girl


I know, most people have read this one already. And you know me and my girls… They are my life.  But they also remind me of The Little Girl In The Blue House… Is there someone missing her? Someone talking to her each day? Is she waiting for someone? Is she okay?

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The Little Girl In The Blue House

I always walk the same way to the train station. I take the shortest route. I have too. Way too early to walk one meter further than I have to. Or one minute longer than what is needed. There is another route. Slightly longer. But all the time in the world if it is so bloody early in the morning. My normal route is an easy walk. Turn right, then a quick left and straight down to the station. A quick and easy 20 minute stroll.  And who said I don’t get enough exercise… But today I had to go the slightly longer route. Turn left, turn right and down the slightly longer walk to the station. Not by much. Just about 5 minutes added. But sometimes the longer route brings more than just a longer walk. And this morning I got more than I wanted. Another reason why I never like walking that route. A reminder. A memory.

My oldest daughter always does the “left turn” walk. Her friend from across the street walks with her to the bus stop. They pick up another friend along the way and off they go. But not this morning. The girl from across the road didn’t feel too well so she couldn’t walk with my daughter. Dad duties called. I am the backup. So off we went. On our left turn. 

We were joking as we walked. Doing our “home boy” walk down the street. Me doing funny walks and funny voices to show her how I was going to embarrass her in front of her friend who has never met me. Doing my typical dad stuff. We got to the house. I gave her a hug and a kiss and watched her walk to meet her friend. And off I went. Taking my right turn down the road. The slightly longer road.

I put my iPod on and was listening to A Fine Frenzy when I walked past the blue house. And it brought back memories of the little girl who lived there. The little girl in the blue house.

She was the first friend my oldest daughter made at her new school when we moved here. They were in the same class. Hung out together. I saw her often. At the school. Or at the park. Or just in the streets when we were walking. But she was always there when we took my daughter to school. Running to great her friend. She was scrawny just like my daughter. But she was a little bit too thin. A little bit too pale.

In summer she always had just a t-shirt on. And in winter. A very worn and tatty thin little jacket. And trust me. It gets damn cold over here in Boston in winter. I remember seeing her with her arms folded to try and keep some heat in that little body of hers. You could see she was cold. But that was all she had for winter.

Her mother was always well dresses. With the latest fashion. Clothes and accessories she bought at the mall. She looked well looked after. And warm. Not like her little girl. But we didn’t see her at school often. Or anywhere for that matter. She didn’t walk with her little girl that often.

And they stayed just down the road from the school. It looked like a pretty house from the outside. That blue house where the girl stayed.

I often took my girls to the park at the school. And we’ll see her there often. On her own. On the swings. And she’ll be so happy to see my daughters. She was always so good to my little one. Running up to her and giving her a hug and a kiss and playing with her. She was a nice little girl. That little girl from the blue house.

My daughter always told us about her friend. And how she shared her snacks at school with her because she never had snacks. So my wife put in a few extra snacks for two. Never mentioned it to the little girl. Didn’t want her to feel odd. My daughter just shared because that is how she is. It was her friend. No questions.

And one day she told us that the girl was so exited about going to visit her dad in Arkansas. Her parents were divorced. And she lived with her mother and boyfriend in the blue house. The boyfriend had a nice BMW convertible. Nice car. Pretty new. They obviously had some money. Just not always for the little girl. But she was excited. She was going to visit her dad.

And then we saw her during the holiday. When she was meant to be at her dad. It was the first time I really saw her sad. The smile wasn’t there. She spoke to my daughter in a low sad voice and I didn’t want to ask too many questions. Didn’t want her to feel uncomfortable. I just wanted her to be a little girl. Playing with her friend. And having fun the way 10-year old girls are meant to have fun. So I let them talk and watched as they started playing and giggling. And the smile started coming back. She was with her friend.

The odd thing was that apart from that day I always saw her smile. A big old child smile. I never heard her complain. Not in front of me in any case. She always looked happy. But you could see that there was something missing. You just had to look carefully.

I always hug and kiss my girls. No matter where we are. When we drop them off at school. When I say goodbye in the morning. When they go to sleep at night. Or just because we feel like a hug and a kiss. Which is often. No matter where we are. And this little girl saw this. Saw how I hugged my girls. And she wanted one too.

I used to see her looking at me and my daughter when we hug. And then one day she came up to me when I took my girl to her school and asked for a hug. She was a little bit shy about asking. But I just gave my girl a hug and she looked at me with her tatty top with the long sleeves and peeked at me. “Can I get a hug please?” “Of course!” I said. I gave her a big old hug. And she hugged back. Hugging maybe a little longer and harder than what I expected. Almost as if she didn’t get a lot of hugs and would like to get hugs more often. She was only ten.

And that was how it was. Whenever she saw me she would come running up to me and give me a hug. And I’ll hug her back. And I’ll give her a smile and ask how she was doing. It became a standard thing. I never really thought much about it. I knew she wanted a hug and I gave her one. We can do with more hugs in this world. And I didn’t think that she got too many hugs elsewhere in any case.

And then one day she was just gone. Just gone. Her mother packed their bags in the middle of the night and just disappeared. Gone. Not even a goodbye. Not even a last hug. Just gone with her tatty little top. We never knew what happened to her. How she is doing or how she is feeling. Is she with her dad? Is she okay? Is she happy? Is she being a kid? Did she get a warmer jacket? Is she still smiling those big old smiles of hers? Is she getting any hugs? Or is she still playing alone in the park?

Time passed and memories started fading. We’ll mention her every now and again and just wonder.

And then we started looking at buying a house. And one of the houses that was on the market was the blue house. The blue house where the little girl stayed. So off we went to look at the house. Thinking that maybe we can buy it and make it our little house. Until we opened the front door and walked in.

My wife and myself just looked at each other when we walked in. I knew what she was thinking. It was my thoughts to.

The house stank. It was dirty. So dirty. Everything was a mess. Stuff lying on the floor everywhere. Clothes. Plates. Old food. Ashtrays overflowing. Wet spots. I have never, ever seen anything like this anywhere. And I have been to some places… It has been like this for a long, long time. Our shoes got stuck on the sticky dirt that was on the floors. All the rooms were in a mess. You couldn’t even see what color the walls or carpets were. It was brown. From dirt and cigarette smoke. I felt nauseous. Sick. The ex-boyfriend was lying in bed downstairs watching something on a big screen television. On his huge water bed. With plates and empty bottles and cigarettes lying all around him. A pig in a pigsty.

We went up the stairs to look at the real bedrooms. And we walked into the room that would have been that little girls room. It was a mess. Just a mess. No place for a little girl. Any little girl. Dirty. Filthy. Disgusting. You could see little things she must have tried to do to make it a little girl’s room. A little picture here and there. A ripped out poster. A wonky little table where she must have tried to study. Some girlie jewelery lying on the floor amongst the dirt that she must have forgotten to pack in the haste. But it was covered in a floor that ran skew. Holes in the floors and roof. And cold. And this was in winter. No heating. This was the room of the little girl with the big smile.

