At age five, I held a real gun for the first time, and at age seven, I had one pointed at me. He placed the muzzle of the Beretta between my eyes and I froze. Thoughts stampeded through my mind; run, scream, put your hands up, he won’t shoot, etc. I closed my eyes and waited for it, the gruesome POP! The last sound I’d hear before I went to heaven like grandma said I would if I died. CLICK! And my whole body jerked as if having the biggest hiccup I’d ever had. He laughed.

“Come on man, don’t play like that,” my big brother said to him, taking the gun from his hand. The blood rushing through my veins suddenly felt ice cold, I shivered, and then I cried. Big bro picked me up to comfort me as his friend enjoyed a thorough laugh.

At seven, I had heard thousands of gun shots, seen nine people get shot dead, touched several types of guns, but I wasn’t in a war zone in a literal sense, nah, I was in the ‘hood.

A South African township in the province of KwaZulu-Natal, my neighbourhood seemed to be off the radar. I’d watch the news and see a so-called catastrophe where 10 innocent people died and I’d wonder why I never saw my neighbourhood in the news because things like that happened regularly.

The buildings looked like someone took one building from each financial class, from a shack to a mansion, put them in a playlist, and pressed shuffle.

Because of that ridiculous difference in financial states, the poor man would steal from his rich neighbour and the rich neighbour would shoot him and the poor man’s friend would shoot the rich neighbour, etc.

The mystery was why the rich people never left. Some said it was because all their friends lived there, some said it was because of free water, free electricity, and/or cheap land, but I grew up to realise it was because of ego. The neighbourhood grew us up to be fearless, to never run from a fight, and leaving the ‘hood meant you were a sissy.

As a teenager, I had a friend who had a Playstation and one who didn’t even have a home, and we all got along very well. We’d spend hours every day standing on the street, it was fun, we got to see pretty girls, see people get robbed, stabbed, and shot dead.

My worst experience was watching big bro shoot down my best friend’s father, a man that was two times older than him, because he didn’t respect or fear him. My best friend and I never talked about it, and we remained friends.

And then three years later, my best friend avenged his father and killed my big brother. Again, we didn’t talk about it, and we had no choice but to remain friends or else we were going to become enemies when we both knew justice had happened.

I learned at a young age that shutting up is a need, that if you talk too much, you die. In my ‘hood, and possibly in every other ‘hood, a human’s basic needs are water, food, shelter and a whole lot of shutting up. Everyone else in my ‘hood kept their mouths shut too, and they still do, I guess that’s one of the reasons why we never make it to the news.