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remember to forget.

You force yourself to hear his name, spoken by your mouth, over and over again. Are you invoking or expelling the demons that still haunt you? Are you dying from or living because of those flames that rise in you, even now, even after all of the scorched earth and burned bridges; the stifled cries and hopeless beginnings?

You can't miss what you never had, so force yourself to remember that though you loved, you were never owned. Force yourself to remember that everything you miss is only half of what you actually had. And yet- you will always remember what it felt like to want him. You remember what it felt like to long for something outside of yourself; something bigger than the universes you have created like mythical fortresses around the shaky boundaries of your sanity these days, to pass the time and keep the monsters of forgetting- really, truly, forgetting- away.

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The first time he calls you, after your departure, you are lying in a small cot on the other side of the world you once shared. He breathes heavily into the line and in the silences you hear everything you could not discern before; the idle neglect and the furious worry for you, that burdens him even as he resists it more so now than ever before. You try and remember his scent- something earthy and cool, like running across a damp forest after dusk, like slipping into the arms of something deep and unexpected. You try to envision his lips, speaking the words that have long since meant nothing next to what the feeling itself once felt like, and curling into the preludes of soft kisses on your forehead, your inner thighs, and your wrists.

Do you remember the way his indifference took you aback the first time you sat across the room from it; the ice-cold stillness of hands that touched but could no longer hold? Do you remember the first time you tasted the desire for another on his tongue; the way you quivered, ever-so gently, in quiet anticipation for the act that came later- the inevitable severing that came not from his words but from his heart?

You are thousands of miles away from everything that is steady, and all you know now is shaking. You wake up with it until the shivering is more comforting than anything else; until you know the rhythms of your loneliness like the repetitive beats of ancestral percussions, drumming away inside of you from dawn till dusk each gorgeously passing day.

You decide to make the most of this aching; to relish the moments you have in silence or in unison with the various states of nature of the home you have chosen to re-inhabit here: a temporary, but lovely one nonetheless- more so lovely because it was yours from birth. You know this land- this territory- less than you knew his ridges, his sandy terrains and hollow valleys, but it has embraced you with open arms in spite of your absence, your lengthy expeditions into the treacherous fields of other lands and other lovers.

Africa loves you in ways no man has yet to sustain. It is love at first landing. For the first few weeks especially, she nurses your wounds with a humility that never betrays a resentment towards you for leaving all those years ago. She bathes you in her glows until you are shining in ways that keep the questions- from your loved ones, from the people you have met now, from yourself- at bay; no one has to ask if you're doing alright because the answer is written all over your newly sparkling complexion- all over your shining eyes and easy laughter. But the light you emit is all in the reflection; you are giving out to the world that which you cannot feel within you. You are hiding the truth in photographs and phone calls, in messages and public memoirs- that in spite of the glowing, Africa has darkened you.

Her love is too big, too unwieldy, too unbounded for you. It disgraces you even as it illuminates you; you are effervescent with shame- for you know that you can never reciprocate her love in the same way she has bestowed it upon you. You know that these moments within the brilliance of her gentle gaze are as beautiful as they are ephemeral; you are only hers for this particular moment in your brief, fleeting life for this small blemish in her glorious, expansive history. Beneath all of that, you also realize that you cannot actually bear all of the brightness she has to offer- her seemingly eternal sunshine even amidst the face of the frequent rejections and generational disasters that have ravaged and raped her consistently, leaves you more disturbed than inspired, in all truth. Hers is a deep and intense sort of Mother-love; so sincere it is nearly desperate. She smothers you with it, even as it outwardly enhances you, and you are too afraid to admit to her- to yourself- that it is now the shadows- the shaded patches of detached and industrialized 'modern' living- that have become your true places of comfort, since leaving her for the dimmer sheen of America. Deep down you understand that this new home beneath her light, as refreshing and exhilarating as the warm radiance on your healing scars can be, was made for someone altogether softer- less weighted byheavy blankets of skepticism and guilt than you are.

