Black Women/White Babies

Koleka Putuma, author of Collective Amnesia. (Photo: Andiswa Mkosi)

Koleka Putuma, author of Collective Amnesia. (Photo: Andiswa Mkosi)

I remember us

Age six or seven

Or some age we could only think for ourselves through observation

We had already begun practicing how to wrap our

Jessicas and Sophies

With beach towels

Tight on our backs

Rocking them back and forth

Until they fell asleep

When they woke up

We placed them on their bums

Between our thighs

Neatly plaiting their hair

Practising:

How to feed them

How to carry them

Careful not drop them

Careful not to upset them

Practising:

How to please them

It was important that they, in our imagination,

Were pleased

It didn’t matter why then.

If they broke, we could fix them, too.

Twisted their limbs back into their torso

Rolled their eyes back to normal

No one wanted a demonic looking Jessica

Or a Sophie with a missing eye

(They were not disposable)

We grew old with them.

You had to grow old with them: an unspoken rule.

This is how we learned loyalty.

We wrapped T-shirts around our heads

To imitate the movement of their hair

We changed their diapers

Renamed them from time to time

Today, Jessica

Tomorrow, Nosipho

The next day, Chomi

And the next day, madam

We could never call our Jessicas madam with a straight face

We could not tell you why we found it funny either

It just was

Just like serving them tea

We could only continue with other kind of playing

Once we had put them to sleep

Our suburb had no name

There were no dogs to walk

Or cutlery to arrange

Or baby Tom’s piss to wipe

Or floors to mop

Or bedding to change

(or drones to vomit

while the world went to war with our bodies)

we didn’t have to bend in and out of different postures/roles,

The first:

Black child in bath/black child in school uniform/porridge on table/black child to school/your hand

waving goodbye to a black child that will call you mamma once in the morning, and again in the evening.

The second:

A train and two buses to a suburb that sneers at you as you clock in/apron on/kettle on/change diaper/feed baby/feed madam/Jessica in towel/Jessica on back/Tom tugging on your pegs to remind you that he is still training/the piss on the floor will bring you to your knees

The way prayer does/the dogs will need walking/the cutlery will need arranging/baas’s underwear will need folding/if there’s a protest that is in the interest of white privilege/you will need to march with them too/carry their sunscreen and Jessica while they (madam and baas) march for equality. yours.

The third:

You take two busses and a train back to your own/they have washed and hung their shirts/ironed the uniform for the morning/bathed and fed themselves/their faces proudly peer from under the blanket, and say look mamma, we are big now. we can do it all by ourselves.

You cannot name the thing you feel.

You can only feel it on your back. 

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