Smiley missed his mother’s touch and her kisses, which felt like the smooth, ruffling of feathers. She worked as a domestic worker what people where he lived in the location called a kitchen girl in the house of a wealthy white family in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. When his mother was still around, they used to go and get fish and chips at a Coloured fish and chip shop called Sea Flight. There was a picture of a hake next to the words of the name of the shop. His mother told him what the name of the fish was. He liked to look at that picture of the fish. He often walked past that shop now.
He no longer had enough money with him to go inside and buy the meal that he used to with his mother.
Captain who was known as the leader of the gang Smiley joined. He called it ‘a king’s meal’. All they got when they knocked at doors in the well-to-do suburb of Gelvan Park in Port Elizabeth was peanut butter or jam sometimes on stale bread but they ate it because it took the hunger pangs in their bellies away. Some people gave them sour, bruised apples that looked like it gone through a few rounds with Mike Tyson in the ring.
He lived near the sea but all he could do was splash in the waves at the shallow end with his mother watching him pensively from nearby. He watched the surfers enviously as they went out on their boards. He wanted to surf the waves too but he knew he was too little.
When he was seven years old, he was dumped unceremoniously at his grandmother’s house. His mother said they were going for a visit. He had not seen his grandmother for a long time. His mother told him she had come to the hospital when he was born.
“Bastard. Bastard.” The other children of the neighbourhood stood around him calling him names. Dancing and singing at the top of their voices Smiley stood in the middle of all that noise bravely blinking back tears and a knot caught at the back of his throat.
When he went home, he told his mother about what had happened. She did not say anything for a long time. They were in the small makeshift kitchen with the pot cooking pap on the black ash and embers of coals.
Flames were licking on the ground. She stared into space gravely before she answered. “You are different from other children. You will always be different from other children here in our community. You are special. Always remember that and I love you. You’re my guy.”
Smiley never knew his father. He never knew what he looked like or what his name was. He didn’t even have a photograph so he could have a picture of his father in his mind to see whether or not they looked like each other.
Smiley was afraid. For the first time in his life, he was without his mother’s protection and love to shield him from the brokenness and heartache in the poverty-stricken area where they lived. These guys were different from the ones who lived near his shack in Blikkiesdorp’s shantytown. For one they didn’t call him names.
He was tired of listening to his grandmother’s warnings of the gangs in the area who were recruiting young, vulnerable children to do their bidding. There were gang lords wandering the streets night and day.
They had tattoos inked on their arms and coins jingling in their pockets. Paper money brushed against their fingertips as they counted it out to buy cool drinks and fast food for their friends.
They gambled with dice at the side of the drive thru at Nando’s bothering the people who drove up who ordered expensive meals, burgers and chips, flame-grilled children doused liberally with hot sauce. The sweet, delicious smells that came out of that place made all of the boys’ mouths water and drool.
“Hey, you. Come here.” He seemed bigger than the rest of them. He looked as if he was the leader. The others even looked smaller than he did.
Smiley walked forward slowly.
“Did you make anything today?”
“No. Not really.” Smiley answered truthfully. “I didn’t make anything.”
“What’s your name?”
“Smiley.” Smiley said.
“My name’s Bennie. We’ll do the introductions with the other guys later on.”
“This guy is wise. Check this china. He isn’t a ‘moegoe’. Join us.
We’ll protect you.”
Smiley wiped his tears and snot away with his arm. His jersey had holes in. There was a huge gaping hole where his elbow was. When it rained, he got wet and cold. There was chill that ran through his whole body.
He was used to wearing his shorts now and walking barefoot on the streets of Port Elizabeth. His new hang out with his new friends was the Kwik Spar in Beetlestone Road.
He saw the people’s stares. It was hard to walk with his chin up. He could see how different he was from other children his age.
“Here. It’s gold. Have you ever tried it?”
Smiley shook his head. Some of the other boys were game for anything but Smiley liked to take his time and think through things; new ideas that were presented to him.
“It’s glue, man. It’s magic. It can make you fly. Are you a man or a mouse?” Bennie made a fist like Rocky Balboa. Smiley remembered watching that movie one Friday night with his grandmother in her house. He remembered her kindness and how she had spoilt him with a toffee apple after church one day.
“What does Smiley mean? Is that really your name?” Michael one of the younger ones asked him.
“That’s my name. My mother used to call me that before she left.”
“My mother also took the high road. She was good for nothing. I was always hungry. There was always nothing to eat in our house. It wasn’t even a house. It was just a tin roof with four walls. The bricks and plastic black bags that the rich use for garbage, rubbish kept out the rain. We slept under the kitchen table. We had to sleep like a school of fish in a tin of Lucky Star pilchards. When I woke up in the morning I was always stiff and sore.” Bennie said quietly.
“All we ever ate was Lucky Star pilchards if we were lucky.” one of the younger boys piped up
“What was your mother like, Smiley? My mother died when I was very young. They put me in a home.” Michael was full of questions. He never left Smiley alone these days. He was always hanging around.
“Not a home bru. It was the local children’s orphanage.”
