There is a way we sometimes choose to tell stories, so we sound like we have life figured out. Nowadays we can choose to show the picture-perfect side of life but die inside with nobody being none the wiser. This is the reality of every other person in the world, yet they never get to tell their stories. We just live and die with open wounds trying to find ways of healing. When the world allows you to tell your truth that is when you live beyond limits because the first person you are honest with is yourself. I found all this out as a young woman in her late 20s struggling to make sense of life and my name, Noluthando Dlamini, sometimes seemed too heavy to carry. I thought I had life figured out until it happened to me in a series of rollercoaster experiences. Everything at that point was telling me to let go of the world and breathe. We might have imagined that living in the times of being young, black and ‘free’ would be a picnic but it was still a case of protesting for our right to live. The streets of South Africa and the world at large will forever ache for the rumbling chaos of the youth who are fighting for a great course and maybe the revolution will trend on media platforms until it is televised… Our lives resemble the folktales we were once told growing up, the riddles and the challenges that give one lessons in growth.
I suppose it all starts when we learn systems and one day you realise that you are not breathing right. You time your breaths against all your problems. My best friend, Asante Radebe has asthma and she lives on borrowed breath every other day. Sometimes it looks like her chest will give out on her, but she hangs onto her skin with hooks and lives on. She says the air is different in certain places and may contribute to an attack. She has to live in places with cleaner air. For the normal person breathing comes easily enough that you at times aren’t aware you even doing it ‘til you suffocate and your brain panics. It is like the emphasis we place on time, chasing it and the best life only to sit in the cracks of broken dreams catching our breaths before we die. Sometimes we choose to forget that life isn’t perfect and just live. It is easier to do when you are young because there is so much to believe in.
It is in my just living phase, in my 9-5 peanut paying job where I breathe in intervals that I shove my dreams to the back of my head. I sense a headache coming while doing maniac sums of my budget to see if I’ll make it through the month with my salary. When I leave work, I take a deep breath and feel my body coming back to me. The streets are littered with people like me, rushing home and we sound like broken dreams and giving up. The loud noises the city makes in the evening drowns us out, the cars honking and the evening rush taking us home. I get home and switch on the lights breathing in the stale air and settling into myself. Everything here feels like it knows me. The cup I drink my coffee in, the couch I sit on to rest my tired feet and the bed calling my name. I switch the TV on and watch my country dying and the narrative is it is a catalyst of things that kill the young and we just watched as it happened. It is like being stuck in a bad horror movie where you aren’t aware of the obvious until it is too late. At some point when you grow up, you realise that TV is a necessary medium of self-hate strategically placed to fill our minds with static. Though a few artistic minds have tried to breathe life into it, but it operates on enough news on why you should hate your leaders and have no faith and then you are told lullabies of make-believe stories, so you go to bed easily. We need to process visions better and know the truth, at least as families we try and talk about what happens on TV. When homosexuality is portrayed on TV and elders don’t understand why their children are caught up in western norms they ask you what is going with your peers. Yet sometimes you find there’s a son at home desperately trying to fill the shoes of a man he will never be because he hides his true self in a closet of this is what a man is. When they kill our favourite characters in a TV series, that is a conversation starter even in public transports and the politics of our country bring us together or against each other. We can all relate on the issues of power cuts even if our backup systems differ.
