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African Renaissance

Gandhi and potential

Abigail George

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Today as I write this the voice of Mahatma Gandhi is inside my head grooming me I think in ways that are imagined and unimagined. I want to be the change and transformation that I want to see in the world.

We must continue to talk about this topic. Exhaust this subject until kingdom come. All inconvenient truth. Hold its wreck and ugliness up to the light of goodwill and human nature.

There is only one choice. That we must follow our paternal roots. Our mysterious maternal routes. Fashion the perfect candidate for our next presidency out of clay and we must, we must forget about the monsters (see under rug swept).

What we all want now as a nation are credible people with the powers of sense and sensibility to rule and nurture the legacy of President Nelson Mandela. This is the time now for out potential to be great and become great in future seasons. In the time of this great, great country, the unforgettable President Thabo Mbeki, the dapper philosopher who coined the term “the African Renaissance” there is grace and mercy.

It is the prowess of the pen that will defeat all. This ‘trigger’ is wired into the methodology of our psychology. Some in today’s society will always have their finger on the money. Always. Believe me. Then there will be those who will forget but not forgive in their hearts.

The youth and the followers of the Fees Must Fall Campaign have their hearts set on fulfilling their potential. Who are we, I say again this time vehemently, WHO ARE WE to stand in their way. To stand in the way of a quagmire of potentialities.

Where is South Africa today? Where will South Africans find themselves in the future? What will happen not only to “Future South African”

generations but “Future Africa”, “Future Global” generations?

Order comes from order. Chaos comes from chaos. Reconciliation will come from reconciliation and the reoccupation of our thoughts.

Daily we are measured against the world. Our faith is tested when we are confronted by the scourge of apartheid (RACISM).

What is holding us back from the making sacred and universally great strides in (DARE I SAY IT, BANTU) education? Would you send you kid, your flesh and blood, to a school that has no sanitation, no running water, and no roof to shield him from the elements, no desk to place his textbooks on, to rest his pen (see again THE POWER OF THE PEN WILL DEFEAT ALL) who rise against it.

The youth are made of a brave substance. This was revealed in the media on campuses nationwide. They were a collective. They are a collective. They were a people. They are a people. They were a tribe.

They are a tribe. They are “my” tribe.

And so the second African Renaissance marks the second African revolution (yes, yes, yes, mark my words because these words are going down in history as I write this).

I am angry but I hope you will think and feel that I am choosing my words with care not to cause injury, hurt to anyone, damage or sabotage. I do not want to leave you devastated and to numb to think and feel anything but that I am taking up your personal space with dogma.

This is not only “my” South Africa. It belongs to all of us across the colour line. Black and white and whatever you want to feel free to call yourself because that is what race has come to these days. Making a cross. Ticking that box. Can’t you see? Can’t you see? “We” (“we” as in South Africans) have become products.

Our democracy, President Jacob Zuma, Julius Malema, Patricia de Lille, Dulcie September, Winnie Mandela are all interfaced with the hope we had in our first democratic election. Can you see that?

I don’t want to advocate that you accept my personal opinion as your own. You can make of it what you want. That is of course your prerogative. Perhaps I write like a journalist or speak like a political analyst. I don’t know. I don’t know anymore. Sometimes it just becomes too much for me. This succession debate.

Who is going to be the next president of our country? We can’t live with each other in this country it seems but we also can’t live without each other. This is a letter to the editor about so many things. Every single one of us has potential. The potential to become a criminal or the potential to become a teacher. Just take a moment to think about what I wrote just there. If you did, I think that we would all become new image people in split second.

I think that all of us still feel brave and shameful in so many different ways in South Africa especially about our democracy. We accept the west. Western ideology because it is so different from our adopted culture (BLACK, AFFIRMATIVE ACTION, those kind of LABELS) that we have to quietly “adjust our behaviour accordingly to”.

I want to speak so let me speak. I want to speak my mind. So let me speak my mind. Let me be frank with you.

Politics will speak to our hearts forever and forever and in the end what will that change? Where will the transformation come but from doing good for all and living a kind life with our potential.

Remembering that order comes out of order and chaos from chaos as the political analyst, Prince Mashele, said on the 15th of January 2017 on Interface on SABC 3, one Sunday evening in South Africa.

We should all become good listeners to our domestic housekeepers (“kitchen girls”) and landscape architects (“garden boys”). We still think of people in “that” way. It’s been twenty years people. COME ON!

Abigail George is a feminist, poet and short story writer. She is the recipient of two South African National Arts Council Writing Grants, one from the Centre for the Book and the Eastern Cape Provincial Arts and Culture Council. She was born and raised in the coastal city of Port Elizabeth, the Eastern Cape of South Africa, educated there and in Swaziland and Johannesburg. She has written a novella, books of poetry, and collections of short stories. She is busy with her brother putting the final additions to a biography on her father’s life. Her work has recently been anthologised in the Sol Plaatje EU Poetry Anthology IV. Her work was nominated for the Pushcart Prize. She briefly studied film.

