Keep Your Eyes Peeled

It started when I looked at the sky. It was sunset and it had just rained. Light, over where I was, had started to dim, as if someone was sinking into their sheets for some night-time reading.

I saw clouds. Clouds, at first. Then, I saw fluffy wisps of thick mush, crafted into sky meringues. Then, I saw freshly lit coals become embers, except that they were suspended from, tacked against a salmon-pink sky. Then I told my friends to come out and look. “Embers! Look at the clouds, they look like embers.”

They didn’t see them. They just saw clouds.

Thirty minutes prior, I was looking through a friend’s art, an art gallery balancing on my lip. I savored the moment, just looking deep into this well. It could have been thirty minutes or a mere eternity, I wasn’t sure.

Then, I drove home. My eyes had just been freshly peeled. I saw light yellow skies by the highway. Clouds again like meringue, shades of waning orange and red and yellow, somehow degrading upwards toward the cosmos. And as I drove further down the road, around the bends, and onto the main highway that would take me home, the world swelled up and exploded up in size, beyond the my awareness of my body, occupying space, my thoughts soaking up every minute of my consciousness. All I could see was the pastiche of thick, rich colors, splattered upon the skies, lit by the setting sun. Clouds shaped like rice noodles wrapped around a chopstick, like icing coming out of a funnel onto a cupcake, like fresh toothpaste. Nothing mattered other than this ebb and tide of color, crashing down on me, but the crash not leaving marks or scars or wounds.

“Beauty. I’m seeing beauty. My brain is opening up!” I told myself.

As more minutes whizzed past me, I turned off at the exit. The skies were much darker than on the highway.

I was home, under the night’s darkness, but not cut off from the beauty.

 

Dear Now Married,

Dear Now Married,

Yesterday was Christmas day and I was thumbing through the writings of ten years ago, seeing what I could work on or not. Ten years ago would have meant our first holiday season together — a meeting of families, traditions, maybe even lips.

I found all the pieces that I wrote about you, the factual, the mythical, the imagined, and the experienced. I kept it all, like a hardened archaelogist.
Until last night. Last night, I let go of your remaining fossils in my life.

I loved you until I had to stop because I meant nothing to you. I was a melting bug on your windscreen, as you raced past me to reach your husband. You lied to me. I drank up to ease the pain. You told me that you had been hurt too much and you could never trust anyone again. I was foolish enough to think that that was the truth. I just was a bug, not a lover to you.

You taught me that to love is to believe and create and wait and hope and listen and give. The classroom was the time spent together, where I played no games and spun no lies. I did everything I could to bond with you. When I graduated, I made you a small book, filled with our words, memories, your face, and my love. I found that book the other day. I uncovered that heart I used to have, the heart whose teeth were cut on your rejection.

Yeah. Hindsight’s knowledge would have told me then that you were never into me. I’m glad you weren’t. You would have left me when I would have committed to you further. All my love, as innocent and child-like as it was, was never returned or valued then.

Here’s the twist. That heart I found? I didn’t lament over its death and push its coffin back underneath my bed.
I took it out and placed it again deep behind my ribs. I’m quiet with resolve that I will be that guy again.
I will love again and make libraries out of this healing heart.

Merry Christmas, Now Married. I hope you find love.

 

On Lady Macbeth

During Act III of Macbeth, the play shifts its course slightly; we see Macbeth no longer succumbing to Lady Macbeth’s provocative speeches and plans. Now, Macbeth has taken control of the situation, as his speeches are a lot more powerful and contain more than just confusion or remorse. In the scene with the Murderers, we see him as a devious persuader who convinces the men to kill Banquo. Meanwhile, especially in the Banquet scene, Lady Macbeth is portrayed as a wife who wants to keep the guests entertained and when she does speak to Macbeth, she wants to forget about the death of Duncan and her speeches themselves show traces of denial and some elements of fear. Thus, it is evident in Macbeth’s speeches that he is taking control of the situation at hand and is responsible for the actions made, while Lady Macbeth’s speeches show less involvement and importance in the plot at this stage.

The first two major occurrences where we see Lady Macbeth greatly influence Macbeth’s actions is when she waits for him to come back after the slaughter of Duncan and fainting when Macbeth’s motives were about to be put to the test. As she waits for Macbeth, she opens the scene with the soliloquy “That which hath made me drunk hath me bold” and lines 7–11 show that she has planned every detail of Duncan’s murder and she doesn’t care what happens to them; a part of her perhaps cold and evil behavior. When Macbeth returns and talks about the “noises” or signs that he has done something dreadfully wrong, she merely says, “These deeds must not thought after these ways, so it will make us mad” She does not let it bother her; what is done is done. Later on, before they go to sleep, she boldly tells Macbeth to go asleep such that nobody would notice they are awake; she wants to keep this whole issue under control and Macbeth, for that matter.

