28 November 2013

Random Memories

It's lunchtime, I am sitting on the lawn with two of my friends at St Columba's High. We are having lunch, someone cracks a joke and we laugh and I look up at the sky and suddenly time stops. I don't know what it was, perhaps it's the way the sunlight bounced off the clouds or the way the grass smelled with just the hint of the rain that had fallen a few days ago. Something lifted that moment out of itself, came down and lifted me off that lawn and made me feel a peace that looked me in the face for just a moment before disappearing and time started once again. My friends started talking about something else and the hands of time started once more. I did not tell them what had happened.

Darkness is falling outside and the plane is descending slowly towards the lights of Algiers. I look outside the window, my face stuck to the glass as I look upon my new home. It had been two days filled with wonder, my first time outside the country, my first time in a plane, my first time stuck in Paris' airport for six hours because we didn't have visa's to leave. As the plane loses altitude, giving me that annoying sensation in my stomach, I feel a rising awareness that it was now official, I had left home, I had left everything I had known my whole life for this country; this city of a thousand lights staring back at me in the dying sunlight. Was it excitement or dread I felt? The plane lands and we get off onto the land that would be our home for the next four years. The land that some of us would die in. But we didn't know that then, we were just glad to be at journey's end.

I'm standing in front of the school. All their eyes are on me. It's my first time. No one had prepared me for this. My teacher for some reason had thought it was a good idea to make me give the prayer at assembly that day. I had not. I was right. But it's too late. I can feel my heart in my throat. I am only ten years old. The dimensions of the hall seem gigantic and I am lost on the stage with a sea of eyes on me. The silence is absoloute as they all wait for me to say something. The teachers, the prefects, the rows upon rows of khakhi shirts and white, black and brown faces. I open my mouth and nothing comes out. By now I have forgotten the prayer I had been practising since yesterday. Panic.
I run off the stage. For the next few days I feel as if the whole school is laughing at me. I promise myself I will learn how to speak on stage.

We are drunk with happiness. Driving around town talking loudly over the music. I don't remember who dares me to walk into Creamy Inn and order fish in french (bear in mind this is in Zimbabwe). Surprisingly I take up his dare. We get in, all four of us. I walk up to the counter and start blabbering at the poor girl in french. For a moment she is dumbfounded then she screams at her colleagues, "Nangu umuntu uyangithethisa!!!!" We reassure we are not and end up laughing with her as we order ice cream. Next up is a parlour where my cousin asks for a banana milkshake but because he is allergic to milk, they should just shake the banana's. They call security.

It's time to swim again. What that means is that I and the few others who can't swim have to spend an hour paddling in the shallow end whilst the rest of the class goes through their drills. But not this time. Our teacher is not at school and the teacher who has replaced her is determined to make all of us swim. She tells the rest of the class to do something and spends the rest of the hour trying to get us to swim. I am scared. I am wishing our teacher was there to ignore us. I hate the water, I am scared of sinking in its depths and never coming back. I tell her that. She tells me the water will never let me sink. That my body will float. She kneels down by the edge of the pool and tells me to imagine I am sinking into my bed. I will fall but my bed will always catch me. Imagining things is what I am good at. I close my eyes and I sink into my bed of water. I am falling. Falling. The panic is beginning to rise but just as I am about to stand up I feel the water lifting me up. My little legs are kicking and my arms are flailing in every direction. How ungraceful I must look but all I can remember thinking is, I can swim!

It is assembly again. I am 8 years old old this time. My vaseline smeared face is bright with expectation. My first assembly in the big school. We all sit there, rows upon rows of khaki clad children. The little ones like us are near the front, nearest to the stage where the projector sits with its assistants who place a slide and light up the front of the hall. The piano starts playing and the whole school bursts into English church hymns. Amazing Grace, Morning has Broken, To God Be the Glory. It is another world, I sit there lost in it all. The music ends and as the silence settles the headmaster takes to the stage. He starts speaking in English and my heart falls in my chest. So many complicated words, so many things that just go straight over my head. I look around, everyone is listening attentively, suddenly I feel so small and so sad. On the way home I tell my mother what had happened. When we get home she hands me her dictionary from her High School days. I begin reading it. I tell myself I will never sit through another assembly like the one I had had that morning. It takes me years to get halfway.

The night sky is covered in stars like it is the carpet of God's house. Thousands upon thousands upon millions upon millions. I can smell the smoke from the fire and in the distance I can hear the gentle clinging of the bells the cows wear around their necks. The night air is filled with the sound of crickets, of the murmur of my mother and her sisters as they speak in Sotho and every now and again, of my granny's cackle. This is her world, a world of fields and thorn trees, of lakes and rivers, of cows and goats, of grass as high as your knees of night skies covered in diamonds. It is a world of mosquito's and the smell of the manure that is pounded into the floor of the kitchen, of the dogs lying in the sidelines, waiting for any chance scrap of food they might catch as it flies through the air. I snuggle closer into my mothers' arms and fall asleep.

All I live is regret, all I suffer is memory.


  1. Enchante' first thing that can to mind hope it makes sense lol. I enjoyed that... You have a gift Bongani nurture it.

  2. there must be a reason as to why the past always seems better to us .
    somehow life was more colorful ,problems were less complicated, people were kinder, sweets were sweeter, salt was saltier , cartoons were funnier and prices were lower (feel free to thank inflation and capitalism for making the last one a mere fading memory)
    letting go of your past in one the most painful transitions man must do to embrace adulthood, an ever lasting scar in one's soul , i can't say i was able to shake it off !!!

    1. Now I know the truth of your words, letting go is so difficult. So difficult.