“Well, are you or aren’t you?” Bennie leaned over and grasped Smiley’s hand.
“Take a hit. It’s heaven. It’s paradise. You won’t feel angry, lost, hungry or alone. Your little belly will feel as if it’s feasted on KFC or Chicken Licken. Take my word for it.”
Bennie’s voice was thick and slow. He swallowed the smoke, beads of sweat on his forehead. His hair was long and dark, limp and damp at his neck.
“Come on junior, give here, I’ll light it for you and show you how to inhale and don’t forget to hold the smoke in your mouth or else you won’t feel the high head on.”
Bennie laughed aloud, “Hold on tight. This is mos your first time.
‘Ouens’ we’ve got a first timer here. Die ou’s a glue virgin here.
Hold thumbs for him. When I wink just let go and all the pain that you feel here will go on top here.” Bennie pointed to his heart then his head. “Like magic it will disappear. It’s more beautiful than a daydream.”
“If you’re lucky maybe you’ll see you mother and you can ask her why she left you.”
Captain was in a bad mood. Somebody nearly ran him over with his car when he was pulling out of a parking space at the Kwik Spar.
Bennie left home because his father was an alcoholic and he decided just to take off because he didn’t like the ‘vibe’ at home anymore.
His mother was always crying in front of him. He had a younger sister and an older brother who was never at home.
Michael had met up with someone that belonged to Captain’s gang at his school. Moegamat and Muneeb were brothers who both had ran away from home. Sometimes they went back and reunited with their family but they always returned to the streets. There were seven hungry mouths to feed back home; seven hungry mites.
Captain’s past was a bit dodgy. He never spoke about his parents. If he did, it was with a sneer.
Smiley took another hit. He felt as if reality was slowly slipping away from him. When the buzz came it settled his jangled nerves. The edges of his pain was becoming denser, less intense, turning into a haze of black then red connect-me dots. He began to feel crazy beautiful. He was floating high above the clouds above the ‘lost boys’
who made their home on a patch of grassy field at the side of the off-ramp where cars were coming off the freeway but he couldn’t see them anymore.
The cars streaming headlights didn’t blind him. The lights had a haunting glow at night. He was tired of begging for small change. He couldn’t even buy a loaf of bread with that money. He was tired of the irate, irritated, annoyed faces leaning back into the leather-comfort of the expensive, posh cars that drove by that ignored him when he begged from window to window. Often when they saw him coming, they would quickly turn up their windows shutting him out; that hurt. The rejection felt like he was dealing with his mother’s moods all over again.
He felt the curve of the knife’s handle in his pocket. Bennie gave it to him for protection. “You don’t have to use it. But knowing it’s there gives you an advantage over any ou that tries to cross you or harass you.” Smiley had decided to make up his mind about Bennie and give him the benefit of the doubt.
Bennie had his faults. He smoked, he swore, he pushed around the other ouens and said he was the boss, second in command when Captain wasn’t around. He did give orders sometime when Captain went off but he was okay. Smiley knew the others wouldn’t mess with him with Bennie around. He always got food. He had a nice place to sleep. It was warm and dry. He had a fleece blanket that they had got at the Catholic Church; St. Martin de Porres. They sometimes stood barefoot, their clothes threadbare in line to get a cup of soup and sandwiches on a Tuesday morning. Many different kinds of people would come. The ‘lost boys’ would hang around on the steps outside of the church.
“Maybe it’s time you move on to something else. A smoke?” Bennie said with a half-smile. “I’m taking you under my wing. You can be my protégé. That’s a pretty word, hey. I think you’re ready.”
Smiley couldn’t hold the smoke in his mouth. Bennie just laughed.
“Jislaaik, you’re still a baby.”
The ‘lost boys’ of Stanford Road, Port Elizabeth didn’t go to school.
They didn’t know what ‘special needs education’ was, ‘unconditional love’ or a mother’s touch; a father’s discipline.
The only lessons they learnt were hard ones; abandonment, rejection, hunger for love and attention, neglect, lessons of struggle where they were misrepresented and misunderstood.
He felt like a baby sucking his thumb. It was as if he had unknowingly pressed a button marked ‘let’s ride this pleasure rollercoaster’. It shot like whiplash through his veins and he shivered. He didn’t shiver from the cold but from this good, fuzzy feeling of warmth that was beginning to emanate from somewhere inside of him.
At last he had found the secret to the pursuit of happiness and all the loveliness in the world. It was in this bottle of glue. He drew circles in the dirt with his thumbnail. There was a guy in the parking lot that was waiting for someone to come out of the shop who gave him a vetkoek with mince and he hadn’t shared.
He was so hungry he just ate it up on the spot. Afterwards his hands were oily from the grease from the vetkoek. He wiped his hands off on the back of his already dirty and tattered shorts. Threads were coming out of the pocket on the left hand side. He hardly put anything in there anymore. If he did forget and put something in there it usually got lost.
He used to wear a bandana on his head on cold nights on the street before he joined up with Captain. His grandmother had given it to him and Smiley had treasured it but when Bennie had first seen him in it he had jokingly said, “Na, man that hood’s for sissies. You’re not a sissy boy are you? You’re not a mama’s boy?”
