“There are places like this everywhere,
places you enter as a young girl
from which you never return.”
Whenever grown-ups spoke, I often forgot to whisper or disappear. It took some time before I understood that my mother’s home was not a democracy. That my words were only welcomed upon invitation, particularly when we had guests.
Growing up my two older sisters gave me the confidence to be. I would simply let myself be, either of the two – depending on the day. Though they had lives of their own, it mattered to me that they invited me in, even at the end just so we could all laugh, huddle together – in a shared world. If they shut me out, I mildly hid or looked away to pretend I did not mind this exclusion.
My late father had made it his supreme goal to have his children attend the best schools. So at the tender age of six, I moved to hostel, a city away from home. It was 1996, the year the South African Schools Act (SASA) repealed discriminatorily charged legislation, allowing for children of color to be admitted into formerly closed schools.
We registered, had dorm rooms allocated to us. Mom dropped me off with all necessities in my suitcase, toiletries, towels, new toothbrush. With other six years olds I learned how to make my own bed here. We learned how to jump off from our top bunks to the ground without breaking a leg. We were raised here, in our uniforms; trained through break bells and saying grace. We were rewarded with tuck goodies; regulated through prep and bedtimes. Some nights, our heads would hang, held up by hands-on cheeks as we chatted and chuckled past lights out.
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