just a little backstory, lost in the middle of a novel.
I’m not a collection of rolled-together memories. I am real. Everything I have is my own.
This is the difference between me and Lud.
I grew up without a father, the gap filled instead by a selection of uncles brown white black yellow. They came in talls and smalls and narrows and wides and some of them were kind to me and some of them were not. Most pretended that I did not exist. Some gave me gifts because they understood that my mother loved me, and that I was the key to her affections.
The school I went to was a government institution, all of us uniformed in blue and gray with regulation hair bands and baby doll black shoes for the girls and practical lace ups for the boys. Cheap white shirts, and expensive ties that doubled as head bands after school. We were pirates and gangsters and cops and robbers.
I say we, but I really mean them. The others called me names that I never told my mother, and I spent break time hiding out in the school library, where it was guaranteed the others would never venture unless forced to my some extreme need to research a project. Miss Figgins even made me a library monitor, which gave me a better reason to be there than simply hiding.
My mother had bought me most of a set of Encyclopedia Brittanica dated circa 1970, and alone in my room, this was the other facet of my beleaguered education. She said she wanted me to get a real smart job, like maybe even work in a government department because then you never got fired and your pension was sweet and there were housing benefits and all kinds of things.
I grew up thinking my mother was a waitress, which was not entirely accurate.
Oh, she waited tables. That much at least was the truth. She worked in a club owned by my Uncle Fat, and she served drinks and she sat at the tables with the men and flirted with them and made them spend their money and they always bought her cigarettes and beer.
She was not a whore, and despite what the others said, I am not a whore’s child.
I asked my mother about my father, often, and there was little she would tell me, just that he was very handsome.
And sometimes, that he was terrible and cruel.
So at least I know where I get that from.
There was so much that I wanted to know that she would never tell me, that I could never figure out the least hurtful way to ask. Was he Korean? Malawian? German? I’d had uncles of all kinds before. I could accept any nationality as my ancestry. I was lighter than my mother, who was lighter than hers. My eyes were gray in the right light, but murky and dull in every other. My hair was Asian-heavy and black, so there was one clue. But still never enough.
When I was nine years old, my mother sent me away. She put me on a minibus taxi that drove for eight hours, and I had a small box of fruit juice and packet of chips and a sandwich with lunch meat and mayonnaise. She asked the driver to make sure I got off at the right place, and she told the aunties to look after me, and they gave me pieces of fried dough and chicken when my food ran out, and the driver bought me a coke.
So I arrived at my grandmother’s house sticky and sweaty and ill and I never wanted to taste the sweet-sick taste of coca cola again.
Grandmother lived in a worker’s cottage on the edge of a dustbowl farm. There were a couple of other buildings made from concrete bricks and wooden slats and corrugated iron roofs. For the next year I went to school in a single classroom building and although I was more alone I felt less alone, because the children were friendlier, and less interested.
I ate maize porridge for a year, and only the topping changed. Sometimes it was sugar, sometimes it was tomato and onion and spinach. Once in a while it would be fatty cuts of meat. Grandmother didn’t work – she was too old, and I discovered that my mother sent her money at the post office every week, and had for years. Now there was more money, to keep me fed and clothed, and to buy me text books and pencils. On Fridays I would skip school and walk with grandmother into town, to collect the money and buy what we needed: coffee and condensed milk for her, and sugar and tea and maize meal.
This was my life. My mother was trying to rebuild hers, and she wanted to take me back when she had a better world for me.
And it was good enough, because I was in the half-world of childhood, life was still beautiful. I hadn’t yet realized how much the world would hurt me for not being what I wanted to be.
I was sent back. My mother was renting a two-bedroomed flat just outside of town. She had new furniture bought on credit, she had a new wardrobe. She was smarter and shinier. My new uncle was a German man called Frank, and he was okay. She wasn’t working for Uncle Fat, but had instead got herself the near mythical position of a clerk in home affairs.
The world was getting better.
And then I grew up.
The moment I realized that life was never going to be perfect, never ever no matter how badly I wanted it to be, was the day my body decided to remind my brain that I was a girl, and I could no longer hide away in the asexual happiness of childhood.
I grew breasts, I bled. Instead of the perfect skinny body I’d once had, this flawless sylph I used to be, I was fat in all the wrong places, I hurt for the privilege of joining one side. A side I didn’t even want to be on.
And then the world ended
So that’s my life.