Smiley didn’t know what a sissy boy was. He didn’t dare and ask even.
He knew the other boys would probably laugh at him. The name didn’t sound very nice.
“Man that was so bad. We all wanted a piece of that vetkoek.” Bennie said later. “Captain was watching you. The thing is we all watch out for each other. But don’t worry about it, just don’t do it again.”’
Smiley thought he was being warned about something, he did not take it that seriously though but that was how life was like on the streets.
You did not just look out for yourself anymore. The ‘lost boys’ had become his family now. They had become his home away from home and they had done a lot for him.
They had accepted him. They had not thrown him away, rejected him and made fun of him. He never felt alone now. There was always someone around to shoot the breeze with, play with, gamble with, talk to when he felt sad, hungry or on the point of tears. There was always someone around who knew where to find something nice to eat. It was amazing sometimes what the rich and well to do would through away and what they regarded as old food, stale or what they wasted.
Sometimes the boys would go to the dump or the drive thru. When it rained, they all stuck together under a thick tarpaulin. They huddled together to keep warm, they cupped their hands to their mouths, breathed out warm mists of sour air. It soon felt stuffy under there but it kept away the fierce, howling wind that drove chills and shivers up and down their spines.
Living on the streets was a raw experience. It was not for the faint-hearted. You had to be brave and loyal to your gang. Lo and behold, they would seek revenge out on you if you betrayed them. You had to have your wits about you. You had to be born with street smarts. Smiley thought he was born with street smarts.
His eyes were red-rimmed and the pupils of his eyes were wet, dark, dilated; they stared at a blue nothing in the distance. At first, he felt as if he was choking but that feeling soon passed and gave way to a heady rush of warmth that bubbled to the surface like the fierce orange lava of a volcano. He sucked again, this time deeper, inhaled until it felt his lungs would burst and shivered like a fish. He closed his eyes. Colours flashed brilliantly in front of his eyes.
Reds, yellows, pale blues. They all came to him like the colours of a kaleidoscope or all the magnificent colours of a rainbow after the downpour of spitting rain.
He felt free and liberated. He did not have to explain himself to a grandmother that refused to tell him who his father was and where he came from. He usually pressed the issue further but his grandmother just rocked back and forth on her pink settee with a man’s handkerchief in her hand, dabbing at her dry eyes. She directly ignored him. He asked her repeatedly, did he have his father’s name; did he carry any of his father’s genes but her response was always the same. A grandmother that pretended his mother might come and visit him on his birthday or Christmas.
He could see the dump that was the ‘lost boys’ playground. Bennie’s face as he blew rings of smoke out of his mouth. He could see his mother’s loveliness. Her face had not aged. There were no lines or wrinkles around her eyes and her mouth.
All he could see was a tunnel vision of white light ahead of him and he reached out for it until it swept him away like a dream and folded him like the tender loving care of a mother’s love in its arms. He became one with the light. All fear left him. All the secrets that he kept hidden from view, sealed tight like the contents of a jam tin scattered away. He was invincible. The light bedazzled his senses before it made him fall unconscious to the ground.
Bennie cradled Smiley’s head in his hands, tears streaming down his face. “Captain, we can’t just leave him here. We must do something.
He’s not waking up.”
Captain tilted his head with a defiant smug air. “You know no one will stop even if we tell them what happened.”
Just then a beat down bakkie drove past them. A man with kind eyes looked out of his window. “What’s up chaps? What’s going on here? Need some help with your friend, Sonny?”
Captain turned his back and began to walk back to the ragged patch of field where the ‘lost boys’ made their home.
Bennie swallowed hard and tried to hold back his sobs. The man parked his bakkie on the side of the road, got out and came over to where Bennie and Smiley were.
“What happened? Is it drugs? Did something get out of control here? If you need my help I’ll take him to the hospital.”
“Will they help him there?” Bennie asked still sniffling.
“If not, they’ll have me to deal with.”
Bennie sat in silence next to the man with the kind eyes as he drove through the now deserted streets of Port Elizabeth to Livingston Hospital in Korsten. Night was falling. Smiley was still unconscious.
Any minute now, Bennie thought to himself, Smiley would wake up and go back to being his old self. He hadn’t though completely recovered from seeing Smiley slumped over like that his back leaning into a dry bush; drool at the corners of his mouth.
The man with the kind eyes carried Smiley’s almost comatose body into the hospital. Bennie followed closely behind. The night nurse on duty grimaced when she saw Bennie but the man with the kind eyes spoke to her firmly and quietly. Bennie couldn’t hear what he was saying. He just stayed close. The nurse drew them to a bed but told Bennie to stay put. He sniffed. She ignored him.
She closed the curtain around the bed. It swooshed on the ground.
Bennie was left staring at the ground at his feet. He knew his clothes were filthy. He didn’t like the bright white lights here. It reminded him of getting high. Here there were adults around who frown on that behaviour. He longed for a soft, clean towel, a hot bath, a toothbrush, scented soap. Bennie shifted his feet from side to side.
