Twenty-one. I am twenty-one. The thought repeats itself in my head as I hurriedly stumble and skate up the uneven, stoned land, up to the cliff. My Nike sneakers slide surely against the ground yet I can barely remember stepping forward. I feel like I am holding my breath, although I am breathing normally, my chest moving up and down in the normal rhythm.
Energy builds up inside my muscles and bones knocking in my lungs like gas particles in a jar. I Imagine Brownian motion, small fast particles violently colliding with large slow ones at random. I want to leave a mark in the world, I tell myself, yet at twenty-one I barely know my place. I hate to admit it, but I am confused.
I arrive suddenly, as if I stepped on some brakes. Before sunrise, at exactly four o’clock, I stand erectly at the edge of the steep cliff. My favorite place. I am ready to meet the sun. Tenuously, I study the plain below me. In the darkness, my straining eyes can barely detect neat rows and columns of the slanted wooden shades. Between the shacks are narrow strips of worn out dust roads. Dust roads with indent-like roads in my neighborhood.
For five minutes the air is motionless while the coldness teases the skin exposed by my vest and shorts. All my thoughts disappear, as the sun peeps at the landscape a small upper part oozing upward. No movement can be detected in the squatter camp below as the sun slowly lights it up pierce by pierce like a fire burning down a string. This, I realize, marks the beginning of another day. The sun rises in exactly the same way yet it’s different.
I thought I would find you here.
I don’t turn to the sweet voice. My mother approaches until she stands beside me. Her eyes study the side of my face, searching, studying and listening. She is the headmistress of a prestigious Catholic girls’ school. The first Headmistress who is not a nun or sister. Mom has found her place with her girls. Ladies, she calls them. I envy her.
Finally, she softly speaks, Happy Birthday, dear.
My mouth twitches. I have no words just as I have nothing to show for being twenty-one, a graduate and employed. The years are merely passing by. It angers me so I remain silent gazing at the sun in no rush to replace the darkness. My skin responds to its warming up. Sounds, although muffled, of people scurrying out of ragged blanket or card boxes reach my ears.
I want to find my place mom. The way you did.
I don’t turn to her as I confess this. Mom keeps her door open for any stray or troubled girls. They flock to her like a moth to flame, attracted by strict and quiet wisdom. When she strides through the quadrangle, greetings and requests follow her steady and quick progress.
The shadow of darkness slowly retreats backwards as the glorious golden sun patiently spreads its rays. At one-point half of the squatter camp is gold and the other black. People smile and greet each other while a delicious egg is shared among all. Small miracles exist here, although mother calls these people unfortunate.
I heavily sigh, tempted to hold my breath and never take another. Sometimes I wish I was a girl, so I could fully lean on her firm at the same time liberating guidance too. Do not misunderstand. As her only biological child, she’s the best mom ever. Absently, I kick a stone hearing it drop down the cliff.
Raymond, said in a you listen to me voice, I am sure you’ll find your own place. I’ll allow you to go as far as need to find it. And even if you venture to the sun, I’m there. My mother’s mother didn’t grant her the same luxury so my mother knows what it’s like to be trapped, when you know your place is out there. Grandmother is not even Catholic yet mother loves being Catholic. But that’s not what’s bothering you, is it?
No. I force a smile. My mother doesn’t assume the problems she faced are the same ones I will face. I am leaving childhood mom. It’s safety, to enter the unknown.
A warm smile lights her pretty face matched by a charcoal peplum dress. Blinking slowly, she tells me, You overthink, Raymond. Remember we part to meet and meet to part. The sun rises to set and sets to rise. In between all the lessons, wisdom and experiences from childhood will be there as a shield or sword. They bought you here. Lightly, she places a hand on my shoulder. Her familiar touch is comforting. You will find your place. And if you are worried fortune will be cruel, remember she has also been favorable. You got me.
Laughter bubbles out of my chest. I have her. She’ll make an egg a meal. A drop of water enough. I step forward into her arms which hold me tight. I feel safe. Sure, of myself.
I am scared. I breathe the words into her ear. I must forge my own path. At the same time, I must follow other paths already set. Fears gripped my heart so it beat weakly. It’s similar to the feeling I got when I lost my bus fare and only realized it in the bus. If you place it into an equation, childhood plus adolescent equals everything.
You should be, she confirms, otherwise you in the wrong direction. Fear is your compass. Now stop brooding and let’s celebrate. I am also getting older, you know.
Chido Munangwa is a Zimbabwean poet and Indie author currently studying Radiography at the University of Zimbabwe. Her paranormal romance series, The Color of Trouble, can be found on Smashwords under the pen name Cora Sacha.