You wonder if that is how you sometimes made him feel with your love- as though he we're drowning even as you held him up, even as you pushed him towards something greater: the light at the end of the ever-sinuous tunnel of your troubled relationship, or the future you created with your hopes and his humoring you- gently, generously- along the way.

But it had always been too much, you realize now. Too much for you to dream, for him to withstand, for you to insist, for him to inspire- there we're so many things beneath the love that needed more than it to sustain them. There we're too many oceans beyond yourselves for you to remain within the pool of your affections and your mutual aspirations forever. Perhaps in another lifetime or another season of this unfulfilled one, you might have been able to bear the weight of journeys uncharted in exchange for the comfort of a man who kept you from shaking at night- still and unwavering in the solid arms of his quiet certainty about you, and his hands that could both touch and hold at the same time.

If only loving was as effortless as the meeting between full lips and relaxed shoulder blades, just after love-making and the muted sensuality of soft skin against bone.

If only eternity was as attainable as reaching for your beloveds joy and clasping it, momentarily, in the form of a smile, a note, or hushed exchange of closed-eyed eskimo kisses between damp sheets.

If only coming home was as simple as boarding a plane to the place of your ancestors, and gazing at the stars just above the burial place of your father, forever.

But as you find yourself more unfulfilled, in the place that was supposed to be home, you catch yourself reaching still- for a joy whose outline you can no longer recall exactly; was that birthmark on the left or right side of his chest? Were his veins as strikingly visible beneath his muscles as you imagine yourself tracing now? And when he slept, with his lashes aflutter and his hands clasped firmly around your waist, was it his heart or yours that sighed more contentedly? Is it possible that the synchronicity of your happiness was ever that harmonious that sublime? The memories of home are all tarnished and askew now because where home was once a place, it has now become a person. Worse still, because the idea of that person an idea that has become impossible not merely as a result of flawed circumstance, but because that person does not cannot ever exist again as you have tried to preserve them in your mind; your ever-pleated memory, constantly unfolding and refolding perceptions and perplexities of places and people that belong on the pages of a past too fresh with pleasures for forgetting yet too rife with pain for the sentiments of memory.

In a small and overpopulated area off the coast of the Atlantic, near a Cape that once brought hope for men with translucent faces but has since wrought havoc upon all those they touched, you meet the first of many failed attempts at forgetting, even as you continue to yearn for the sepia-toned warmth of former but now faded ecstasies.

The heightened discomfort and unrest you have felt all these weeks away from his touch, perplexed by the fluctuating ebbs of elation and terror you have alternatively felt in this mad and marvelous place whilst nursing that persistent homesickness for a more permanent sort of dwelling (say, the one you once felt when lying against his chest), has culminated in a series of nights like the one that is to follow; nights spent turning up the lights in your exterior demeanor to astounding levels of brightness and wearing the face of someone who is far more reckless and daring than you really are, roaming the streets in shoes that elevate you from the dirty streets and happily distract you with a different kind of sole-aching at the end of each wretched adventure.

On that particular night, you muddle your way through a spectacular series of bars and clubs and watch bemused and electrified as the others around you are dancing, living, and spitting in the face of all those who have called their country a place of death and disease a place of stillness and decay. They too are glowing glistening like blood diamonds in Mother Africas deceptive rays; withholding their sufferings beneath a fervent hotbed of kinetic energy that spurs them to move, move, move as the Afro-Caribbean sounds thump on to gloriously deafening levels of chaos and delight. You prop yourself in the middle of the dance floor and wait for one, or many, of them to approach you and carry you along their tidal waves of excitement; as though their ebullience alone will be enough to keep you afloat in this sea of delusional bodies, and distressed souls, all searching and hiding from the same demons as you: loneliness and regret.