My wife and myself just looked at each other. We knew what each of us were thinking. We just wanted to get out. Just wanted to forget that we ever came. That we ever knew that little girl. And that she lived there. Her little room in the blue house.

We sat in the car and just stared at nothing for a while. And then she said it. “She lived in that house.” That’s all that needed to be said. We knew. The little girl in the blue house.

And walking past that house this morning reminded me of her. That little girl in the blue house. Made me think. Again. How did she do it? How did she manage? How did she remain a little girl in that house? How long can she be that girl with the big old kid smile? How long before she falls through the cracks? Is she strong enough? Where will she find the love she needs? The hugs she deserves? How is the little girl from the blue house doing?

The little girl from the blue house. I hope you remember me. I hope you remember those hugs. I just wish I hugged you a little harder and a little longer.

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It started with a simple set of questions… “Dad, what are people doing? Why don’t they want other people to marry? Why don’t they do anything about global warming? Why are they always fighting?”

How do I tell her? How. Do. I. Tell. Her?

1001, 1002, 1003, die… 1004, 1005, 1006, dead…

How do I tell her that every 3 seconds a child dies from something that we could’ve stopped? From hunger. From not enough food. From not having an apple. Or clean drinking water. Or just a little porridge in the morning. That we have it in our power to stop it if we want. But we choose not to. How do I tell her?

How do I tell her that our friends can’t marry because some people just hate their love too much? That love is sometimes not enough. That caring for each other is not what everyone else thinks should be. That the insecurities of the heart and soul of others drive hate instead of seeing the love. How do I tell her?

How do I tell her that some people talk freedom but don’t believe in it? That freedom is freedom even if we don’t like what others do or say. That freedom to marry. Freedom to love. Freedom to see the love of your life die in hospital. That these freedoms are killed by bigots every day. How do I tell her?

How do I tell her the pursuit of happiness is denied for most? That it’s a lie that we are told by so many who deny the happiness of others. That justice, equality and liberty is claimed by many but believed and practiced by few. How do I tell her?

How do I tell her people believe in carrying guns that kill but don’t believe in caring for love? That it’s okay to defend the right to carry a weapon of hatred in your holster but not love in your heart. That it’s okay to defend the right to carry that gun but not the right to love? How do I tell her?

How do I tell her that I don’t know what our earth will look like in her future? That maybe we are killing this world of ours with our greed and want. That wanting, buying, driving, wearing, making, living, eating too much and all those things we do might be killing our world slowly. So slowly that we argue while the pot is starting to boil. Like frogs we are killing ourselves slowly. How do I tell her?

How do I tell her that most people don’t really believe in human rights? That they speak of it as if they care and are willing to fight for it and die for it. But that they will deny others those same human rights. Their right not to be tortured. Their right to marry. Their right to choose. Their right to believe and love who they want. They deny it all. How do I tell her?

How do I tell her that people are willing to let their fellow Americans die. That they can stop it but they choose to look the other way and walk away? That a public option will save lives but some of us are too selfish and scared and would rather offer up American lives. American blood. All because they don’t care to care. How do I tell her?

How do I tell her that so many men carry hate in their hearts. They rape. They kill. They take away. That these are men we see and know. But we don’t see and we don’t know. That it’s okay to love the world. But be careful with who you trust. They will hurt you if they can because we know of those who are dead and missing. How do I tell her?

How do I tell her to not trust the man who speaks of God because they use and abuse His name? That they will hate in His name. That they will lie in His name. That they will give Him different names and still be full of hate and lies. That the hate and lies is preached by bigots claiming every religion – Christian, Jew, Hindu, Muslim – you name it. That it’s okay to love God but to not trust those who speak in His name. How do I tell her?

How do I tell her that there are mad men in caves wanting to kill a dream? That there are enemies everywhere willing to take lives. Innocent lives. And that we live in so much fear that we are willing to do the same as them. We are willing to let innocent people die because of our own fears. That we play into the hand of the warmongers with our weakness of fear. How do I tell her?

How do I tell her all this and so much more? Racism. Discrimination. Child labor. Obesity. Diseases. Sexism. And all this stuff waiting out there in the world. How do I tell her?

How do I tell her all this? How do I tell her that if we all just wasted a little less. Wanted a little less. Cared a little more. Believed a little more. Loved a little more. Spoke out a little louder. Did a little more…

How do I tell her that I see the faces of those kids dying? I know their names in my dreams. That they are my kids. Our kids. Not a number. Her kids.

How do I tell her that I feel the love of my friends being denied? That I only feel threatened because they are being denied the right to love and live in love the way I do? They they are not gay. That they are me. They are her.

How do I tell her I believe in freedom? That it’s worth fighting for even when others are trying to kill it with their freedom-my-way-or-no-way lies and bigotry and double standards. That I fight for the rights for all because I fight for her rights.

How do I tell her I don’t believe in guns? That I hate guns. That guns have killed in my family. That I will still defend those who want the right to have a gun. But that I expect them to fight and defend the right of my friends to love just as hard. That those rights are all hers.

How do I tell her that I don’t know everything about global warming? That I don’t know the science that well. But that I know that it’s better to be safe than sorry. That I will fight for this planet because it is all we have. The only one we have. It’s all I can give her. This little planet in the middle of nowhere is her planet.

How do I tell her that human rights means we have to give it to everyone? To those who are like us. Who love like us. Who live like us. Who believe like us. And those who don’t believe like us. Don’t want to be us. That human rights means we take the higher road and don’t torture. That human right means we allow everyone to be treated the same way we are treated. In love and in marriage. And that I will speak out and fight for those rights. Every single day until we all have it. Because it is her rights.

How do I tell her I believe in justice, equality and liberty? That I believe it is fundamental to who we are and how we want to live. Even though other say it but don’t live it or truly believe it through action. That I will fight for her to have justice. That I will stand up for her to have equality. And I will defend her liberty. Because justice, equality and liberty are hers.

How do I tell her that I don’t want these Americans we live with to die? That I want them to live. I want to help look after them. I want them to have an option to get looked after when they are sick. And that the only option for them is a government option. That I have not option but support an option that will let Americans live. Because I believe that Americans are good. And that it is our duty to love them and respect them and help look after them. Because we are them. American health is her health.

How do I tell her not all men are bad? That there are good men out there. Men who love and care. Men we can trust. And that it’s worth trusting and finding the men we can believe in and trust. That we men will fight those who hurt. Because these are her men.

How do I tell her that God is good? That it is okay to believe and not be part of the lies told by those who claim Him – no matter what they call Him. That God is good and God is love. That I will fight for Him and claim Him back from those who use and abuse His name. Who lie and spread hate in His name. Because He is her God.