Again, Lady Macbeth takes hold of the situation when she “supposedly” faints in Act III: iii. In lines 135–137 of Macbeths preceding speech, “Who could refrain that had a heart to love, and in the heart courage to make love’s known?” Lady Macbeth instantly senses that Macbeth might admit to Duncan’s murder to live the suggested honorable courage in his speech because she probably knew that he could be carried away by the moment.

However, all of this changes in Act III of the play. In Act III:I, p. 85, Macbeth’s soliloquy shows that he has started to doubt Banquo’s character and whether he could trust him or not. By the end of the speech, lines 75–77, we see Macbeth has already decided to kill Banquo and states that he was destined by fate to resort to such extremity by killing anyone being a threat to his regency.

Later on the scene, when Macbeth meets with the Murderers, he skilfully convinces them that “that is was [Banquo], in the times past, which held you so under fortune, which you thought had been our innocent self” He makes it clear to them that by killing Banquo, their revenge would be fulfilled and they cannot wait any longer, “having their patience so predominant in their nature that they can let this go.” Also, when he senses on p. 89 that the First Murderer is showing some doubt in sacrificing their lives for killing Banquo in line 145, he quickly changes the subject and says that their courage enlightens them for doing this.

As Macbeth goes on to meet Lady Macbeth, he assures her that “we have only scorched the snake, not killed it”. His tone is self-realized and assured; he warns Lady Macbeth of this act of horror by killing the king will always haunt them. When he mentions to her that something dreadful is about to happen and she questions what it is, he calmly tells her, “Be innocent of the knowledge, dearest chuck, til thou applaud the deed”. This could perhaps signify that Macbeth knows Lady Macbeth has some kind of evil tendencies and that she would enjoy or rejoice some deed of this sort. This also asserts that Macbeth has the upper hand in this situation and there on, while Lady Macbeth would symbolize the ideal wife who gives him a pat on the back for “what he did at work today”.

This phenomenon is also observed in the banquet setting, where the whole scene revolves around a main Macbeth and a supporting Lady Macbeth. When Macbeth starts to see the ghost of Banquo, he is thrown into a fit of near delirium and hysteria, and cannot control the flow of actions or speech. Lady Macbeth tries to please her guests and keep them calm, like in line 65–67,”Pray you, keep seat. The fit is momentary; upon a thought, he will again be well”. One can tell that Macbeth’s apparent visions of the ghost and its accompanying speeches reverberate greatly on the guests, as Lennox curiously wants to know what Macbeth sees, as shown in line 142–143 on p. 107. However, Macbeth does at one point realize that his guests are rather disturbed by his behavior and asks them not to “muse at me, my most worthy friends… Come, love and health to all…Give me some wine. Fill full”.

Macbeth has brought the dinner atmosphere back to a jovial and pleasant mood again when they toast. Lady Macbeth, in all of this, is silent and tries to pacify Macbeth’s erratic behavior. At the end of the scene, Macbeth is determined to find out his fate from the Weird Sisters because he knows that he is too far now in his quest for power and that nothing can bring him back to being good. All that Lady Macbeth replies with is that you definitely need some sleep, honey.

Thus, by the end of Act III, the crown of control has been passed over from Lady Macbeth to Macbeth. No longer just being confused and easily swayed, there is determination and realization in his voice, while Lady Macbeth is simply there to support him. If Macbeth cannot turn back to goodness and Lady Macbeth does show some sign of denial and regret. Why cannot she convince him to turn back?

I wrote this in high school.

The Lies of Marriage for Middle-Income Children

I call it the hollow, aching look in someone’s eyes when they see another friend married off.

They’ve been standing by and waiting or pretending to not do either, while they have been burning in agony on the inside. The wait has turned their insides into a beautiful effigy of resentment. We and they are all assured, it’s bound to happen. Because your privilege will not fail you. Your mother and father are of good stock. You’re educated and of good stock, too. It’s bound to happen.

Stock, the investment of education and inculcation of privilege, dictates that men and women will see intuitively in each other their respective stock, and intertwine their lives around each other until they commit in marriage. There is nothing else involved except the outward forms of stock and privilege — piety, agreeable character, success in work and career, proximity of values, family, and a future built on material wealth. Stock means that the process of meeting and dating is only punctuated by milestones — the first date, the first family function, engagement, food, food, food, wedding. Whatever else happens, the very sinews of relationships, is incidental and manageable. Where society magnifies these incidental events as the actual workings of relationships, the regime of stock gives it little attention. Have a career, don’t work too hard, work hard to make money, develop your personality, but no, not something artistic or original or unique. That puts partners off. And their families. And their stock. So, be funny. Not too funny. Be interesting. Not too interesting or opinionated. Your partner wants someone they can talk to about normal stuff. Be confident, but not too arrogant. Go to church, why are you not going, go to church, don’t go to church looking like that, there might be new stock, why aren’t you going to church! Are you lost! Are you atheist! Are you… PROTESTANT! Go to church. Spirituality? Who gives a shit about that, just go to church. As long as you’re in church, you’re spiritual and full of faith. So, stand tall, why are you tired, don’t sit down, you might miss the new stock.

