When I was young, I imagined we lived on the grounds of a castle, as part of the royal staff, like you read about in storybooks. I cast my mother as a lady-in-waiting, serving the queen who lived in that big house on the hill. My father was head horse groom (which is true, in real life), assisted by other men that lived in our section of the estate. My big brothers, Langa (the oldest) and Basani (the second born), were knights in training, and would soon set off to battle. And myself? I was Buttercup at the start of The Princess Bride.
One day I was playing in Firefly’s stable (she’s a miniature chestnut horse) when Musa wandered by. He lives in the stable housing directly next to us on the south side, and is only a year younger than Basani, so sometimes he’d play with me. And that movie popped into my head. Pretending to be Princess Buttercup, I pointed to a bucket hanging on a hook and said, “Stable-boy, fetch me that bucket.”
Yho! The look he gave me could have melted rocks, like the one my mother wore around her neck. Next thing I knew, he was dragging me over to my father and telling him what I said.
“I was pretending we were in the movie,” I protested. “I just used ‘stable’ instead of ‘farm’ because that’s where we live.”
But Tata wouldn’t listen. “Understand, Khanyisa,” he said, “Musa gets that enough from the clients without having to hear it from you.”
I still didn’t understand. Back then, I was small, cute, like the miniature ponies, and everyone was nice to me, and gave me sweets, and told me I was pretty and that they liked my smile.
“Don’t get used to it,” Langa said.
As I got older, I began to see what he, Basani, Musa, and all the older stable children were telling me.
There is a difference, you see, between those who pay to have their horses kept at the riding stables and those who actually live and work in the stables, like us. I have learned this.
It doesn’t matter that through our stable door is a home, as nice and neat as anyone could want, as are the homes of all our neighbours who live here. We don’t even have a tin roof, which would clatter every time it rains, like the angels are throwing rocks. Instead the stables, just like the big house on the hill, have these pristine tiles and the rain dances with them, a soft tap-tap-ra-ta-tat, as if the angles are typing out our stories right above our heads.
These details don’t matter to the greater world. Just like none of those reporters cared when Mama had a meteorite graze her arm. On that day, the 27th of April, 1994, newspapers and TV stations all over the globe reported on the election. Nobody had time to listen to some story a young, black, South African woman had to tell about the burn on her arm.
“How did it feel to vote for the first time?” reporters wanted to know.
“Like my father was with me,” she told them. “Finally getting to make his mark after all he did.”
“How did he die?” the reporters asked.
My mother says she just shook her head. “No, no, no,” she said. “You don’t get to have that story. Only know, he died for this day.”
Then she tried to tell them about the sign from God she had received the night before. To show them the meteorite, her graze. But they’d already moved on to another voter, to steal another tale for their paper.
“Now I’m glad nobody really knows,” Mama says these days. “Fame like that destroys lives.”
The other day at school I went on the internet and looked up what happened to Ann Hodges after she became famous. It’s a sad story, proving Mama might have a point.
Tell us: Do you agree with Mama that fame destroys lives? Why or why not?