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African Renaissance

I went to a Model C school in post-apartheid South Africa and only survived for a year

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When it comes to the issues of eating disorders, which is the topic I am addressing today. Topics such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia.

The question for me has always been (as a fellow sufferer), why aren’t we telling our daughters that to be perfectionists it is ok? It is perfectly fine for a man to understand that. I’m not here to talk about entitlement, social cohesion and good governance, and land reform in Africa and elsewhere in the world and good schools.

The rich send their children to good schools. The poor send their children to no schools. I was a product of a lot of schools, and I knew intrinsically that something was wrong. It had come to that time when you make career decision. What are you going to do with the rest of your life? I didn’t want to do anything. All I wanted was to stay at home, drink coffee, and read books. She, my mother, began to live vicariously through me. For all of my life.

I am the bone-thin sweetheart under my kitchen table, with the not so perfect hair. I listen to Karen Carpenter and get the blues. I love to die a succession of deaths in under an hour. I’m obsessed with the Bang Bang Club. I’ve become obsessed with Kevin Carter’s psyche before he killed himself. I listen to the Manic Street Preachers. They have a design for life. Always have since I did my O’ levels in Swaziland.

Life is beautiful when I write. I adore the writing life. Aren’t glaciers even beautiful, the rush of winter in the trees, birdsong in the clear of day, and the clarity of the sensibility of all of them but writing, the book stuff is something else. It’s all a part of life, my life. My mother lived her own life. When she didn’t feel satisfied or fulfilled, she put all of her sexual inadequacy, insecurities and doubts on me.

And the only things that I seem to have on my mind is that I don’t have enough time in the world during the day to write, to perfect the craft of writing, the art of it. So, wish-fulfilment has been on my mind, that and everything else that is happening to ‘the people of the south’, the people in South Africa, the vulnerable. Everything is fleeting, including your youth. At the heart of it all we’re all poets. But most of all I’m frightened of the wild, of the wilderness disappearing. I am mourning our mountains, and rivers. Topic for another discussion for another day. Body dysmorphic disorder must be realised for what it is. A poor self-image.

What are your answers on how to sell a book and save the world at the same time? And I’m frightened all the time. Frightened of being an invisible person, an invisible woman for all of my life, because I was a prodigy, or am I forgetting myself again. Fear and anxiety rise up in my throat. The voices say that I am mad, that I will never get a man, and he will never trust my judgement. The loneliness wells up inside of me. I think of the reality of my dreams, and nightmares. The men that I telephone, who accepted my friendship when I was in my early twenties, who do not return, who have stopped returning my calls. Shy away from me.

The voices worship, and adore me. They do, they do, they do. They’re fierce creatures when it comes to the burden, and care of loving me, heavenly when they play my love songs on repeat. Video did really kill the radio star. Fear is what I hold dear. Anxiety is what I cherish. I am volcano lover versus oil on my hands. I am devilish. I am exquisite. I am poet. I am lake. Sometimes I go where the mood takes me. Sometimes I am numb with cold, then freezing to death because of the air in my room, salt, and light, and energy on the forsaken summer breeze, and I think of my arms, and legs as I do branches.

I smell like a forest of trees. Ancient and cool, like driftwood spat out of the cold sea. The men I once loved are decades older, and I still long to be in their arms, to be in their bed. I search the internet for online literary journals in Scandinavia, because the voices tell me I am something of a poet. I have sorrows on my mind, the colour blue, fish fingers on my plate heavy with ketchup, chapped lips, a greasy egg breakfast. Vertigo goes to my head. I watch Pastor Joel Osteen on the television.

After the television evangelist Joseph Prince’s show, they give me the good news that I want to hear. And yes, yes, I mustn’t waste my pain.

Of course, everyone understands my situation now after watching Homeland. Poor girl, they all say, the father substitutes feel sorry for me.  Their wives, my surrogate mothers every one, roll their eyes heavenward. I know exactly how they feel about me. I replaced my own father’s affections for my mother My life is fodder for everything that I write. I just want to be happy. To be happy to me is to live on a diet of coffee and yoghurt and lettuce. Rabbit food and salad and literally eating mayonnaise out of a jar. Licking the back of the spoon makes me feel all-powerful.

