndebele girl raised by two African fundamentalists, it’s unlikely that I ever heard the word “sorry” from my parents at a young age. I’m 28 now, and that has only changed marginally, and from one parent.

There’s a story my father loves to tell at large family gatherings where he has no business sharing it. The first house my parents ever lived in was in Morningside, Bulawayo. It was suburbia, but middle-class suburbia. This meant we had large enough yards to lend the semblance of privacy, but not so much that we didn’t know our neighbours. It so happened that one of the children from the family living opposite us had a birthday party, and of course, my siblings were invited. At some point, I assume I was wronged violently, I retaliated by throwing hands. That, or was a vile miscreant who enjoyed beating other children. I prefer the former.

I forgot to mention that the highlight of this story is a jogger short. Mind you, this is in the early 90s and velvet jogger shorts with off-setting piping were the in thing. I had a pair. I was wearing said pair when my father was promptly notified that I was physically harassing someone’s child. Up until that point, my mother had been the resident disciplinarian (so I hear) and my father had yet to spank me. Now, it is important that I tell you that my father was gaining marriage weight as was no longer as nimble of foot as he had been oh, say, five years before this. Regardless, he collected me from the party and informed me that I would be receiving my inaugural hiding for my bad behaviour. I’ve never been a fool, so I bolted. (It is at this point everyone starts laughing uncontrollably at this memory I do not possess). He chased me around the house and eventually gave up, because well, nobody is a match for a 2 or 3 year old with self preservation on her mind.

The point I’m trying to make is that I don’t know if I was ever required to apologise to Pokie. I was simply removed from the party and would have received a hiding. I don’t know if I was required to make amends to this child. Were my parents merely blinded by the embarrassment of being responsible of such a poorly heeled child? Or was I made to publicly apologise to her? It was only later in school, that I learnt that there was another way to deal with bad behaviour. You know, other than the threat of immediate violence. The teacher would hustle the culprits of whatever break-time kerfuffle was on that day, and force apologies from the parties involved. Whether or not they meant it, the words were important. Symbolic. They meant all must be forgiven and we could all now carry on though the battle had not taken place. Save for the money blood applied to scraped knees and elbows, of course.

Now that I’m older and I know myself, I know that mere lip-service is inadequate for me. But the duality of being Ndebele while raised and currently living cosmopolitan, means that I know there are spaces where I will NEVER hear the words or receive the acknowledgment that I need for healing.

My person once told me a story about an incident with his father which involved his sister, a boy and a high speed chase (I kid you not), after which his father recognised that he had wrongly accused his son. His father spoke to his mother and his words were “manje umntwana ngixamxolisa njani?”(how do I apologise to a child?) What struck me was that his father didn’t even consider that he could, you know, look his child in the eye and say “I’m sorry mntanami”.

The idea of apologising to children is a foreign concept in my culture. In many cultures. Then we grow up and become ill-adjusted humans who mistreat others and get surprised when they are hurt by our conduct or won’t “just get over it”. We become master gas-lighters because apologies require introspection and the acceptance that we are imperfect. It requires humility and remorse. Something was said in this episode stuck with me. (I paraphrase) “A child who was never taught to apologise grows up to say let’s debate Gukurahundi“. But the point is, if you were never taught to apologise for something as small as bumping into someone, you can never apologise for massive crimes against humanity. It’s that simple.

A series of other questions followed that had me searching (sometimes with futility). Did anyone ever apologise to you? How do we give apologies? How do we receive apologies? I had never interrogated how I relate to conflict. Really tried to comprehend my response to tension, particularly with people I care about.

I KNOW how to say “I’m sorry”. I think it stems from knowing how dejected I felt when I was wronged and never received an apology. Whether this was from my parents, siblings, friends or lovers. I am intentional in my sorry. I also know that sometimes I say it to end conflict, and that I don’t always mean it. At that time anyway. I also understand that I would say sorry because I have abandonment issues. I would apologise in arguments with men who treated me badly because requiring them to acknowledge their wrongdoing, could result in them leaving me.

I now know why I require conversations. I need to understand, and be understood. I need to know why and how we got to this ugly place. I need to understand you. I need to be understood. But rarely do two emotionally mature people meet each other at that red line. I carry a lot of resentment towards people with whom I’ve been in relationships with – romantic or otherwise, simply because there was no acknowledgement of the damage done, or perhaps there was. It just wasn’t satisfactory. For me. (See what I mean by “complex”.)

I have been told time and time again that I am a good person. So I suppose I became complacent. I started hurting people without recognising it. My flippant (I now recognise them for what they were) apologies were doing more harm than good. I am relearning how I understand apologies. I am present when I apologise. I am patient because I know that I require more than just one word, often from people who are unwilling or simply unable to articulate the experience to my satisfaction.

We live and we learn.

28

I pray for the strength to keep choosing myself in the morning

I just turned 28.

I don’t ever actually feel older on my birthday or obsess about how much time I don’t have left do arrive wherever. But rather, I use the day (and many days that follow) as a period of reflection. To ask myself whether I would live the year that has gone by differently. I ask myself if I would have chosen differently and whenever the answer is yes, I ask myself why I didn’t do so in the first place. I don’t believe in lying to myself and whilst I appreciate the uselessness of the feeling of regret, I experience it often. I assume it is a consequence of living recklessly. Of fighting the urge to ‘do the right thing’ or ‘behave’. I have lived a large portion of my life conforming to rules and regulations put in place by people who no doubt had the best intentions for me. The truth is that, for the most part, those rules and regulations built a dissatisfied, suppressed woman who lived life counting regrets and colouring her imagination with all the things she could have been and done had she been allowed to break free of the shackles of ‘proper’ behaviour. This is not to say that the woman I am today cannot be attributed to those rules. I am the jewel of my parents’ ‘Parenting Awards’ and the unreasonable standard against which other people’s children are measured. More recently, I have become a standard many of these children shake their heads at and whisper ‘if only you knew who she really was‘ about.