African Renaissance

In the big night

Abigail George

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“What are you running away from? I’m sad too, you know. Leaving behind the only world that I’ve ever known. Scooter’s the name by the way,” said a thickset guy who had bagged himself a window seat. His muscles showed through his Sunday shirt.

There was an awkward pause before the response came.

“The woman I love doesn’t love me. We’re distant cousins. She wants to become a nun as a matter of fact.” There was another pause. “And Hulk’s the name”.

Hulk wasn’t in the mood for conversation. He was thinking of the great-uncle he had just buried, so, he closed his eyes and pretended to sleep.

“Is she beautiful, or is she a plain Jane, ordinary, or a choir-singing church girl?” Scooter prodded seemingly oblivious to Hulk’s antics.

Hulk shifted in his seat. “Of course, she’s beautiful.She can dance, she can sing, she does needlepoint, and she is a staunch Catholic who attends Mass like clockwork.” Hulk threw a curious glance at his questioner, a hint of interest brewing up in him. Women were a tricky subject for him. All his previous love attempts had been just that—attempts. Perhaps if there was anything he could talk about, it was that. Share his woes with this petulant stranger he was meeting for the first time in his life.

“You do know that there are only two ways we’re going home, right?We go home alive or dead,”Scooter paused as if to allow the message sink in. “We either go back as heroes, or dismal failures at protecting our country. At protecting the innocent men, women, and children of our country.” There was another pause. It’s not just our lives on the line here.”

“Soldier boy, we’re in the army now. What are you running away from?”Hulk scowled dismissively, the spark of interest beginning to fade.

Scooter turned to look at the other young people in the bus who had just finished high school as if to see if someone had been listening in on their conversation.

“In my own case, I’m running away from boring Sundays. Church on Sundays. There was never anything nice to eat at home, you know.I‘m running away from poverty, from being classed as being from a different race.”Scooter was speaking casually like he hadn’t noticed the Hulk’s disinterest.

Hulk sighed.

“Can you believe this class system? They want to call you white, or black, or brown, or Hottentot, or native.” Scooter was not looking at anyone in particular as he spoke. His head kept moving from the window to a face, back to the window, to Hulk, back to the window.

“I’m thinking of my mother. She cleans churches for a living. She cried when I left in my uniform. She told me, between sobs, that I looked good and handsome in it. She just stood there in the doorway of my bedroom sobbing into one of my father’s handkerchiefs.”A nostalgic smile was beginning to develop at the edges of Scooter’s lips. He paused to gaze out of the window again at the night sky.

“I believe in Kingdom Come. I’m Catholic. Was an altar boy. My whole life is the church. After the war, I’m going to Italy. I’m going to become a priest. Even though I know it will break my mother’s heart.” Hulk blurted outin a melancholic, almost remorseful, tone. Something about Scooter’s monologue had stirred up the nostalgia in him.

The bus was quiet now. The incessant chatter had all but disappeared. Everyone was lost in their own world. Most of them were thinking of the start of basic training in Cape Town. Scooter turned to look at him, the hint of a smile still on his face. He didn’t appear surprised at all that the his hitherto disinterested neighbour had responded to his speech. Then he began his rotation again—this time even slower and more methodical— from the window, to Hulk, to a random face and back to the window.

“I think of my dad, and my brothers when I read the Book of Job,”he said. “My eldest brother sells vetkoek on the golf course on weekends. Dad was a barman on a Friday and Saturday night.”He had a faraway look on his face as he spoke, like he wasn’t really seeing anyone as his head turned from one face to the other, and back to the window.

“I believe in roast chicken. The pleasures of trifle.” A mocking voice came from the back of the bus.

“I believe in the innocence of roast potatoes.” Chorused another.

“That one means business. Come sit here. Tell me all about your sweetheart. I’ve got all the time in the world before we get to Cape Town. I always wanted to go to the Mother-land. And you?” came the mockingvoice from the back of the bus again.

“You’re rolling your eyes at me now. Now you’re shrugging your shoulders. Oh, what’s that rustling sound. I thought it was a chocolate wrapper. Geez, Louise, I’m hungry. I’m starving.” Scooter made his way to the back of the bus with his padkos.

“Smoke?” Hulk asked nobody in particular.

“What did you say there?” came Scooter’s voice like an echo.

“I asked you if you wanted to smoke. I roll my own cigarettes. My old man had a pipe, smoked tobacco. It was really bad for his lungs. He passed. Last year. The cancer. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about him. I wish he were here; you know. Wish he could see me get married. Meet the perfect girl.” Hulk said sadly.

“Boys, listen up here. This is a non-smoking bus.Where is the exit route out of this place?” Scooter said from the safety of the back of the bus.