How do I tell her not to fear the mad man in the cave or anyone else who lives to hate? That fear is not what makes us who we are. That love makes us who we are. That the love we have is stronger than the hate of others. That love should never be seen as a weakness. Because I will fight for it. Because this love is her love. My love for her. My gift to her. Love.

How do I tell her that when I am alone in my thoughts… On the bus. Running. In a hotel. Flying. That I cry inside when I am alone. And sometimes I cry on the outside for all these strangers to see. Thinking of this. Knowing that I don’t know what we are doing. That I don’t know what we are leaving for her tomorrow. For her future. Her world. I just don’t know.

I don’t know what world she will inherit from us. I don’t know what world we will leave behind. For her. And for her kids.

But I do know that I will fight for what I believe in. I will fight for her rights. Her right to love, believe, be free, have no fear, carry a gun, marry who she wants. her right to be herself. My big angel. Because I love her. And it’s all I can give her.

I want to tell her that the world is full of good people. That every single day I work with people who make this world a little better. One step at a time. Sometimes small but always forward. I want to tell her we will fight the good fight. Every single day. There are more of us than what the world might think. And we are strong. And we will never give up.

I want to tell her I do what I do because of her. That I see her face when I work. I see her face when I fight for what is right. I see her face when I live my life. It drives me. I want to leave her a world to be proud of. I want to leave her a dad to be proud of.

But I don’t. I don’t tell her any of this…

I take her hand and we dance on a Saturday. I joke with her and I tickle her. I play with her and I tease her. I help her with her homework and I say I’m proud of her great work. I have fun with her and walk her to the bus stop. I hang out with her and watch Harry Potter with her. I lie watching music videos with her and write silly stuff to her on Facebook. Sometimes we talk about Madiba or God and space-time limitations. Or science and mathematics. Geography or food. Even a little bit of serious stuff like politics and rights. And then I talk to her about crazy silly things and give her my books to read. I pull her finger and burp as loud as I can. I go mess up her bed and chase her around. I just do the things a crazy silly stupid dad is meant to do. Because she is my girl. My oldest girl. My big angel. And I’m just her dad. That’s all I want to be. The cool guy who loves her more than life.

She is my Ubuntu. I am because we are.

So I don’t tell her. But I know. I know we have to fix this world to make it ready for her. She deserves nothing less. She is perfect. She needs a perfect world.

We’ve got work to do. My big angel is coming and I’ve got a world to clean and get ready…

Will you take the flower please?

Will you take the flower please?

I am still haunted by this picture I have stuck in my head. The picture of the bully. The bully at my oldest angel’s school.

It happened a few years ago when my oldest daughter was graduating from her school. Well, graduating is pushing it a bit. She was just moving up to middle school. But we were proud parents. And we were there for her special day.

It was a beautiful day. The sun was shining and the birds were out to sing us a few songs. Us parents huddled around waiting for our kids. Chatting away about this and about that. Taking up our seats on our nice comfortable chairs waiting for our our kids to graduate. And someone mentioned the bully.

She was also going to graduate today. She was in my daughter’s class. The discussion? We hoped that she won’t be in the same school as our angels next year. This year was tough enough. We really didn’t want our kids facing her again next year. The pushing on the playground and the shoving in the corridors. Enough was enough. And we all hoped the bully will land up somewhere else. Far away from our kids. Somewhere where she can cause trouble on her own and not cause any more crying at home.

This girl was really a bully. A big girl who bullied everyone at school. When they played she always took the ball away from the other kids. And then pushed them. Or just ran into them for no reason. Or shouting and screaming at them. You name it and she did it. The ways bullies do it. It was a bloody nightmare. She was always frowning and being nasty. Just one horrid girl that needed one good bloody hiding if you asked me.

We were still talking about the bully when the kids and teachers came out. There’s our angel! Big wave and even bigger smile and huge kiss blown her direction! Good! She saw me! Mission accomplished! Actually, I was only just warming up with silly things to do…

And then it was time for the end of school ceremony.

We all sat down and listened to the headmistress talking about the kids and what a great year they had. Just the usual blah-blah but special to us and for our kids. This was their big moment. And we hung onto every single word she had to say. We took photos and waved even when told not to wave. Our angel was a bit embarrassed (as she always is with me around!) but she waved back. And she had this huge grin on her face. We might embarrass her every now and again but she loved it. Just loved it. We could see it in her huge big smile. She’ll roll her eyes and whisper something to her friend pointing at me – her crazy dad. And the kid will look at me and laugh. I knew my girl loved her crazy dad and mom. Because they were there waving and whistling and smiling and taking millions of photos of every single moment – when she sang and when she got her piece of paper and when she walked up and when she shook the teacher’s hand and when she breathed… Clickety click-click. We never missed a moment and made sure we had the memories captured for her kids to see one day. The day she can tell her kids, “These are the photos my mom and dad took when I graduated to middle school.” And maybe she’ll tell them about the other times we were there.

Actually, all the kids were smiling at their parents. Smiling and waving and just being crazy kids loving their crazy silly parents. But I only noticed our big angel. “Hey girl! Look here for another photo! Do it or else I’ll dance!” That always got her laughing. And maybe a bit worried that her dad will actually do it. Because she knows he will!

The bully? She wasn’t waving. She wasn’t blowing kisses. She was bloody well pushing and shoving the other kids. With her arms folded and a frown on her face each time one of the kids close to her smiled and waved. You could see her lips moving. Saying things like, “Stop it you” and “Oh puh-leeze you wimp”. But I wasn’t going to let her spoil our special day. I was just smiling and waving and doing crazy things to let my girl never forget this special day.

The school had this really cool thing they do for children who do not have a younger sibling. They are given a rose to give to their parents. A thank you from the school for trusting them to look after their precious kid. And a goodbye as the school won’t see another one of their kids coming to their school. It was a really nice touch. Kids were called up by the headmistress and given a hug and a rose. The kid will then turn around and look for their mom to give her the rose. And a big hug and a kiss. Oh the mothers cried! Their youngest one finishing school! Look how big they are getting!

And the bully got called up to come get her rose. I was thinking that the school is lucky that she is the last one from her family to come to this school. You never know how her sisters and brothers might be. And I really didn’t want out youngest one to go through the same experience with the rest of her family. I was saying thank you for small miracles…

She got her rose. And she got her hug from the headmistress. And it was a bit odd. The hug was a little longer than usual. Longer than what the other kids got. And why was her shoulders shaking like that? It’s not that cold. And then she turned around. Slowly. To face the crowd of parents. And the tears was rolling down her face. Her little face…

She scanned the sea of people in front of her. But you could see that she knew. You could see it in her eyes and through her tears. She knew there was no one there for her. No one doing crazy waves. No one taking pictures. No one to give her a big smile. Her folks weren’t there. You could see her looking for her mom. But there was no one there. She was just a little girl on her own. Not a bully. Just a little girl crying.