A few years ago, I started loving without caution. Giving of myself without worrying too much about whether or not my heart could survive the end of all the love I wasn’t getting in return. Turns out my heart is strong enough to rebuild. To love and die over and over again. My heart has miraculously managed to survive all the lovers who ran through it with spears and guns and other women carried in their back pockets. I’m not saying the bleeding was fun, or even that it has stopped. I am sometimes reminded of the wars I lost by the scars that rear their heads when someone scratches a little too close to where the hurt took place. Some days, I have to change bandages and relive the trauma that caused the wounds. And on some days, the trauma is beautiful. Some days I wallow in the pain because the ecstasy that lined the pain brought such vivid joy and laughter that sitting in it, for even a moment, feels like what I imagine dancing at the foot of a rainbow in the middle of a storm does. Like all the winds are worth the glory of experiencing that miracle.

I also started writing a book. And because I fell in love somewhere along the way, writing the book has become a laborious endeavour. I often put pen to paper to recount the times I sat in basements weeping over love I would never have and am reminded that I now have a love I never imagined could belong to me. That the same person who got high off of imagining living single forever and chasing adventures alone is suddenly troubled by the thought of the limitations love has brought. Can I say this? Can I think this? Am I selfish for refusing to erase the many times love found me before this? I almost feel ungrateful when I sit in that dark place and talk to myself of the agony I want to share with girls like me. Girls who loved carelessly and then turned to ask the Universe why caution left their vocabulary so willingly. Girls who built personas that told the world they were invincible yet steadily felt their veins pump the evidence of their mortality on a daily basis.

I hope I finish the book.

More than that, I hope to accept myself as a person who can feel all the emotions I feel without guilt. I hope to write again without hesitation. I hope to share the things I need to let out without fear. Isn’t it funny? That love can be the biggest liberator but because of yin and yang, it can also tie down and hold back bits of you.

I just turned 28.

And I think this year is going to be one of great accomplishments. The things I want to do are many. The places I want to see are plenty. And it warms my heart that I get to enter another year with so much love in my life. From Fave Human,  to my new friends, to my old friends. Love from my blood family to my online family – some of which I may never meet. I also pray for the strength to keep choosing myself in the morning and choosing myself at night. For strength to refuse to regress to a place where the voices in my head weren’t just mine. I pray that I remain me, at the core. The me I want to be, to be seen as and remembered as. I feel hopeful, for another year of writing material, more money (please Jesus), deeper and stronger roots – unwavering in the face of uncertainty.

Me
28

Happy birthday Me.

Love,

The Empress xx

Of Love and Timetables

Love as and when love presents itself

Love has no rules

I remember being fifteen or so and borrowing a copy of True Love magazine from a friend at school and taking it home for a thorough reading, as well as to add my own dogears to the pages that showcased clothes and makeup I liked. I hid it behind my bed and hoped my ever busy mother would give my room a reprieve from its weekly poke and prod. I recall starting on an advice column where one question concerned the relationship mourning period. I can’t tell you the response that the asker was given because shortly after I began reading the column, my mother walked in on me quietly huddled in the corner of my room and took possession of my contraband reading material. Many Black-Mother-Questions followed.

“Where did you get this?

“What do you know about true love?

“I don’t tolerate this filth in my house”

et cetera.

Mother took possession of the magazine and I automatically forfeited the following week’s pocket money to the owner of the magazine. Also, people stopped lending me things. So, there’s that. I don’t know that I thought about that column again until some time in my early twenties when love and the rules of affection became the primary subjects of all my girltalk. As people, we are raised to consume information and apply it, regardless of its accuracy. Our backgrounds determine how we see and interpret the world. We therefore, have a varying understanding of love and what a healthy relationship looks like. The toxicity of women being raised to be the primary lovers and carers of others has coloured the love lives of women across the spectrum, and far too many of us share scarily similar stories about emotional abuse, or what we have come to describe as simple misfortune when it comes to affairs of the heart. Too many of us probably share the belief that jumping from one relationship (whether exclusive or not) to another is unwise and that the Pause Button must be pressed and held down for *insert arbitrary period of time* before we can entertain another suitor, or other suitors.

So, when is it socially acceptable to move on to another love(r)?

If you had asked me this question when I was twenty two and staring at the bottom of some bottle or glass, nursing another broken heart, I would have told you that I don’t know, but certainly more than a month. And the arbitrary selection of 30+ days would have been born of having heard women from all walks of life preach about respectability and the best means of avoiding the oh so horrendous slut shaming. I would continue to rebuff any advances from boys I liked simply because the rules said I needed to wait. Until I walked into a local pub a few weeks after the heartbreaking took place to find the heart-breaker firmly attached at the lips to a pretty (I mean stunning) girl with whom I had shared a cab a few times after a quiet night had taken a sudden turn and liquor had taken the steering wheel. (Goodness, the betrayal.)

