Some children dry the leaves from watching the tree too long; sometimes trees die from being needed, from taking in all the sun.
Some children make the branches fall, they sit quietly under the great giant shadow and pray that no one see them there, like that- that is the sort of thing that rots plants at the root, buries scared girls in their own bodies.
I am nineteen years old.
I pucker up my lips, swallow hard against everything I know, every body I’ve covered in mine- I carefully sort the words to make sure nothing heavy leaves here. She holds my hand like I’m made of fragile dust, says she’s not like me, she doesn’t know how to stay like this.
These days, “not broken” is a legitimate preference, I am lonelier around others but I’m trying not to send the birds back into their nests again. If I am the rafters, it’s taking too long to discover the diamond, or maybe I’ve found her, this hot-headed lover of mine, my whole world threatening to disappear when the sun rises tomorrow.
She doesn’t know that she could ask me to go with her, that I haven’t had anything beyond the way she laughs after she’s made a mess of things, tripping over everything because there is a moth in the bathroom, it frightens her so she runs around the house screaming “Baby, it’s going to eat and finish me, baby, save me!”.
She’s the tree and I’m eleven again.
My best friend, named Ruby after her mother’s favourite perfume, sits next to me and smiles. “Thato, why are you always sitting alone? You have to come play with us, you never come with”.
I think of her as my own thing, my only thing and I wish she was small as a doll, quiet, without a word of her own. Subservient, dead in any desire against the plans I have for us.
She is always asking me to do things; go places with her, play with the other kids. It is difficult at this age to understand that I am indeed different and that we were not all made the same. My grandmother says me and ma were cut from the same cloth.
She hates it.
At eleven I don’t understand that being different can cause a mother to abandon her child, I don’t understand how she couldn’t play mother and wife just for me. It makes me sore in places I can’t find with my hands.
I must not think about it.
I turn twelve next week and my aunt will fetch me on Friday to visit with her. Her husband works at a mine in Gauteng and the trip will be a treat for my birthday.
I asked if Ruby could come with and she said she’d speak to her mother about it. I won’t have fun without Ruby, we have never been apart a whole week.
These days we stay together. We have dinner at my grandmother’s and retire to sleep at Ruby’s house. Her father works away from home and her mother insists we not let her sleep by herself.
She is kind to me.
Ruby says it’s because I’m like a boy and she gets to send me for things Ruby couldn’t get to. I don’t mind. No one else is kind enough to let me get by in my own self. They chastise me because ma was exactly the same. They worry that I won’t outgrow it.
One day I’ll run just like ma and leave everything behind.
“If I come play with you, will you come with to Soweto?”
“Where is that?” She asks a little petrified.
“In Gauteng, rakgadi Lineo is taking me with her to visit”
“Does my passport allow me to go that far?”
“There aren’t borders in different provinces of South Africa, Ruby. If you can get into Ficksburg, you can get into Soweto”
“How do you know that?”
“Ausi Ntswaki lives in Witbank. You pass two provinces to get there”
“But you have never visited her”
“I still know how passports work, are you or aren’t you coming with me?”
“I don’t think Mme MaRuby will allow me”
“She will, nkgono will ask her.”
“It would be so much fun. I have never visited anywhere that far…”
“It’s not that far.”
“Okay, I will come with you, now, can we go play?”