Why does it seem that prodigies never want to grow up, accept the responsibilities of a 9-to-5 job, make a positive contribution to society? If they are a daughter-child they think that they will never find a man or partner love them as much as their father. So, they find themselves in therapy (I was in therapy since I was before 8 years old, and 40 years old before I understood the intricacies of the mind, how every brain disorder worked on a rational, irrational, realistic, non-realistic, reality, non-reality level). There is a lot of thought-work being put into having the psychological traits today of both mother and father. Today we are studying aspects of the brain that have never been studied before.

Spending quality time with the mother-figure/figures in your life, if you were so unlucky never to have, or, rather have a lack of a mother-figure in your life. We only have to look at the building-bridges architype between the Duchess of Sussex and her mother. The Duchess of Sussex is an outstanding role model for children of mixed-race relationships. I follow her brand of diplomacy in my own inter-personal relationships in my public and private and personal lives. Both the Duchess and her mother are the epitome of class and elegance in public. Kudos to them for winning the hearts of the public.

Living your life in a bubble is unimaginable sometimes. The public (I have realised through singular trial and error) will never see you at your most human when you are a public figure. What will always be key in all of our lives, whether we are famous or not, is how we master diplomacy, negotiation and reconciliation in our own life. Master respect and master forgiveness. Watching Jeff Bezos, Prince William and Prince Harry, Albert Einstein, Jean Rhys, Rilke, Nikolas Tesla, Elon Musk, the late filmmaker and visionary-creative Anthony Minghella (Mr Wonderful. The Talented Mr Ripley based on a Patricia Highsmith novel.

and The English Patient).

I began to see that from inconsolable grief, isolation from your peer group, losing a loved one, or, not having the love you need in your life we can use the presence of deep and emotional pain, what hurt us in our past, every incident of trauma, and even been bullied can begin to rebuild our mindsets’. Yes, it can I believe. I can only speak from my own experience. I have empowered and uplifted myself. Now I must do this with millions. Millions of the displaced, marginalised, vulnerable, and jobless. I want everyone to have a seat at the table.

I am glad the topic of sexual violence has come up in the pages of Modern Diplomacy and child rapists.

You know, I thought to myself it was about time, and then I cried because I was so happy. Gender-based violence is another topic close to my heart. If you are a woman of colour, reach out to all woman of colour especially those who want to ask your advice. We are building a nation not of equality, but cohesion. The following step is of course rehabilitation for both parties involved. The victim being abused, and the perpetrator of abuse. My aunt was an alcoholic.

The stigma in the coloured community of a woman drowning her sorrows in addiction was so great she died of alcoholism. She will never know her granddaughters. Racism is also a form of mental cruelty. Every violence, domestic, sexual, mental is a form of cruelty of the worst kind. There was domestic violence in my family. Everybody knew what was happening in the family, but nobody did anything about it. I watched all of this from afar.

All I want you to do is to remember me. Remember that children are not in the habit of wanting a lover, that’s grown up married stuff. Rather all they for most of their lives is accepting that I just need a friend, like I need sobriety, like I need a man in my life. Women don’t want to be my friend. They rather treat me unkindly. Laugh at me behind my back. Destroy my reputation just because they can. I will always remember you, you, and you. How you said I was behaving, like I had been misbehaving, not taking my medication. How you spoke to me as if was unwell. That I needed to be treated for the depression again, or, something, or, something else this time around.

I have stopped loving you. I am not in love with you anymore. I would be a fool. I would be the insecure coward. You win traitor. You’ve got the girl now. You’ve got that woman on your arm. You made a fool out of me. Never replied to my emails. Perhaps I was lovesick, traitor.

You’re yesterday, traitor. You’re suffering, traitor. You are kismet, milk-fed, champagne snorting through your nose at the parties, and social gatherings that you go to with that girl on your arm. When you move on the dance floor at the nightclub, you move into her, grasp her in your arms as if you will never let her go. You let me go, go, go.

I really wish you would smoke. Light up that joint, fall asleep with marijuana in your bone season, but you won’t. You won’t think of snorting cocaine up your nose. You’ll drink sherry, but half-half-heartedly, just to join in with the rest of your in-crowd.

You’re still as popular as you ever were in high school. All the girls, no matter what their age, they all fall for you. They are all in love with you. I feel split right down the middle, because of you traitor, part of me calls you vulnerable, part of me remembers the intimacy of our conversations.