“I have a girlfriend. I loved how when we went to the beach, for instance, the sunlight would play upon her hair. She set me free. All I just wanted to say was that I never felt like this before, but my cries for help went unanswered, and that in itself is an answer, isn’t it?” said Scooter watching for a reaction on the face of the young man sitting next to him.

“Ah, a poet for all the nations. We have William Shakespeare in our midst. Sir, pray do tell, can you recite sonnets as well as prose for all of us.” Hulk jeered at Scooter.

“Nothing is real anymore. I think about her all the time. I dream about her. And I wonder what she’s doing. I told her not to wait for me.” Scooter continued to his audience of one.

“The stench of war is out there, waiting for you, waiting for me, waiting for all of us.” Nathaniel said softly to himself. “Pay no attention to this riff raff. Ignore this this duffle bag on my shoulder. But my family insisted on me packing some winter and summer clothes, two shirts and a tie in case I meet a member of the opposite sex in Kenya. The uncles insisted.Jones. I’m Nate Jones. Pleased to meet you.” Said Nathaniel with his hand outstretched.

“I still haven’t found what I’m looking for. The name’s Cato.” Cato mumbled. He reached out his hand. Shook Nathaniel’s hand. Smiled in a friendly manner.

“My Christian name is Nathaniel. Do you have a sweetheart?” said Nathaniel biting his bottom lip, but Cato ignored him.

“So, where are you from soldier boy?” Nathaniel said again, eager to start up conversation.

“A windy city.” Cato mumbled again.

“Does she mean a lot to you?” Nathaniel put his arms behind his head, and whistled.

“Who?” Cato said peevishly, as if he didn’t like where the conversation was heading.

“Your sweetheart. Are you going to write to her?” Nathaniel asked, his eyes glued to a speck of dust on his trousers.

“No.” Cato said glibly.

“The strong and silent type. No crime against that soldier boy. So, you’re here because you want to see the world. Looking for adventure?” Nathaniel answered. Brushing the invisible speck off his pants with his right hand

“You could say that.” Cato mumbled again. “Something along those lines.”

“Don’t talk much. I’m tired. I don’t sleep very well. Wake me up when we get to Cape Town. Just tell me one thing before I doze off. Are you in love with her, is she the love of your life?”Nathaniel’s tone changed. He felt sorry for Cato.

“I’m going to marry her. I want her to be the mother of my children.” Cato said with a certain kind of pride in his voice.

“I’m a tortured soul too.” Nathaniel said looking into the aisle of the bus. Watching guys making their way to empty seats.

“You?” Cato said surprised.

“My girl died. Tell me when the sun is out.” Nathaniel said quietly, closing his eyes.

“Our lives are about to change forever.” Cato said staring out of the window. Watching the world go by.

“I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” Nathaniel coughed a little.

“Believe me, the sun will breathe. Leaves will fall to the ground. Another winter has come and gone, and summer is all too beautiful.” Cato said with an otherwise expression in his eyes. He was becoming fond of Nate Jones.

“I bet you the drill sergeantwill say something along these lines. Boys, repeat after me. A soldier breaks all the rules out in the field.” Cato laughed.

“A soldier breaks all the rules but not in my camp. Something funny, sonny?” came Nathaniel’s voice.

“No, sir.” Cato started to play along with Nathaniel. Beginning to enjoy this game.

“A soldier is an actor.” Came Nathaniel’s voice again.

“A soldier is an actor.” Repeated Cato, guffawing and snorting in mock-derision.

“A soldier is a man who honours tradition.” Nathaniel saluted Cato.

“A soldier is a man who honours tradition.” Cato saluted Nathaniel back.

“No women? Seriously! Geeze, Louise.” Came Scooter’s voice from the back of the bus.

“No women out there for you, my friend.” Hulk guffawed.

“Hey, you. Hulk, I’m talking to you. You talk now as if we’re old friends. We’re not old friends.” Scooter said indignantly.

“This is a war we’re fighting. We’re not going to a church dance in a church hall.There’s nothing but sand, and more sand, and desert, and more desert where we’re going.” Hulk said unsmiling.

“This is meat and potatoes country out there. Is that what you’re saying?” came Scooter’s comrade’s voice.

“Don’t listen to everything that he says. He might be pulling your leg for all that you know.” Scooter admonished.

“Nobody was speaking to you.” Hulk said in a loud voice.

“You’re very good-looking, handsome even, I must say.” Scooter giggled, feeling slightly foolish, but brave too.

“Like I was saying, there’s no mystery girl out here with red lips, and smelling like perfume. It’s just wilderness.” Said Scooter’s comrade.

“Can’t say the same for you. I think it sounds like paradise. Heaven on earth. No father beating the hell out of you, and your old lady on a Friday, and a Saturday night.” Hulk said choosing his words with care.

“Slow and tender. I like girls with curlers in their hair. Kiss them slow and tender. Hold them in your arms, like this, they go crazy-mad for it. Fall for my line every time.” Scooter said smooching the air.

