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14 October 2012

When Joy Had a Name

You all remember it don’t you? That time in your life when every question had an answer, when every answer made sense so long as it came out of the mouth of your parents. When the sun rose and set simply for your pleasure. That long forgotten time when the rest of your life was measured in days and at most weeks. When the simple fact of being alive was a miracle that unravelled itself each morning and greeted you like a shining gift from God.

You all remember waking up in the morning and seeing the sun shine outside your window. Sometimes you woke up too early and you had to lie in bed because you knew you wouldn’t be allowed to go out and play. You’d lie there and think about all the amazing things you were going to do today. Perhaps you would finally find out where ants really lived, you were certain that hole that they all marched into, rank and file, led to some amazing wonderland that no other human had yet discovered; you would be the one. Or perhaps today the ice cream man would pass by and Mother would give you a dollar to go and buy a strawberry pop. Oh God, it was going to be a good day!

What more did you have other than that faith? Nothing. Nothing at all, it just all made sense, the world was a big wide place full of dangers that your parents ventured into every day but they came back alive and well, and you were wrapped in your little cocoon of safety, your universe where everything made sense. It was a beautiful world was it not? Your little room, perhaps you shared it with your brother and he annoyed you but at night when the shadows crept in you would be glad for his dark form on the other side of the bed. Perhaps you had your own room, arranged just so or lost in disorderly chaos that Mother kept trying to contain, and failed dismally at each attempt. But you knew exactly where your favourite blanket was, or the plastic cars you would drive around the floor of the house for hours.

Or perhaps you were the type that ventured beyond the confines of the house into the slightly wider universe beyond? You would meet with the other boys after stuffing yourself with bread layered with Sun Jam and tea, and you would spend the day getting into heaven knows what mess. Perhaps you would be doctors one day or maybe you would play at being teachers? You had heard that school was an amazing place filled with teachers and none of you could wait to actually set foot in that hallowed place of whatever was done there. You couldn’t care less, all you knew was that at some age you would go there and start being a grown up. So exciting was the prospect that whenever some aunty asked you what grade you were in, you would lie and say six. Surely she would fall for the lie, couldn’t she see how big you were? And besides, six was one of the two numbers you knew; you couldn’t remember the other one right now but you’d ask Samuel in the morning.

Oh God life was exciting wasn’t it? Life was one big joyful adventure. Every day you learnt a new word without even realising it, and suddenly you would feel proud when you used it and everyone clapped their hands and cooed all around you. You were the centre of your own world; you were the vortex around which every particle in the galaxy spun. Dare any unsuspecting idiot, or distant cousin, upset that balance and you would throw a tantrum until the balance of the universe was set right again. But it usually was, quickly; and soon all was forgotten as life resumed its normal blissful journey.

And the journey always came to an end so soon. Suddenly evening had fallen and you were being called back into the house. Hurry back they would cry and you would say you were coming, just a few more moments. Then a few more, then a few more until suddenly a hand latched onto your arm and you were dragged away from the pile of mud you had constructed or the flower you had dissected to find out exactly what bees were for looking for inside there. You would resign yourself to the fact that the day was over and follow Mother into the house, or perhaps it was Sisi, telling you that you had to be bathed and dressed before Mother and Father came home. Suddenly you were excited again, stripping off your clothes and jumping into the little blue dish that was used for your bath time. Sisi would wash you everywhere and you would squeal with joy as she tickled you. And then suddenly you could hear the front door open and you heard the voices that meant your universe was again complete. In an instant you were padding out of the bathroom, in all your naked glory, Sisi following still trying to grab a towel to dry you.

Mother would laugh and open her arms as you ran into them, soaking the front of her dress. Father would frown a bit then smile. Off with you, go get dressed he would bark; but it was a good bark and you would laugh and run down to your room where your evening clothes were laid out on the bed. Or perhaps you would look for them yourself? Rummaging through the cupboard for anything that looked wearable.
The rest of the evening passed in relative tranquillity, the television droning in the background as you ate your suppers and then suddenly it was time for bed. You would insist that you were fine, it was way too early. Perhaps father would bark some more and you would run off, or more likely he would bark gently and you’d keep on ignoring him till suddenly sleep came and carried you off in his arms and you were snoring gently on the sofa. Mother would look at you from time to time, caught between watching you and the fact that you were sleeping rather awkwardly. Then at last Father would scoop you up into his arms, your little body snuggling into his as he carried you to bed. And all of a sudden the day was done, it was all over. Night had come.

And in the morning you woke up an adult and the dream of childhood was gone.


©Bongani Ncube-Zikhali

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