The prodigy is frightened of the world, does not understand how critical it is to be ‘people who need people, and that they are the luckiest people in the world’. And he grows up, she grows up so focused on achieve, achieve, achieve. Accomplish, accomplish, accomplish. Give me grandchildren. Marry. But all they hear are is that they are not children anymore. They have to marry now, have sexual relations, join the adult workforce, and they think their glory days are over. That they will never be truly loved again. Then when they are not loved, they consider everybody in their adult life as traitor.

How I long for a bowl of black olives. I long to spit the stone out, like you spat me out, traitor, as if I was the criminal in this narrative. I’ll write a book about you one day, see if I don’t. I swear on my father’s wheelchair, I swear on his life, I will, I will, I will. I won’t call you sweetheart. Just remember me, please. They don’t know anything about the longevity of a career, how time-consuming it is. They just want to remember that once they were a gifted child.

So, topics today concern children. I espouse family values. This is very important to me. Children must be protected at all times. We have discussed mental wellness. Suicide is on the increase. Children must play. I was always at a drama rehearsal at a very young age. I never wanted to go home to that hellhole. A dysfunctional family who could see that I was different, told me so, destroyed my self-esteem and identity. Even the person I loved most in the world. My brother turned on me as an adult.

Do I advocate free clinics around the world dealing with issues of mental wellness for men, and young men, women, and young women, people of every age, especially widows and orphans, the homeless (when I was homeless, I stayed at the Salvation Army and a shelter for abandoned women and children).

They call themselves places of safety. Yes, I do think people should be trained to deal with people who are mentally ill. Most of all have empathy for them.  We must not fail to realise what is at stake here and all the stakeholders involved. Especially our sons and daughters.

They are of course the next generation. We must protect the most vulnerable stakeholders when it comes to mental wellness. Understand that where ignorance is bliss, it is folly to be wise.

Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominated shortlisted and longlisted poet Abigail George is a recipient of four writing grants from the National Arts Council, the Centre for Book and ECPACC. She briefly studied film, writes for The Poet, is an editor at MMAP and Contributing Writer at African Writer. She is a blogger, essayist, writer of several short stories, novellas and has ventured out to write for film with two projects in development . She was recently interviewed for Sentinel, and the BBC.

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African Renaissance

The Simplicity Of Reading Matters

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My father would read my journals with the savage intent of a beast. What on earth was he searching for? He read it over and over again furiously. Passion is a kind of love medicine. You never completely grow out of it. Searching for longing (I think here I was playing the same mind game my father was as he was looking through my thick black scrawl, my scribbling) you never completely grow out of that either like playing bingo or scrabble. I knew that my mother and her sisters (my mother was the youngest out of all of them) treated me differently. A child can feel the onset of the lack of mother-love like the early death of men in the faces of their fathers, their older or younger brothers. The world is always different for beautiful women. Nobody asks of them. And what of the illumination of pain? It is not as if they sit and think about the psychological analysis in the cerebral cortex of Ingrid Jonker’s black butterflies or Ingrid (still a beautiful woman) as she would have been in the autumn of her years surrounded by family, her family, her daughter, her grandchildren, manuscript after manuscript published and unpublished. Once she was a daughter who lived for a short while in exile in Europe. But what is Europe? What is the London, the Austrian, the German, the Parisian, the Scandinavian experience? Lonely cities every one although lovely but lonely especially if you have no one to share it with. The sights, the sounds, everything illuminated, images, accents, even the aroma of coffee and freshly baked bread wafting in-the-air different. Even the night glare is different in each city as different as it was for Carson McCullers as she set out to write her autobiography. Why is it that women, that it is female poets who are touched with an almost self-imposed exile in the hours leading up to before they end their life? I mean all the greats were like that. The great female poets.