It hit me then that men are not conditioned to pause after the end of any dalliance and that it is their right to satisfy any and all cravings related to sex and attraction, regardless of the time that has lapsed between the ending of one thing, and the sudden appearance of a new option. I’ll skip past the embarrassing shot taking and awkward gyration in between Foosball and pool tables in a poor attempt to remind him what he was missing out on.

*cringes for the ages*

Fast forward to today, 27 years old and a healthy number of notches on my bedpost, I can categorically state that the mourning period preached by all the people is unmitigated bullshit. The idea that everyone in the world’s love life is governed by an identical set of rules which were thumbsucked by goodness knows who is comical to me (now). With the myriad (I’m gesticulating fiercely in my head right now) of relationship dynamics which exist, it cannot simply be true that we ALL are reading from the same rule book. It’s implausible that Simone in Geneva and Khanyisile in Delaware and every other girl whose name is Jennifer, all wait *arbitrary time period* before entertaining the next one. It’s equally ridiculous that even if they do not, that they SHOULD.

Love and attraction are not living breathing entities which operate on a scheduled time table. The simple fact that infidelity is common on earth is testament to the fact that one can be attracted to more than one individual simultaneously. Affairs that exist parallel to marriages for lifetimes speak to the fact that one can love more than one person at the same time. Whether the above are socially acceptable or evidence of our morally bankrupt society is neither here nor there.  One can fall out of love with X today and meet his/her next soulmate by supper time, and it’s nobody’s business whether or not they pursue those feelings.

As an active member of the Twitterverse, I’m constantly crying a little inside at the “advice” doled out freely about how we need to heal ourselves before embracing love. How selfish it is to move onto a new love without closure and intense introspection and and and… Imagine how many of us would have missed out on the loves of their lives had we waited until we weren’t as broken or were a little less hurt by our immediate pasts. How many of us have been carried from the dark place by a little kindness and attention? How many of us have found healing in a new love?

Love as and when love presents itself.

Take it with both hands and ride the wave until it can no longer carry you.

The Empress.

 

Forgotten Summers

never more than this

Excited, she wrapped a dark brown sarong around her waist and paired it with a matching vest. 37 degrees outside meant it was impossible to wear much else. She yanked on her only thong – a pink lacey thing that cousin Nathi had smuggled her during the Christmas holidays. She had spent an hour wondering how she was supposed to wear it as it sat in between her but cheeks in the most rude manner. The thing rode up her buttcrack and annoyed her to no end, but the smut she and her dorm mates read under the duvets with the lights from the screens of their contraband cellphones after lights out told her that this is what men liked.

They had slowly progressed from stolen kisses behind houses after parties to similarly stolen caresses in corridors or outside each other’s gates. Family friends. Nobody would’ve suspected anything untoward was going on when the phone would ring and he would asked for her after politely thanking her father for the lift home earlier that day.   “Never more than this”, he would whisper, whilst lifting whatever t-shirt she was wearing that day.

She made short work of the one and a half kilometre walk to the dams and giggled as he sauntered up to her, gave her an aggressive kiss, circled her waist as he always did, and pressed her smaller body against his. She imagined one day she would enjoy the exchanges as much as she enjoyed the way his hands felt when they slid into her panties. She grimaced inwardly until the exchange was over. She’d gladly endure this to feel that pleasure. It was the height of summer in her second last year of secondary school  and sun rays were dancing in between the trees, dappling the undergrowth and the well-worn footpaths. Her pulse quickened as they approached ‘their bench’, forcing her to direct extra effort at answering his questions about her day.

The bench was a solitary one, placed there as if for sneaking lovers who had nowhere else to share their secrets. It was positioned in the most confusing manner, facing neither the water nor anything else worth staring at. The shrubs and trees that surrounded the space served as a private enclosure. He gently but emphatically pulled her onto his lap, straddling him, face to face. Her resolve to breathe easy failed. Dismally. If her dark skin could blush, she was sure she would be the colour of the slightly ripe tomatoes weighing down her mother’s plants in the garden. He tugged her head down and kissed her again. She counted in her head as she waited and like clockwork, 22 seconds later, his right hand snaked into the parting which opened over her left thigh and stroked that soft place. Gently at first, then with a strange urgency that he had never exhibited before. He didn’t even notice the pink underwear she had so deliberately donned to impress him. He tilted her back and reached into his tracksuit bottom’s waistband and pulled out his ‘friend’. She had never seen it before and almost fell off his lap at the reveal.

He must have sensed her fear and withdrawal and quickly rubbed her lower back and whispered the familiar “never more than this”.

When she felt the sharp pain she knew what had happened. The fog of confusion and pleasure immediately cleared and she jumped off his lap and battled with the tears and the knife of betrayal slowly twisting in her gut. Her heart. He mumbled what could have been words of remorse or comfort, but she heard nothing through the roaring in her ears. She pulled her underwear into place and as she raised her hand, saw the evidence of her trauma on her fingers. She wiped vigorously on the flimsy material which clothed her as he stood up and righted his trousers.

“You should go home.”

She did. He walked with her in silence until the entrance to the nature reserve and disappeared the way he came. The cars driving past were a blur. The barking dogs which yelped from behind high gates and walls did not register. Even the customary catcalls from the neighbourhood gardeners did not make her skin crawl the way they usually did. The tears had long stopped as she entered the house. The renovators were still busy so she could not shower for at least another hour. She changed panties and wrapped the soiled lace in newspaper and plastic, the way her mother had taught her to wrap her blood every month and deposited it in the outside bin.

