/ 10 June 2016

How we remember and respect our inner child

Child’s play: A young Fumbatha May
Child’s play: A young Fumbatha May

When I was a child, my grandmother would take me to the neighbourhood supermarket, known to everyone as Kwa-George (pronounced kwaJohji), that stood on the slope of a hill at the centre of NU7 in Mdantsane. 

She would tell me she was going to ask her friend who worked there whether they had finished baking the day’s Smarties in what I imagined was a Willy Wonkaesque manufacturing operation in the back of the grand building that looked like a magnificent mansion to my childhood eyes.

Some days we’d arrive too early and I would be told that they had only just put the first batch of the day in the oven and it would be hours before they were ready. Other days I’d be lucky and take home a box of freshly baked Smarties that had been “cooling in the fridge” in anticipation of my arrival. 

It took me a long time to realise I was the only person who knew of this mystifying Smarties oven that I had never actually seen.

It wasn’t a damaging lie. Elaborate, yes, but not damaging. It turned the supermarket into a mysteriously magical place for me. To this day, the only chink in the magic is a realisation I had in my late teens that the supermarket was only slightly bigger than the hundreds of four-room houses arranged in neat rows around it on the hill. But deep down I still believe the building could fit some kind of imaginary oven to bake candy-covered chocolate drops of any brand if they so wished.

Parents tell their children all sorts of untruths as they grow up — either to help them make sense of life or to save themselves the awkwardness of the truth. The story of my origins as told to me, again by my grandmother is another favourite fib. For years I believed my grandmother had saved me from a life of certain hardship when she found me on the side of the road somewhere in Nigeria during the tumult of the Biafran War. 

Evidence of this was a picture, rendered in the famous abafundi beBona — readers of Bona sent photos of themselves — aesthetic of the time, of a three-year-old me in a two-piece ensemble of shorts and matching shirt, beaming from ear to ear with the delirious joy of childhood. Also, my grandmother would add, gratitude for the “rescue’’.

There’s something nourishing about tending to the child within through what I imagine writer Toni Morrison means when she talks about rememory. 

I know it sounds like a fake-deep thing to say, but the children we were never die.  We just push them down and away from sight because we are expected to be adult and to become adultier with each passing year. 

Slowly, we lose our sense of wonderment and joy and fall into a routine of facts and pragmatism.  And we begin to depend on asinine fake-deepisms written on luridly coloured Spirit Science memes that tell us that “we mature with the damage not with the years” and this is supposed to help us make sense of the adult world we must now inhabit, whether we want to or not. 

But 12-year-old me is beset with far fewer troubles and is more easily satisfied — he still giggles at the word “regina”, achieving a joy that can momentarily drive away some of the despair of adulting. 

The child in me can, at times, find closure that the adult me may not have realised he needed.  I recently spent two weeks sharing bunk beds with my cousin — the same beds we last slept in as prepubescent boys with kung fu and superheroes on our minds. 

Viewing our accommodation for this past Easter, the 10-year-old me called dibs on the top bunk and settled a simmering two-decade long grudge, a grudge borne from suffering long weekend nights filled with ferocious farts unleashed from above, followed by my cousin’s wicked laughter. 

The magic of the bunk bed quickly dissipated, as I soon found my life-battered sensibilities unwilling to trust the bed would not come crashing down under the weight of my 34.5-year-old body, pulverising my cousin below. 

Each turn was a torment as the bed swung hither and thither in response to my movements, causing me to pull myself out of slumber and bring my senses to full alert. But the 10-year-old me was chuffed, so that made at least one person happy.