I’m not the best writer. I’ve never been called prolific and nobody in my journey thus far has pegged me as the next great literary talent.
I’m black, young (by the greater standards of the old guard who I sometimes look at as the Gate Keepers of all things conventionally-success-like) and I’m from a part of the world that isn’t renowned in the literary sense.
Not for nothing, my country is filled with intelligent and incredible people who enjoy reading, but when 54% of the country is illiterate, it stands to reason that writing isn’t as high on the “hone-a-skill-and-be-great-in-life” list.
I know, I’m rambling, that’s probably because English is also my second language.
My point is, I’m not the best writer out here, nor do I have very many people visiting my corner of the interwebs, but I sure as hell enjoy doing it and I’m good enough to stand on my own two feet and take pride in the worlds I create, the people I develop and the stories I like to tell.
Could I be better, sure, when is anybody ever perfect in anything? That’s a rhetorical question because I firmly believe that Beyonce is perfect in all things, if you have any opposing views, though respected, I have to ask you to come fight me.
Someone recently told me that we live in a world and operate in societies that sometimes won’t tell you how inadequate you are, but will rather show you by the number of doors they refuse to open for you. I didn’t believe it at first; me and my optimistic, idealist self believed that if you really wanted to make something happen, you’ll find a way. However, upon reflection, truly objectively observing the kind of messiness that happens not only in my backyard, but across the ocean as well, I have to give credence to those observations.
There’s a systematic devaluing agenda already put in place in spaces people like me were never meant to inhabit. Sometimes it’s so ingratiated into the fabric of that world that its perpetrators have no idea they’re exacerbating the function and contributing to this big, “bad”, outdated machine until someone points it out.
I’m not here to talk about some grave injustice against me because of the colour of my skin or the fact that I live in a part of the world some might not want to invest in, or find favour in, but I am here to say that despite the challenges placed before me (of which I have very little to no control over), I still believe that I’m a worthy investment.
If I was to be discounted, I’d rather it be because I’m very emotional, I am not very nice when I’ve not had a meal in a minute, I have seven different types of laughs and all of them are ugly, I don’t get fidget spinners, and I’m a little bit elitist (but I’m currently being reformed).
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. Stuck. Still blooming. 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 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.