As soon as the last visitor had left, she took a tepid shower and checked that she was clean a thousand times before shutting the water off. As she applied Vaseline to her skin, she looked into the mirror, perhaps expecting to see signs of what had happened to her. She saw nothing. Her forehead was still slightly round, made interesting only by her widow’s peak, the only thing her mother had passed on to her. Her black eyes, deeply set, still twinkled with the youth she had felt slip away on that bench. Her teeth were still evenly lined in her mouth and when she smiled, she was still the prettiest girl her father had ever seen.

She stepped into the kitchen and started helping usisi with supper. She played the old radio which sat in the corner next to the bread bin loudly, the way she always did and laughed when usisi cracked some joke about her grandmother’s antics. Like she always did. And the next day, she woke to make breakfast for her siblings, like she always did. She continued with her life that way the next day. And the day after that. And the day after that.

Friday Night Lighting

I like to tell stories about nameless people who live pseudo-mundane lives. Simply because there are days in everyone’s life where they feel boring and uninteresting. Where the most fascinating thing you do is change clothes, and climb right back into bed. Days when nobody says your name yet you are not any less a person. Or relevant. This is a short story about a girl who goes somewhere. But nowhere particularly special. She does some things, but nothing particularly earth shattering.


She walked quickly through the small apartment as she checked to make sure the clasp of her worn watch was properly fastened. Another crack on her favourite timepiece could not be afforded, which prompted her to make a mental note – for the fifteenth time – to pass by the repair shop during her lunch break to have it checked out. As she bent over to check the contents of her handbag, her extra long dark braids fell forward, temporarily blinding her. She cursed as she fumbled with the hair-tie which she kept permanently fixed to her wrist for moments such as this. She tied up the inconveniently long hair with much effort, made another mental note to never get braids this long ever again, then went back to her task. After ensuring everything she needed was in the bag, she practically sprinted out of the house to the waiting carpoolers, three floors down, barefoot, bright yellow heels in hand.

This was her routine. Wake up on time, dilly-dally, cue up a playlist for the day and eventually dash out to her lift of perpetually annoyed travel mates, whom she would further annoy by applying her make up in the car in between begging the driver not to drive too fast for fear of poking her eye out with her mascara wand, and yelling for more volume. And as usual, after half an hour of navigating traffic, they parked in the musty basement of their building, which to be honest, needed to be abandoned before they all were buried alive beneath it one day. Whilst the rest of the passengers disembarked (yes, it is a car not an aeroplane, but when 8 people exit a soccer-mom’s car in relative order, it counts as disembarking), she crouched to buckle each shoe, starting with the left and finishing with the right. When she was done, she straightened up and admired her latest purchase and the way the strappy sandals complimented her bright blue toenails. She strutted (because in 12 centimetre platforms, one can only strut) towards the elevator and squeezed in just as the doors eased shut. As she psyched herself up for the day ahead by imagining a large gin and dry lemon waiting for her at her pit-stop before she headed home, she was vaguely aware of the chatter behind her as well as of the kaleidoscope of smells ranging from what had to be green tea to the driver’s pungent cologne.

The day flew by and before she knew it, she was the waving goodbye to the last of her colleagues from behind a precariously balanced stack of hard cover files filled with manuscripts. She felt across her desk for her now cold cup of coffee and took a careful sip of the awful stuff before turning another page in the book she was busy editing. She scrunched up her face at the futuristic descriptions and forced her mind to imagine barcodes emblazoned onto forearms and struggled to reconcile the use of medieval English with the robot-esque voices now speaking in her head. She glanced at the watch on her wrist and shut down her computer. She softly padded, heels now abandoned beneath her table, to the windows which overlooked a sparkly skyline, and further, the nothingness of the ocean in the night. A light sheen covered the ground below and she immediately regretted her choice of outfit. She focused her eyes on her dim reflection in the glass. The braids she had fought with earlier now fell in an elegant waterfall around her shoulders and down her back. Her black eyes stared back at her underneath layers of mascara, and her pouty lips still bore the telltale signs of the dark plum shade she’d applied in the car that morning. The predominantly red ankara dress she had had made in a kiosk in Ghana by a chatty fellow named Francis, touched her in all the right places without telling too many of her secrets. It fell down to below her knees in a subtle ball gown style. She reached up to the top button which gave the dress some modesty, hesitated for a second, then shook off the uncertainty and unbuttoned it. And then the next one. She reached into her left pocket and pulled out her lipstick and re-coated her lips, then squinted at the girl in the window to make sure she looked presentable.

Satisfied, she walked back to her desk and checked her handbag again before putting her shoes back on and ignoring the slight pain she felt from traipsing to and from the printer and kitchen and bathroom. She did a quick sweep of the office and turned the alarm on before locking the door behind her. She double checked it as though she had not just turned the key in the lock. As she waited for the elevator to make its way up to the 11th floor, she hummed Grandma’s Hands to herself in a bid to calm the rising nerves. Negro spirituals were for some reason, what her childhood sounded like, despite growing up on the outskirts of middle class suburbia in a landlocked country. The unfriendly grouch who sat at the eyesore of a security desk on the well-lit ground floor every week night, rubbed his face vigorously as the ding signalling the elevator’s arrival sounded. The sleep practically fell from his tired eyes as he caught sight of her – all hair and red dress and train of pitch black hair peppered with tiny golden haircuffs. He grunted a greeting and she waved a twinkling goodbye, the light catching the rings adorning her fingers, positive she could see the saliva drip from his mouth.