He could feel the gaze of the woman who took the incoming calls on him. He knew she was watching every move he made.
Smiley could feel his mother’s touch. He could feel her hand gently stroking his forehead, putting a pressure on it that was soft, comforting and familiar. He heard her call his name. He could sense her presence. Smiley closed his eyes. Where was the noise of cars rushing by? Homeless people, school children shouting to each other, laughing, men in blue overalls, people going to work or coming off a shift, the other ‘lost boys’ weak from hunger walking by his favourite spot where he liked to sit in the morning catching some sun, watching Bennie running through the empty spaces between the passing cars.
All he could hear now was silence. Was this what Bennie was talking about? Was this heaven? He could see things and hear things from memories from his childhood days walking with his mother in the location, watching her bend over, hand on her hip cooking pap and vegetables for them. Sometimes they had white Tastic rice but that was a luxury they could ill afford.
Images of his previous life when he still lived with his mother came to him like an offering in the collection plate on a Sunday morning in church. It seemed to him as if he was going on a long journey into his past. The pressure he had felt on his forehead soon moved to his heart. Smiley felt as if he was wearing a suit of armour; heavy and thick, the visor blinding him as well as shielding him from a life in translation, shielding him from a mother’s love in translation.
The tunnel vision of white light was blinding him now like the midday sun. He trembled, shivered, like the shake like a fish caught in the air by a fisherman before the life is snuffed out of him. His legs were skinny. Would his own mother recognise him now if she saw him in heaven or would she recognise him by his smile, his jolly, cheerful, belly laughter or the almond-shape of his golden-flecked, shining brown eyes?
There was no turning back now. It was done. Smiley heard his name again. He felt a manic panic rise up in his chest. He recognised that voice. It was one he had longed for a long time to hear again. He had hoped, wished and prayed for it. He turned around and ran into his mother’s waiting arms.
He could see that the end of the tunnel was in sight and the white light slowly faded away leaving him within a shell of darkness like a shroud, an invisible magician’s cloak that swallowed him whole. The drumming of his heart became a faint whisper.
I’ve made mistakes. More than a few. I haven’t always apologised for my behaviour, for the mistakes I made, the wrong journey I took, the path less travelled. I am broken inside. I sometimes feel numb and dead inside when I exercise. Especially when I exercise. When I’m stressed out, I exercise a lot. I watch films. I read poetry. I write poetry. But these days it just feels as if I can’t carry out the simplest of tasks. I feel that nobody really loves me for me. I think of Elvis, I think of Sinatra, I think of Sammy Davis Junior. I think of their friendship. The bonds between them. They were brothers. They had each other’s backs. They looked out for one another. They loved each other. I do not know what love is. Growing up my mother loved herself. Narcissist I think is the correct term. Always in heels and a G-string. Sexed up.My father was an absent father by all accounts. But, to all intents and purposes her gave me a happy life, a happy childhood. So, I am taking the memories wherever I go. Wherever, whenever, and I mean the happiest memories I’ve had, I still have, are the moments I spent with my father. Eating ice cream, going to the beach, visiting the clinical psychologist, buying the month’s groceries, playing under his desk at work. My father’s friends were my friends. The people that knew my father, knew me from a young age. Precocious and cute, always wanting to make people with sad eyes laugh, and if I couldn’t get them to laugh, I would get them to smile at least. When I was born before the eighties,George Botha passed away that year, from an apparent suicide. Biko slipped on a bar of soap. Then there’s Dulcie.
Dulcie September (I wonder what her children would have been like, her husband, would she have settled in London, married a man who had green, or blue eyes. Rick Turner was assassinated by a man with a gun (they haven’t found him yet), Kevin Carter was killed by a stray bullet as he was taking pictures of the unrest in the townships during the brutal heights of the heyday of apartheid. Political activists of colour were being arrested at every turn. Turn the corner, walk in the opposite direction someone, someone would be following you. The Americans I think termed that phrase Big Brother is watching you, or else it could have been anyone really. I’m young, but I have an old soul. Yes, I read poetry. Yes, I read books too. Basically, anything I can get my hands on. I love getting my hands dirty in the kitchen. The cake flour, the dough I eat off my fingers, dust the doughnuts with icing sugar, or cocoa, keeping busy, busy, busy, trying not to think, trying not to think of anyone, or anything. It is a long, long way to Rapunzel, Rimbaud, Verlaine, Proust, Nabokov, Salinger, Rilke, Akhmatova, and Coco Chanel. It is an even longer distance to Billy Graham, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Walter Sisulu, Oliver Tambo, Neville Alexander, Fikile Bam, Patrice Motsepe, ex-president Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, ex-president Thabo Mbeki, ex-president Jacob Zuma, and president-elect Cyril Ramaphosa. Then I think of the land of the free, and the home of the brave, and the American presidents (the leaders of the free world), George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, JFK, Thomas Jefferson, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump.