She looked at the sea of faces for a few seconds. Hoping. But here was nothing and no one. Just tears that never stopped.

She turned around and leaned forward to give the headmistress one more big hug. And then gave her the rose.

And then she joined the other little girls.

And she was the only one crying…

What are we doing to our children?

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From the Loose Ends files…

fartlady

I got a talking-to from the lovely suffering wife… Yes, I know… It happens often…

Who said parenting was easy? My wife will respond by rolling her eyes and say, “A parent? You’re a bloody buddy to play with not a parent!” I’ll just be nodding my head with my eyes staring at the floor and my tail between my legs. And peeping to see where the girls are to get them to pull my finger once my “discipline session” is over.

Anyway…

I got the talking-to because the teacher had issues with my poetry teachings…

Apparently, not everyone at school appreciates good poetry. The missus got called in by my youngest daughter’s teacher for “potty talk”. Bah! It’s not potty talk! It’s poetry! Don’t they know anything cultural around here?

Let’s go back to my “poetry teaching” sessions with my 5-year old daughter…

As you might know by now, I bath my youngest daughter at night and put her to bed. Well, that is a pretty boring job if you stick to the “get-it-over-and-done” style of parenting. And I take my job as a parent very seriously. Very seriously… So up the stairs we go every night and in the bath she gets. Actually we do our “pictures” in the mirror first where we pull different faces – happy (Liverpool won!), sad (got to clean the cat litter) , mad (thinking Bush…), crazy (still thinking Bush…), handsome (my normal facial expression…), pretty (my Angelina look) and any other combination of faces. Only once we’ve done our acting classes in the mirror do I allow her to move into the bath. And Grand Master Teacher Angry (or  Guru African to some) comes out to play… hum… I mean… teach…

I have the curriculum well planned and sorted. We will eventually move on to Shakespeare, but for now I want us to concentrate on getting the basics right. Poetry 101… Nice easy rhymes…

So we did a few of the usual rhymes. You know…

“I’ve got a cat in my hat” and “I’ve got a yummy in my tummy” and “I’ve got a bear in my hair”. Just the usual rhymes. And then we moved on to more difficult pieces of poetry. Of course they also had to show me they take their lessons seriously and come up with their own poetry…

I really can’t help that my daughters are geniuses! It’s not my fault that they take innocent little rhymes and create their own unique take on poetry. Should I not be applauded for teaching my child the finer things in life? Should I not be rewarded for bringing the gift of literacy to my youngest daughter? Should I not be celebrated as a teacher and guru of poetry? Should I not be held up as the parent of all parents? Should I not…

And so on and so on. It ends with me claiming the Nobel Peace Prize for teaching my kids silly rhymes that ultimately and directly resulted in world peace and the end of world hunger and poverty. Oh yes, it also ended the current economic downturn worldwide. Hey, you’ve got to start somewhere. Now, where was I? Oh yes, the lack of appreciation…

So my youngest daughter decided to share her new found poetry gift with the rest of the class. I was so proud. My little girl sharing her passion for literature and fine arts with others. And, of course, for them to stand in awe and admire her poetic abilities. Bow down and sit at the master’s feet please. There’s a good class. Now sit still and listen. And then she let rip with some of her most creative pieces. Her own poetry in her own words…

“I have a drum in my bum.”

…and the clincher…

“I have art in my fart.”

The simple beauty of it. She makes me so proud. “Sniff.”

But noooooo… Apparently that isn’t good enough for Ms Snotty Nose teacher. Not appropriate language for a little girl. WTF? Does she not appreciate the beauty of poetry? Does she not recognize the modern version of a young Shakespeare? Damn teachers…

The curse of a genius…

Anyway, I couldn’t believe that the teacher didn’t give her a special prize for that one. Or at least push her one class ahead. Advance learning or something. Heck, I say let her teach the class literature! My little genius.

But maybe the teacher just didn’t understand her true ability. Because one of her pieces of genius poetry was in two languages… You hear me? Two languages! Bilingual baby!

“I’ve got a football in my poepol.”

Genius! Genius, I tell you!

I didn’t teach her any of this. Nada. Nothing. Zero. Zilch. She did it all on her own. Like I said, she makes me so proud. Damn teacher…

Oh, the meaning of poepol?

Hum… well… I… it’s a… the meaning is… but… No, I mean “butt”. Backside, arse, behind… You get my drift…

She mixed her languages all on her own and created this piece of beautiful poetry just for her dad. Like I said, she makes me real proud – “sniff.”

But ooooh nooooo, the teacher doesn’t recognize this piece of genius. Everyone is a critic. But maybe it was just a big misunderstanding. Because I also tell my girls to never lie. Not even in poetry.

If only the teacher asked her if she really had a drum in her bum…

My little girl would have kept a beat that will make her dad proud and her mother cry.

And maybe then the teacher would have realized that my little girl really told the truth when she said, “I have art in my fart”…

 _fartpropellant3

 funnygirl2

I have been blessed with a loving sister. She cared for me and always treated me as “the special one”. I had special names for her and she had a special name for me. The two of us. Bliss. She used to play with me and make me my favorite food. Pour me a little drinkie when I needed it and dressed me in my best clothes for Sunday school. She taught me about love and caring. She loved me and looked after me. My sister… She was my angel. My special one.

And then I have this other sister. Man… You think Freddie Krueger was bad? He wakes up screaming from the bad nightmares she gave him. She used to ride the “mares” until they pass out at night. If she didn’t pass out from the alcohol consumption first. She was the kid you warn your kids about. And that you pray to God you never get. She was the kid that the bogeyman told his kids about to scare them. She was the kid that people refer to when they say “I heard this story about a kid…”. She was the reason why cats stayed indoors. She made grown men cry. She was the reason why social services was created… for parents. The Chucky movies was based her favorite toy. When people spoke about “those Fockers living down the road” they weren’t referring to a family by that name… She was the Nightmare on Our Street.

You might have seen a few comments from her over here. Just go check out anything by a certain person called Marlize in a few earlier stories. The last one – Fat Kids and Stupid Parents for instance. She made a few comments about the lovely food she used to lovingly make me. Yeah right… More like force feeding. She has the cooking skills that is equivalent to my dancing and singing skills. And you know how awesome that is. Actually, she does bake extremely excellent tarts. But then, she knows a lot about being a tart. Baking tarts is not that huge of a jump for her.

But let me tell you a few stories of my sister from hell. The kid the devil rejected as “just too much to handle”. And what I am about to write is 100% true. I kid you not.

Yes, she did make my food almost every day when I grew up. My mother and father worked so it was up to her to feed me. Feed me and food might be a bit of a stretch, but there isn’t words to say what she did and “cooked”. But let me rather say that she “made” my food and not made my food. I need the “made” to qualify her “cooking”. But wait, let me first tell you the story of me chasing her down the road with a fork…

She commented in the previous story that I chased her down the road because she made me fish fingers with syrup and cheese on it. That is a complete lie. I did not chase her down the road because she made me fish fingers with a syrup and cheese topping. Never did that. Complete bullshit.