When she arrived at her destination, she pushed with practised strength against the massive wooden door that marked the entrance to a hidden basement bar, three blocks from her office building. She stood at the top of the stairs to collect herself after running like she was being chased by screaming banshees through the old neighbourhood, teeming with gentrification masked as development. Every corner had an artisanal restaurant which charged too much for too little and forced those who worked in the 5 block radius to carry food to their spaces of work or forfeit their housing. Or both.  And if one didn’t watch where one was walking, one could easily find oneself faceplanted after tripping over rubble or an abandoned tool. She took one last deep breath, sniffed her armpits and stepped onto the narrow staircase, shut the door, and made her descent towards the large room at the bottom, careful not to snag her dress on the splintered bannister. The walls on either side were lined with gold and black art deco wall paper which reeked of old cigarettes and reminded her of old movies set in the 1920s.

She pursed her lips and added extra swing to her hips as she pushed through a set of swinging doors and was met with exactly what she expected – Miguel on just the right volume, brown beautiful bodies either swaying to the music, carrying on around tables and velvet-lined couches, milling around at the bar or yelling orders at the friendly (and equally beautiful) bartenders dressed to the nines behind the bar. Her skin pimpled with goose bumps when she recognised a white, hand-stitched Prada purse thrown without caution, onto the floor beside one of the couches closest to her. She resisted every urge to seek out the big brown eyes that belonged to its owner and continued on her trek to the bar.

Fortune smiled upon her and she grabbed the remaining free barstool and dragged it to the far end of the wooden bar. She plonked herself on its shaped seat and dangled her handbag over the damp bar-top. It was quickly taken from her by the youngest of the barmen – a Turkish fellow with an unlikely Mohawk and the thickest eyelashes she had ever encountered. He deposited it under the bar and immediately busied himself with her usual order. She risked what she thought was a discrete glance and the owner of the Prada bag and allowed her eyes to drink in the neatly done high-bun, faux fur jacket and the newly manicured hands which moved as she regaled her group with what must have been an entertaining story. She shifted her gaze back to the barman before she got caught gawking and took a healthy chug of the gin. She leaned over the bar and picked up an extra slice of lemon, plopped it into her drink and nodded at the DJ booth, signalling the short, bearded artist to raise the volume and get the party started.

He started playing one of her favourite mixes – an old school vibe featuring Craig David in his prime and the newer sounds of GoldLink and Xavier Omar. The crowd shook out of the lazy energy that had gripped it and a few “whoop-whoops” were heard as some migrated towards the middle of the room to what had long been designated as the dance floor. She now sat with her back to the bar and her yellow heels swinging. She sipped her drink and gazed out at the show, feeling like a puppet master- controlling her puppets from the sidelines with the music she knew they loved so well.

The night progressed without a hitch and she even sent one of the bouncers home early. As she pressed the brown envelope filled with his wages into his giant palm, she giggled and kissed his cheek. He whispered sexy French things into her ear and she swatted at his behind as he walked off. It was easy to be disarmed by the hulking man – looks and height, married with charm and dreadlocks that looked like the gods themselves twisted them whilst he slept. She was still staring at his back as he swaggered away when she felt someone press up against hers and her skin came alive again at the familiar Burberry scent. She didn’t turn, but rather, leaned into the warmth and started moving to the music. After a brief hesitation, Burberry and heat joined her and two songs turned into four. Hands on the waist and light kisses rained on shoulders. Eventually, they turned to face each other and join the dancers in the middle in sing-shouting the lyrics to a Rihanna tune.

As the song seamlessly merged with another, she noticed a slight change in her dance partner’s energy and followed her gaze to the balcony door where two men stood to one side. One wore a fitted, grey three-piece suit that could probably pay to keep the lights on in her apartment for a month, easily. He had the haircut to go with it, and the beautifully maintained beard to go with it. The other wore a white shirt and loosened tie with dark slim-fit pants. His black brogues complimented the look nicely and the matching black tie almost brought out the blackness of his eyes even more. She let out the breath she forgot she was holding when there was a clearing of a throat beside her. She had the grace to blush and offered an awkward smile as an apology. They continued dancing, but not alone for too long. The duo from the door had placed their glasses down and joined them and she was positive there was a connection she was missing.

More gin and slick RnB led to more dancing and eventually, a corner set up with a bottle of Bollinger- the last one to be precise. The clientele was more whiskey and wine than champagne. She silently thanked the universe for preserving this one last one as she made her way back to the table after kissing the Turk too enthusiastically on the cheek when he announced that there was indeed a bottle available. She popped the cork to a rather loud celebration from the threesome facing her. They clinked glasses and made increasingly more salacious toasts with each sip. The bar was emptying as closing time drew near and the music softened. The lights got brighter to discourage exactly what they were trying to accomplish – chasing sunrise in the seats they occupied. The DJ signalled to her this time, indicating that he was ready for his envelope. She excused herself and handled her business. After the last of the staff had clocked out and the floor was gleaming, she paused and watched the corner table argue over what could only be something to do with where they were heading from here. She rubbed her lips together to check her lipstick and satisfied that she still looked good, she crouched to unbuckle her shoes. Leaving them where she removed them, she settled back into the chair she had curled up in before- in between Dark Tie and Burberry.