“The world is about to go to war, and all you can think of is girls. Shame.” Hulk literally spat the words out.

“Shame for you. I can tell you’ve never been kissed.”Scooted laughed out loud.

“Oh, really now. You some kind of fortune-teller?” Hulk said. He crossed his arms across his chest somewhat defensively.

“What are you thinking of, soldier boy? You thinking about a girl that you had to leave far behind. Describe her. Describe her to me, please. Was she the love of your life?” Nate asked Cato, but Cato pretended as if he didn’t hear the question.

“You think they’ll give us all rifles.” Scooter asked with a dumb grin on his face.

“War is not about running around with a gun, and shooting up people.” Hulk said. This statement changed the entire atmosphere on the bus.

“I know that. I was just making a joke. Sorry. Apologies. No need to be so serious. Lighten up.” Scooter said with a helpless look on his face. He began to crack his knuckles in an attempt to lighten the mood somewhat.

“I don’t need you to tell me to lighten up.” Hulk said somewhat aggressively.

“Sorry. Apologies. I thought since we’re all guys here, and everything I’d lighten up the mood.” Scooter shrugged his shoulders. He was a tall fellow. Stooped his shoulders whenever he walked.

“You thought wrong. It’s the principle. There’s a Hitler, and a Mussolini out there hellbent on starting a war.” Nate through his hands up in despair. He shared a look with Cato. They both laughed at this short exchange of words.

“My father was from Saint Helena.” Cato said looking out of the window, momentarily blinking back tears.

“He speaks.” Hulk said with a snigger.

“Saint Helena, where is that exactly? Never heard of it.” Scooter wore an interested look on his face, but pretended as if he had heard it all before.

“It’s an island in the middle of nowhere. Just sea, sea, and more sea for five days until you reach the shores of the Cape, or land, whichever first.” Cato said, as if he was reminiscing about better days.

“There’s no grass where we’re going. Guys, don’t worry about getting grass stains on your uniforms.” Nate commented, smiling broadly at Cato. He had good teeth.

“No grass, you mean like no grass. No grass under my faded shoes.We get a uniform, you say, with boots and all.” Scooter said with surprise in his voice.

“My mother, she couldn’t stop crying. My sisters, they couldn’t stop crying.” Hulk sounded pensive. One minute the centre of attention. Next, withdrawing from the group.

“There’s no wind where we’re going. No mountains, or rivers. Just sentry duty, and driving ambulances, carrying stretchers with young boys who are going to be amputees one day, carrying the lame, the wounded, the sick, and the dead. Putting the dead in body bags. Burying the dead. Marking gravesides with the cross.” Nate said leaning his entire frame into the seat. He pretended to make himself comfortable.

“Soldier boy, anybody ever tell you that you have a lovely personality, you know.” Scooter said wearing a curiously serious look on his face.

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African Renaissance

The gravity of the lover

Abigail George

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So, mother, like Johannesburg, you cut me in deep, imaginative and resourceful ways. A cut from you was a project. Thinking of you, staring at you, looking at you, your progress illuminated the world around me. Everything was brighter and so, I was always regaining strength. The love I had for you was lost on the pages of my journal. Lost (always lost). You laugh and say nothing and it hurts. The bright heights of it. Lying on my back I’ve been draped with a blackening world’s information. When evening comes it is even more poetic than the previous day’s evening. And when I spy the afternoon sun, that great yellow balloon, I am a woman found who dares not speak of the insanity (bipolar) found in her family. I have lived in chosen exile. On the surface prayer is like a vision, cold is a delight, the silver lining that passes by, salt and air meeting on the wind. In poverty there is always decay, the song of a choirgirl, crystals of light, a graffiti of them. I trace them on my arm, the windows and my palms. What he, the lover does not know won’t kill him like it kills me? I am slowly destroying myself. I have nowhere to go but down, down, down and there is no one to rescue me, to pull me out from under the dark towards the light.

His roses looked (for some reason) like cabbages to me. Red cabbages, a red song for the mad girl, a flower for my bleeding heart. The boy I used to play chess with in the park, sit on the grass barefoot, walk to the library with. He doesn’t have a name. His face doesn’t exist in my memory anymore. He has become a dark line, a dark fantasy although I can still hear his voice but it is from far away. All these affairs of the heart have made me feel strangely creative. They slide through me, teach me, whisper to me in the dark. I hate the dark. I need the light to burn bright even in the middle of the night. I pull sheets over mirrors. And I imagine the lover whose dark hair smelled of rain. The rain of a child’s world. This is my sky, my grass, my rage (I view the world as an Outsider). Girls are drinking beers in fancy restaurants trying to make conversation. Crystals of light evaporate in winter rain outside my window. Sexuality is really not of the flesh although most people think it is. It is of the mind. It is of the ego. It is intellectual. When is childhood ever at an end? This planet is unstable. I am unstable. I was tangled in an obsession for being a ghostly not of the flesh sexual object. I thought that that would open doors for me to humanity for humanity’s sake. I thought I would be able to hear the chords of the earth’s harmony. It kills me to say this. Madness can be as magnificent as euphoria. If only my childhood was different. Anne Sexton. Sylvia Plath. Robert Lowell. Confessional poetry down a brick lane. Confessional poetry for a coquettish girl. How beautiful and extraordinary those words seem to me now and forever more.

