The Whispers

I don’t like loud noises. Loud noises of any kind make it difficult for them to get through to me. This is why I don’t listen to music. I don’t like music because it drowns out what they’re trying to say. Music fights them. Superimposes what they want me to listen to over what I am meant to hear. The doctors say I have schizophrenia, but I don’t I know I don’t my mother says I don’t. She says I am not crazy. Everyone in our family hears voices. It is perfectly normal.

My mother isn’t really my mother, she’s just the vessel that birthed me. My mother is actually my grandmother. My real mother is my grandmother, but not actually my grandmother but my actual mother because although I am not from her body I am created in her image and have her name am her name live her name. Anne. I am Anne. That should make my mother my sister but she is not my sister she is nothing to me she is dead to me. Dead to me. Nothing. Less than nothing. A blank page in a book. I am the book and she is a page in the book but she is not a page she is just a piece of blank paper. Nothing.

I nearly died when I had my daughter. Not the process of birthing her. That was easy enough even though I had her at the Livingstone Hospital. They tried to make me lie down on my back and threatened to put my feet in stirrups when I refused to comply. Doctors, midwives, nursing staff, even orderlies came by to investigate the source of the expletives echoing down the corridors. Expletives that sounded like they were in tongues but not tongues. Is it tongues when you don’t recognise the voices of your ancestors speaking in the language of your roots? It is not tongues. I am speaking sense, such sense. I know what I am saying. You don’t know what you are hearing. I learnt to speak from my mother who was not my mother but actually my grandmother but who treated me like hers because I looked like her and bore her name. My real mother. Who was there when I birthed my daughter. Who helped me off that undignified hospital bed with its coarse KPA linens and showed me how a woman is meant to give birth, how a real woman gives birth, how a Bushman woman squats to give birth. My mother who was not my mother but my real mother waved the midwives away with workworn hands and pursed lips on a stern face that brooked no argument. She positioned my knees and pointed my feet outwards, the words of encouragement murmured by her lips strengthened my spine and firmed my resolve. My mother who is not actually my mother but my real mother caught the fourth Anne as her placenta-covered being finally freed itself from my body, her red and yellow squirms landing faithfully in dark brown hands. Hands that positioned the new Anne on my chest and clapped with fervour as I bit the cord.

The near-dying came after. After having made what they considered to be a spectacle of their delivery room simply because I refused to bow to their will and birth their future queen on steel and plastic-covered foam that had been died on and then covered in bleached white with chequerboard navy blue KPA that still bore the stench of lingering spirits. Oh yes, spirits stink. That’s why the Chinese burn miyang. They do it to drive them away.

They drove me away. They called the police to investigate me, this brown-skinned woman with a black-skinned mothering non-mother and a yellow-skinned child with a bald head and slate grey eyes. A child with a birth certificate stating UNKNOWN in the area where her father’s name was meant to be. They added one and one and arrived at two, but in the winter of 1983 he and I came together and together, we became three. Not UNKNOWN. KNOWN. Very well known. Michael Young. Born 30 August 1940. Napier Road, Bristol. Son of Delia Mary Young née Fudgell and William Henry Young. Narcissist. Bigamist. Cheat. My accomplice in contravening the Immorality Act of 1950. Had we been caught he would have been deported and I would have been sent to jail. I would not have survived the post-birth haemorrhage there.

But I knew they were coming. The whispers inside told me they were coming. I gathered my things. I tied my child to my chest and my mother who was not my mother but my real mother took my hand and guided me from the KPA and the stench of certain death, and led me to safety.