I want to get away from the hunger pains! They are pains because my stomach is cramping. I drink more water and lie down. I can hear the water moving about in my stomach. I touch it with my bony fingers and my stomach looks like a wave. The gurgling noises my stomach makes sounds like an empty bottle being dropped into the water and struggling to be filled up. As I look around the tiny room that serves as a bedroom, lounge and dining room, I notice the damp on the walls and ceilings. The paint that used to be bright green has now turned mouldy. We tried cleaning it for Christmas last year but it keeps coming back. The window is small and it always gets misted up.
As I pull the broken bedspread that was once warm but was now threadbare, over my sister and me, I start singing. I sing as if my heart is breaking. I’m 9 years old so I don’t know what heartbreak is but I do know heartache. My heart aches for my single mom, who has a disability but gets up every day to teach at the school she works. I hear her silent sobs at night! I hear her cry when she thinks we are all asleep and the tears roll down my cheeks as I cry in solidarity with her. I promise my mom and my sister in my heart that one day when I am grown we will move out of this place. My sister wants a big bed for herself and a house with a bath so she can buy those fancy bubble baths we saw in a magazine once. I want a house with big windows; the windows must bring in the light from the sun so it chases away the midday darkness and the damp. I want to buy clothes that fit me; clothes that aren’t torn and a machine that washes the clothes because my hands are sore and sensitive with eczema that covers it.
I don’t like the school my mom placed us in as the other children laugh at our clothes or my hair that’s always standing up. Hairgrips are expensive and I keep losing them when I play outside. Children can be cruel but adults can be even crueller. I knew I wasn’t beautiful because people laughed at my skinny legs, my big lips and my hair that was too thick to be tamed. But I could sing and I could sing better than most of the children at the school. Everyone who lived near us in the neighbourhood knew I could sing. My mom was upset because I never sang in church and every Sunday we attended church she would prod me with her elbow and whisper for me to sing and every Sunday I refused. I never told her that some pretty girls from those big houses in the better areas would always be chosen to sing and I was told by our principal, a nun, that I can’t sing because my hair doesn’t look nice and the clothes I wore weren’t decent. I prayed to God for forgiveness for not singing in church. I sang everywhere else though. We had no money but I wanted to be a singer when I grew up. Besides Diana Ross and Donna Summer had hair like mine and they were famous. People accepted them and bought their music.
Life carried on in much the same vein as before and as I neared my 21st birthday my mom asked what I wanted for that day. I was clear on one thing, I wanted to leave the place I grew up in and I wanted to buy a house with big windows and the only way I could do that was to sing. I wanted to go to Johannesburg; where the city never sleeps. My dad came and warned me that I would either be a prostitute or a drug addict because life was not the same as it was on the Cape Flats. I chose to ignore his warnings. What did he know anyway? He wasn’t in our lives!
My mom asked a friend for a suitcase for my little clothes and toiletries, she gave me a R100 and a one-way bus ticket to Johannesburg.
I left that life behind with hardly anything but my voice that filled my suitcase and which was in my opinion way more valuable than the R100 I held scrunched up in my hand. With tears in my eyes and butterflies in my stomach, I boarded the bus.