When is childhood ever at an end for a writer, years of history and the educating of a young girl’s mind? I saw pictures of a formidable brick wall seeming to close in on me in those affairs of the heart and the mind. Disjointed, evaporated fragments of the spirit. And every one becoming more and more apparent to me as the long days and the longer nights went by of my late adolescence and early twenties. Everything is disjointed, in fragments, there’s no clarity in what I have written down to me the reader. Everything is a journey. I’ve had enough of feeling this wretched way. Enough of the dead heat of a hot summer season, a season of fruits challenging me to think and to escape into a voyage in the dark, a sheltered experience, the blue-eyed wonder of the sky, stars falling down, stars in my lover’s eyes pleading with me with a clean perception during the midnight hour, scrutinising me openly with likeminded possibilities like clouds gathering across the sky. Everything in life is a journey. One must walk the path of inexperience to get to modernity, influence, perception and wisdom. I think a writer, writers like Virginia Woolf, Hemingway, Keats, Orson Welles, F. Scott Fitzgerald and a poet like Emily Dickinson knew this.

Two Muslim girls are standing outside my office window smoking as if their lives depended on it.  I hated the taste and smell of cigarettes when I lived in my hometown before I left for Johannesburg. I don’t know where the children get the impulse to smoke from these days. At this moment I am concentrating on improving myself. Having a set routine, sleep hygiene, working on not having sleep deprivation, writing in my journal. And I wonder do they think of me, the men, as often as I think of them or do not think of them? The sexual impulse is sacred but I never saw this between a man and a woman, never grew up with it only with the realisation that sin matters. I couldn’t stand to be happy. When darkness fell upon the city of Johannesburg, I came undone under his fingertips. I didn’t know why I hated myself so. Why certain books changed my life? Why I could only surrender when a man touched me? Love comes with paradise, tears, the explanations, the words, the observations that comes with gravity, the love songs, and it will leave you wanting lying in the dark. There is no such thing as organic time or a clock. White meringue weddings are for girls, for orchids, for arum lilies, for tea light candles, delicate material like lace (not meant for a wonder guts like me, a tough cookie). I will not appear the same in the photograph as I do in memory. What do children communicate when they laugh, when they smile? Is their world not filled with joy? Why not mine?

The faded leaves of grass under school shoes, bubble-gum stuck under a school desk, reading Athol Fugard’s A Road to Mecca, remembering all of these childhood things brings something temporary to the surface. Not tension, not indifference, but a feeling of love for being young and not being in an adult world yet. A feeling of being fearless, so motivated that I got the lead role of an archaeologist (or anthropologist, I forget) in a house play. I don’t know what courage means anymore. Can you see the fragments now? How disjointed the narrative is? But is it enough? Is it enough to want desire? Sometimes I think that is enough. The sexual transaction can be far removed from being ‘a moveable feast’. Dampness seeps into the lining of my coat as I enter the hotel in Johannesburg (fifteen years ago) with someone else this time. He does not put his hand in the small of my back. He does not offer to buy me a drink. He falls asleep almost immediately as his head hits the pillow. The relationship is over before I know it for sure.

They don’t come back to me. Am I so forlorn? Is youth and wisdom wasted upon me? Maybe they’re seeking much more high maintenance girls. I just wanted someone to understand me. It wasn’t so much the educating part of it that I wanted. Dead writers have taught me that the pinnacle of creative expression is to challenge conventional wisdom always. I’ve surrounded myself, invoking their spirit, reading and rereading lines of their work, succumbing to their world of madness. The world is not the same for women as it is for men. The role that women plays is still a diminished one in the equilibrium of space and time although there have been women who have been visionaries just as much as men have been. Women have taught by example, led by example just as much as men have but what these women have known is that wisdom comes later rather than sooner. It comes with maturity. Darkness falls and I feel an emptiness inside. I am alone and I’ve finally surrendered to it. I am more in love with love than being in love with someone. I am Eve taken from Adam’s rib. A daughter doing what her mother did and did not do. 

