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The Salvation Army
Port Elizabeth was a strange, uninviting place compared to Johannesburg.
A memory of the beauty of growing up in a city by the sea, the sun, the beach, the surf, where you can smell and almost smell the sea salt in the air. In Port Elizabeth, the blue sky is still like the blue light that travels like a bird, it is as cleansing as a ritual cleansing or a summer rain shower, it disappears like Hollywood screen idols and spies. He is a friendly legend and is as soothing as a warm glass of milk. In Johannesburg the air was like a sea-mist that enveloped your body and soothed you in the most brutal heat, and in the middle of winter brought you down cruelly with sickness. In the early evening walking home after getting off the minibus at the corner of Simmonds and Bree and I walked to the Salvation Army were the happiest moments I have ever had. I was single, alone, self-sufficient and independent. I didn’t have to answer anyone for ten minutes.
As a child I felt free and overprotected. As an adult, I lacked common sense, but I was serious and intelligent. There were times when I felt small and insignificant. The beginning of my career (working at a TV company) was an invasion, the end of it was a cure for all my incurable madness and deep feelings of being deeply unloved and afraid, and it made me know what emptiness was. my life was – that I should talk to my mother more often. My confidence was misconstrued as arrogance. I became the bad girl I hated in high school.
The crushing, unbearable heat of the summer in Johannesburg made me sick. In the winter it was replaced by a numbing cold that went through my whole body. It was motionless.
In both cities, the culture is in panic, people speak languages - there are eleven official languages; everything is blue or black, serious as a heart attack, where the sky often exceeds this experience – this black otherworldliness. The world exists upside down. Women and children of color are not just lost or a shell of a human being, abused and mistreated men, living in poverty without proper sanitation, clean water or education (many of the benefits first world countries have) are gone. Their eyes are dead. They survive by any means necessary. They stay in the shelter for a short period of time, but because it is temporary, they leave and often return to their homes where domestic violence occurs.
Port Elizabeth and Johannesburg are both cities of sacrifice and survival. In both cities, the girls are radical and noble – heavenly creatures who look old before their time. In Johannesburg they consume too much alcohol, drugs, party hard, cocaine, smoke marijuana, while girls get puppy fat in Port Elizabeth, eat pudding, eat more portions, snack more between meals, have children and unhappy marriages. Smart girls make smart decisions more often than not. They have an education, but then they take on a false life, a false identity—over time they make the ultimate sacrifice by stripping themselves, their intellect, and their chutzpa in tiny doses, and with it, any sense of completion.
In Johannesburg, hard, successful faces masked the fragile hearts of pale outsiders, haunted by “old souls” and the ghostly. They were a minority ideologically; screaming unbreakable triumphs fueled their minds trapped in the bleak Johannesburg nightlife and their lifestyles were dirty. Everything that was inherently beautiful and decent about them died and became completely corrupted. It is only the dead whose neuroses are safely masked without investigation and who are unconcerned about knowing and saving spirits present and past.
The streets of the city are seductively mapped with colors. Hawkers operate their business outside popular retail outlets. The malls are clean; their surfaces are sanitary, shiny and new. The windows sparkle, beautifully revealing the cool elegance of the store’s otherworldly glowing interior.
Sometimes there are street children who sleep on the street. They are sullen, they sleep, they dream and they are calm – the fear is gone. At night, despite hunger, fire, malicious episodes, disturbed people who are mentally ill or emotionally unstable remain on the street because they have no home. When it feels like midnight has lasted all day, I tell myself that they are even worse off than I am. When I walk past them at night to get to the Salvation Army where I am staying, I realize how painful it is to see the vulnerability of a human being. I’m glad he can’t see mine.
It’s addicting to believe that someone is in love with you for who you are, even though inside you know it’s a big fat lie. He kisses my cheek without invitation. He’s cool – dangerous. He says I look beautiful, but I don’t believe him. I know he’s only saying that because he wants to sleep with me. Natasha, my boyfriend says he only wants to sleep with me because I’m a virgin. I’m inclined to believe her. I am very inexperienced, shy, insecure and depressed. I think she looks like an angel with her blonde hair and brown eyes. It’s just a phase, I tell myself, and I’ll grow out of it.
A very famous jazz musician and composer shot his wife and then killed himself in the building where I worked. I was editing some of my work and fell asleep. The persecuted are always as serious as the urge to flee to get inside. Did he feel that he was faceless in this cold unknown world? Was he sick of dreaming about his rage? Could I have saved Moses Molelekwa?
My skin color is distracting – am I white, am I black? i am colored It seems as if all my dreams are incomplete on this basis alone.
How can a mother forget her own child’s birthday? How can a mother forget her own child? I’m the pale outsider with a fragile heart and butterflies in her stomach when she’s nervous. Am I not funny enough, happy, satisfied, do I need to rethink my funny clothes or my hairstyle? Is it because I have become a younger and more powerful version of her – updated and underrated?
I wait all evening for the phone to ring. To wish me ‘Happy Birthday’ but this is a completely mindless exercise and my world is once again intact and yet changed – I will never grow up. My mother – a siren – always overshadows me.
I don’t feel like drinking. I don’t feel like dancing. So I’m sitting at the bar. People buy me drinks and sometimes I get up to dance because people come up to me and ask me or talk to me – I think because I’m sitting alone. But I’m leaving because I feel so tired and sad and wonder why everyone is so nice to me. All I want to do is go to bed and get some well-deserved rest. I just didn’t want to be alone tonight. But you’re worse when you’re alone in a crowd of people having fun because it’s the weekend. They want to party and forget about the stress they experienced that week. Nothing blurs and loses the rough edges of your world and makes it disappear.
Africa, Africa, Africa, let me fall where you are.
There are wild ways in Africa. Overhead, the clouds move in a mysterious way. There is no electricity here – it burns overhead to illuminate gifted children doing homework. The power of my dreams is fueled by hunger. It is no different from their motivation. Animals lick their young, but deprived of this substitute; we die to touch.
This is the end of the world – wild, dangerous, hurtful and self-destructive. In its pure state, Africa is wilder than the wind; she sighs in the African fields of dreams, and as in survival of the fittest, there is pain behind her smile. For a woman, a girl, an uneducated daughter, can’t love be the only escape we’ve ever known?
Africa kills me, feeds me, you make me forgetful, capable of more beauty, you are like a mushroom explosion that inspires disorder, you are uninvited, you destroy me, your red flowers bloom, you are a vampire, you mix shadows like a black forest at night, a devilish nightmare, Africa he is as intelligent as the occupation of the sun and beyond the reach of oblivion.
Africa, you saved a scared and insecure child. I am a phoenix that has finally risen from the ashes and found an exit.
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