It is a term that I have been struggling to internalise. A put down that has cut straight to the core of me since I was fed an insight into some of the Harare gossip going around me.
That was more than a month ago but every now and then, I come back to it. Unfold it from one of the shelves of my memory and look at it; an undersized garment that I refuse to shrink into.
And so instead, I choose silence.
I am advised to not post as much as I do on Facebook. That people are watching and that I am giving their eyes and minds fodder for their analyses about me.
Don’t talk about your travels. It makes people wonder where and how you get the money. You look like you are on a continuous holiday to nowhere. Or at best, you are hopping on to any and every conference.
Don’t talk about politics. Of Zimbabwe. Of any other country. It makes certain people uncomfortable and they can block you out and that’s not what you want. Plus you never know who is watching.
Don’t talk about race. Oh, please! Don’t continually throw it in people’s faces that you are black. We live in a post-racial world and all is well. So don’t go there. Please, don’t go there!
Stick to what you know. Women’s rights, feminism, poetry what not. Stick to the stuff that doesn’t get you into trouble because… people are watching you and they don’t like it when you get ‘hot-headed’.
You start to think that maybe they are right. Maybe you are wrong. Maybe you should tone it down. Disappear even. Maybe nobody is ready for what and who you are. And maybe, no matter how much you try, they will always misread you.
So you keep quiet.
Take your place towards the back of the room.
Cast a magician’s spell over yourself and dissolve your tongue.
But silence is a way of shrinking; to fit the size that everyone has prescribed for you. Like walking into a shop where the attendants tell you you should get the Medium when you know the Large will be more comfortable and give you space to breathe.
But it’s fashionable to be smaller, so you force your form into the contours of smallness.
It is a form of censorship veiled as concern. Some of it is genuine. Yes, there are people genuinely concerned for you who would want to warn you against certain things, but in this world even fiends have learnt to dress themselves in the cloaks of friends. Smiling. Laughing. Singing. Stabbing.
So you wonder. Who to trust and believe. Who has your best interests at heart. Who even has a heart for you.
You don’t find answers. You just shrink. Make best use of the clothes that society desires to dress you with.
“we are the chain-scattering, voice amplifying
story-weaving creators of the next line
like drummers filling space with rhythm
memories are born through our being on these spaces
we are miles ahead of ourselves
because somewhere within the seasons of hours
the reasons for these words will resound
like immortal tongues within another day’s mind”
From ‘we are’ by Natalia Molebatsi
Somewhere within the seasons of hours, the reasons for our words will resound like immortal tongues within another day’s minds.
The reasons for our words. For my words.
Why do I speak, write and lay myself open to misinterpretation. Why is silence so painful?
I speak because it is my only defense of myself. Because if I do not say what I feel, think, am, no one else will do this justice. Because yes, your voice may represent mine. But your voice does not have the same inflection of experiences and memory as mine does. Because the sing-song beat to my words and thoughts is mine. I am the only person able to speak authentically for, and of, me.
I speak out in honour of a name. Fungai. Think. Make sense of things.
What is it that my parents saw in a new-born child that made them name me thus? To me, it was a commitment to a future. To a way of being.
And though I have tried, my body refuses to be draped in silences and to wear misshapen clothes tailored for me by uncertain dressmakers.
I have tried to appease you, to accommodate your misinterpretations, to sell myself short.
But silence does not suit me.
Its stitching unravels fast within me. I cannot fit it. I cannot wear it.
“i sink deeper
into my skin
there are no mistakes
no happening is random
nothing is out of place”
From ‘home is where you are’ by Malika Lueen Ndlovu