Breathing; it truly is a gift. I become uncomfortably fragile with illness that threatens my sense of breathing, my actual breath. There is trauma there, likely due to the numerous near-death childhood experiences Asthma introduced me to. It might even be the many near-drowning experiences Ambition acquainted me with. Or the prolonged proverbial suffocation that best describes my childhood. The exact root I don’t know. I do know that it scares me. It’s an existential trigger, the loss of breath – that forced consciousness, numbering the breaths I take in and let out, getting fewer and harder each time.
I’m visited by this existential trigger tonight. Making breath and breathing dear to me.
Breathe, my Love.
The morning will fast arrive
to embrace you,
to kiss you,
to remind your lungs and reddened eyes of this investment
of short breaths and lakes filled with your salty tears.
The world will know your salt,
And up from a slumber my body rose with a clear and instinctive desire to breathe. Yet my nose refused to let in the air my body craved. My body refused me rest and so we became hysterical. The brief sleep I had managed to win — a precious spoil of the agreement between drugs and sheep — was now a moment of nostalgia.
In a dream state I panicked, feeling Death’s eyes caress my body. That bastard looked at me with the familiarity of an old lover. Triggered, my being knew to leave. A rude awakening then ushered me to a four-hour, post-midnight conversation with the four walls I claim within that hero I call a house, number Seven on Brentford and Two on Durham, assuring me in a Lonny Breaux ode that I was indeed dreaming when each one of them in that ivy garden said they loved me. The walls. My friends. My family. Were they? Who was Home? Where was Home?
Influenza often visits me, instigating mutiny between my body and me. I feel threatened each time. As if my life will end. Unfulfilled. In the forest of my dreams, the fear of not being able to afford medical care found me. Startled, I came to the land of the conscious to be unwelcomed by a mucus-deluged orifice. My nose, refusing me breath. The fear came back, too, with his swarming companions escalating my crisis. So many fears scurry within my imagination: that I’d die just when life seemed plausible; that I’d die having not tasted an important love that profoundly ministers to my sex and spirit; that I’d die a meaningless death, kept company by the four walls whose care I rent each month; that the only care I could find I had to lease.
Affection will greet you in a corner coffee shop and offer you tea.
Purpose will massage your callused feet in the quiet rural rolling hills.
I will love you on those hills.
These hills whose memory has given and taken,
these hills that have sexed and vexed,
And death will only know you out of the corner of his eye,
And I will know your face, your eyes, your soul. Your breath.
Perhaps it is selfish of me to rope you into the scene of my fear. It could be that this is the amusing fragility of a man in the face of bodily betrayal – the infamous man-flu, mansplained.
I am afraid, and my imagination gallops at a fevered pace. Could it be that these four walls might be the last witnesses of life coursing through my flesh? My imaginings might die tonight and all I may be is another Black being who thought he could be the exception? That all of that tedious fringe-work of the soul necessary to do in order to piece together a life, after having failed to orchestrate my suicide those years ago, would be in vain? Surely not. Surely those who have been rejected by death gain favour with life. I don’t know.
My ancestry clearly is not done with me yet. Their magic beckons my life force. I am a bit calmer now; my breathing is back to normal. Calm, yes, yet still gently strangled by my realities, flirting at the juncture at which masochism becomes abuse.
Fear. Fragility. Frustration. The Three Horsemen. I felt my body’s submission to them tonight. The hard-fought-for breaths were stymied by fear. A fear that waltzed with a narcotic haze. My drugged-up body, labouring for breath, worshiping at the altar of fragility. Knowing that neither my bank balance nor contact list could usher me to the gates of a medical practitioner, I paced; afraid, induced with a keen and rudely awakened frustration with my circumstance.
Who was Home? Where was Home? Surely not the these four walls whose shelter I lease.
Twelve months ago I left comfort and convenience (Home was both person and place then) and leapt toward the version of myself that lived in my dreams and imaginings. I remember the drama of my inner monologue as the bus left Durban, embarking to Johannesburg. “I am not coming back here, not this ‘me’ at least. I am leaving ‘him’ here. The Zwakele I envision is waiting for me on the other side.” Armed with a university degree, stuffed suitcase, and a profound conviction to manifest my grandest self, I left. A flame.
Burning valiantly. Unemployment, solitude and yet-to-be-answered questions waited eagerly to embrace me on the other side. Still, I burned. An ode to my ancestral line whose praise is “Nkanyezi yezulu” – Great Star of the night sky.
Inhale my dear.
Life has only just started calling your name.
She’s been asking about you, for you.
Breath is here. Here my Love.
It is here for you.
The voyage to self-sufficiency felt decades-long, biblical even. To feed myself. Clothe myself. To embrace the enfolding care of the four walls that lull me to sleep. I am Support now, my support. And the support of others.
We call it Black tax here. Upon tasting the first fruit of your labour an almost immediate shift occurs. The encumbrance of ubuntu — the quality of being human that is also expressed by taking care of others — comes knocking, exacting your contribution to the sustenance of those who contributed to yours. An indefinite tithe with multiple implications for the soul, the mind and the pocket. Wellness. I am navigating new terrain. Emerging as a contributor to the emotional and financial sustenance of a household. It’s a taxing experience.
You feel that first, before it becomes surprisingly fulfilling. And it brings me Home. A place I have not yet defined, but a feeling I am faintly grasping.
My tribe might see betrayal in my transparency, that I would write about all this. I’ve questioned my intimacy with you in this regard. Why would I share me…my struggles…my inequities? Maybe these are pains we ought to endure in silence, in solitude. This is me, too, paradoxically: present and private. I question it, but it is important to wrestle with these notions. These emotions.
It has been trying, this journey of a year. It still is. Home is no longer where it used to be. A return visit affirmed this. My heart wept. It led to a break-up. My beau said I came back different. I couldn’t understand what he meant. I didn’t see the shift then. Home had moved. And me, too.
Breathe my Love.
Breathe the breath of a people that have laboured for you.
A language long since dead.
And dead she is will visit you in the intimacy of night and solitude with bellowing whispers,
Ugogo, umkhulu, ithongo,
Every night, committed to nurturing her manifest in the present.
You, my Love. You.