There was that blaring sound of a CD player giving off shouts of joy – something far too small to hold all the freedom it brought me.
There I was bouncing around, practically off the walls, without a care in the world, wearing my brother and cousin’s old clothes, feeling like all the world was mine. I didn’t know then about the words ‘control myself’. Why would anyone choose to stand at a distance, to miss all the action? Why would I decide not to enter the midst of life, get right within all the drama of reality that a twelve year old girl could have on a Friday afternoon with her friends?
I was unaware then that there was even such a thing as a limit to freedom, a call to adhere to expectations; I didn’t even know there were expectations. I was just me. Just crazy, ecstatic, happy to try anything, excited little ol’ me, playing musical statues in what I believed to be my home. That small, white walled, church hall which felt like it stretched all the way into the eternity of freedom our Kids Club teachers spoke of.
We were on our fifth round of Musical Statues and I glistened with the sweat of one who was determined to win, but also just having the time of her life, dancing. Yes, dancing. Without a care in the world and joyful movement that could only be stopped by a finger pressed down on the pause button of that CD player.
Then the guy walked in with his friends. He was a guy my dad had been mentoring. He was two years older than me and believed his own opinion was worth its weight in gold – or at least all the tall guys who accompanied him seemed to think so. He wasn’t exactly the young man my father believed him to be, but this didn’t change the reality that my father chose to invest his time in him instead of me.
It was coming to the end of this fifth and final round of the game. And I saw the guy’s face. He didn’t even need to say anything. The look was enough to etch this encounter in my mind forever; it was enough to paint every one of my endeavours thereafter with this brush. His mouth gaped with what would soon be ringing laughter, his eyebrows raised, his hand inching toward his face to cover the hint of shock that would almost be disgust if it wasn’t so amusing to him. And he said, “Jy dans soos a wit mens!” And his friends roared with laughter, validating him with my dad’s approval.
I attended what was known as a Mode C school. Most people were white. The youth group my parents led was in a coloured community. But I didn’t know this. I didn’t understand all of that.
That day there was a bigger pause and freeze than I’d ever imagined. From then on caution and confusion became my friends as I tried to navigate and keep myself suspended between these two worlds with neither seeming like home any longer. It really wasn’t all about race for me. The two worlds seemed to be church and school, and apparently neither place held the freedom History teachers or Sunday school teachers spoke of. The freedom I once had seemed lost to me. I would no longer claim freedom as mine.
That day I lost the Musical Statues game, because I stopped before the music. I no longer let play mean freedom and fun, and try new things. Suddenly that CD player was too big for the lack of self-expression I’d subsided myself to. I chose to never jump higher, think bigger. The only music now were the prison sirens of expectation that my mind would not allow me to escape.