Who would I be?
I didn’t tell Tshepo because I knew that he would believe me. I needed somebody to convince me that I was lying. You see, the problem with Tshepo is that he thinks too much. Tshepo and Daddy had not been getting along very well and I didn’t want to exacerbate the tension between them. Besides, what if I was lying?
I swear. It happened innocently. I do not pry. Hell, I would have been better off not knowing (whatever it is I think I now know). I needed to urgently call Maritza so that we could plan whether it would be wiser to dress in pants or skirts to school the next day, but Mama had been hogging the phone. I was getting anxious because it was getting late and Maritza’s parents did not take kindly to calls coming in after eight. I discreetly picked up the study-room phone and used my pyjama top to cover the voice piece. I wanted to know why Mama was still on the line. She was crying. Mama never cries. Koko was on the other end, which is not anything out of the ordinary because Mama and her mother speak daily. However this conversation was distinct. Koko, naturally loud and lively, was speaking softly and so sternly with Mama. Koko said that Mama needed to stop acting like a spoilt child. Koko said that John, Daddy, was a man and that men do these things, these things with other women, but that it does not mean he does not care for Mama. Koko said that Mama lives a life that many women from where she comes from can only dream of and that she cannot jeopardise that by “this crazy talk of divorce”.
“Divorce? You must never. Do not be selfish Gemina. You must think my child. Think. Use your head. Huh Gemina? Have you forgetting your responsibilities Gemina? You have two young children you must for them care. Two. Where do you think you will go if you leave John? Back home? Where Gemina? Where do you have to go? What will become of all of you? Huh? Nothing. Without him, my girl, you is nothing.”
Nothing. Such a strong word. Nothing. I wondered. I wondered about many things after Koko put down the phone and Mama walked up the stairs to slam her bedroom door. Absolutely nothing? Was Koko right? Would I have turned out to be nothing if Mama had not married Daddy? Would I not be the same Ofilwe I am now if Mama had never “made it”, made it out of the dreaded location? What if Mama had chosen love, where would I be now? What would I be now? Nothing?
Instead of waking up to my cubed fruit, muesli and mixed nuts on a bed of low fat granadilla yoghurt would I begin my day by polishing the red stoep that juts out the front of Koko’s two-roomed house? When bored would I pass the time by naming stones and creating homes for them in the wet dirt that surrounds Koko’s self-made outside toilet or would I play Solitaire on Mama’s laptop as I do now? Would I steal handfuls of sugar from the former mielie meal bucket under the sink and run out to lie on the grass to let the sweet crystals melt on my tongue or would I forget to give Daddy back his change, forget it was not mine for the keeping and forget I was not supposed to use it to buy honey and almond nougat bars from the health shop outside the estate gates. Instead of a decaf caffÃ¨ latte at Bedazzle on Thursday nights would I freeze my Sweet-Aid and save it for a really hot day? Would it matter to me who my clothes were named after? Would I go into respiratory distress at the thought of wearing garments with no names at all? Would it be the neighbourhood security guard’s wandering eye or gunshots that draw ever closer in the night that make me uneasy? Would it be empty tarred roads or whistling dusty streets that I choose to travel?
Nonetheless, it was something of a surprise that neither Ngugi wa Thiong’o (Wizard of the Crow) nor Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Half of a Yellow Sun) took the Africa best book section. That fell instead to The Native Commissioner by Shaun Johnson, who advances to the finals of the 21st annual Commonwealth Writers’ Prize. Alongside will be compatriot Maxine Case, whose All We Have Left Unsaid took the best first book category.
Winners of the Commonwealth prizes will be announced on May 27 at the Calabash International Literary Festival in Jamaica, with the overall winners receiving Â£10 000 (best book) and Â£5 000 (best first book).
The performance accent is on Spoken Word artists, ranging from poets and writers to comedians, but critics, academics and other literary professionals will take part in workshops and symposiums. Among highlights are the symposium on “Who makes and breaks the literary canon—and why?” and the final evening, with eminent poets such as Keorapetse Kgositsile and Dennis Brutus performing, preceded by a symposium titled “Has the spirit of the writing of the 1970s and 1980s flowed on into the new South Africa?”.—Darryl Accone