I chased her down the road because she made me a Big Jack pie and stuck the bloody fork in it. And that was just the start of something bigger…

I had a choice of three dishes. Actually, it wasn’t a choice. She decided which of the three I would get. And these were my “choices” for most of my life until I managed to escape her claws. I could have a Big Jack pie with some All Gold tomato sauce (ketchup), fish-in-sauce or fish fingers with syrup and cheese on top.

Now Big Jack was (and I hope was and not is) a soggy and doughy pie from a box in the fridge that tasted like cardboard and never had anything inside no matter what the box said. I think the box might have tasted better if we only tried it once but my sister was too lazy to give me that. And the box most likely had a higher nutritional value as well. It was crap and my sister had a special way of making it taste even crappier. (Note to sister – Next time just follow the instructions on the box please.) I don’t think that the instructions said that is should be burnt on the outside and frozen in the middle…

Fish-in-sauce was even worse. It was a piece of “fish” (or fish by-products most likely) in a bag of sauce. Three flavors – green crap, yellow crap and brown crap. I liked the yellow crap the best. If you want to call it “like”. I have blocked most of the details from my memory and sitting here and just typing about it makes me break out in a cold sweat and the shivers. Let’s just leave it at the fact that it was pulled off the market and declared a WMD by Saddam himself. And yes, I do have a certain “glow” at night like one of those light sticks. You never recover completely from it and I still get my tetanus shots daily thanks to my one-time consumption of fish-in-sauce when I was a little boy.

And then there was the fish fingers. Another fish-like by-product. If you take an old fish head off the rubbish dump and cook it for a few hours and then leave it for a week to cool down in the African heat outside in the middle of summer… The stuff you can scrape off the top is what fish fingers are made of… Including the flies and other “additives”. My sister tried to hide the impact of the smell and taste by smothering it with Golden Syrup and grated nameless yellow cheese. The taste of that will stay with you forever… For-effing-ever I tell you. I can taste it now. Hali-bloody-tosis! (Gotta go brush my teeth quickly…)

So those were my choices…

And then we had the fork-down-the-road scene. My sister-from-hell made me a burnt-on-the-outside-frozen-inside Big Jack. Again. For the fourth day in a row. It might have been a chicken one. Or steak and kidney. I can’t remember. And you couldn’t taste the difference either. You only knew what you ate if you opened it up. Chicken was a gooey yellow with chunky dog meat inside and steak and kidney was a gooey brown ball of crap. It all tasted the same. And on this day she emptied the full bottle of tomato sauce on the pie-like lunch. And I just had it with crap food.

(The kids at school was laughing behind my back and pointing fingers at me because I always had to go to the bathroom and smelled a bit even though I bathed every time I brushed my teeth. About six times a day. You can never get that crap out of your system..)

So I said, “No more”. Actually, it could have been in Afrikaans and something like, “Jou moer“. Translated roughly into “F-you” or “your mother”. But the message was clear. I wasn’t going to eat it. And she said, “Yes you will”. And I said, “No I won’t”. And she said, “Yes, you will”. And I said, blah… blah… blah. This went on for about 60 or so exchanges. But I think the language might have been more colourful the longer we went on with this “argument”.

Then she stuck the fork in it. In my pie! Or whatever you called that thing on my plate.

And that was it!

I said, “Now I won’t eat this effing pie!” And she said, “Yes. You. Will!” And blah… blah… blah… I think we stopped when I got up and tried to escape… I mean run away. And she started chasing me around the kitchen table.

Picture the scene…

We had this big kitchen with this big table in the middle that could fit about eight people. Nice 70’s style yellowish top table. Formica or something. And matching chairs. And cupboards everywhere. On the open half-wall was a Japanese picture my mother liked. One of those that could roll up and had the doves on the lake scene. A narrow wooden-stripped roll-up painting. Hand painted. Remember that. Now back to the “chase scene”…

So I am running around this table trying to stay away from her slapping me on my head or something and she is chasing me all the way. But I was small and nimble. No way she was going to catch me because I could take the corners quicker. She can beat me in a straight run – being older – but no way could she catch me when there were turns and twists involved.

We did about twenty or thirty laps when she started to get tired. And thank God I noticed. I realized she was slowing down and turned to look at her on the other side… and ducked just in time. The pie was about an inch away from my face when instinct kicked in and I hit the floor. I looked at the pie going past me in Matrix style slow-motion and watched as it hit the Japanese painting. Right where the two doves where flying. They were fried. KFC thank you.

The pie just stayed there for a few second but it felt like minutes. And then it slowly started to slide down the painting and eventually hit the floor. Right next to me.

I stood up slowly and kept on staring at the picture with the pie marks. And then I heard a “whoosh” sound and felt a stinging pain in my left buttock. I turned around and saw the fork stuck in my backside! She threw the fork so hard it got stuck in my arse! WTF?

I was pissed.

I pulled out the fork and shouted, “Now you are going to get it. I’m going to effing &%^@# you to pieces!”… And I charged at her. Like the Light Brigade. No, I was a Zulu impi and I had my spear. I’m gonna get me some revenge on this colonialist tyrant. Charge! For country! For freedom! For liberty! Viva La France!

(Juluka playing in the background.)

She looked at me and realized she was in deep shit. Little baby brother is about to kick some ass. She turned and ran. Out the front door.

And I was right behind her screaming and shouting.

Down the road we went. She just laying it down flat as if she was running the 100 meters sprint like Flo-Jo in the ’88 Olympics. And I’m the mad man with the fork trying to get her. Eyes blazing, screaming that I was going to take her out this time. Man, we were crazy.

We must have run about 400 meters down the road when both of started realizing how stupid this was. What must the neighbors think? I am sure I saw a few people peeping through the curtains and calling their kids and dogs inside. Again. But we just kept on running. And then we started laughing.

It was stupid. But it was fun. We stopped and just laughed and laughed. Me and my stupid weird and crazy sister. Lying in the middle of the road and laughing our asses off.

That’s the story of the fork-in-the-road incident.

But let me just give you a few other stories of my sister from hell so you can get a clearer picture of her.

She is older than me by three years so she was already well known in high school when I entered the same high school. There I sat in my first class on my first day. I had no clue that she had a “bit of a reputation” at school. The teacher introduced himself and started asking each kid to give their name where they came from. No problem. I can do that. The teacher smiled and pointed to me when it was my turn. I was chuffed to stand up and announce my name with a big smile. The teacher’s face just dropped. He kept quite for a little while and then asked, “Say that again? Are you the brother of Marlize?” “Of course!” I said with an even bigger smile. They know my sister! Great! Right…

“Come with me young man”, said the teacher and turned around to go into his little backroom. I followed. A little puzzled, but maybe he was going to ask me to help him carry some pencils or books or something. I followed him into his little backroom and saw him standing there with a cane in his hand. He looked at me and said, “Bend down”. I lifted up my school blazer and did as he said. He caned me six shots on the arse.