The sun had begun its ascent into the sky and first rays were peeking in through the open balcony doors. The empty bottle now stood upside down in the ice-bucket next to similarly empty whiskey glasses and champagne flutes. The gentlemen stood up to make their exit. Grey Suit pulled Burberry aside and after a brief exchange, they turned to her and the other one with looks of expectation on their faces. She unfolded herself from her seat and slowly stepped towards Dark Tie. On the tips of her toes, mentally cursing the loss of the height her heels gave her, she kissed him with a kiss she knew he wouldn’t forget and one that she knew would guarantee that Burberry would be here again tomorrow night and perhaps finally allow her to give her the same. As she pulled away, she chuckled softly at the look of what could have been shock or satisfaction on his face. She gave the remaining two a quick hug and cheek peck each and made a beeline for the exit. She motioned for them to follow her as if they wouldn’t know to do just that. At the top of the steps, she turned the key in the door and shoved hard.

Final goodbyes said and after a coy refusal to give her number, she ran downstairs, unfastened and refastened her watch, secured the windows and doors, double-checked the locked the safe, collected her belongings and made her way back up to wait for her requested ride home. All the while planning her outfit for the coming night because, Friday nights like these always led to the kind of Saturday nights which always led to the kind of stories aunties whisper to each other on Sunday afternoons, in deserted car parks after church, where they asked for forgiveness for their sins.

Naming Names

Names are central to the identity of most people.

I feel like not enough people in the world understand the concept of nomenclature, particularly in African countries. Or, perhaps I mean, in my city. Or in my circle.

Let me start at the beginning.

A year or so ago, I attended an event with a friend. This event is championed by black creatives in Cape Town and is an incredible space for sharing and learning from black excellence in a city where black creativity is known to be stifled or sidelined. I could tell so many anecdotal stories from the three hours I spent in this space, but the most relevant one for this discussion, was triggered mostly by my general extra-ness. In isiNdebele – my mother tongue, I suffer from a condition known as ‘amawala‘. I don’t think before I speak, I don’t know my place, and I am most likely going to be sent back to my parents after wreaking untold havoc in my marital home because I am generally ungovernable. Perhaps the word I am looking for is ‘impetuous’. I don’t know.

Towards the end of the session, the programme director asked for my name after a brief exchange (which won me a bottle of alcohol, so point one for amawala). My name is Rebecca. Nobody calls me that. I go mostly by Becky. I have answered to Becky since I was a child and only as I grew older, did I realise that there were people who had no idea that it was a nickname. So, when asked for my name, I answered, without a thought, ‘Becky’. I was unprepared for what followed.

There was a collective eye-roll from the room which was vocally expressed by the programme director when he laughed into the mic and said something along the lines of ‘your name is Bheki‘, and if I remember correctly, something that had connotations of ‘don’t be fancy’. My heart sunk a little and I went into defence mode and immediately explained, tripping over my own tongue – after the laughter had died down, that my name is Rebecca – ergo, Becky. But the damage was done and my spirit was annoyed.

Let me break it down.

By altering my name to vernacular phonetics, he was insinuating that I, as a black person, was somehow embarrassed or colonised, so much so, that I was not proud of the ethnic name I had been given by my parents. So, I altered it to ‘Becky’ to sound more ‘white’, for reasons ranging from identity politics to spinelessness. Who knows?  And this assumption is not unfounded. There are people all over the black (non-English) world who, because of factors such as where they went to school, have altered their names, to make them more palatable to the foreign tongue.

Samkelisiwe becomes ‘Sam’. Bajabule becomes ‘BJ’. Qhubekani becomes ‘Q’. Because the tongues which mould us, or influence the spaces in which we grow, cannot wrap themselves around the rich languages which name us. And that’s not OUR fault. But we can remedy it by REQUIRING them to learn how to. Because the same tongues which stutter at ‘Nomthandazo’ – a fairly easy name, can learn how to pronounce expensive French desserts after hearing them once. It’s disrespectful. It’s a constant micro-agression that we have to endure and it permeates every space we occupy. Think of work related emails. A person will sign off an email with their name and the reply will have the name misspelled.

ALL YOU HAD TO DO WAS COPY AND PASTE.

It speaks to the disregard that is carried by certain races for the significance of getting names correct. CERTAIN names. The names of their childhood friends and classmates. The names of their teachers and coaches. The names of the women who helped raise them. The names of the neighbourhoods in which they grew up or the names of the streets along which they rode their bikes. The names of their favourite rugby players.

Then they applaud when a white person speaks a vernacular language fluently. Non-English speakers have been breaking their tongues and cracking their lips for centuries to pronounce words they do not know the meanings of. Where are our news headlines?

It’s even more incensing when you consider that, (at least in Zimbabwe, my home) the same people attended Ndebele (insert alternative compulsory language) classes from grade one to at least Form 2 (that’s grade 9 for the muggles). It means that those classes were so unimportant that the basic language lessons that could have equipped them with the tools needed to pronounce a name correctly, flew in one ear and out the other. Because, ‘when am I ever going to use isiNdebele’, right?

Back to my story. I was upset and annoyed because;

(a) If you do not know a person, whatever name they give you, is their name. You have no right or reason to question the name of a stranger. Get off your entitlement horse and say, okay. That’s her name. Deal with your misfiring braincells quietly. Don’t challenge me on my name. Don’t do it.

