Growing, I dubbed myself “the late bloomer”
I was late to walking, talking, running, learning and growing.
I was late in my journey into and through puberty
And I was late in understanding both the importance and dangers of my skin and its hue.
The older I became, the clearer it was that I was also late in my understanding that I was never the late bloomer I thought I was.
It wasn’t that I was late for anything
It was that I was, for some divine reason, always left behind.
They all fell in love first; fell out of love first, had their hearts broken first
Grew into their skin first
Found themselves first, graduated first, embraced independence first
Created families first and succeeded first
While I remained.
Left behind, not to suffer, as I’ve oft lamented
But to learn; to understand the depths of my strengths and abilities.
To prepare for the coming tides, because they will come
The love, the heartbreak, the family, the success, the fulfilment
It will come
And when it does
I will shed this new moniker
And wear a new one
Because I will no longer be left behind.
““Family always finds its way back” That was her mantra. Sometimes I’d catch her staring at me, deep in thought. It was like she was plotting something from the very beginning, like she knew I was never enough and that one day, one day she’d have no use for me and I would end up alone, broken, weak and held prisoner by a mad man.
I was never the strong one; that was my older brother. He had the looks, the charm and the slick tongue that found a way to get him just as much into as it did out of trouble.
I was never like that. I was never like any of them.
That had to be why she sold me. I hope I was worth it.
“Fire of the Lord” That’s what our surname meant. So my mother, who spoke more and more about the importance of family the bigger her belly got, drilled it into our heads that all we had to do was follow the smoke, because that’s where the fire will be, that’s where family will be.
But I couldn’t do that even if I wanted to. It’s been days since anyone’s offered anything more than a cold, tasteless meal and a quick senseless beating.
The beatings are something I kind of miss now.
Part of me hates myself for thinking like that, but I can’t help it. When he beats me, the man my mother sold me to who always smells like cigarettes, at least then I know I’m not invisible. At least then, in between the screams and the cries and the begging, I know that he sees me and he knows I’m still here. Without the beatings, I’m scared that he might forget about me and the food will stop coming.
I wish I had been invisible before I was brought here. If my mother hadn’t seen me and I had been part of the furniture and nobody felt threatened by me, or if I was quiet and didn’t eat too much, maybe then my mother wouldn’t have done what she felt she needed to do.
If I was smart enough, though, I would have seen it coming. She did warn me. She’d always tell me that I didn’t belong with them. She told me I was beautiful and delicate and too precious. She must have been lying. Nobody throws away something that’s beautiful.
I’ve been in the dark for too long. The boarded window just below the ceiling is the only thing that gives away the day and night. Right now it’s too dark, so it must be night.
My mother must have had her reasons for giving me up, so I can’t hate her for doing what she did. We’re not a rich family; it’s just the three of us, probably four now, and so each of us has to work hard and make sure we provide for the family. This was her way of providing for the family. I can’t hate her for surviving.
It just means that I have to survive too. Maybe if I showed them that I can be strong too, that I can be a fighter and I can work hard too, maybe then my mom will keep me.
All I have now is a box with two matches, a wooden door, boards against a window and the clothes on my back.
If I make a big enough fire, maybe they’ll see the smoke and come find me.
This is how I’ll prove to them that I can be better, before the smoke takes over my lungs and before the fire takes everything, maybe they’ll see that I’m just like them. Maybe they’ll see that I’m family.”
Today, South Africa celebrates and recognises the power of a youth willing to stand for what’s right.
Today, my country mourns the lives lost in a struggle children as young as thirteen inherited, a struggle designed by a people, a government and legal system that placed premium and prejudice to the colour of one’s skin.
The message isn’t “by blood and fire, all wrongs can and will be made right”. It isn’t that a victory only exists when there has been a loss; the message is that a system designed to cripple a group of individuals will not survive. The message is that let us be equal in success and privilege as those children were in death, as man and child, mother and daughter were gunned down without pause.
Today, my country raises up the youth, now living or passed, of 1976. When the streets of Soweto were on fire, when classrooms, hallways and playgrounds were silent and an army stood tall and proud, armed with fists, voices and bodies, against a government armed with rifles, gas and the rule of law.
Today we remember their strength, and celebrate our own.
There’s harmony to your design
An inspired balance, a predestined finality to your conjuring
An unwavering permanence to your wounds and wanderings
There is an unalterable element to your every atom
Like the pulsing tide within your veins, there are courses that remain invariably your own
The immutable resolve of settled clay
The indomitable Prometheus’ curse
You are who were meant to be
You never had a choice in the matter
Or did you?