They’re the source of inspiration for male writers, for their female contemporaries, for the youth, the generation that wants to live forever, for posterity, recorded in the annals of time for researchers who can be found behind the spires of university gates. Who want their poetry to be published in slim volumes and sold to their families and friends? To be criticised would be the death of them. For their poetry to be held up to the world, to a critic in jest would be the death of them. It would mean the end of that ode, or that sonnet, or that simple haiku, their handwritten beautiful cursive notes forever about the joys and the feast of autumn (here I think of Keats, the oh-so-talented and beautiful Rupert Brooke, the Romantic poets, the stunning verses of the war poets, old men, young men, the talented and the not so gifted but who find it within themselves to see the world and to write about it every day). Rolling hills through their beautiful eyes will be as soft, gentle, and voluptuous as a beautiful woman, her skin will be as rich and creamy and thick as thick slices of bread and butter, and the sea will eventually become breadcrumbs dusted off the kitchen table (useless, used over and over, described in hundreds of ways already and would have died a hundred deaths as well. I mean isn’t there only so many ways that you can describe the sea, its dream reality, its fishy airs-and-graces, fish with blinking-eyes that can only conjure up plankton, fish with bleeding gills like slits, the waves, all of their brilliant power, magnificent symmetry, imaginary and not imaginary sea-green brutality). The woman, the angelic goddess-muse well her skin is ripe, her flesh, blood and the throne of bones that her cells rest upon will become as rich as tea to him. Watch out for them, these poets for although their hearts long for solitary life they will need the laughter and screams of children around them, a woman’s conversation too.

They think (a grave error on their part) that their personal space must be filled with a great amount of sacrifice and loneliness, that to be a poet they must only think pure thoughts. Thoughts of wuthering heights, and that they must have little writing rituals even though they think they are mocked by their peers. They think they must suffer to be a poet. They must live somewhere out in the countryside and always write and think with a brilliant clarity of vision. And the best of them unfortunately think a lot about living in poverty, not having a stable income and not being able to provide for a wife and a family, finding a house. Most especially they think that they are about to fail miserably even before they attempt to write a masterpiece. A man’s poetry well their stems will be rewarded. They will grow, they will find their own journey, their own routes to follow and be nurtured and be peeled from the sky. But it is much easier for a man to find solitude, to find peace and rest, find a little piece of heaven for the roots of his poetry to take. A man will read voraciously, eat voraciously, have a quick temper if his friends do not find his ‘anticipatory nostalgia’ up to scratch and of course they, the male of the species must be free to travel to obscure places, to leave if he pleases. He must drink a little too in the spirit of things because it is in every poet’s nature, that and to fall in love too. And the best of them well they will sink into despair. They will think that everything they write is a failure. They will hide from the world, seek the company of other men because this is what all men do with notebook in hand and hands stained with ink they will want a stamp of approval. They will want someone to say there is depth there. And the best of them, the brightest star amongst them, and the cleverest will take their critics to heart and just sometimes it will crush him and his epic consciousness.

A drawing in the sand was never enough for me as a child.  I was a child who wanted to be like Keats, an angel from another realm. I was an Alice-in-wonderland chasing after her white rabbit. I was a collector. Scattered-heaps-and-brushes-with-dandelions, earthen-potpourri, picked up (investigate-them-first-then-clean-them) shells on the beach, gulls feathers, pieces of driftwood, I tampered with stamps, ephemera, postcards, letters from overseas, from pen pals, school certificates (I shone with success, merits and excellence), notable stage roles (leads and supporting), photographs of family dead and alive, healing and in recovery, ribbons and barrettes for my hair just like Sylvia Plath when she was at Smith and I saw the miraculous healing power, instrument and hand of God in everything that I touched, that I stole, hid away from painted sight, that I looked at in my treasure box (an old shoebox that used to be filled with Sunday school shoes with buckles. I used to wear them with white school socks). I needed a network of dead poets around me, female poets, mother-figures (please don’t try and psychoanalyse me on that one because I think it is quite obvious). There was life. A life to live for and to die for. My mother entertained me or rather I entertained her like a circus-freak I think. Is it horrible, is it awful to think something like that, that your mother was a monster but because of the way she treated me she also educated me and I grew up very quickly in that house with no visible address marking it on the outside. It was also not listed in the telephone book. Pinkish-light-streaming-through-my-curtains-on- a-Saturday-night-the-telephone-that-never-rang-for-me-on-a-Saturday-night. I needed to talk to the dead. I must write I felt somehow what I was being taught to feel, think, and wonder about the world around me. What was I seeing?

