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.

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.

Weigh Them All

Sometimes that’s all they are.
Words.
Nothing more.

Pick a word like you pick a melon. examine its skin. its weight. its viscosity. its sound. its texture. its ability to be juice and meat.

~Nayyirah Waheed

I’m a sucker for long conversations and the exchange of words.

I crave meaningful engagement. Head to heart. The other way around. With mouths and tongues and long text messages.

I revel in the way they travel from the lips of a lover and float in the air to land on my ear. On purpose. I sit in silence as they pass through my brain and resonate after the comprehension. And when they settle on my heart, I anchor myself in the emotions they elicit. I sit with them and think through what they mean to me. What they meant to the lips that uttered them.

I miss you. Feels like winter has decided to visit three months early and I am missing from someone. Like an ingredient misses from your favourite late night indulgence and when you bite into it, you can tell that something just isn’t right.

I need you. Feels like what I imagine cracked lips feel like at high noon in the middle of a desert after days of walking in circles, searching for a way home. Water. Needed.

I don’t want you. Feels like the final hour of labour and smells like the halls of abandoned hospitals in B rated horror movies. Like your screams for help are heard by no-one and there won’t be anyone to catch the fruit of your pain as it leaves your body every single time your hips crack.

I hate you. Smells like burning letters from lovers past filled with sentences that convinced you to cut up half of your soul and hand it over to masked witches who promised you off-white dresses and happily ever afters as you slept.

I lied. Feels like waking up to false alarms on weekend mornings drenched in panic because you need to be somewhere. Anywhere really, where everything sounds real and your hands don’t slip through solid walls and Alice doesn’t have to drink from strange bottles or  speak with white rabbits to make sense of things.

I don’t care. Reminds me of the shade of rejection and features prominently on every seventh page of the book of life. Because how could we be complete if we didn’t hear words that hurt us. Well rounded, they say.

I love you. Feels like a secret message written in clumsy cursive on a torn-off page corner, folded too many times, passed down through rows of curious messengers with grubby hands which lifts up off of the paper as you open it. Warm and innocent. Well,it used to be.

Often, as I sit with the words, I forget to listen for what comes before, sometimes after. And as I am washed in the water that I have chosen to swim in, I forget to listen to the violent downpour that made it. To listen to the gentle rain that drew puddles which grew into lakes that flowed into oceans…

You get my drift though?

That sometimes that’s all they are.

Words.

Nothing more.

And seeking an anchor from well-practiced, hastily uttered speeches is unwise.

 

Soft.

I am not a poet. So this isn’t a poem.

I am not a poet. So this isn’t a poem. This a bunch of sentences.

I didn’t think I was soft. I went out of my way not to be.

The soft ones always have wet cheeks.

I mean, I always knew my heart was soft.

So I built walls around it.

Monstrous walls with lookout towers and lamps made with fire. And wood. And rough hands. Soldiers marched around the walls day and night chanting incantations to keep danger away.

There were dogs too. For company.

Because not soft women keep the company of vicious and unfriendly dogs.

I erected signs with warnings.

The entangled barbed wire was a nice touch.

I spoke in discouraging tones to potential suitors.

I sent them on fools’ errands for geese with golden eggs and little green men with money in buckets. They always came back with dirty knees and empty hands from begging cherubs with crossbows for mercy.

Their cheeks were wet.

Then we would get on carousels and ride until they were dizzy. I’d ply them with red water and rub their backs until it was all out. I’d whisper caution into their deafened ears whilst the wind blew in our direction so only the hills would know to stay where they stood. For fear.

We would climb roller coasters and hold our breath until we plummeted from pinnacles so high we would see stars from closing our eyes too tight.

We would run from clowns who smelt like stale conversations and the tears of women who were blue ticked. We would dance too close to the fountain’s edge and get broke from making wishes in wells with murky waters to water nymphs whose business it was to steal dreams.

I ran a circus, you see.

And when the day was done we would sit side by side next to the only crack in the main tent and watch lovers watch lions, and tigers and bears. I’d let them press kisses and steal the joy  that would bring by sounding the bell that meant my pumpkin was on its way.

And at night, I would clutch my glass slippers and inspect the walls. The signs. The barbed wire and troops who whistled a heads up to night travellers. To make sure nobody had scaled the walls whilst I pretended to be enchanting.

And enchanted.

I would pour the splinters I’d stolen from the crosses the brave ones who got too close now hung from, to keep the fires alight.

Cuddle up to the prickling metal and wait for the next day of adventure. And wonder how much longer my heart could be held by the walls and the wire and the signs and the spells.

I suppose I am soft then, aren’t I?

For if the very core is gooey mush, that takes a thousand mercenaries in boots and helmets to protect, at a cost that is far too high, what does the shell matter? When my pockets run dry and the walls are tired, and the tears of wet faces have eroded the wire, and the charms I bought from the charlatan float into the air like empty prayers to no-one,  what do I have left?

Softness.

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