25 March 2013

Letter to my 14 year old self

Inspired by Ernest Mackina

Hi B.

I would ask how you are doing if I didn’t know already exactly how you are doing so I’ll just hope you are having a good day as you read this letter.

I’m ten years in your future, ten years down the path you will take, ten years away from you right now at this very instant. But the thing I realise is that I owe everything to you. Every decision you are about to make will result and lead me to this place, this point in time. Every thought that passes through your mind colours my opinion, every action you take is my memory and every action you don’t is either a regret or a blessing in retrospect. For the most part you have done a great job and I have nothing but gratitude towards you; thank you B.

But the main reason I’m writing to you B is not to say thank you. Looking back from my vantage point ten years in the future I have the advantage of hindsight. I have the gift of being able to see everything as if from the side of a high mountain whereas you are trudging about in the valley. Keep trudging B, you will get here someday, you will make it to the summit. The peak seems so far away I know but trust me, keep on taking those small steps and you will be here before you know it.

I know it seems dark right now. You are stuck in a high school that at times seems unforgiving; they laugh at you for not being able to speak Ndebele properly, they laugh at you because you have no inkling of slang and you prefer to bury yourself in William Horewood novels during study period (though looking back I honestly have to ask myself where you found the courage to read a 2000 page novel in the first place). Let them laugh B. It won’t kill you. Their teasing might seem like it is barbed but one day you will realise it did nothing more to you than toughen you up for the road ahead.

Yes they tease you about seemingly everything don’t they? Your pimples, your braces, the way your voice hasn’t broken…the list seems endless sometimes doesn’t it. Don’t take it all to heart my guy. Let it roll off your back like water rolling of the back of a duck. Those braces will be gone in a few years’ time (though I wish you had worn them more often), those pimples will clear out soon enough and your voice will become your greatest asset as you go on to dominate provincial and national public speaking [spoiler alert]. As for the rest…well let them tease. Such is life my guy. You are not exactly the least sarcastic person in the world are you?

And speaking of that high school, cherish every moment B!!! Those will turn out to be the best years of your life. Those teachers will turn out to be the mentors who push you towards your dreams. And even some of those teasing you will turn out to be your best friends. Ten years will tell you the difference between the good ones and the bad but for the moment enjoy every meeting, learn from every one of them and share the communion that is the shared humanity of this lifetime. Don’t lock yourself up too much in your books, smile more often, laugh, cry and dance. Life is good B.

I know it doesn’t seem that way. I know it didn’t seem that way the two months you sat eating your lunch alone in Form One because you didn’t have any friends. I know it didn’t seem that way the day they tore you down and left you feeling as if the world had fallen around your feet. I know it didn’t seem that way the day Mr Masuku beat the entire Motor Vehicle Technology class with a broomstick that broke twice with the force of his blows (don’t worry he almost got fired for that). I know it didn’t seem that way the day you jammed in your first speech at Hillside in front of the entire school and ran off stage. I know it didn’t seem that way the day you realised your best friend was a dick. I know you can point out a dozen moments where it didn’t seem that way and I can promise you, there will be dozens more but just hold on, the one thing I can promise you is that it will all be worth it. Just hold on, study as if you are crazy, read novels as if they provide you with oxygen, laugh as if you don’t have a care in the world, continue loving as if you’ve never been hurt and you will see; one day the path will suddenly seem to level out and the clouds will, for a moment, disappear leaving you to contemplate the vast distance you have travelled and you will smile and you will remember every single day, every single moment, every single fight and you will know it was worth it.
Soon things will change drastically, you will move away to a new school, the country will begin its precipitous decline towards collapse, you will drop out of university and everything will seem to be on the edge of being torn away, nothing will seem sure but again B, hold on, it will all be worth it. I promise you that.

Don’t imagine for a moment I have reached the summit of the mountain. There is a Chinese proverb you read a few months ago in a Readers Digest. Remember it? You wrote it down in mom’s old blue diary that you use to keep beautiful quotations. It said: “When you reach the top of a mountain, keep climbing”. You will find out the meaning of it soon enough. There is never an end to struggle, just a finishing of one level and a beginning of a new one. One day you will leave the valley, and for a moment it will seem to be the summit and then you will see it was but the beginning of yet a steeper climb. Sitting here contemplating this new mountain I have to climb, again I have to thank you, for giving me the courage to keep on climbing. I return it to you B. Keep climbing.

Keep climbing.



PS: Ten years later I remember that trilogy you read all throughout the year. There is one part that has stayed with me till now, remember these graces. Remember them well, they shall serve you for the rest of the journey.

“The grace of form.
 The grace of goodness
The grace of suffering
The grace of wisdom
The grace of true words
The grace of trust
The grace of whole-souled loveliness.” **

(** from the Duncton Wood© trilogy by William Horewood)


  1. To be given such an honour... leaves me speechless.

    Its a wonderful thing to be able to reflect back at your 14 year old self, to give advice and warn of danger of the future, it is magnificent to reminisce with a sense of nostalgia and yearn for a life, once filled with innocence, naivety with hints of trouble.

    Way to go Zikhali, keep on writing, don't stop!!!

    1. Lol thanx Mackina, if only we could go back in time no? but perhaps its for the best we learn from our mistakes. Always remembering where we come from.

  2. I do agree with the message of Ernest... You are so brilliant... Ton écriture me plaît tellement.. You express so purely and strongly the benevolence to you as teenager... It's remarkable how you take care, you reassure him with kindness, trust and wisdom. Keep on writing, definitely, we feel so understood when we read you.. And that's so rare and precious... Thanks..

    1. Merci Estelle. I am touched that my description was able to touch you. In the same novel, Duncton Wood (which I highly recommend, it's a classic, a story is always begun with the formula: "From my heart to your heart, may this tale touch you as it has touched me."

  3. Wow Bongani, who knew that being one of the best public speakers in our stream in high school would lead to you being such a great writer? I am so proud of you keep writing.

  4. "Masuku!" loooool i dnt knw if i am the best frand who used to tease u or the one who became a ****. confused.

  5. @Anonymous thanks hey! :) Will write as long as I keep breathing. @Mnce, you of all people should know who the "best friend" is lol