Why? Let me quote you using his own words – translated. “Because your sister is Marlize and just in case you turn out to be anything like her. And for what you might get up to later today”.

WTF?

Yep, that’s what happened. I was a nerd in secondary school but got my first taste of corporal punishment on my first day in high school all thanks to nothing more than being the younger brother of Marlize. Thank you sis…

I quickly learned that she was a “special needs” kid at school. Every single class had a table and chair right next to the teacher’s table. Facing away from the other kids. That was her special table and chair. In every single class. So that she couldn’t disrupt the class too much. As if that helped. Just because she couldn’t face the other kids didn’t mean she couldn’t do anything. Those ink pots had a special meaning for her…

That’s how my time in high school went. I got canned often just because of my lovely sister. She was also the only girl I know of that got canned the way boys got canned at school. On the backside. And boy did she deserve it.

But she did teach me a thing or two. Like how to hang out the windows of the top floor to shout and wave at her when she was down in the courtyard doing PE. Or rather, skipping PE and having a skelm smoke instead. My teachers had a few heart attacks with that one but I trusted in the builders having done their job. And it was cool to hang out the window on a hot summer day and feel the wind blow through your hair. Three stories up…

She also taught me that throwing a handful of certain chemicals in the big fish tank outside the headmaster’s office will allow just enough time for you to go in, get your daily caning and “the speech”, walk out and then run when you hit the corner – just before the fish tank explodes. I bet that was what they used to make those fish fingers…

Oh, and because of the mess they never gave you a hiding for the fish tank on the same day. That had to wait until tomorrow…

She was horrid. My sister. No idea how she passed any of her exams. To say she scrapped through would be an overstatement. A string of DNA could not fit in between her scrapping through school year after year. I know the UN has been investigating just how the hell she managed to pass since 1982 and are no closer to getting an answer. It’s also what Stephen Hawking has been studying since he wrote A Brief History of Time. I think he based his black hole theories on some of her exam results.

And she could drink… At school. She used to skip classes and go to the bar down the road and ask for a shot of everything. No, I don’t mean a shot of brandy and a shot of whiskey and a shot of tequila. I mean a shot of every brand in the bar!

And she stole my dad’s cars a few times… To go for a spin. And a few drinks. He never noticed the dents and marks left on the car. She added them slowly. One at a time. Little by little. Until it looked like those old stock cars from 1980. It wasn’t a pretty sight.

And oh, my parents once decided to send her to boarding school. Yeah, like that worked out pretty well…

She got kicked out after 2 weeks. And she was home for the weekend that fell in between those 2 weeks! I still have no idea why she got kicked out so quickly. And I don’t think I will hear the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth from her either. Ha! My parents were so stupid that they gave her her yearly allowance for hostel as she started her first day there. She came back with… Nothing! She blew it! In two bloody weeks? I wonder if her getting kicked out and blowing her allowance had anything to do with each other? Mmm… Was there a bar close by?

Man…My sister. Here is another one.

You know the sign on the back window of the bus that says “Push out in case of emergency?” Guess what…

My dad got a call one day from the bus service complaining about my sister. Again. Why? Because she kicked out the back window. My dad just shook his head and asked in a faint little voice, “Why?” Her answer? “Because it was hot and for me that is an emergency.” She eventually wasn’t allowed on the bus either and my dad had to drive her to school each day. A 30 kilometre drive each and every day. Here is the clincher. My dad was the boss of the bus service in his role as head of the prison service where we lived. Yeah! She managed to get kicked out of something my dad was in charge of!

Or how about the time she kicked a hole in my room door because I didn’t want to let her in to beat me up?

Think of the worst thing you can think of for any kid to do just short of getting caught and going to jail. In her infinite wisdom my sister has done that and upped the ante to a level where you need bottled oxygen and a space suite just to breathe and survive the pressure. She lived in a rare space. A planet just for her. Population? One…

She made me take my first ever cigarette. I was six and she was nine. She was already a full time smoker. (Yes, you read right – 9!) And I caught her smoking with her friends in the park. What did I say? “I’m so gonna tell mom and dad!” Guess what she did?

She forced me to take one puff of a cigarette. One small little puff that made me puke my lungs out. I was still busy being sick all over the park and all I could hear was her laughing and shouting, “You can’t do anything now because I’ll tell mom and dad that you smoked as well!” Dammit. I was so stupid.

She used to rip me off as well. Trading my silver money for a gold money. She just polished her pieces of copper and “traded” it for my money that was “so worth so much less”. I could have been a millionaire by now if I didn’t trade my 50c for a 1c. Dammit. Again.

And she used to play “horsey” with me. Let me explain. She’ll come in and say, “Let’s play horsey. You are the horse and I am the cowboy. And then we’ll swap.” Guess what. We never swapped. I was always the horse and then she always had an excuse for why she could not be the horse. She fell off the horse and hurt her back. She had homework to do. Yeah right! I never got the chance to be the cowboy.

Or when we were on long trips and stuck in the back of the car. She used to tease me endlessly. She always told me that I was adopted and that my real name was Sareltjie Visser. Just a stupid common name in South Africa. And she would not stop until I cried and my parent threatened her with death.

My sister. Hell on two legs. There are so many stories I can tell you about her but some might still land her in jail. I know no one else who can touch what she has done and still remain more or less sane and stay out of jail. No one. Tell me your best story and I promise you I can tell you an even better one about my sister.

I promise you each and every single story is true. Not a single little detail is exaggerated. She was the worse of the worse. And she taught me everything I needed to know.

She taught me to always try things at least once. And never do it or taste it again if you don’t like it. I don’t like Brussels sprouts.

And she taught me the most important principle of them all…

Never back down. Never ever fucking back down. That’s what she taught me. To never back down when you know you are right. And to never back down when you see something is wrong.

Maybe that is why I am the Angry African. Still pissed after all these years.

I like my sister. She might have been a nightmare and the naughtiest kid to have walked this earth, but she is my sister. My effing crazy, mad, weird, delinquent and “special needs” sister called Marlize.

I love her very much. And I miss her very much.

She is special. She is crazy. She is full of shit. And she makes me laugh and love. She is my sister. And I couldn’t be happier.

Thanks sis. You have given me memories I will never forget. Even if I still wake up screaming at night. It was worth it. I love you.

Your proud brother who managed to survive your best shots.

Sareltjie Visser

 myfirstjointmr51

(Note: Sis, can you send a few tarts and some biltong this way? Oh, I mean the tarts you bake and not your friends…)

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I love Saturdays. Come on, don’t be so cynical! No, not only because it is weekend. See, Saturday is my day at the dancing with the little one.