Nobody knows anything really about their childhood. Rapunzel, like all fairy tales, like the Native Americans, and the Eastern Cape poets Ayanda Billie, Robert Berold, Brian Walter, Mzi Mahola, the late Arthur Nortje, the late Dennis Brutus, Mxolisi Nyezwa, they are all frozen in the snow of my memory. I want people to love me. Just like my dad. People love daddy. People loved daddy. But inside I am sad. I am not even loved in my own home. My mother hates me. How to get over the mental cruelty, her un-loveliness to me over the years, her utter humiliation of me when she saw how close me and dad were getting. She was in the house, put on a disappearing act whenever I appeared. I tell myself that nobody loves me. That I’m a rubbish-throw-away-type of person. Nobody should associate themselves with me. I have no self-esteem, then low self-esteem. Sleep around. No, not really. I just give expert hand jobs, and I never kiss. Never. Too intimate, it makes me feel vulnerable, and when you kiss someone there are just so many levels to it, you know. The first kiss. Well, you always remember that. You always remember the person who first kissed your lips. And after that, after that you open your warm mouth (I think of everything as an experiment, an adventure, an exploration of sorts). They have all gone out into the world now. The wives have done what is impossible for me. Given the boys children. That, that, that right there is too much for me to take, to handle, although I know I will survive. Believe me, I survive without cocaine and alcoholism, without sexuality and the sexual transaction (as Jean Rhys said in After Leaving Mr Mackenzie).
I endure with the best of them. I love like the greats. The great singer and songwriters (the late Karen Carpenter), musicians (Lenny Kravitz, Fiona Apple). I too have been careless with the hearts of delicate people. Some have moved on with their lives, and have forgotten all about me. I pretend to wake up in the mornings to the legends that the boys have become. They are men who rule empires now. They have forgotten all about me, forsaken me for money, prosperity, prestige, status (I’m mixing up my similes here). I miss them. I miss them like crazy. I wish I was back there, not here. Each and every day in Johannesburg was either a summer-ish day, or winter. I wish I was in love again, but I’m not. I’m a wreck. Still the same wreck I was 20 years ago. I’m growing older. I’m in my forties now. What a terrible age. The onset of menopause, flashbacks to a time and place when you were happier, when you could afford to make mistakes, behave foolishly, and love, love, love, and dance the night away with multiple partners on your arms, but I didn’t know about the world. Didn’t know anything about the world. So, mothers, be good to your daughters. They will learn to love like you do. I don’t know anything about that. I don’t know anything about love. I can smoke, I can drink when I hang out with the guys. I love men. Women ignore me. Women talk down to me. Women humiliate me in front of their children, mother-in-law, and especially, especially their boyfriends, their husbands, life partners. You know that kind of girl. You know that kind of woman. She’s beautiful, exceptional-looking.
She dresses down, she dresses up. I’m that kind of woman now. Can someone hear my plea? Anyone, anyone? Anyone out there? All I ever wanted was for my mother to tell me how much she loved me, how proud she was of me, and she didn’t. Still doesn’t to this day. And I hate violence of any kind, even in films. I still believe in what Walt Disney proclaimed. It is my mantra still to this day. I believe in family values. I guess it is the principle behind it. Norms and values. Growing up with norms and values. A kind of belief system, even though I did go to Sunday School, and memorise Bible verses, and was indoctrinated into religion by the Union Congregational Church,(I’m not religious anymore, although I still pray, still meditate, believe in reconciliation, and as such there is evil in the world, but there is also the greater good). Anyway, I am much more of a spiritual person now, from an early age I believed in angels. Truth for some, but not truth for all. I believe in the qualities of a good Christian, Brahmin, Yogi, Hindu, Muslim, Lutheran, Baptist, Methodist, and Catholic. All religions hold truth at the cornerstones of their foundation. So, instead of making war, think instead (this is for all the world leaders, mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters out there), make peace (keep the peace in the house, reconcile your differences, sit at the table and break bread, talk about your day, don’t isolate yourself from either your family, or your community). Be kind. You can kill with kindness you know. Today that person could be your enemy, tomorrow (as the ancients, prophets, saints, angels say) that same enemy could be your friend.
Money and wealth won’t make you beautiful. Inner beauty, understanding and understanding devotion to others less fortunate than yourself, the marginalised, downtrodden, those living in poverty-stricken areas in dire straits give them your peace too, and something to eat. The game of life is made up of winners and losers. The loser always forgets about the lesson that they have learned. The winner takes it all. Always remember it is how you play the game. Life is precious. People are precious too. We are only human at the end of the day. Once, they said that someday technology will surpass humanity. Code breakers, the women and men who serve countries around the world, and who are willing to sacrifice their lives for millions of people). I think also of scientists like Sir Isaac Newton, Niels Bohr, Max Planck, Pavlov, Albert Einstein, Marie Curie (twice-winner) of the Nobel Prize. I think of researchers dealing with computers, information communication technology, indigenous knowledge systems, the great digital divide between the haves and the have nots (first world countries and third world countries). I think of intellectuals like Pliny the Elder, Aristotle, Hippocrates, Homer, and Plato. Isn’t every intellectual an authority on philosophy, education, subjects as diverse and varied (Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo), as the holistic vision of an educationalist, community leader, humanist, activist, volunteer, just as much as a person can be plumber, he can also be a storyteller (everybody has a story to tell), and a poet. His name can be Yusuf Agherdien, Ambrose Cato George, and Shaheed Hendricks.
