04 March 2014

Green Pastures

What you did when you left was less of leaving than it was of running.

You fled. 

You hit the road. 

You ran as fast as your two legs and as far as your passport would carry you. You packed your bags and you left. Told yourself happiness was waiting for you on the other side. That the meaning of life had a name on the other side and that you would call it out loud when you got there. But now, now looking back you realise the deep essential flaw in that argument.

Yes the other side had running water and electricity. It had money in the bank and unlike here the money didn't lose zero's every few weeks. The roads were tarred there, tarred like the roads in your childhood memories, leading to places where you wanted to go and not to queues for sugar and milk and bread and oil and petrol and firewood for when the lights went out. The roads over there led to schools and libraries. They led Fathers to work in the morning and they led Mothers back home in the evening. The other side had blue sky and television that told stories that made sense. Not the jingles and crazy songs wrapped up in faux nationalism that stank to you of logical masking tape; hiding the flaws in an argument given as gospel truth.

The people on the other side were happy you thought. They worked hard and they smiled a lot as they drank from bottles of Coca-Cola that did not have to be rationed to one two litre bottle per customer as it was over here. They stood around braai stands, barbecuing steak and sausages to the sound of kwaito music. They sat by the Thames watching the river go by and waiting for the fish to snag onto their lines, later to be baked with oily chips and vinegar, sitting in front of warm cosy fires. They stood out and looked onto the vast spread of the ocean as wide and as deep as their dreams, dreams so big that they could not fit anywhere here, they could only fit into the spaces that the other side made for them. They stood by and watched the green pastures spread out before them and it was good. For them. It would be good for you as well once you got there.

So you left. You travelled by plane and you travelled by road. You squashed yourself between fat women going to sell their wares by the border and you sat in the back of lorries. You hitch-hiked by the sides of highways the summer sun burning your skin but not the resolve in your heart. You braved crocodiles as you swam across the Limpopo, braved machine guns as you crawled under fences, braved the machinery of bureaucracy as you gamely lied about your work status, tourist visa hidden in your passport, its expiry date condemning you every time you looked at it. But that was the price you had to pay no? The price those green pastures demanded of you. The price demanded of you for the ten different types of bread you got to choose from at the Supermarket, the price extracted from you for uninterrupted electricity, dizzingly fast internet, bottles and bottles of Coca-Cola bought at whim with the crisp Euros in your pocket, the folded Rands in your wallet, the royal Pound Sterling in your bank account. You left and there became here. And here became there.

And every month you sent it back there. Sent money back there to those you had left behind, sms'd the MTCN number that Western Union had given you, heard the grateful relief in the voices of those left behind as they told you this would pay for Langa's school fees, that this would make sure that Sibonokuhle wrote her O-Level exams, that this would give Tendai bus fare so that he could also cross the border and look for a job. And just for a moment you would feel that it was worth it, that you had done a great thing - running like a coward - no, leaving. That it had been for something greater than yourself. But just as quickly you would ask, who is Langa? Musa's daughter! Didn't you know? She's now in Grade One, the little tiger, they grow so fast don't they. Oh by the way, when you left Musa was still in High School well he went and got himself.....

And their voices trailed away. Musa was married now. He was called Father by a child who wouldn't know your face from that of the Postman at the gate on his bicycle. Sibonokuhle was in O-Level now. When did she grow out of the little dresses she wore when you saw her last. Who were they all, these new people come to life in your absence, intent on proving to you that your leaving had meant and done nothing. That the vacuum left in your absence had been filled like a Jacaranda blossom that has fallen to the ground, a thousand others left in its place. What is left of you over there now that you are over here? What do they think of when they say your name? Do they remember you as you remember them or is your name as distant a memory as those tarred roads leading to places with names? And what of those who have died? Faces you will never see again, voices you will never laugh with again, smiles you would only ever hold in your dreams as the only thing that remained of them.

Where is your life now? What is your life now? A new set of friends every four years. A suitcase under your bag, ready to pack your life into. Nothing around you is more permanent than the weather, more permanent than the visa sticker in your passport, its stamp counting down the days till your existence becomes a crime, counting down the number of days until you have to go begging to be a person again, begging to be counted amongst them, them who have countries with names. They who have flags that fly as high as the sky. They whose shadow falls behind them and not over them. They whose lands you have run to, escaped to, come to, hands in the air like a beggar begging for release shouting their names to. What is your life now? Now that you speak their tongue and do their ways. Now that the sound of your name pronounced properly is a memory as old as those tarred roads. What is love if it has an expiry date printed on the back of the British Airways boarding pass?

You left them all behind. Your friends, your family, your brothers and sisters, your enemies who every day had prayed for your death at the hands of a natural (or unnatural) disaster. You left them all, people who remembered you existed and you came here where they needed to be reminded daily that you are. Yes here is green but looking back you see a different sort of green, a green called home, a green that reveals the deep, fatal flaw in your plan to escape your dying home.

When you left, you forgot that your heart would stay behind.

Paris, France.


  1. as we came to expect from zikhali ,a deep,heartfelt , mind-reading essay ; for we (the departed) share the same thoughts ,but far be it from to suggest that you have escaped , you simply had to answer one of your primal instincts , one that it is innate in all of us . you -for the lack of a better word-- survived !!
    life is a struggle and a conflict we can't fight something that surpasses our mere comprehension of it we can only survive it with dignity , honor and as much happy moments as we can.


    1. "life is a struggle and a conflict we can't fight something that surpasses our mere comprehension of it we can only survive it with dignity , honor and as much happy moments as we can."

      Awesome words, will quote you! Thnx :)