Poverty, poverty of the mind, the cemetery of the mind, Dambudzo Marechera’s, spiritual poverty, children, smiling, laughing, screaming children living in poverty. There had to be an explanation for putting on a fur and then getting into a car, turning, twisting the key in the ignition and then inhaling the fumes of carbon monoxide. Anne Sexton. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize. Live or die she said, she growled, she moaned, she hissed under her breath.  There had to be an explanation for a woman who lives to save the lives of her children and then sticks her head in the oven. Sylvia Plath. And then there was Ingrid Jonker who drowned herself. Beautiful women. Sad women. Women who suffered. Women like me who felt terminally like Alice-in-wonderland. How do I explain that? I was a child. And I was a strange child. I was reading D.H Lawrence in primary school. Not age-appropriate. Not that I could understand very much of it. My parents were very over-protective. My siblings and I lived a very sheltered existence. In school I was infatuated with Holden Caulfield and then when I became older even more so with the elusive Jerome David Salinger. I needed emotions. I needed to feel. I yearned for it. A lack of mother-love can do that to you. Perhaps that is why I write today. I sell my slim volumes of poetry to my father’s family and friends. I don’t think that this world knows what to make of me. Poetry to me is a wilderness. I love it there. It’s so organic. I am the creator making chain stitches, and there’s not a dead thing about them, they’re so elegant and leave me feeling satisfactory, pure and wholesome. When I write it is as if I am operating under the direction of another. The connection is permanent. Fingers weave active, endless imaginings like clouds, and nothing is wasted, even the wild has a certain sweetness rough though it is.

Thoughts are like skin, faintly in the beginning they are haunting and secretive, damning, larger than life, winter in my hands revisited again, and again ravishing me. They never touch my physical body though. Those fingers. There is no voice. Believe me it is easy for a child to think if she writes down the words on paper that roses are red that she is communicating with the dead.

Leave me alone. I’m a scorpion. I have vamp-fangs. Poison-and-oil, its twin dripping from them. But in the end I loved too much anyway. I fall hard. I fly high. People fall in love all the time so why the hell can’t I. Purity-being-dolls-forget-the-pain-is-that-what-the-terms-are?

Oh-shattered-pitiful-coming-from-pain-each-and-every-individual this can be family-life.

The adult in me wants a room. A quiet room in the sun and that receives a fair amount of light. An artist’s room. Artists need light like they need their workspace and their muse, their models, their inspiration, their entourage and of course a wife who would also function as a wonderfully efficient housekeeper. The room must only have the essentials. Of course like in Vincent van Gogh’s room there must be a bed and a desk. I have no use for an easel.

From my room I will watch the world go by and think of girls dancing in the pale moonlight arm-in-arm with their boyfriends or their husbands-to-be like my mother once was. She forced, dragged my father to go to dancing lessons. He was so terrible, always stepping on her toes. 

In the end it’s the ghost of my paternal grandmother’s sea that saved me really if I have to be honest. She was a maid, a domestic worker who also did washing and ironing and raised five children and my grandfather worked as a barman. He would go down on his hands and knees, a grown man and scrub the floors of that country club. At night he would eat his leftover plate of grease of meat and potatoes. A plate of grease. Gosh he had beautiful hair. Of course he had also gone off ‘fought in the war’ in Kenya and when he returned to Port Elizabeth, to the suburb of South End (before the forced removals, the Group Areas Act, Europeans only understand, and apartheid seized the hearts and the minds of the white minority) he was given a bicycle (a bicycle you understand) and a coat. And when he died they gave his medals to my father. The black sheep of the family. You see, that I don’t understand at all. Guess what?

It is inevitable that reading matters, that life has hips and poetry too.

I gave myself up to the tenderness in the dark. I could feel them. I was always at their mercy, that they (other poets, my companions for life) needed me a little too much.

I guess the grief that they had carried throughout their own lives had not been enough for them to silence them. Even in death they thought out of the box.

The voices. I promised them everything will come out in the end for the good, for the good. I will permit it.

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African Renaissance

Within South Africa’s Borders and What They Can Teach Us

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The integrity of the personality and poet is one that faces the philosophical gaze yet relevant opinion that winners in the political arena who are outspoken and authoritative women are generally feministic in their outlook and intellectual in their leanings towards the disposition of whatever firebrand, dazzling and political means. Digital empires and social media networking is neither a novel game or inasmuch gainful territory for the masses but for a sporadic few it means meaningful employment. When it comes to what is trending, forecasting or popular whether it be titular, misgivng, prophetic or revealing somewhat it seems that literature is either puritan or the writer thereof hero-worshiped in some way by not only the establishment but the masses have cause to as well. 