(The writers of the book South End: As We Knew It, although District Six in Cape Town is more well-known when it comes to the promulgation of the Group Areas Act). They can even be the curator, and a writer-visionary-maverick of the world-famous museum, the South End Museum, that has its roots in Saint Helena. An island in the middle of the ocean, that could only in the past be reached by a Royal Mail Ship that sailed from Cape Town to Saint Helena. Are we still slaves, our minds enslaved by oppression and racism, prejudice and gangsterism, the abuse of alcohol and mental cruelty? It has become a global phenomenon. It has become a buzzword. In my mind, we are all then victims of circumstance, of trauma, of incidents that happened in our childhood. And yes, we fall prey to evil deeds, and evil thoughts, we sin, and sometimes we pray and ask for forgiveness, and sometimes we don’t. We don’t learn the lesson; we would rather abscond. Go our own way. For some of us, this is all we know. Running away from loss and grief, denial and instigation, and when we do that we are motivated by our own fear, anxiety, even insanity (which means two things, break from reality, or non-reality).When you’re in high school all you want to do is hang with the popular crowd, go out with the most popular boy in school, obtain high marks, achieve on the sports field and inside the classroom. I was an obsessive-compulsive achiever, and the only people I wanted to impress were the women in my family. The women make babies, and stay at home, cook and clean, raise their family, but in my world the husband was always marrying the mistress.
We know the affect that climate change has had on the seasons, harvests, running water, rain, sanitation, and it spells disaster in all areas. Floods, tornadoes, tsunamis, storms, drought which affects our farmers, and particular our agriculture all over the world. I digress. I come back to those two words again. Global phenomenon. We are reaching a climatic stage of events in world history. Ask yourself these questions, think about them, ponder them as you would any projectthat is highly creative, and imaginative, that needs you to focus, and concentrate. Put all your energies into it, as you would your children’s lives, and your husband’s or wife’s welfare. What is your legacy, will it be hidden from view, or be there for all to see? What is your calling, your purpose in life, what are you extremely passionate about (I must have asked myself these questions thousands of times, and so, no, I’m not exaggerating)? What are your empirical dreams, lofty goals, pre-imminent plans? Are you concerned about the spiritual welfare of others, as I am?
Tongue of grief
Sleep. I don’t sleep anymore at night. I don’t sleep very well, or, not at all. You only see what you want to see. You only see the sum-aura of me. You have no proof of who I have loved. No one knows who I really am. And I want to be yours, but I can’t. And I want to have a child, before I am too old to have a child. But life for me. It seems as if I have already travelled halfway. And I have suffered. I think that I have suffered too much already. I have buried the renal unit far underground where you find the dead of the fairground. Where sea meets the floor of the ocean. Where river meets dust. And enemies meet up with ash heap. The waking inside the iceberg doesn’t come naturally. There are deadlines even here amongst the elements amongst poor family life, dysfunctional life stick figures. There is project management here by children. I know, because I used to be one of those children. I ask myself now, am I being value-based by this, my tiny prejudices, my dreams, the visions that I have of the moth environment that I live in, the buzzing world around me, the holistic visions that I have of my future self. I’m an actor who doesn’t care what you think of me. I live on stimulus and impulse alone. Those are the laws that I live by. I should have had those children. Shouldn’t have listened to my father. Should have payed more attention to my mother when I had the chance. Maybe my life wouldn’t be such a fine line of a mess now. Staying at home with elderly parents. Struggling to carry on with my life which is a grownup life now. My life is just an illusion now. Nobody listens to this ghost capturing the castle.
Memories they come and they go. Angels walk by me. Overwhelmed as you are by grief, there is gravity, there is, in remembering the personality-type of the people that you loved, the person you thought that you were going to spend a lifetime with, their untimely and tragic loss. When you are young you think that there is only one person cut out there for you. For a while, grief grew in everything. I could see its progress everywhere. In slices of melon at the breakfast or lunch table, flowers, in Updike’s Rabbit, in ingredients and priorities it was a mooring, a kind of lifeline, a cold-hearted and aloof buoy, it was, grief was for the longest time. Grief came in waves, in waves, in waves. The rain would make me cry, the smell of winter, my childhood, my sister who was now living and making a life for herself in Europe, and then one day I woke up and discovered that grief was a stem now. It was growing, growing inside of me. A heart filled with grief can and will burst. This is how my heart behaved in those months after a distant friend of the family, Bunny Flowers, passed away suddenly. His death had come as a shock to everyone. Poetry found me. Prose found me then in those hours. In his bare defeating and breaking silence out on the sea. Grief will break even the calmest hearts. It will make you think that you are missing out on something. It will. Everything will remind you in the early days in retrospect and in days to come about the one who left you behind. I am slowly starting to figure that out. You will shout at the walls, I certainly did.