Secrets, keeping secrets is a demanding world. And then there is the rural countryside filled with patches of grass, the history of how to grow pomegranates, catch fish, the heritage of ruins, rain pouring down like a ritual taking its place in the hierarchy of the food chain, seasons that come upon us and pass, steps, leaps, stars, human stains, animal stains, blood, shark teeth, a school of fish, whales. This world is meant for sessions of personal injury, hurt, deep pain, smiling laughter, you calling your daughter darling, the grim existence, and the caged existence of the young poet. I am capable (every young poet is) even though the cigarette smoke’s vapour’s injury starts with a mocking signal. I am not lost. Bold heaven is pulling at vital me. I am a romantic as I become more and more curious and the objects around me transfix me. The death of a relationship is in the air like horses in a race to the finish line, an aloe’s sap and tears, mirrors, your reflections, encounters with angels above and angels below on the earth’s alchemic plane as consciousness travels the globe, alongside the dimensions of spirit, the elements of soul.

The poems of Ted Hughes is the music that has shaped my nutritious isolation, my night swimming, my eternal waiting, and my frantic, hysterical weeping. My night swimming comes with its own frequency and rhythm. My limbs take on a life of its own (so poetic, I am guarded against humanity, my imagination, inspiration, the Milky Way, the knowledge of other galaxies, the light of the shy laughter of a couple not far off from me swimming in the dark), suspended between the pull of gravity on earth’s plane and other parallel dimensions. The parallel dimension of my pure flesh and intricate bloodwork, my dreams and goals, the gift of my personal space (that most private area), an arena that so few have viewed. Daughters do not always become mothers and mothers are not always perfect. They have their flaws. Ordinary mothers. Extraordinary mothers. Put them in a box. Every goddess-mother. I see my mother’s brilliance pick a valuable and beautiful object up and suddenly I’m transported to the room in a mansion. And there I shut Pandora’s Box. Plant a flag there. If only God could hand out a medal for every birth-pang. Every mother has pulled funny faces when she was a child, held a cloud of a helium-filled balloon in her fist by its string before it became a shred, dreamed of a childhood continued when she became a youth in her sleep, as she paged through fashion magazines reading her horoscope not knowing yet that her future was predestined, that she was predestined to be a sexual object on her wedding night, a friend and confidante when she was wooed by her future husband, that her eldest daughter would be a failure, her second a major success and her third child would be a Scout, a quiet, bookish, loner as a boy who suffered from asthma and a beautiful intellectual, funny and sweet, a deeply imaginative-thinker, oh-so-serious who would be charming and artistic, sensitive and understanding as he grew older, and that this introverted leader would be both spiritual and show humility when it was called for in political meetings, a man after Winston Churchill’s and Abraham Lincoln’s own heart.

Betrayal is lethal. Plath a gone girl in young womanhood reaching dazzling heights like me. Live or die. Those were Anne Sexton’s words. Pure. Introspective. Demanding a haunting interpretation. Yet their craft and bittersweet verse still defies terrifying and manipulative electricity, attachment, movement. Clever girls. Mother had daughters who were clever girls. You were no woman in black, mother. I put my suicidal illness inside a jar like a butterfly and leave it there for the moment. I escape into the pages of my journal, those hard lines, the physical, emotional, and mental appetite beckoning. The landscape changes every day in leaps from green. Once I was in pursuit of Hughes, advancing upon him, closer to the flame in his psychological framework’s psyche, harvesting his cool gaze, that tower, that secret winter. His throne burns me, my guilt flares lap after lap in the Olympic-sized local swimming pool like diamonds in the sky marking the distance to the stairway to Heaven, the ladder to the Milky Way. Hughes sits at my table (I want to say that he should explain himself). Mice in the kitchen, tails between their legs in the universal-solitary-shape of death after being wounded by the mousetrap, no survival guide for them, escape-route, seductive exit and their whiskers no longer move baffled by the world around them, there’s just an ode to the mute and I begin reading my letter from home that serves to improve the fragile, loved half-lie I’ve been living.

Where, when did Pablo Neruda find the time to write twenty love poems and a song of despair? Hughes is in my life again. His Winter Pollen. I’m staring at his photograph. He comes to me as if in a dream sequence. He is even more handsome than I remembered. I remember going back to the city’s elements. The city of Johannesburg. The watery-prophetic eyes of women and children, decay, dirt, spiritual poverty and that there’s nothing pretty or picturesque about the pain of the mind. It can be more acute than the pain of the body. Johannesburg to me is a kind of Hemingway Paris. A psychological construct made up of childhood dialogue, the female writer who speaks in code, the young women who would slip away in the early hours of the morning arm-in-arm with their dream man of the night after a nightclub closed. Johannesburg was a Freedom Land’s anchor, a feast where the abnormal became normal, running with scissors, poetry in my twenties, knives, guns in the air. Sacrifice is not effortless. Midnight is but a voyage into the goal of a dream. Laughter keeps me alive. I seem to have been born with this intuition. Even now Johannesburg makes me think of the stale smoke of a cigarette and men who have moustaches.