Stock means you both will get automatic reprieve from each other’s screening process. Stock turns the art of meeting and committing to someone into an impersonal trade of check-lists and resumes. It becomes a lens worn and never taken off. If a person acts in contradiction to the regime, then the lens justifies abandoning that person. If a person plays the system and manages to retain the other through deceit or charm, then the lens confirms the good catch. Stock doesn’t deter people from treating other with impunity. It doesn’t stop a woman from destroying a man’s heart or a man turning a woman into tears. It could just makes it easier to justify. I had every reason to. They’re so many others out there. He or she just weren’t the right one. I can wait. The right one will come along because I deserve it. What are you doing wrong? You’re a mess, you must be a mess, stop being a mess. It’s your fault, it’s not happening because it’s your fault. Everything is going for you, it should just happen. It’s all about stock. If she’s good stock and you’re good stock, then that’s all that matters. No, their good stock is different from ours. Ours is real. Maybe I need chicken stock — don’t ever say that, your future spouse doesn’t want a sense of humour.

So, we were sold lies, that education, good stock, hygiene, presentation, style, and the right socialization will get us married in no time. They didn’t tell us about the game. Fear of commitment. That one broken engagement that turned your love into a sack of blunt blades. A string of hookups that turned your man of dreaminess into a hollow man. That in time, you yourself will turn into some ghoul that treats people like garbage because you’re privileged and you have problems, too. They didn’t tell us what to do while we’re waiting. The line of potential partners that end up passing us by like the opposite lane on the highway. We had to let go of many because you know why.

This regime of stock is doomed to fail if in time, every person standing at the wedding is single, of good stock, and still waiting for their moment, waiting for the lies to become truth.

The Dream of Travelling to a Far-away Identity

About eight years ago, I knew this young man called *Gabriel, while living in London. He was like any of his peers — horny, irreverent, and kept the world in his pocket next to his phone. The details have faded now, but I remember that in a sudden change of course, Gabriel engrossed himself in church. He was at every service and at every meeting. Sometimes, he carried a Bible. Soon, he started wearing the highest medal of piety — “Forgive me, I have sinned.” Donning that medal was a little odd, but I wasn’t going to hate on his hustle. I had gone through my own years previous. Meetings passed and liturgies were offered. Gabriel now had monastic texts glued to his hand and tongue. He wanted to become a monk. Those who knew him pre-Scetis rolled their eyes and walked past him at church.

Last I knew of him, Gabriel was engaged or married. I have no idea now if he is still wearing that medal. It doesn’t even matter because all he wanted was to be something different than what he felt or was told or wanted to be. Gabriel’s story tempers me when I try to be perturbed by the rise of Daesh’s allure for young people. Daesh is about young people finally finding something so tantalizing that they leave everything for it. And purely on experience, those young people had little or perceived to have very little to drive them into the arms of a far-away identity.

This piece is not about Daesh, but about identities we travel to. It shouldn’t be a strange concept. Everyone has the dream of travelling to a different country, city, continent, over there where it’s better, people are better, life is better, less black people, less vagrants, fewer Muslims, fewer Christians, no homosexuals, more people of faith, money, color. When I get there — they reason — I will be more accepted, more understood, no more loneliness, no more exclusion, no more nothingness. But identities are like countries. They have gatekeepers, communities, codes, and rites. You pay taxes by trying to fit in and being ridiculed when you get something wrong. You buy property when you marry into the identity. In time, you set up shop and you would have blended in.

You. Your parents are Egyptian or Sudanese or Indian or Iraqi. You grew up away from your parents’ home city. You picked up a few phrases and in time, you can cajole with the uncles and aunts. Soon, you arrived at a crossroads. Continue down that road, embrace the country or world of your upbringing, or fuck everything and thumb through Instagram until you fall asleep. You made a choice. You continued down the first road, the road of your acquired identity.

Me. I confidently report that that road is a dead end. The taxation system is severe with no breaks. The property market is not open to non-citizens. Setting up shop is welcomed because you can never have too much taxes. You won’t be sent out on a raft if you don’t conform, but you’ll feel it with every stare, pursed smile, and stray missile, aimed at your years of hard work.

Like Daesh, far-away identities are mothers that don’t love their children.

*not his real name

Violence lived is violence wrought.