You will through no fault of your own, but you will come to blame God, blame the hospital staff who came to the people you loved and lost who came too late to the assistance of your loved one, at the unfairness of it all. Your teeth will have grief, sink its talons into it like watching the steam from a coffee mug. Seasons will change from the present to the past and my consciousness wanders. I act and pretend Bunny is on holiday. It was my defence mechanism as a child. It is still as an adult. He’ll be coming back now any day. Clouds will part. Still I tell myself because the grief is too much for me to handle, it overtakes me on certain days to the extent that I can only fill the hours and the silences with writing. Writing about life, the celebration of life and writing about death. You go on. You must. You must remember them as they were, I was told this once, I think my mother told me this. I make lions out of them. They turn into guardian angels and I make lions out of them. I find they are as much present as they ever were. I take comfort in that afterthought that populates. Grief can make you bitter. It can make you regret what you said, what you didn’t say in the moment, what you wanted to say, desired to say to the object of your affection. It can make you angry at the world and for no apparent reason you snap at a stranger, or a child, or a loved one still very much in the world. Money, I realised will never bring them back. It is important, and somehow some people make it the root of all good, all evil, all material possessions as if they could take with them if they left this world. I am in a boat and my heart is breaking. My calm heart is breaking. I realised early on in life after I lost my paternal grandfather, I was of course much too young, much too young, well I realised that grief has an outspoken tongue and point of view when it comes to the living. Those left behind in the now less than crowded house.
What to do when grief overtakes you, when you’re immersed in that space it is beyond overwhelming. If I could turn back the clock, I would have kept you safe every minute. I remember your voice, Bunny, I didn’t think that I would, but I do.
Childhood and Magda
I haven’t got time for the pain. When I’m through with you, I will still hope.There’s an ocean meeting invincible ocean pouring into eyes,you are far away in another city now a devil in disguisewith sadness comes a mania of relief (it is just a part of me). There is a part of me that is an experiment. Just a playing field. I was born that way. To feel my way in this world with trepidation. To a ghost feeling her way on land. You’ve left, you’re gone, and you’re a ghost, something wickedly despicable but I understand you so much more now. The last time I spoke to my sister was a Sunday and I know that soon the months will turn into years between us.You,beauty personified with the sameness of Ezra Pound. I’ve abandoned you; you’re gone.
You’ve made history young standing with your ticket and your visa in hand at the boarding gate work for tomorrow. There’s something purified in the hoping for something sweet in the novelty of youth. So, the aftermath will come one by one. We’ll forgive each other like
the appearances of the moon. We’ll exchange gifts and we’ll remember the commodities of childhood. I’ll close that (I won’t pursue him). I hate him so much now I could spit blood. It came from childhood continued. The damage is done (what are the meanings of trauma and casualty) only this remains. When I’m through with you strangely I will still hope. I am standing in front of you asking for forgiveness. You’ve arrived on a scholarship. Left all the lions and elephants behind. Parents that you’re sick to death of the sight of, a sister who is mentally ill and who has all the sinister potential of making it anyway and a brother who doesn’t believe that smoking is for grownups. You’ve detached yourself from your childhood, grown as cool as an iceberg. Darling, you’ve made it as far as America. How far is up? To the blank slate face of the moon, the fat orange sun that shimmers and glitters in heat waves and so you stuff yourself with Chinese food and decide this is the life; to live like the rich do as you. Take their coats and hang them up with a number at an elite country club and do everything American as you can possibly do before you die. So, you forget about us. Four stone gods. Buddha-like in your consciousness, all owners of lonely hearts in a wilderness of biochemistry and decay. Once I nestled your head in my lap and breathed in the scent of your hair – of powder, scent, perfume, skin against skin, not yet old, wrinkly like fingers like prunes from a bath, smelling old; no longer an extraordinary machine. Now you can hardly bare me to touch you. I see less and less of you; you don’t ask to be taken care of; there are no longer whispers in the dark as we camp out in front of the television. There is only your magical thinking. Your purity, your humanity, your alchemy. You’re a mother, a wife waiting in the wings. Already posed in your natural habitat. Your dewy eyes are gems, once diamonds in the rough. Once you wore a crown of thorns in childhood. In those rough, tidal, shadow-boxing teenage years when bad, bad things happened to show up in your life. A yellow shout of melancholy with no bounce and of little hope and so your innocence was snuffed out and planted into a dead nothingness. And yet it still left you with the mind of an angel. Cradled you like a new-born, Magus. I think of anticipatory nostalgia. I say this with love. Caught in a trap. Once immobile. Then striding across playing fields cradled by lullabies and spent by beguiling motives. Journeys and a soul awash by winters and the glow, the matrimonial hush of seasons and so will I, goddess-like make you a daydream of a monster. I would never belong
I am not like that. Built perfectly in your world. I am poison. Not so good at navigating vertigo through sweet nothings, and flash love. I don’t cry anymore when my heart takes a dive. I wait to hear you say what you want. Your voice a soft blot. Swapping enduring stories that migrate anxiously from my mind to yours. Like a lilting, urgent freedom song. A songbird received with warmth and sincerity. I like those words memoir, smoked. Feeling my Achilles heel, my sobriety. An ache where my heart should be. You have been in my dreams all my lifemeltedmy heart made of stonewith a soul all patched up like skin. My comprehension on trial, my cowardice. This is me saying goodbye.
