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.

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.

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