The township dogs do not recognise my voetsek anymore. My nose can no longer withstand the stench of my neighbourhood’s blocked drains. My vernacular has lost touch with that of the gents in the corner. My primary school friends chase me down the street for a rand. They do not recognise my face anymore. My high school sweetheart is now married. She does not recognise me anymore.

I am a stranger in my own hood.

My home is a product of planks, cardboards roofed with corrugated iron; all mended together by an undying love of two uneducated, black parents. It is a three-room shack with a convertible kitchen that turns into my bedroom at night.

It is at the mercy of this lit-candle that I can write this story, because our landlord has not loaded the electricity again. I’m a paragraph away from describing the debilitating sensation of being forced to be confined like sardines in a tiny tin. I’m a few words from describing the pain my parents fail to hide from me and my siblings’ eyes.

It is an ungodly hour. My pen is thrust against a piece of paper, carving what appears to be an unfinished poem, my home. My home, a story with punctuation errors whose structure is hard to make sense of. The failed metaphors are all over the floor, all over my mother’s kitchen, my bedroom, all over our yard. My home is hard to make sense of. With each letter I scribe I imagine mending all the pieces that have cut my mother while she was trying to mend us. With each thrust, I imagine a reality where the innocence of my primary friends never escapes, a reality where one’s circumstance is not a punisher.

It is a windy Sunday night and the roof is unsteady and so is my mind. I can still hear the church bells and the screams of the preacher of my Sunday school. As I scribe this, memories come flooding. I have recollections of the pure bliss of my childhood, like any other black boy raised in the township. I have memories of the God-like images I had of my parents and my friends’ parents before they all became human beings like me in my eyes. I have memories of my innocence and the passion in the eyes of my primary school friends, before they all became the villains of the village. I have memories of homework being the only nemesis that stood before me and my happiness; and now it’s the man in the broken mirror or broken man in the mirror. I can never tell a difference.

All I know is that clouds keep the rain for their own thirst these days. All I know is that the boy who once resided inside this vessel has relocated without notice. All I know is that I am a stranger in my own hood. Perhaps, it is my pessimistic thoughts that exclude me from being part of my community. Perhaps, it is my ears that do not recognise the bark of the township dogs. Perhaps, this is what growth feels like. Perhaps.

All I know is that writing about it helps ease the pain of this reality. With each flow of ink from my pen to paper, I imagine the township streets safer.