What does love mean to me then?Is it the winter rain here again, the machinery of haiku?
Leaves softly whispering on the ground. Words, words and more words. In imagination a purified Dadaist reality. Restored in a manner with alchemy and humanity. You are soul you know and that’s enough for me. The book on us is finished. The diaries burnt. I’ve got my head under a primitive sky. The sun’s impoverished. Walt Whitman’s blades of grass all lost on me. You’re as remote to me as an American utopia. The cogs and wheels are spinning. But what does that mean? There’s nothing sublime to it if you’re not here to hold me. Did cancer or illness that interrupted your life?Why did you not marry,or, find the right man?Why don’t you have children?Why aren’t you normal?All I can see is destruction mingled with burnt diaries. Where are the seeds yourMother originally sowed?Who anchored the roots of grief?And, introduced the weight of the world’s weariness. Your mother drinks lilac wine
Purple blooms upend themselves in the glass much more than a stain. But you don’t like that kind of distraction that stills nerves. The grownup kind of love. The kind of pain children bring with them into the world. The starry anticipation of tiredness. As people make closer contact with you, they become illusions. Fiercely torment you vulnerable-thinker.
You can never take off that hat. The psychological framework. The quality of your conversation. Is it heroic, stoic, and maladroit?It needs a wiser understanding. Your laughter needs no shelter. You walk the sky in a swimming pool. Conquer lap after lap after lap. At the end of the day you smell of rain. Your mouth keeps on after opinion. It keeps changing perspective. Are you really a poet (or is that a guise)?Where is your mask for the ball?You need food, sleep and a feast. You’re hungry for it all. You are hungry for everything. A network of business cards and data. Where is young Hemingway’s Diary?Where are the seeds Buddha planted?Where are the seeds Plath and Sexton planted?Your speech is rapid (just let it go to the palace and tribe of boredom). Like air in the bloodstream of an apricot.
Finding myself in the tender sea. (There’s no ignorance and confusion here). I listen to its brilliant blues murmur so varied. Tasting the salt in the eternal profound light.And when I leave that spirited energy there’s the night wind. There’s the man on the moon. There’s the television. There are giants, monsters, and talking heads. But there’s also a sense of quietness of peace in this paradise. No glut of shaking flight, fancy, fight that I’m anchored or terrified by. The newness of it all – because I am known in all of these territories. These regions, these districts. Storms will come but I will not be done in by their edges that tides simply fall off of and come undone by. The problem of pain is like the meaning of a river. It will pass. Summer will soon be here in this paradise. My brother is doing what he did when he was a boy. He used to steal my books, my Milan Kundera. That philosopher who was a writer. A philosopher who wrote books. And now he is turning the tables on us. Being a philosopher who is becoming a writer who writes and edits books. Pictures can tell you a thousand stories. The weather forecast or the change in climate. Currents that are trending in this paradise. I am a metallic stream-of-consciousness worshiper. Look how I’ve made it into an art. I’ve discovered it’s no longer strange to me. I’m channelling it and all its rituals. There’s a poignant sadness in its image. Aching dream of what could have been. And madness bordering on the useless storm of dark and suburban mania. Look at how birds will remind you of song. When you played truant and your parent’s inertia. And of water, the weight of it in this paradise.
Sinners never disappoint. And I do not envy them. Their crowning glory, their shape. Their smell lacks innocence, their unemployment. The lack of skills to put bread on the table to feed hungry mouths. I do not envy their presence. Where drunkards kiss the ligaments of the cold earth of the pavement. Mouth meeting another. The beer’s mouth both just imagining things. A better life for all, world peace. Once there was the unbearable lightness of youth. Chips and steak are on the menu. I can also talk of love, many things.Now young guys lie in the street. Face down like carrion. We’re young still and there’s an unbearable lightness that comes with it; poverty, unemployment. A silence so pure while a mouth defies gravity and neutral ground. Lectures on how the revolution must hurry up after speech after speech! It is not that this generation is speechless. Kevin Carter has been dead a long time. Photographers can drift. They drift like driftwood. Ribs, beer and dancing (darts for the men) are on the menu. I can also talk of the love of many finer things. Damn married fever but not as committed. Soon Magda will be forgotten like a wallflower. It’s not in my power to change that. Conjure it up. Only an echo followed her death. It played itself out at the graveside and inside the church. The music. The outside of me is built like a wallflower. Winter bright white light there’s an echo coming from somewhere. Shoes on the floor cold night a starry sky. Those shoes belong to me and I’ll lace them up in the morning. The echoes vibrate under the soles of my feet. Instead of going to bars and clubbing, she poured herself into reading her books. She cooked up a storm furiously. Imagining it was for two. Funny girl. Magda that shiny fractured thing.
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