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To My First Love

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At the budding age of twenty-one, I fell and scraped my knee.
It was a swift calamity. One moment I was following the stream of people in the early hours of the day, the next moment I was a heap of confusion on the cold concrete. It took a while for people to notice me, but they continued to go on their merry busy way as if I wasn’t there. They chose not to see me.  Eventually, a stranger who had witnessed the fall came and helped me up. I thanked him, but I did not see his face.
Whilst on the concrete and unable to move because I had sprung my ankle as well, I remembered an old conversation with a dear friend. I remembered discussing birth and death and him mentioning how birth was such a traumatic experience for us that we seemed to forget it.
I now understood what he meant.
When I fell, it was as if I was plummeting forth into the world again, or rather plummeting back into my childhood where scraped knees were customary and concrete sidewalks were backyards paved with grass.  I could not remember how the fall occurred and even suspected witchcraft, but all I wanted at that moment was to be enfolded in my mother’s arms, with my head against her chest and my thoughts racing at the same speed as the lullaby that was her heartbeat. She had an awful singing voice.
I got up and carried on with the rat race.  I found myself at the bus station waiting patiently for the next bus and propping a book in my hands so as to avoid any conversation.  In the midst of my reading, loud voices crept into my ears and I looked up to see the commotion.  A homeless man stood in the hub of traffic and sparked explosive outbursts of road rage. Profanities were shared and the man returned to his corner at the end of the road. I then found myself thinking of my mother again.  Her sad smile came into sight.
To her, I was little Khensi. Khensi with the small feet, Khensi with the bulging eyes, Khensi with the crooked teeth, mntwana wa  ma : my mother’s child. Now I was just Khensiwe.
Mama took me to church every Sunday. Her eyes were rimmed with cheap eyeliner and she reeked of sweet-scented perfume, always desperately trying to camouflage the smell of desperation.
The one phrase that was used extensively in our church was that we were all made in God’s image. Even though I was no longer religious, it stuck with me.
When I asked mama why the other people didn’t like us, or why the other children refused to play with me, she gave a response that was far too complex for a six year old to comprehend.
We’re the part of God that everyone ignores, the part that is too daunting or cannot easily be explained. We are the part of God they choose to recreate in their image because it doesn’t fit within the restraints of their ideals. We’re the silent God, the one who doesn’t follow their commands or grants their wishes. They don’t like that side of God so they don’t like us either.
I only understood this analogy once I was older, when I noticed how she could not bare the dark tones of her skin, and when I realised her tongue wasn’t as well versed as my own, when her hair was never straight enough, or her smile bright enough, when she praised me for taking after my father, when her eyes were red and rimmed with distress.
The bus arrived and I quickly got on. I peered outside the window and saw the homeless man in his dirty corner, the ignored God. I often wish I had gotten off the bus and ran towards him, wrapping my arms around him, and told him that I see him. I see him. The same way I wish I had wrapped my scrawny arms around my mother.
I would have told her that she wore midnight so gracefully on her skin, that the sun blessed her with a thousand kisses.  I would  have told her that she did not need a degree to be an intelligent amazing woman. That she was already enough, she was always enough. She was more than enough.  I would have told her that even though I bear a striking resemblance to the father I never met; I was made in the image of her. I would tell her that even though she used me as a coffin for her insecurities, I love her and always will.




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