My first memory is of ankles. Thin, flimsy and shaky ones… Stout, sturdy confident and reassuring ones… Hurried, impatient and business hungry ones… Some headed left and some right. My eyes blurry with briny tears and rapidly cascading down my flushed cheeks and splashing onto my heaving little chest.
Ankle watching was involuntary. A tiny kid who froze in the midst of crowds, most of them barefoot under the African sun. I was born to fear feet shuffling into lives and as soon as they did, walking away, some to fight wars not their own, some to run from a peace carved from a dove’s beak. So, I froze in crowds, surrounded by ankles of men who walked fast as if to hide their Archilles heel and slipped on banana peels only to stand and point angrily at us scrawny kids.
Then a pair of legs just right halted in front of me, patient, trousered legs. They didn’t reek of hurried, unfeeling impatience. I did not look up. Stayed fixated on the worn but polished shoes that the legs sprouted from. Then a hand so kind reached down, as if bursting out of the firmament… Its kindness so radiant and unmistakably driven by an unfamiliar love… An unreligious yet wholesome and binding love.
There are giants that look down upon scrawny kids and see Burj Khalifas sprout from their skinny veins. He reached out with a handshake that could envelope a choir, with fingerprints like guitar strings, a cello of belonging in the bass in his voice. My dad could tower over the tallest trees, making me wonder how he went undetected for so long in the bush war that bruised his cyclops soul.
I’ve heard it said that when two cellos are in a room, if you pluck or slide a bow over a string on one, the other will sound the note. So it was with Daddy’s soul and mine. His heartbeat triggered mine… No, it jump-started it… every time I forgot where to find it or how to re-remember how to find my heart. His quiet manner, so indelibly engraved in my being, yet I knew I’d never be him. Him being larger than life, I like the tail feather of a quail after a bludgeoning rainstorm.
Sometimes he towered taller as a whirlwind. When she sensed its drunken intensity at the door, mother moistened a towel for wiping off her blood. Because giants forget the world around them is small; Baobabs stepping on toes of bonsai trees. She says giants are gentle if you search beneath their anger. So, she nursed his wounds before hers, which reopened from the steam of food she prepared never knowing if she is feeding her own death blow.
Sometimes the ground black pepper would be carried into his hairy nostrils in envelopes of steam. Mother and I would wince as we anticipated his thunderous sneeze. It was often followed by a chuckle on a good day…
Or a bark on a shitty day.
But I know without a doubt, that a small part of mother wished his heart would stop. I remember her saying once, “Did you know that when you sneeze, your heart stops for a millisecond?”
I knew it not to be true. But I understood her wishful thinking.
So, every time he sneezed. I held mom close in the recesses of my mind,
while wishing daddy a longer life and a Damascus moment enriched by the fruits of the spirit. How do you love two people who brought you life but can’t nurture it in each other?
On worst days I wished upon him a sneezing fit so violent and frequent that each millisecond he died would accumulate into the rest of his lifetime. Then I remembered this giant freed our country of colonialism, and as a child you never really know where soldiers go, and if they meet up with the ones on TV, have coffee or tea, then head out and fight it out, with movie credits at the end. But these are giants you love wholeheartedly because a soldier’s pain throws grenades in his mind long after the war has been won.
Daddy, oh dear Daddy! What hurt you so badly that love and loyalty could only be measured by how quickly I ran to the store for your cigarettes and how much seasoning Mother drizzled into supper’s relish? I loved you not because you could love me back, but because you couldn’t love either of us enough. So, in my attempts to love you, I lost myself in despair after mother burnt your food. I knew you would lean into her boot first, so I took the saucepan off the stove and poured it out and ran. I ran through the township and along the highway until I saw the crowning skyscrapers of the city. They glistened like the mirage of an oasis in the desert that was my life. But when I got there, I found no friendly or familiar faces. Just hurrying feet and mazes of streets of concrete. I lost mother in the winds that rushed past my head as I ran. I lost you in the first slap you bulldozed mother with. So here I was, sitting in a street, glue bleaching my mind clean of memory… months later seeing your hand reaching out to me with mother in the distance, half smiling and trying to say, “Come home, son. We’re starting again now. We’ll fight for what should have been. Mother and Daddy will try and make you believe in joy again”.
A collaboration between
Frank Malaba & Mbonisi Zikhali Zomkhonto
2 thoughts on “And So, I ran…”
So much of what you write, rings true and awakes memories of life as a child for me, of the sadness of being different… yet the beauty of the soul in being different, builds of a spirit warrior!
Thank you. ❤️
I can relate to what you say.