Boats have become arks. Girls have become quiet women. Here there are no ducks in the park in their own world of silence marking time with their song. My sister adores her reflection, her face is a lake, the face of a scholarship girl. I watch her swallow shiny things, flicker, go up in flames, rise towards truth in the flesh and the spirit, her celestial madness and I ask myself does she never feel fear or vulnerable, does she never meditate on the sun only on our silence. She was a pianist when she was younger, tap-tap-tapping the clouds of the keys. I can only survive with the memory of my Johannesburg. I can no longer kill the sirens with their elegant-shapes. The sirens who slit their wrists, jump off bridges, leave the car running, and hang themselves. They’re becoming as rare as the rainforest, pilgrims. Perhaps they were too pure for this world, the heat of their sensitivity could not withstand any thing, withstand a pilgrimage, listening to the noise in a glitter-ball-world, arrows of ballads flying through the air landing at their feet like dew, sounding like a symphony or Beethoven. Every dress, every heel, silk stockings, perfume is a gift but who will receive them? Daughters? Orphans? The Salvation Army? A fete’s jumble sale? Is it for a wedding, a baby’s christening? Beautiful women become ghosts of themselves like leaves. Now, weaving delicious spice sinking inside a curry-pot, (wet masala, mother-in-law, ginger and garlic, turmeric, fragrant curry leaves), I concentrate on the bowl, open my mouth wide to taste.

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African Renaissance

Virgil

Abigail George

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I have to stop smoking so much. I think of knitting. I think of the wool I will buy. I think of everything I will make with the wool. The tapestry I will finish of a girl wearing a blue ribbon in her hair and her dog sitting next to her. This image makes me smile. It makes me happy. As much as the man makes me happy. Well, smoking it has become a dirty habit. A filthy habit that I cannot seem to get rid of and all I want is to see him as I wait for him in the courtyard or the terrace. He is all-important to me. He is all I want in my heart but there has to be room for science too and the fourth industrial revolution. There has to be room for my research. There has to be room for the politics of the moment to become as visible as the imperfect self. All I want is the man. All I want is the boy who lived next door to me and asked me to play hide and seek. When we kissed for the first time, I thought he could feel my inexperience like rain falling on the pavement when you have left home with no protection whatsoever, such as a raincoat or an umbrella. All I have is the hours. Hours like the baking of bread, or birthday cake, or children.

Summer is here boy from Mars. You blow my mind every single time I look at you. I see everything. I try not to see everything. I am falling in love. I am falling in love. Sleeping in a chair by the window. I thought you were standing over me. I thought that I could feel your presence. Thought I could feel you watching over me during the day, and watching me from afar when I go to the shops for groceries, or bobby pins, or to look for wool. You don’t smoke, it comes from memory or it comes from desire or it comes from childhood, my childhood friend. I turn my head away and blow the smoke out in expert rings of cigarette smoke and I think of snow on the mountains in Swaziland, in Switzerland and in Austria. In the beginning this is how we talk to each other. Slowly and tentatively. I reach for his hand. He reaches for mine and we sometimes sit in companionable silence. Saying nothing for an hour, and then the hour stretches into two, and I go into my elderly parents’ kitchen and I carry cups of steaming hot black tea with two sugars to him. Does this make him happy, I wonder, and is this enough for him, and doesn’t he expect more, he is of course a man now, not an adolescent, not a boy, not a child? There must have been others. Other women. Beautiful women and then I feel that my heart is breaking, I can’t breathe and not for the first time, when he looks at me and smiles, I can’t breathe, when he gets up and asks me a question, or makes me laugh, or tells me a story,  and can I handle myself around him. He loves me. I love him. Are we ready to embark on this adventure called life together? I am still afraid of the dark. As a child I was afraid of the dark. It terrified me like lucid dreaming and cognitive behavioral therapy and men who said to me in my late thirties, come and keep me company.

There is electricity in the air as he takes my hand. I can see it in his behavior, his body language, isn’t that what the clinical psychologists says, instead I look into his eyes. I am staring at him, giddy with joy and happiness. I can’t stand to look away. He is my church. He is my shopping mall. And all I want to do is touch base with him. Hold his hand in my hand. Hug him real close as we part, feel the texture of his jacket with tenderness and the pull of vertigo in my fingertips. He is important to me. I think he knows that. I think he does. I haven’t told him that in so many words, only so many ways. Only in actions. Only in words. I am writing to him now. Always on the phone waiting for it to go off, waiting for the bread and the rusks to come out of the oven. I experiment madly in the kitchen as I experiment in the darkness. Summer is here and it feels amazing on my skin. My entire body tingles as I slide into the bath and I think of him. I think of him mostly. How amazing he looks. I think of his eyes, meeting mine as he listens to me. I listen to him in return.