A call comes in from home, I hear the poverty reaching out to the city, but my mother says they are fine, they just need a little money to tide them over. The way she calls my name soothes my heart, fills me with a sense of being and makes me think of home. Home is a beautiful place, but it is so isolated from the city and where all the money is made that everyone ends up relocating to the city. I know I’ll have to tighten my belt and make do without other things ‘til I get paid again because what is a daughter’s duty if not to feed her mother when she finally gets a paying job. A child who provides is a parent’s pride and joy. Apart from living, you have to at least try and tick off the checklist of your parent’s goals for you. Black parents like to have their children as conversation starters at events. You find that people envy you for having a job, for not having kids at a young age, being the first to go to college in your family or for getting married. These standards are your mother’s standing in society that proves she raised you well and you are giving meaning to your name and the hopes she had for you. All this and living too happen in terrifying steps that push one to seek the perfect life and when it all comes crumbling down we seek a divine figure, some sort of control. You know how we sometimes only remember God when things are bad. With pleas like ‘if you get me out of this situation’ and the prayers that feel like they are hitting the ceiling. Life is a beautiful thing and it is magical when things align. However, nothing builds one like hardships do. You may have to alter your dreams with age to remedy what ails your people so that even you breathe better. These are the things you learn in the unfortunate paths of life. It makes sense why it takes a village to raise a child, why our ancestors believed in communities and co-existing even if it killed them. Every childhood memory is filled with the sense of coming together, from the Christmas celebrations back home to the funerals attended by half the village where the bereaved later cater to those visitors. We can’t live on the view that ‘they just came to eat, drink and be merry’ at our expense. Though that one “crazy’ aunty would go on a rant when she had had enough of people and the family would apologise and say ‘forgive her, it’s the grief talking’ while offering the people more refreshments. Life is, after all, a celebration of creation and living through a couple of hard moments. It is scary to see how time erases us before each other’s eyes.
The new modern black generation lives to unlearn all the years of suffering and pain and to give new meaning to our people. You see it in the city central buzz, the new markets on display and how young people still rush home out of obligation. Yet it catches up with us in fashion trends and art forms. To a point where we don’t know if the city is a shadow of us or if we are fading in its darkness. The rules are less hectic on where one can live and where one can go and so one can chase their dreams within a certain realm. Even though the city life breaks a lot of young people, we still hope to find love to write home about and raise better and more fulfilled kids. Even if half the people still live in undernourished ghettos where clean water is a privilege and good medical care is a dream. The people who make it try and create cracks in the ‘you can’t leave the ghetto and make it in the world’ mentality. Struggle is never failure not when we grow and learn from it. Not when it moulds us into accomplished version of ourselves and the people before us. I would love to have someone explain how life gets so complicated so fast. How this precious experience torments us into ghosts chasing death. One day you live content with the sun, the sound of the sea, certain even that there is a divine being out there in control. Time passes and you lose yourself in the complex nature of the world, the sun becomes too hot, the sea too rough and you feel all alone in a deep dark place. I like to take a walk in my memories cradling the girl to woman I was to be, such a delicate flower. I water her with my tears and love her with so much sincerity. Write her world defining poems that I arch to her hips and bosoms; she’s a bird afraid of the sky. This girl is a young goddess with no heaven and she’s unsure of her own name. It is laced in the old people’s throats the struggle this life is, it leaks down their tired eyes they can no longer hope in the sun or anything their faded eye sights can’t see. Every day I live I tattoo the body of words to my being because they give life meaning. Every pattern of my fingerprints testifies to my presence here and that goes with me to the deepest darkness, the highest glory and other lifetimes. The sorrow and pity aren’t for the woman I am, they are for the starry-eyed young girl I lost on the way. Lord knows some people are shaken to the core by life; a year is all that it takes for your life to take a complete earth-shattering change. A mere second could mean it all comes to an end.
To the women so badly scarred by knowing the devils bite in love too soon, go on and give your heart a holiday and love yourself. It’s no sin to give a part of yourself to someone who asked for it in the language love speaks. Life is the first teacher of how things fail and fall apart. I still have so many obituaries clinging to the back of my throat, so many suns have set but I am still here. The saddest suicide note is how much life loves death, its signed ’til we find what binds us after the last breath is taken’. And whoever engraved these dreams in us gave us purpose. The music never stops. Life turns us into poets wandering on broken paths like ink on pages of never ending books. I hope you find the balance one needs to get to what we all want to know and that it helps you breathe better.