(b) The exchange required me, the affronted, to explain myself. To explain my name. Something I don’t know that many people have to do. It is also something I experienced for the first time when I moved to South Africa. I would meet a person and we would introduce ourselves. I would then be asked ‘don’t you have a black name?’ To which I would automatically respond ‘Nomthandazo’. It too, is my name so, I don’t mind being referred to that way. My problem is, why must it fall upon me to position myself favourably within what is clearly, YOUR bias? However validly (or perceived to be validly) founded, it’s not  my problem. What about the person who only has English  names? Must their identity now fall short of this acceptable blackness standard?

(c) Black people can have non-vernacular names, because nomenclature varies from region to region. For example, millions of Zimbabweans (and other nationalities) who were colonised by Britain, still give their children very English names. It’s not uncommon to find a black boy from the back of beyond whose name is Edward. Edward may not even speak English. Also, religious communities will name their very Ndebele daughters Rebecca. It isn’t uncommon. There are a plethora of nomenclature influences and just because they are unfamiliar to you, does not mean you can use your ignorance to chip at my identity.

I was also frustrated because his ignorance and arrogance centred  ME as the problem, when in actual fact, it was him. A room of educated black excellence didn’t even register that it was not abnormal for me not to have a ‘black’ first name. In South Africa. In 2018. In a room where I was not the only person with a non-‘black’ name.  It didn’t register that in the middle of a cosmopolitan city like Cape Town, there would be foreigners whose names would sound unfamiliar. I don’t know.

Perhaps I’m overthinking it (I assure you, I am not).  Perhaps the nuance of this encounter means that I should have laughed off the dig because it was made in jest. Perhaps (insert all the reasons touted when black women are angry for no reason). The irony of this entire exchange was that the programme director has a ‘black’ name but his nickname is ‘English’ although derived from the former. *sigh*

I have two beautiful names and I weigh them the same. Names are central to the identity of most people, myself included. To some, they are simply a means by which to differentiate. I challenge you to sit with each time you have mispronounced someone’s name, misspelled it, asked them if they had a nickname so they could accommodate the laziness of your tongue.

And change.

Be mindful.

The Empress.

May My Love Stain You

I’ve gotten so caught up in contributing to this manuscript that I’ve abandoned the blog again. And the vow I made to post more often. A friend asked me why I had stopped posting yesterday. Well, maybe not a friend yet, but someone I would like to call friend one day. After a moment of “should I post something from the work in progress or something fresh?”, I decided I should do the latter.

I had a thought last night about the way I suddenly found the warmest of love in a place I wasn’t looking for it. Suddenly. And so soon after letting go of another. One day we’ll talk about all the feelings that came with that.

This thing has no rules and my heart doesn’t take orders.

I love hard. This is something which I have learnt is true for both my romantic and platonic relationships. If my heart opens for you, it will go the whole nine yards for you. It will also break a million times when our time is over. And, as someone who can count the number of actual (read official-he-asked-me-out-and-I-said-yes-I’m-your-girlfriend) romantic relationships I’ve have had on one hand, I don’t say this lightly. This thought isn’t fully developed but, I mean to say that I don’t often love this way, I guess. With security. Yes, I’m 27 going on 40 and I have limited experience at relationshipping, and discovering just how much I can love and give and labour emotionally is such a journey. Always discovering something about my heart and mouth that makes me pause and say, “dang, you’re something special”.

And I am. Lord. I am.

I have been mistreated.

Taken for granted.

Emotionally dragged from pillar to post.

Misled.

Lied to.

I have had my self esteem pounded into the ground the way I imagine one pounds yam. Properly.

I have had my friends wipe my tears in the dingiest of bathroom stalls in equally dingy bars in the wee hours of the morning.

I have been publicly embarrassed.

I have been ghosted.

Questioned my self worth.

Had my intelligence thrown at me as a reason for the abuse I was receiving.

A whole lot more I assume, because Poesville is a place we all have the co-ordinates for and it isn’t just a little town with a corner-store and the one ageing church. It’s a sprawling, ever evolving metropolis, with an efficient transport system and bustling Visitors’ Centre. Some of us have permanently reserved seating there in the VIP section.

But there is one thing about me, perhaps as a result of the many times I was in a place of uncertainty, or because it’s just the way I am. I never want a person who enters my life for the purpose of love and affection, to walk away questioning whether or not they were ever truly loved or cared for. I drown my lovers in it. I make sure that my affection is pouring out of them even though I am the vessel.

Sounds overwhelming doesn’t it.

But imagine never worrying that your heart is safe. Never wondering whether your human supports your breath. Having a permanent cheerleader. A place to take your life off safely. A resting place where it doesn’t matter that your flaws are under the spotlight and your nakedness is, you know, naked. I’ve spent the last few years of my life searching for this feeling and somewhere along the way, when I realised that we are too human to be able to offer this in its entirety, I resolved to be the best safe place for everyone who took a step in my direction. No matter how tentative. I refuse to be the reason someone walks away and intermittently asks “what if?” about me. Well, I don’t want that question asked because I was evasive. Or lukewarm. Or swung back and forth like a pendulum.

Sometimes it’s beautiful and rewarding. Other times it tears at my own heart to build the other person. But I’ll gladly empty my cup to spare my loves a loveless existence.

Bittersweetness and full hearts.

The Empress.

Puzzles

How does he make you feel?

Her: How does he make you feel?

Me: Today? Today he made me feel like I was the only spot in the world where the sun shone.

On Tuesday, he made me feel like it was okay that I forgot my umbrella although the rain was pouring.

