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.

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.

Blood on my hands

this life thing is not a fair enterprise

Today, while scrolling down my timeline I stumbled upon the most astonishing news: Chris Brown’s latest offering-‘X’, may be his last. For an entire 12 seconds my world came to a screeching halt and I had flashbacks of my teenage years and how I memorised lyrics to dozens of his songs and drooled as his ink increased. Then I was distracted by another tweet about incompetent call centre workers who seem to have no training in customer care-or any knowledge of the services they claim to offer-and I nodded a vigorous ‘amen!’.

27 minutes later I was trolling the internet for Chris Brown news (I couldn’t help it), and lo and behold, an Irish online paper had published an article about his alleged resignation from the music industry. Further down the Google hits page, another (significantly less classy) webpage insinuated that his actions were influenced by his long-legged on-again-off-again Bajan lady friend. (I rolled my eyes so hard my head, hurt).

Anyway, the point is this: other people threaten to quit via twitter and obscure gossip mongers who are paid to mong gossip (I really don’t care that that isn’t English), type frantically away and make it headlining news. You become the first child in your family to graduate-you get a goat in your village and sunburn.

No, this life thing is not a fair enterprise. And today was a defining moment for me. In less than six months I will finish law school and click my shmancy new shoes into the real world. And the world will not tilt on its axis, neither will birds drop from the sky, but, a thousand voices will cheer when I get to do what I love.(yes these voices are in my head but that’s irrelevant) And the day I quit (touch wood), the internet addicts may not know about it, but I pray that my hanging of the proverbial towel will be for more than just billable hours and face time with high court judges (tingles all over my body).

Chris Brown and I have a few things in common though-we clean up nicely, love fast cars and are generally awesome. He’s just had a head start and the internet presence thing.

Love, peace and the early arrival of the long weekend!

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