By the time you meet the art director, the space has thinned itself out a little and there is a collective sense of fatigue even among the patrons who are now too drunk to be caring and still too restless to be retiring. He is slender and tanned, with expertly plaited dreadlocks that go past his shoulders and a disarmingly charming smile. Approaching you with no trace of caution, he confidently leans down to perch himself on one knee just across from the low couch you are now using to rest your aching soles upon, as the dance floor continues to pulsate in steady waves around you.

The music is a jealous mistress who refuses to allow either of you to escape from her grasp, and it appears to only be growing louder as he proceeds to speak, yell, and then finally pantomime the words would you like to dance to you.

You refuse him at first- on principle, and with only slightly less grace than you would have if you we're entirely sober- yet rather than accepting the loss and moving on to a more acquiescing participant, he instead lingers and begins to brush a strand of your untamable hair from one side of your face to the other, and then- without warning- he leans in to place a kiss on your lips that you are able to just barely avoid by turning your face and brandishing a coy but weary smile, so that his unwarranted delivery lands squarely on your lightly moistened cheek allowing him to taste the slight salt from your sweat and probably guess the extent of your fatigue.

He laughs a steady and unhampered laugh, and then, while looking at you directly in the eye, he takes your left hand into his palms to- cautiously this time- place yet another unsolicited kiss upon it.

This time you don't reject the kiss, and instead allow him to gingerly keep your limp hand within his as he finally leans in to whisper his name into your ear: Impumelelo .

You respond with your recently abbreviated name in a low and breathy tone, which you hope does not also betray the uncharacteristic extent of your heavy inebriation- flattered but not entirely taken by his remarkably brazen but altogether distinctly South African approach. Embarrassingly, it takes him three failed attempts at repeating your name before you finally pull out your laughably archaic and cheap travel phone to spell out all four letters of it on the dimly-lit screen for him:

Oh, it's N-i-n-a, he exclaims proudly, at last- as though he has unwrapped a very meticulously packaged yet long-awaited gift; as though he has just inhaled a most surprisingly unexpected yet wholly welcomed scent. I see Your name is Nina! You smile and nod, a little too emphatically in return, perhaps to conceal the fact that you have actually relished the moments when you we're temporarily lost in translation with each other, because they have allowed you to examine him as surreptitiously and carefully as possible, in spite of the distracting setting and your unsettlingly disarrayed state.

You note that his outfit is polished but casual (crisp white button-down and well-fitting dark wash jeans) and his accent is vaguely posh or British, peppered with traces of harsher Afrikaans pronunciations, like surprisingly enticing morsels of wild game in the freshly brewing stew of your slowly building conversation.

Before you know it, he has moved from kneeling on the floor besides your elevated feet, to sharing the small loveseat that you have been delicately lounging upon, as you wait for your friends to become bored with this place and suggest a different location to bring the night to a close at. He whispers tiny details of his life into your ear with a relaxed and languid kind of authority (he is an art director for a small gallery in the suburbs, born in a village near Limpopo, he came to the city to complete his studies), all matter-of-factual and composed, in contrast to his recurring and haphazard attempts to land even more kisses along your stiff neck and bronzed shoulders; haphazard attempts of which you are either too drunk or too momentarily infatuated with him to resist with much effort- and yet none of them ever quite reach you; it is as though the same force that seems to be magnetically drawing him towards you is equally as powerful in allowing you to flawlessly escape from the unsubtle advances, without missing a single beat of the easy banter that now flows from his lips like sickly-sweet ambrosia and sticky nectar onto the unripe vessel of your dewy and perfumed flesh.

You save his name in the phone as Mpumi: The Art Director at his request, and after your friends have found you and convince you to leave with them to write the next chapter of the nights events, the thought of him lingers with you along the jagged and busy pavements of the infamous Long Street for longer than you are entirely comfortable with; you wonder if he will call the next day, if his accent is truly posh sounding or forced, if he would react the same way to you if you had met under different conditions. For the rest of the night, the idea of him becomes a blessed nuisance, for while it annoys you, it has succeed in doing something no other thing not the breathtaking memory of the triumphant skyline at the top of the first mountain you climbed when you arrived, not the unlimited access to a diverse array of high-quality and affordable alcoholic beverages as a result of the lowered drinking age between this place and where you came from has been able to do: forget.