Given that the pendulum can often swing in the opposite direction corruption marks an exit from a tribal group of broader-based affinity, rather a kind of predestined and ordered influence of sound presentiment where then each sector sought to dominate thinking and class structure, personal co-dependency, to now an individualistic format of thinking, a gap of seismic proportions that is steadily increasing. This secular arrangement is tantamount to a Roman world where glory means the innocents who live in steadfast poverty cease to exist amongst wealth and prosperity, culture, heritage, livelihoods and traditions and the brutality of the collapsing society due to the pandemic’s onset where we cannot build bridges to secure both financial and emotional security and psychological appeasement for the exhaustion that threatens our livelihood, which is Mother Earth and climate change. 

Media, psychology, culture, poetry have all had their roles to play in the endowment of a cashstrapped and marginalised society. Largely the majority of a nation was overtaken by a minority which led to unsuccessful ways of dealing with the lack of training, skills and expertise to take the rest of Africa from a kind of purification plan from the minority to majority leadership. 

Segregation is more than a story about the acquisition of justice, emancipation and liberation. It is about culturalism, socialism, the enslaved African mindset and attitude, standards of protocol, patriotism and process. This landscape is constantly changing. As poetry evolves, so do our poetic voices and challenges. Being that as it may we must look not to power, we must look not to our social interactions within the context of race and faith and images of force (authority and leadership, education and psychology, philosophical undertakings), we must look not to equate them with partisan truth and compartmentalised beauty but to art and artistic endeavours. 

It has led to standing on platforms and talking shop on the mental strain, the underdevelopment of dealing with stressful and depressive episodes which has led to alcoholism, addiction and mental illness in families across the colour line in South Africa. The need for adequate medical information, change and impact to take place at all levels of civil society, political consent is a grave and urgent matter whereby the parties in question organise themselves into a coalition for the working classes. I think in that way both socialism in the sphere of a democracy will be recognised on the terms of policy and law makers and all stakeholders. 

There are important thoughts, words, deeds and actions that generations of writers and South African poets have embraced definitively that has improved our social standing, that has necessitated equality and debate of the infinite time and space that exists in action. Whether it be political action, poetic action, economic action, mental and emotional action on the wellness of the physical body. But does the sensibility of what we are writing make sense, is it understood in a linear arrangement, can it be investigated further, the dynamism of information technology in this age of digital media, and how does poetry reach the masses if our laws cannot, what do principles and values stand for in lawless communities if you alone are a law abiding citizen. 

Radicals have a passion for skating on thin ice. I think to improve the democracy we live in we have to look at what we yearn for. Not to fail, not to discriminate and to create art. 

In the end, our psychological framework has become our internal adversary and the environment the external.

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African Renaissance

Boarding School In Mbabane, Swaziland

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I have often spoken about death.

Sometimes it comes like a loud shout, a big bang deliberately but sometimes it is strangely quiet as if there is a royalty to its element. And then there is the earth that we fold the body physically into, throw dust on it and pay our respects or the ash that we hold in our hands. And then afterwards when the family gathers to eat, to sup together, to break bread there are a lot of things I assume they surrender, that they let go of or don’t. Head under water is the only place I can let go of all of these things. There is no echo, nothing to distract me, evaporate me like smoke and it’s the only place where I know of the top. It is not rain pouring down, wires growing from my head, nightmares that come to me in the middle of the night that worries me so, illness.