I couldn’t meet her gaze. I couldn’t sleep later. I could see, later, what I had done with so much thought and fear. I did it two more times, each time engaging in the art of death. No moment to stop and consider the cost, or the damage, or the future. There are no moments available because time has ceased and been stripped of its serenity. It’s just a necklace of moments, strung together by the eventuality of more violence.

There will be no backstory or flashbacks to take you, the reader, into a psychoanalysis of the origins of violence in the violent. The violent’s world is a quiet one, where the cries from executioner and condemned is choked by nothingness. A world, fashioned by your own hands, skies expanded by arms’ lengths and soil made darker with more life shed. Visit another with violence, is on citizens’ lips. The world is solipsistic and inhabited only by the violent and his victims. Every kill makes the world thicker and more hollow.

Remember when love wasn’t returned? When your heart wasn’t respected? When your boundaries trespassed, your person used, your time wasted, your life belittled, your emotions mocked? The violent didn’t stop and choose to leave his world. He made violence his norm and ethos, his pain the ink on the declaration of war on future allies. Kills collected on a prized bedpost brought him to her tears, the bare moment where he destroyed his true love.

Violence lived is violence wrought.

 

When ill-considered street semantics turn into acts of destruction and murder

When ill-considered street semantics turn into acts of destruction and murder

The editor’s eyes were assaulted by the resolve in mine.

“What do you mean? Why shouldn’t I be considered for president if I’m a citizen and pay taxes, but not black?”

The morning production meeting had turned to Zambia and whether Dr Guy Scott should be allowed to run for president after Michael Sata’s death.

“We want your skills, but not you in a position of power.”

I have no plans to run for the Zambian presidency. But the above exchange did happen. And no one present spoke up because they agreed, or they didn’t, or they did not want to be seen as siding with “the other”. Those who did not stop Mozambican Emmanuel Sithole’s recent murder are not alone.

Look at the abject poverty of the language that we’re mired in. King Goodwill Zwelithini and Edward Zuma insist on using the term “foreigner”. No nuance or distinction, just plain, vanilla foreigner. It’s like one big clump of clay in children’s hands.

The crisis in language continues with the wrangling over what kind of phobia it is. Enough with trying to find the right ribbon for the phobia. It’s hate. It’s bigotry. These racists and bigots have eyes, flush with contempt like Sithole’s murderer, before they’re afraid of “foreigners”. Perhaps not all homophobes fear homosexuals, but all homophobes hate homosexuals.

So these bigots, on the streets and thrones, are given free rein, without recourse, to pontificate about my place in society, with the precision of a dead surgeon.

Out of this crisis emerges the foreigner/local binary. Far from being an accident, this binary pervades media reports about the violence. The country is accustomed to talking about the “other”. If you’re black or white or coloured, there’s always that “other”. The foreigner/local duality is an expression of its awareness, the idea of something called “us” and something called “them”, something called “good” and something called “dangerous”.

What is the legal status of all these “foreign nationals” in media reports? Are they naturalised? Are they all illegal immigrants? Are they all asylum-seekers? Are they permanent residents? Don’t assume anything just because they’re black and live in Jeppestown.

Some discerning outlets have attempted to develop the artificial distinction of “foreign nationals” and “locals”. But it’s still the same binary. These “foreigners” live here. They’re local and share physical space with the racists. Who’s then foreign and who’s local?

I have an ID book. I pay taxes. I have lived and worked here longer than in any other place I’ve lived. Am I then a local resident or a foreign national?

The newsroom exchange wasn’t just about a non-South African in the workplace. It was about my non-ness and my other-ness. I don’t even have the right to pick the colour of my otherness. People such as the Zulu king pick it for me.

I’m not black, so I’m white. I don’t speak like Gareth Cliff, so I’m a foreigner. That’s my otherness. And I’m not “from” here, from South Africa, so that’s my non-ness.

I refuse to believe that the only reason why I am not in the crosshairs is because I’m not black or that I look white. I think I’m just further down the kill list. Perhaps my only protection in Johannesburg is polite urban company and my willingness to contribute to the economy. What happens when these protections lapse because I move to a rural town for work? When all the Mozambicans are dead, will the Chinese in Linksfield be next? They’re “others” too, you know.

The foreigner/local distinction crumbles under the burden of reality when you find a Somali shopkeeper who has an ID book (which he obtained legally) or a Pakistani who doesn’t have a friend at the department of home affairs but, like me, has to stand in the queue for hours.

While nursing a concoction resembling a bagel at a deli-eaterie last week, waving down the waiter was yielding little result. I was faint because of a cortisone shot. So another waiter helped out. She asked her co-worker to help “Saddam Hussein”.

Saddam Hussein. Because of my beard.

Fewer Twitter campaigns and marches, please. And more engagement with the attackers and bigots about how they talk and what they think.

Originally published at mg.co.za on April 23, 2015.