If only for the night.

Later, you find out that the art directors full name loosely translates to the word Success in Xhosa- his native tongue. He tells this to you over the phone one day, once again, with more pride than the statement truly merits. But at least he is quite taken by you, it seems, and that feeling the feeling of being desired, at a level beyond the petty forms of street harassment and jeering in most public spaces here is something you have missed, especially from someone whom you also find intriguing. His relationship to his art even to the entire concept of art itself is one that is almost paternal and vaguely disingenuous; an observation that first strikes you as quite uncharitable but proves to be eerily astute when he casually describes you as his personal work of art one afternoon, in a bar not far from the club where you first met. Although you have made it very clear that you are only interested in a friendship with him, his desire to possess you- to claim you as his own masterpiece of some realistically unattainable vision of nouveu-American and Nubian sophistication- is grounded in the patriarchal underpinnings of his upbringing, and his unspoken understanding of "art" as the great separator of the classes (those who have- be it taste, or money, or influence- and those who do not); a rather disappointing realization when placed against your own lofty and mildly self-righteous notions of it as the universal equalizer instead.

And then later on, when you finally allow yourself to be alone with him for the purposes of getting to know him with no social lubricants or distractions to interfere with the refreshing flow of meaningful conversation, he once again attempts to push the boundaries: at first wistfully, and then later suggestively, he traces the 'softened edges' of your partially exposed collarbones with the amazement and obsession of one who believes he truly appreciates the form and structure of beautifully imperfect things. He insists that you pose for him to sketch, and even adoringly calls you the innocent and precious one in Xhosa after you instinctively bristle at his uninvited hands suddenly around your slightly arched back- a phrase that once translated pierces instead of soothes you, because it forces you to remember a time when you we're indeed precious; not for your ability to fulfill an opening in the emotional catalogue of a destructively creative mans portfolio but because you we're once Home to someone who felt more at peace with you than anywhere else.

You we're once a living sanctuary for someone and that is what made you precious.

Now, here you are in your "homeland" yet you have never felt so homeless; so adrift and besot with invisible scars so far from 'innocent', yet physically and emotionally reserved in every way.

So it's no surprise that your short brush with success ends in something more akin to failure, and the brief encounters that follow are just as predictable in their eventual demises. All of these 'interesting' people you meet most of them whose multi-syllabic traditional names are as pleasant across the tongue as the promise of Impumelelo achieve to only temporarily take your mind off your longings for the things that no longer exist: the country that is not quite the same as what you had remembered and longed for during all these years away, and the lover whose name you wake up with on your lips only to whisper it out into the void of an empty bedroom or crowded hostel, no echoes of your former joy, no semblance of a voice from the other side of the memories calling out your name as well.

Sometimes the silence can be so loud that the echoes we seek are lost in translation, or received too late for them to still resonate within us.

All you can do then is recall the low timbre of the comfort you once found- the steady pulsing of the warmth you once felt, when home was just a heartbeat away; when the love was just right- not too big, but not so disarmingly small and fragile either.

Sometimes, you think about the days when not sleeping alone and sleeping next to home we're one in the same.

(He does not sleep alone these days.)

Sometimes, you dream about the times when wanting space was a thing that would always come secondary to being apart.

(He does not miss your warmth these days.)

Sometimes, you look in the mirror and reminisce about the miracle and the tragedy of attempting to 'find yourself' a million miles away from where you heart resides.

(He does not thinkthose words- 'as long as this is beating', these days.)

Sometimes, love is a wayward river that seems to flow more heavily, more sorrowfully, in times of drought.

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Posted in Personal Development Post Date 08/04/2019






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