Its skin was red, orange and green, tasted like butter. A mango is delicious from the first time you taste it, I tasted my first proper mango in Swaziland (all that summery goodness came with its warmth, that sweetness on my breath, juice on my clothes, sticky fingers but shadows must meet somewhere and all I wanted to see was London). I remember the mangoes you kept for me until I came home from school (you would put it in the fridge until it was cool, the orange strings of flesh) or we would have avocado on toast, or French toast with fresh coriander leaves fried in creamy butter or hotdogs and chips as only you could make them where Swaziland was my home for a year. You died before your time, my second mother. Your hands pale, hair dark and as you became more ill with the more weight you lost but you were still beautiful to me. Leaves shake and rot in autumn, spin around, around and around. You were my star amongst all souls. I miss epic you every day. There’s a loss that comes with breathing. But the stranger in the ghost house has no voice. He does not speak of self-help, a shelf-life. A double life, red dust, dead parakeets, sweat running down his wife’s back, the madness and despair of Liberace. Something is unanchored yet still beautifully functions, is productive. It is called family and the awareness of coming home, a flag was planted here in the South’s wilderness where a genocide took place, there’s whisky in a glass, an afternoon cocktail. Books that are a sanctuary. An Eric Clapton record is playing. The red dust of this county does not speak of self-help. There is a suicide. A death in a river. And the police come. This is August: Osage County.

The police come in the middle of the night. Like the detectives in plainclothes that came to my house in the middle of the night when my brother took a knife and stabbed my father. Nothing romantic about it. About the onslaught of death, of it catching up to you like a thief in the night, a cat burglar, a cat drowning in a bag with her kittens, that is how I felt as if I was a drowning visitor. I saw guns that night I led a double life. I pretended I did not see or hear anything and inside I was numb. When I saw my father’s blood. It had an oppressive quality to it like everything in my life so far. The drugs refused to work. So I took more and more of them slept all day and all night.

The double life of the romantic jasmine. It lives and it dies and it lives and it dies. I can talk and talk and talk and no one will be listening to my conversations, eavesdropping on them. Down the winter road I came across men who stare at goats. Men who were good dancers or American soldiers who took German lovers during the war. Men who were good actors, some were heavy drinkers in my mind, and philanthropists. The knife was sharp. It struck air again and again and again. And then is was anchored in skin. I didn’t scream. I was a Scout’s knot.

Ran in my sandals to the neighbour’s house as fast as my feet could carry me. Outside the air felt cool as rain. How I wished it had rained? But there was no rain that night and they called the police.

There’s no romance in death. Hair and flesh coming loose. And still daddy was left standing, unafraid. My brother was prancing around all of us, smirking, smiling with cunning deceit, high he was having his cake and eating it too. Pinned daddy to the bed with his arms like shark teeth. My mother had ran away in the dark. I was left with notes of grief, a stem and a route to follow. A flowering bleeding heart making waves, beating fast. It was Christmas. But there were no presents only a winter road to follow.

To hell with it if I do not ever fall in love. It is a case of much ado about nothing. I have lost my mind and recuperated in hospitals. Once again become anchored to reality in recovery. I do not have a brother and I do not have a sister. I do not have a mother and I do not have a father. They live their own lives, so they amuse themselves, selfish people everyone.  While I am kept sheltered in Pandora’s Box. It is a box filled with romantic villagers of my own making. What a comfort they are to me. I am an orphan on Okri’s famished road. I am Nabokov’s and Kubrick’s Lolita. And soon I will be forgotten like breath. The moveable a feast of sex, romance and death. Damaged, damaged, damaged but I must not speak of it.

It will be the death of me and I must live without the disease, the stain of trauma a while longer, sit on my throne, collect bones like arrows that fall from the sky. Curiosity has killed me. Men have killed me extraordinarily. But I have nine extraordinary lives and am left smiling like the Cheshire cat.

This is the brother who I am supposed to love. I do not admire him anymore. I feel nothing for him when I remember that night from hell. House of huger. House of hell, of madness and despair. If he had a gun we all would be dead. I cut up the onion, seduced by its layers. And I cry for what has been lost, gems every one. There are diamonds in my eyes and I blink them back. My youth, my youth, my youth and there is no ring. No ring on my finger, all those chronic wasted years. Now he is Lucifer manning the gate to the wards of hell. My beautiful, darling boy what has become of you?

The secrets that we keep are committed to memory. They’re lessons in the needs of people around us, a lesson in obedience, sometimes even wisdom. And it takes bold work for us to realise that the future is bright when sometimes we are challenged, when we have to mine glory. And make a ceremony out of it. There are profound ingredients that goes into making a spaghetti bolognaise. Family is of course the first priority. Next the butcher, mint from the garden and limes for the cocktails. Footsteps on the stairs and laughter scribbling in the air.

Perhaps avocadoes were the first fruits (food for thought) in the Garden of Eden even before Eve was made from Adam’s rib via the maturation of a human soul and a vortex in flux.

