I am flailing, mid-air, mid-worlds. I have cut myself from the ground, from home. I am desperate for warm soil, familiarity, but the flailing takes to flying and I can’t explain how I am happy here. I am waiting for the African hair store to open when a breeze gathers around me – London feels like some where I’ve been before, it fits like a Cinderella shoe the morning after. But how does one anchor themselves to a place without a deep love – without years of fermented friendship and unwavering family. Can roots grow on furniture?
My favourite memories are of my childhood years spent in Protea and Chiawelo – Soweto. They mostly feature a band of dusty kids pretending in a 10-brick ‘house’ or taking turns rolling down a hill in empty oil drums. We were an eclectic mix of languages and parental history; the pollen of bantu stands germinating on township concrete. As an adult, I am often dazed by how children create language where an impossible chasm should otherwise loom. How they meet on opposite sides of a river and jump into a downstream joy, buoyant in the ease of innocence. We were curious things cooking stolen tomatoes and maize meal in dirty tin cans axigangeni. Most of us didn’t belong, those who did had nowhere else to go. Every so often a kid, who’d been abandoned for a new city lover or weaned prematurely for the sake of a kitchen job, would finally come to live with his birth mother; jostled out of his grandmother’s fertile rural soil, crying, roots flailing. He would have not chosen this form of despair, this severing. Soon enough though, he too would join the bustling metropolis, swiftly trading in broken glass diamonds and cigarette foil gold.
The store is late to open today. Nostalgia swirls around me. In some parallel version of the universe, I am experiencing London through Soweto’s lens – a metropolis of misfits. Most of us don’t belong and those who do, have nowhere else to go.
I am a child in adult costume. I’ve come all the way across the world to find a memory. I have chosen freedom, the kind that cuts you right out the ground. Only, roots don’t grow on furniture or on the material possessions we think will make a foreign place feel like home. They grow in faith. In the faith that you are where you need to be, that all is as it should be.
Where are you? How did you come to it?