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.

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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