Sun and moon. They are miracle angelic beginners every one each day. Daughters nicknamed so for jasmine and yesterday, today and tomorrow. And then as if woken up from a dream the day begins.

Head under water. Silently pushing off from the wall of the swimming pool doing lap after lap. Here is where I find my sanctuary, my second home and solace from the world outside. I am not like the other girls. They’re all younger, thinner, and confident even though they’re still flat-chested, and flirtatious from where I am standing. Head under water again. I’m praying it won’t be the house from hell again tonight. I’m watching films, reading books, wiping my father’s bum (there are no secrets between us). We talk about our past lives, our nine lives, love and the measure of it, how the devil made work for idle hands during apartheid, during the Group Areas Act, the Nazi war lords, Hotel Rwanda. We talk about the women in his life, past and present, the first woman he ever loved and lost and the measure of it. I become distracted. He becomes distracted and I get up to make cups of creamy coffee, lukewarm coffee. We discuss Valkenburg (the mental institution in Cape Town where he resided for a few months), the first social worker he ever met. This is all for the book I am writing. Walking in his footsteps. Night after night I make a casserole and the two of us sit down to eat at the kitchen table. He walks, he shuffles, he walks, and he shuffles. Sometimes he sits outside with Misty, the dog in the sun. He is forgetful, he stammers, he has a short attention span but then again I guess memory loss comes with age. Last night he wet the bed. There are people who would make a mockery of this situation but when you’re knee deep in it with someone that you love, intimacy is nothing, acknowledging that he is becoming older is everything. I’ve become an old woman overnight. Suddenly I have grey hair, the wisdom of a lake, a slight tremor in my hands, I suffer from anxiety, and I can’t sleep at night. He calls for me in the middle of the night. He needs me and so this teaches me that I am not cruel. I am a woman now. Something has replaced the darkness in my life. I have discovered the stem of meditation. Its face, its route, my life’s journey in this crowded house and tears. My mother does the laundry. Not such a terrible woman after all. If only all women could be like her. Tough. Made of holy guts, an insatiable instinct, almost a clairvoyant instinct. She lives like a nun and eats like one these days. She eats like a bird making soup, after soup after soup that only the three of us eat. As an adult I have fallen in love with the terrific goodness of barley and the healthy protein of lentils. Split peas reminds me of eating a home cooked meal in the afternoon’s at my grandmother’s house in the afternoons. My paternal grandmother’s hands were beautiful. Wizened because she suffered from arthritis, dark brown and warm with the texture of the sun and freckled. She was my moon, my moonlight. A bowl of warm soup with home baked bread that tasted more nourishing and filling than the shop bought expensive kind. My mother promises us all a long life if we drink concoctions of herbs. Dried rosemary, tinctures, tonics, homemade green smoothies with parsley, spinach from our vegetable patch and coconut milk. Head under water I reflect, I meditate, I breathe easy. I swim with the fishes, schools of them in this swimming pool. It lights a candle in my heart when I swallow water. My brother makes stews with his home-grown carrots and corn. All I can make is spaghetti. Frieda’s spaghetti. It is so cold now. The world feels so cold. It feels as if Iraq has descended into my thoughts again. Sarajevo. Rwanda and the African Congo. I am a young woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown. But I must be strong to carry on, remain brave, act bold. Sometimes I can hear Tchaikovsky. My father has taken to his bed. He has depression. The William Styron kind. I wonder if John Updike ever suffered from depression. I know Hemingway certainly did. What about J.M. Coetzee, Radclyffe Hall, Vladimir Nabokov, Kubrick? And the filmmakers, writers and the poets who were heavy drinkers? But I leave that in God’s hands for his commentary, all those signals. I’m old before my time. I’m an old soul. Complicated, an empty vessel, envious of beauty like any woman, of youth, of the girl, of children in childhood and sometimes I feel dead inside (not numb or cold) but as if I have a dead mind. As if I am lame, pathetic, stupid and have one blue eye as blue as the sky on a wild Saturday and the other is green. As green as a mocking sea, mocking school of fishes carrying on, surfing along, swimming by on their own survival journey with their world occurring in an awful dead blue silence. With the fingers of the sky so far away from them. My babies are my books.

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