My girls love to dance and they are always off at some dance class. The older one does tap, jazz, ballet, hip-hop, modern, post-modern and existential. I think the last one is a bit of a rip-off. The teacher only shows up if she wants to and it is a continuous hit-and-miss as you never know if you want to go in any case. Even if you do, you pick your own time to show up anywhere you believe a dance should take place. I think Jean-Paul Sartre’sinterpretation of the Nutcracker hurts in any case…

Wait… Where am I? Oh yes, dancing and Saturdays…

I miss all the dancing sessions of my oldest daughter. Her classes are during the week when I am at work. I don’t think she would like me there in any case. Dad’s cool but also a little bit embarrassing. As you will see…

My lovely suffering wife lets me lie in a little bit on a Saturday. Just for a little while for the little one to hop into bed with me and for the two of us to play draw-on-the-back. I draw a picture on her back with my fingers and she must guess what it is – and she does the same on my back. Heck, it’s the only way I get a bit of a back tickle in our house. I don’t know whether it is the hairy back or just a girl thing, but none of the girls likes giving me a back tickle – including my lovely suffering wife (Yes, the same one that gets a back tickle almost every single night.) I’m not too picky, but I do think that my daughter is cheating. How many times can you draw a ball? A round one? And how many times can I say, “I don’t know what that is. Draw it again!”

Anyway…

We lie in for a few minutes and then it is a rush downstairs to slurp down some serial – Coco Pops! And for me to get my coffee fix. Then we race upstairs (with a giggle or two) to brush our teeth and for me to get rid of some of the coffee…

And then I dress the pretty ballerina.

That takes a while. First I rub her body with some cream so that the stockings and ballerina outfit don’t make her itchy. She’ll stop half-way through with me still trying to get her clothes on – she stops just to do a little twirl and to shout, “Look at me dad! I’m a pretty ballerina!” We are now officially running late. Again… It happens every Saturday morning. We always run late. We always have to work out an excuse for being late while rushing to at least try and make it in time.

“Hurry up you two! No time to play!” That’s my wife reminding us that it we really don’t have time for this. Especially not this morning. It’s a special day at ballet today…

My wife does the little one’s hair while I put on the rest of her clothes. The ballet tag team. I’m not good at hair but can do pants and shirts. Done! Get jackets on. Hats. Gloves. Scarves. And anything and everything else we need to face the cold outside. Then we jump in the car and rush down to ballet class – swearing softly (and sometimes loudly) at the slow driving oxygen thief on a site seeing cruise ahead of us.

I usually go on my own to the dancing with my little one. We are not allowed inside “the room” to watch in any case. So I sit outside in the hallway and read a book and listen to my iPod. I sometimes even blog from there. But not today. Today I can watch! And…

Every now and again the family can come in to watch. And our gang always goes in full force with all the troops accounted for. No one left behind. Today was going to be even better – A special holiday show just for us. The Nutcracker!

Only the little ones and a few of the older and more experienced dancers to show them the way. Always a ball. They were all there – the Nutcracker, Clara, the Mice, the Russian dancer, the Chinese dancer, the Spanish dancer and the Arabian dancer. No, I don’t mean that the class is very international – I think it is a bit of a twist of the original one. I laughed my ass off so many times that my wife had to tell me to shush a few times. And to tell me and the oldest one to keep quiet because we kept on whispering and giggling while pointing at the little one. She was just so damn cute. Our little ballerina. What fun. What a Saturday. And with any luck, it might just get even better for me today…

And then came my moment. The one I have been waiting for. I was made for moments like these. All my years of training. Just for this. Deep breathe…

“Any of the dads want to volunteer to come and do some dancing with us?”

Yeah! Wait…

Play it cool…

Don’t look to eager…

Let them beg just a little…

“Oh, come on dad!” from my kids and the teacher saying “Come now Mr H. We know you want to!”

The big African-American guy sitting next to me gave me the “look” and laughed. The look of you-are-not-really-going-to-do-this-are-you. I laughed and noticed that he never took off his Timberland boots before sitting down. Amateur…

Ha! I took my exact matching pair of Timberlands off before I even came in. I left it outside knowing that I can’t dance in them. I came prepared…

I shook my head as I got up “reluctantly”. A few laughs from the crowd – especially from that section where my gang of girls were sitting and my new boet sitting next to me. I went over to my spot and took a deep breath. Closed my eyes slightly to compose and then… First position…

Or what I thought was first position. The “proper” guy dancer looked over at me and gave me the “sorry sod” smile. He’s a nice guy. But he is about 16 and I am turning… hum… slightly older tomorrow! (Yes, 14 December is my birthday!) He was going to “lead” me through my steps. As if I needed any instructions or help…

Plié.” WTF? Oh! No. Wait… I know this one. Bendy knees!

Head straight and bendy knees. Done. Just look at that composure!

“Again!” Damn… I hardly got up from that last one…

“Again! Three times and then a jump like this!”

What? Who? Where? Hey!

Bendy knees and a jump. And again. And again!

I started losing track of the stuff we were doing. Changement de pieds could have been one. And fouetté rond de jambe en tournant must have been one. The twirling around 360 degrees. No problem… (Getting slightly tired and maybe a bit of huffing and puffing…)

Running around in circles and jumping those scissor jumps or whatever they call it. It looked like I was doing hurdles unsuccessfully. I was losing track of what the guy is shouting at me. More of the jumping in the air and bendy legs stuff. And all I heard was, “Again!” I couldn’t really hear much else from all the heavy breathing and wheezing…

Damn! I was actually enjoying it. But that young dude sure had a wicket little smile on his face. Did he like seeing pain like this? Better watch it buddy… Hope you can handle pain when I grand sas d’action or frappé him in his Nutcracker…

Me? I saw glimpses of Mikhail Baryshnikov whenever I saw a bit of myself in the mirror. So gracious… So composed… So stupid!

I love it. I love watching my wife and kids look at me making a fool of myself. Hearing the other dads (and moms and kids) laughing at the stupid guy doing the silly ridiculous attempts at ballet. I just love it and kept on doing it with a big stupid grin on my face.

I’m a pretty ballerina…

Okay. I’m not.

But boy, do I love doing it. I love it when it was done and I did a little curtsy to the parents and to my danseur. The big smile and big shiny eyes I see from my little one. The high five and giggle I get from my oldest one. The smile and you-silly-you-I-love-you look I get from my wife.

Yes…

I love being the stupid dad that always “volunteers” to go do the silly stuff. That’s me. Just call me Volunteer Dad. Anything to see those faces and feel their love. Anything. Especially when I can be silly and have a laugh as well.

Next time you see the guy doing the stupid thing in front of his family – that’s me.

You should know this by now. Remember Things To Do Before You Die? Or When Dad Came To Watch? That’s me. Stupid, silly and madly in love with my gang of girls. Anything and everything just for them. Because it is also for me.

