The first time I tried, I did not die.
I don’t know how it all started. I was just seventeen, my grades were sky-high, and a girl in my class said I look cute. In fact, I looked at her on most days, in the way a babe looks at their mother, and wonders why this kind stranger, a stranger so familiar could be so kind. So kind to call me cute, to see that I am worthy of being looked at like I did not survive myself.
It was not my mother who found me. She was never home enough to even notice that my eyes had death in them. She did not have time to even attend parents’ meeting required by the school. She did not know that I failed a Physics exam because I misread the instructs—heck, I did not even read for that exam. It was the first exam I did not read for. She was never home because her job at the factory kept her too busy, too far and too tired to even notice that I was no longer interested in being here anymore. It was not anything she did. It was not something that my father did. In fact, I should not be calling him father; what do you call an old man–a stranger– that had died before he could even lay his eyes on you? Can a man who did not even name you be worthy of being called Baba?
They say he died on his way from work while drinking beer at the tavern across the train station. Of course, they would not tell the true story, that he was not mugged, but his nyatsi’s boyfriend stabbed him seven times. He had to die in that perfect way, with a perfect number of stabs–all around his chest– and died close to the stream that was across the veld near our home. Mama was seven months pregnant. My older sister Liza must have been about six-years-old. It was the tenth day of the fifth month on the eleventh hour of the day when they came to announce to Mama that Baba—or the man I call my father—had died. Nothing was said about Mama losing her breath and waking up in hospital soon after. She had loved Baba so much that she would lose her air upon knowing that the man she had loved since she was a young school girl, had been killed by another man who found him with his girlfriend. Mama had loved him so that she would not let him just die, she had to almost die with him, and fight to stay alive in one way. I wonder what must have made all the air inside her escape her and then return to her.
I was born on the day Baba was buried. When Baba’s body was still warm in the ground, Mama’s screams were loud in that maternity ward. Mama said I rushed out of her like a warrior going to war, with no scream but just a single tear to assure that I am alive. I have been a silent baby, a silent boy, but never a warrior.
It was Mama’s new lover, Sabata, who found me. Once he poured cold water on me, pressed his strong arms around my stomach and my water came out of my mouth with yellow from the curry I ate that afternoon and the purple coloring from the grape juice I drank with the pills from Mama’s wardrobe all over the wide white tiles of our house, without asking him, he promised to keep this our secret. It was the first of many things we would later share. He was the only one I could trust with this first secret. He was the only person who could see things in my eyes that Mama was not able to see. He had no children of his own, so Liza and I were his children, though something so unknown, maybe Baba’s spirit, haunted us so much, that we could not call him Baba, our father. Mama, too, never forced us to call him our father. After all, can those who never bore children be given names that those who bear children should have? It is a gift, an earned gift, for children to call you by an endearing name, other than your real name. He had proved himself trustworthy, useful and reliable to be made a father. Perhaps those that don’t bear children are worthy enough to be called beautiful names because they do things that those that bear children could not do. Like, bring boys back to life.
When he brought me back to life, it was 3 P.M in the afternoon. It was the day after my seventeenth birthday—the seventeenth day of the fifth month and the sun was kind enough to make the sky yellow. It was as though the sky had adopted the color of a child’s eyes with some kind of malnutrition—the kind of yellow of a mango that had been too ripe, too soft, and nauseatingly warm in the inside. He was a practical man who did not ask questions. A practical man who did things in silence. He did not scream when he found me in our sitting room leather brown couch with my eyes rolled back and the white of eyes making a demonic-possessed-like stare. He called my name once–something like a scream of defeat and urgency; “Thuso!” He must have even been standing at the arch of the door, or somewhere in the room, but I faintly heard my name. I could not recognize his voice, I was too far away, still inside my body, yet too far away from living to even recognize that this was a voice of a living man calling me back into life. He knew that I was a light sleeper, and never the type to come back home early and sleep on the couch.
He found me there, almost lifeless, in my overwashed Spiderman pajamas from my fourteenth birthday, that had been a gift from him, Sabata. He did not ask questions, but he recognized this lifelessness.
The first time I tried, I did not leave a letter. I was the type to leave letters, the type to explain why I was doing what I had done. Sabata was sure of what happened, as though he had seen this somewhere. The boys who tried to die used a rope, they did that in our neighborhood–boys hung and dropped like leaves in autumn. I knew that you never wait for the call of God, that sometimes you’re the God of your life, that you can sometimes take which you have been given. Sabata breathed life into my body, he made sure that whatever that I took, be it poison or drugs, will leave my body. It was him who gave birth to me the second time. He must have murmured prayers beneath his breath. Or said things to make sure I have breath.
But when I came back to myself, for the second time, I did not cause a make a loud noise or feel sharp pain to announce that air had been locked inside me. I was sober enough to tell Sabata that I am alright. That I can live again.