To his innovative mind, his forward-thinking ideas that sober me; the coward and the fool inside of me. Do you think you could ever come to church with me, do you think you could ever pray with me, and I say, perhaps tersely, or am I imagining that I sound like that, to this boy from Mars? We grew up together. We were childhood friends. He invited me to play hide and seek. What do I remind you of, I ask hi? I want to know. Our childhood, he says in a heartbeat without blinking. And overnight he has become important to me. Overnight, I have fallen deeply, truly, madly in love with him. I have waited and waited and waited for the right pilot to come. The right pilot to make intelligent conversation. He had no money. He was a history teacher who dreamt of writing plays like Athol Fugard. I know Lisa, I said once. I know her in passing. He looked confused. Lisa? He said. Am I supposed to know her, know who that it is, he says, pensive and confused and I feel as if I have cast him aside as if he is some toy that I have become bored with? I am not bored. Far from it. I am a woman in love. And in that moment that has now come and gone all I want to do is protect him, all I do is love him more. I think of his beard as perfection.

Think of his lips and mouth on mine No, darling love. She is Athol Fugard’s daughter. He lives in Los Angeles now. I think, I think, I think. I kiss his hand. I take his hand in mine. I kiss his face. I kiss his lips which are warm and sweet and taste like Glen tea. The man kisses me back, unhooks my brassier strap and runs his hands up and own my back. You feel good, he says. He takes a step back, meeting my gaze, making eye contact, making me feel safe and wanted and adored and most of all desired, and he says, you are beautiful. The man says while he reaches for both of my hands and I look a sight, or a mess with my brassier bunching into my chest, you were always beautiful, did you know that. And something inside of me is turned on like never before. He has been with women. I have been with people. I have been with men but not like this before. Never like this. It felt as if I was coming home. It felt as if I could call him sanctuary. His hand in mine felt steady and cool in mine. I could feel something turn inside of me like a revolution. I felt myself at night thinking of him, and then the impossible would happen I would not, could not fall asleep without medication. I lay awake the whole night thinking of him. All I wanted was to lay in his arms and feel his arm around my waist. I want to know what love is. I wanted people to show me. I wanted them to come to me and hold my hand, and tell me that everything is going to be ok, that I need not worry.

My people they loved me. My tribe, well, that they supported me. What is an overachiever. What is a perfectionist. What do people do besides make love and have babies and raise their family. Tell me please. Tell me quick. Look at my blue wrists. Look at the blue veins on my hands. Tell me that you love me mother. Tell me that you love me father before I destroy myself in the fire. I let the cancer burn. I let the black veined leaf burn that I balked at and turned my head away from and it felt good to do that for the most part. But the vision of her, the apparition of her red fire engine lips, her dark hair falling down over her shoulders, over the middle of her back like silk has always stayed with me. She was mother. She was mother. And in the bedroom, she was lover and wife and belonged to my father. Her name was, I sometimes forget, but it will come back to me soon enough. There were times when she made me feel as if I was the most important person in her life, and then I wasn’t. I was replaced by laxatives. To be the best she taught me, you had to be thin. Model-thin and it was a woman’s lot in life to take laxatives.

What do people do, I would ask her. I don’t know. Ask your father, she would answer. Drifting away from me. It was my father who hovered. Who hovered in the passage of our house, of my childhood house? It was my father who took me with him everywhere he went. I was made to feel wanted by my father. I was not made to feel wanted by my mother. There was always a lack of energy there. There was breakfast and toast. There was the congealed yellow sun of the egg making a smiling face up at me. I badly wanted friends but brought nobody home. One day as I was playing outside as they had a screaming match. The usual. Although usually I could predict it as clockwork. We sat outside and I was as numb as a gun. Listening to my mother’s voice going higher and higher like an orchestra. I don’t love you anymore, you know. I don’t love you. She stripped the beds. She broke her wedding crockery in the passage. In the face of my mother’s madness and sabotage and destruction he became calm. I became a gun. I became the bullets in the gun. I put a helmet on to shield me from her gaze. But of course, she could not see me. She had as usual forgotten I was even in the picture, playing with my friends after coming home from school. Your daughter. No, Miranda, our daughter. Your daughter, she said hissing.

The daughter who looks like you with the high forehead, will she ever be beautiful. I want a child, Thomas. I want a child. Give me a child, and my mother collapsed and cried and cried. I want another child. A child who looks at me the way your daughter looks at you. She hates me. It is because you give her enough reason to do that, Miranda. Can we try, can we please try to have another child. And after that, came my father’s patient voice. We could hear their entire conversation unbeknownst to them. I will stay. I will stay, Thomas. I am sorry. Yes, Miranda, you always are. Let’s make love, Thomas. Make love to me. Make me forget about this never-ending day. I am bored. You work. You go to work. You see people. I imagine you see beautiful women. Answer me, Thomas. The children, you forgot about the children, Miranda. And I looked at the man and everything mattered from his eyes, to the touch of his hands. You think too much. Don’t think so much, said the man, his arm around my shoulders. I am falling asleep, love. I felt something letting go of me inwardly. As if finally, the insane life and a sane life was had met in the middle, as if there was a coming together and I rested my hand on his shoulder and closed my eyes.

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