He knows I’m a hurricane. And he comes with a raincoat. One of those two piece ones that come with a cap. Kind of like a little yellow fireman.

Her: How does he make you feel?

Me: Inadequate. Like he’s missing a piece of his jigsaw and I’m trying desperately to be it but I won’t fit.

I won’t fit.

Letter to the One who Came after Me

Strange envelopes delivered by even stranger hands

Hi.

I’m writing you this letter to let you know all the things that nobody told me about the heart you’ve stumbled upon.

He likes his filter coffee milky but not sweet. Here’s the catch, he’s embarrassed to say so because he doesn’t want to be made fun of by the barrister at the shop at the corner of Ninth and Main because he lowkey has a man crush on him and wouldn’t want him to think any less of his manliness. So, order for him. And order half and half. No sugar. Giggle to your heart’s content when he orders for himself and curses as he sips until it’s over. It’s how he lives his life – revelling in the pain.

He must learn.

He’s not a morning person. No matter what he says. Let him sleep in some days so he can recharge his bones and reset his soul. He never lets himself slow down and he’ll pretend to be mad that you silenced the alarm when he finally emerges just after noon with clear eyes and a slow smile that can only be attributed to a comfortable bed, or thorough loving, but secretly, everything in him is tingling, and rejuvenated.

Hand him the coffee.

When he comes in after a long day and starts venting, he’s not looking for solutions or participation. Stand there and listen with your eyes on his beautiful face. Let him strip off the weight of the day and hand it to you, word after word, for you to scatter across the floor and shatter into little pieces of frustration he didn’t know he was carrying. Feel every sigh and catch the heaviness that the world stealthily loaded into his system whilst he was busy. Listen also, for the things he doesn’t say. Those have been the straws that broke many a camel’s back.

Touch him. Often.

He is afraid of the darkness and leaves the lights on in every room. You’ll always know he’s at home by the blinding florescent globes that glow from the kitschy lamps he spends his money on after hours spent poring over webpages that promise personalisation and understated elegance. You may have to hide his credit card. The lights chase away a darkness he ordered before my time. We have a sad boy. Had. I had a sad boy.

Tell him you love him, when you do. Often.

Hearts like his exist to be responsible for themselves and are left unsure that they deserve love. Pour it out over him. Drench him with it. Never let a spot dry, even as you chase the sun. Take the love he wants to give but is hesitant to let slip from his closed fist. Pry it open and breathe it in. But. Defend yourself with everything you have, because this love will engulf you and suffocate you. It will hand you flowers and euphoria daily on silver plates and with warm bread on the side. It will let you fly without a parachute and you will be only too happy to spread your arms and follow where it takes you. Be vigilant, or you will wake up like me, a little disoriented and alone, but with the best aftertaste in your mouth – of fresh air and crushed berries. With vague memories of brilliant supernovas and a warmth that you will search for but never again find. It will be the best love you will ever fall into. Never stop swimming in it. Trust its motion, even when the waters feel troubled. Hang onto the rails when the storms come because the calm after that?

The stuff of poetry.

The Empress.

MOTHER

Mother rubs her flawless skin, then rubs her big belly. Blessed with a girl child, she whispers.

Mother ties the last pink bow on a head of pompoms, seeing herself in the eyes of the girl she birthed. Heart swells with pride.

Mother says go play outside,  I have guests, child.

Mother says don’t be so loud, you are a girl, child.

Mother says don’t play outside, supper needs cooking and the dishes will not make themselves clean.

Mother says get on your knees and practice humility not knowing that those hours spent on my knees prepare me for a different sort of humiliation.

Mother says keep your legs shut girl, don’t let the air in. For once the air gets in, you’re open for another kind of sin.

Mother says close your eyes when you pray child, or the demons you are exorcising will call their friends and they will dance in you as they did in Legion.

Mother says wipe your face, Jezebel. Don’t you know that your red lips will help you steal the heads from many households? And the heavens will not hear you when you pray for forgiveness because your prayers will be trapped by the chain of men who watch your mouth move when you smile and strip you as giggles escape your throat.

Mother says hide your breasts beneath looseness. Don’t you know that there is more than food at their tips? There are things that those on their way to hell beg for as their last earthly indulgence.

Mother grunts and swallows her pain when I offer her ice for the bruises on her face. Be obedient my child, or you will be at odds with your husband. No good wife will have to skip church on Sunday to hide the evidence of her transgressions from her peers.

Mother says lower your gaze, girl, and calls my eyes wanton. The windows to the soul she ignores as she metes out punishment for curiosity described as impetuosity.

Mother slaps my belly and warns of children than are caught like balls from loitering with the neighbour boys on street corners after dark. Or at high noon.

Mother pulls at the hair on my head as she chops off the locks one by one, to punish me for letters  from strangers who imagine what the softness in the middle feels like. And cries tears when she stares at the mirror to find that she has only made me more of a prize for those with wandering hands and eyes.

Mother mutters about patience and resilience being the foundations of marriage and sends me back for the ninth time, after pressing frozen water to my face and drying my eyes. How the tables have turned.

Mother weeps the loudest as they peer in at my lifeless body dressed in respectability and his relatives are nowhere to be found. She plays the strains of regret over and over in her heart as the product of her hands and mouth and body is lowered into the ground.

 

These days Mother washes and cares for the babies who ask often, after their mother. She tells them stories of when she danced outside and wore lipstick and held her head high.

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