And me dance pretty…

ballerina-plate

hello

“Hello.”

And then a big smile and a wave.

I just loved it. Just loved it. My oldest daughter used to walk around greeting everyone in the streets. It doesn’t matter who they were. It didn’t matter that she didn’t know them. She just smiled and waved, and said hello. We do that in Africa. Walk around like a bunch of happy-clappies waving and greeting and smiling at people we don’t know.

It made me feel part of something bigger. Just knowing that they are my people. We are one big family. Really. You should see how we greet each other. Not just a little nod of the head or lifting of the eyebrow. No, not us crazy Africans. We go all out. We say hello as if it is our best friend that we haven’t seen for years. The long lost brother. The sister that went to college. The Biblical son returning. “How are you?” “I’m great thanks! And you?” “Great! Cheers!” Crazy Africans.

We have enough shit going on in Africa to enjoy the little things like greeting each other on the streets. Just acknowledging that it’s okay. That we are okay. That we are somehow connected.

It didn’t matter where I was in Africa. I can be walking in the streets in Zimbabwe and people will greet me and I will greet them – with a smile. I’ll sit in a bar in Zambia and someone will walk over and start talking to me. Asking questions about where I’m from and what I’m doing in Lusaka or do I want another beer. “Hey buddy, why don’t you come with us to the Green Frog?” Aah… The Green Frog. Dancing and drinking with people I’ve never met and will most likely never see again. The market in Bamako (Mali) and the guy walking with me to show me around and help me out with the French spoken at the stalls. Guess what. He didn’t want to get paid for it. He just wanted to show me his town and maybe have a beer with me.

It used to drive my wife crazy. I’ll walk into a bar and “check out the scene”. Searching for my next victim… I mean “friend”. Anyone that’s alone. And I’ll start talking to them. It is especially good when it is a foreigner. Just talk and hear their stories. Where they are from, how is their mom and dad, what they are doing over here, what beer do they want. You name it and I’ll talk about it. I’ve heard some great stories thanks to these strangers. And then we’ll say goodbye and never talk again. But I’ll remember them and I hope they’ll remember me. The crazy guy from Africa. They were African for a day or two. One of us. All of us. And it started with a simple “hello”.

And I miss that.

I miss the warmth. The sense of humanity. The acknowledgement of each other. The small moments of happiness. The connection of life and living.

And I miss seeing my daughters do that.

My oldest daughter was just a few years old when we moved over to the UK. She still walked around greeting everyone. Thank God we stayed in a small village of about 2,000 people. They got to know her. The crazy African kid who greets everyone. At first people stared at her and then slowly looked up at us parent, thinking that she must be a “special needs” kid. Some even gave us the “shame, poor you” look. Feeling sorry for these parents with the backward kid. But the little one didn’t care. She just kept on greeting.

And slowly but surely she won them over. The older people were the first to come around to her way of thinking. They loved seeing her greeting and waving at them. Shocked at first and then just a huge smile thanks to this skinny little girl with the big eyes and even bigger smile. And the looks they gave us parents – that was just all that was needed for us to know that we were okay as parents. They would look at us and greet us as well. With a big smile and a thank you in their eyes. And sometimes a little “What a nice little girl” comment to go with that.

My youngest one – born in the UK with the American accent (but South African passport)? Well, I don’t know if it is in our blood. But she greets people. She’ll stop to talk to people as we walk to the park. Especially if they have a baby or a dog. “Isn’t she cute dad?” Me? “Hi, sorry about that. She just loves babies.”

When did I lose my “hello”?

I really can’t say. I don’t know when it happened. Maybe it was the continuous looks I got in the UK. Or the stares in the US. Maybe I started switching off after too many blank returns and rejections. But I don’t really greet strangers anymore. And I miss that.

We don’t accept peple for who they are anymore. We are too scared. Scared shitless. We reject people for who we think they might be.

I am not crazy. I am not a rapist. I am not a child molester. I am not a sex offender. I am not a maniac. I am not a murderer. I’m not a mugger. I am just me. Living a life and trying to be as good as what I can be. I live Ubuntu. But Ubuntu isn’t always around.

Must I wear a banner around my neck to say who I am not?

I see little kids and sad grown-ups around me. All I want to do is stop for a minute and ask them how they are. Maybe give the little one a hug and a kiss. Tell them that the world will be okay. Just go and be a kid and enjoy going down the slide for a while. Swing low and swing high. Go around and around on the merry-go-round. It a bit like life. But without the worries that go with it.

But I can’t. Because of others.

I have to pick my battles. Be friendly to the person behind the counter at Honey Farms. Smile at the girl in Starbucks. At a push, talk to the person squashed in next to me when the train is packed like sardines. Hug a client I got to know really well. Or kiss a friend I haven’t seen for a while. On the cheek, of course. Oh so European.

What have we done? What the fuck have we done? To this world and to our lives?

Why can’t we even stop and talk anymore? Or just greet each other?

I know some things are cultural. Where I come from we kiss on the lips just to say hello. Men and women. Okay, more women than men. But I kiss my cousins on the lips when I see them. Men and women. I kissed my father on the lips even though we hardly spoke. And my brother. And my brother-in-laws. Even my ex brother-in-law. I kiss my best friends. On the lips. It’s just a hello.

I don’t want anything more from them. I just want to feel the link. That we are one. That we love each other. In a different way than when I kiss my wife. But so many times I just want to kiss the person I am friends with. Say hello in the way I know best because it means I open myself to my most vulnerable self. Take my lips. Our eyes will be close for a minute and the connection is confirmed. Just a kiss hello.

But I can’t. We can’t. It doesn’t fit in with our culture. At best I can get a hug. Or a kiss on the cheek. And I can live with that. It is easier because I know them already. We are already friends. There is already some connection. And with time it will grow. I hope.

But I know I miss my hello. When talking to strangers.

I have become one of those who worry about my kids. Not like when I was young. I could play in the streets and talk to strangers. But not today. Not in the life we live and the craziness that goes around.

Even that little girl in the blue house. I gave her hugs and ruffled her hair. But I always had to check who was looking. Just to make sure they don’t think anything funny was going on. She was just a little girl. Needing a hug. And I had to check that no one thought anything else.

How did we become like this?

We can say it is because of all the weirdos out there. The rapists and the child abusers and stealers of kids. I know they are out there. But somewhere along the line we allowed them to win. We allowed them to define who we are. And how we say hello.

How did the hello start to hurt us? How did the hello become a way to divide us? How did the hello move from love to scare?

I struggle with this every single day. How do you bring up your child to love everyone and still know about the danger out there? I don’t know. We all play it safe. We tell them not to say hello. Not to talk to strangers. Not to trust people they don’t know. Not to just say hello to everyone.

And slowly but surely we kill ourselves as we kill the hello inside our kids.

Talking to strangers.

How did we become the strangers?

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