Written by Jacque Ndinda
I live somewhere deep within the skin of my skin.
Surrounded by sturdy walls that edge closer and closer every minute trying to crush me. I am a prisoner imprisoned by prisoners. All the time I have stood in front of this mirror, I have gazed for hours trying to discover myself…trying to understand myself…trying to free myself. Every time I look, I see mama, I see Ndzile my stepsister, I see my father. She who stands there staring back at me is another. On her head, I see the weave mama bought her on her birthday. Mama said that the weave is good for her. That it makes her look mature. I see a sullen face that waits to explode, but lacks the courage. My eyes trace shy wrinkles that peep from the floor of her skin. These wrinkles map the story of her life. On her neck is a pendant that Father Majiwa gave her. Father Majiwa says that the pendant is a representation of a covenant she made with God. The pendant is ugly. It looks like a rusted spade. Father Majiwa has also made a covenant with God. He is not supposed to have sex. That is what Mama told her. Mama also told her that she should never say the word sex out aloud.
In school, Mrs Kaza Mwendo told me that I should not stare at the mirror too much…that the mirror is not what should make me feel beautiful, because I am beautiful. Mrs Kaza Mwendo thinks that I feel ugly. I wish she could understand why I stare at the mirror. I want to rescue her. She who lives within the skin of my skin. Forgive me father, for I have sinned. I have to recite this prayer 3 times. Father Majiwa says that I should recite it when I sin. I do that every time I stare at the mirror.
I know her; I can smell her through the mirror. She smells of stale candy and overheated rubber. My eyes still cannot recognise her. The shy wrinkles that map her life have enveloped her and have taken away her face. She is faceless. Mama’s weave stands alone on her head. The pendant hangs on the space that is supposed to be her neck.
She is faceless. Formless.
These feelings are mutual. I feel her pain. I feel her fear.
“I shall get you out of there. I shall free us,” I whisper to myself.
She knows that ink makes us ravens. Allows us to fly.
I walk away from the mirror and take a pen and paper. Every time I watch the faceless us in the mirror, the pain in me pushes forth words. They form an escape route for us. I have forgotten how to cry. How can you cry when you are without a face? Without cheeks, how can you squeeze tears out? I cry for us both. I cry through the pen. On the landing of the tip, I start seeing memories of the future… I see her. She who stands in the mirror now has a face. She looks different. Father Majiwa’s pendant is no longer chaining her neck. Her hair flows free and there is a smile on her face. She has a face. She is Alice in wonderland. No longer sullen… she…she…full stop. My pen whispers its last word.
I fear the last word. I fear the destruction the last word brings. It is a ticket back to prison. Where walls edge closer and closer… coming to crush me. Where she lives imprisoned within my reflection on the mirror…where she lives as Alice in wonderland at the landing of my pen.
Read Jacque’s work here