The little family of five that I have are crossing legs in front of a paraffin heater. A 10-year-old heater that coughs up every time we light it up. It feels intensely hot. Its heat is penetrating through my skin to my backbone and weakens my immune system. It burns my heart up. Is it the heat or is it the plain water with pap I had for supper?

It has been raining all week and we are all stuck in this one-roomed shack, which is the size of a matchbox that has a million leaks. Or is it holes? Help me figure it out! The freezing weather under the one-ply blanket I use for a bed hurts my entire being by freezing it till I’m grumpy as a hungry binge-eater.

No usual goodnight gestures from novels and movies, no goodnight kisses on the forehead, no bedtime stories till one falls asleep. Instead, our father whom I love wholeheartedly, tells us old tales about his mischievous behaviour as a boy growing up. And we laugh till we forget our miserable life.

He really is the best storyteller, although his cracked and pained voice occupies the room and I feel sharp pains in my heart. It is like there are hunters around the story aiming at every bit of peace and joy and shooting them down.

Every one of his sixty-two years hangs in the saggy bags under his bloodshot eyes. His surroundings cannot seem to fill up the hole inside his soul that has been dug by years of digging sand from deserted fields to mix up with cement and build walls: walls that he could never relocate to with his family and endure the high bills. But how could he with a salary that bought mealies and a bag of potatoes to last for the whole month?

It’s outrageous how my mom wears a t-shirt with a capital letter S on the chest every morning every day. She holds up and I too wonder how she manages to take off the t-shirt at night, wash it without soap, and still wear it immaculate in the morning. It is magical how she always manages to get up at crack-of-dawn to prepare for us our daily pap; the pap where the mealies bind with the water diluted with my mother’s tears and my dad’s sweat. Crazily enough, I have been feeding on it for the last 25 years. Two and a half decades later, and I am still under my parent’s leaking roof. My neighbours are constantly reminding me how useless I am, how I used to be the smartest and most illustrious kid at school and outshined every learner in my class.

“You’ve got a bright future ahead of you, you highbrow! If you work really hard and finish off school, you might be the next Albert Einstein,” my science teacher used to remind me daily.

“Life is life an isosceles triangle: it has two opposite sides of equal length, the rich soft life, and the life you’re living now. Always strive to walk over to the other opposite side,” I recall my Maths teacher preaching. But still, being a creative and having brains didn’t stop me from dropping out to give my drug addiction a phase. I was a junkie. I would stand by the corner and rob kids of their futures by offering them a smoke.

“Just two pulls laaitie, you won’t die!” I would pressure them. But it seems like those two pulls were also 200 pulls away from their schoolwork.

Okay, this is supposed to be a long story with a happy ending. It should be about me turning over a new leaf; how I had a company under my name and called the shots. I was supposed to tell you how easy it was building my folks a gigantic house with 72 rooms and buying them groceries that filled up a truck every month. But sadly this isn’t the case.

I’m back on the streets again, not hustling but just holding a bottleneck filled with a dangerous stimulant. And the schoolkids I used to lure into drugs are now part of my crew. We own ourselves a home, we lay our intoxicated bodies under the deserted bridge when evening comes.

The bottleneck is passed around until it is my turn. I sniff on it as if I am taking my last breath. Bra Stef, my supplier, said I would feel ten times happier and more worthy if I used it.

But man, I was tired of being a masochist. My overdose was my last dose. I lay there helplessly and let my spirit leave my intoxicated body. I am now floating in the sewage water near our bridge; no one came to say their last goodbye and wail that I was no more.

I could only hear my best pal with whom I shared rags, laughing out like an idiot. He said I was sleeping the longest sleep he had ever seen in his entire life. Was I filing for a position in the GUINESS BOOK OF WORLD RECORDS?

He soon would be sober and realise I was an incommunicado. I was no more. He soon would realise that I would make it a priority to hand him the ladder of success and watch him build a house of gold for himself. Yes, I would disguise myself as an old sage and lead him not into drug hedonism.

Was it possible, though? It would be, if only I were an angel and had been affluent in my last life. But my spirit hounds around this non-odoriferous place; it grovels to my mother in her dreams and tells her, “Ma, save me. I’m drowning in dirty waters.”


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