I was born to Bill and Joan Mahader, in the Marymount nursing home in Johannesburg, South Africa – a faraway place in a faraway land to most people. To me, it was to be my home for the next 44 years.
“What are you crying for?!” my mother shouted at my sister, who lay crying on her bed. Belle lifted her head from the pillow to reveal red, swollen eyes.
It wasn’t really a question. “Are you crying because Shane left you or are you crying because you’re pregnant?!” Again, it wasn’t a question, but an outburst of anger. My 16 year old sister erupted again into sobs. My mother hissed and left the room, slamming the door closed behind her. I just stood in the room, my arms hanging awkwardly by my sides. I was 11, and though confused and bewildered as to what the whole drama was about, I knew it had to be serious. The room seemed to be filled with her pain so intensely that I could feel it. I just wanted to say by standing there that I was there if she needed me. I’m not sure she noticed.
May 1980 (age 16):
Live, not for others or because of them
Without waiting for better days
(But striving for them)
Not for material possessions
But learn to use them
Live to the full
Joll [A South African slang word, meaning “party!”]
It might have appeared, from the outside, that I had woken up to the idea of life by the age of sixteen, but the truth is I hadn’t. I was still very much trapped inside my own head, an entrapment I myself had built for me to hide in. It was a hiding place that smothered me as it blocked out the light and also the love from outside. It was my own ‘safe place’, where no one could hurt me.
My sister, Belle, fell pregnant when she was just sixteen. My mother was unproclaimably horrified, by that I mean that it is not possible to put into words just how horrified she was. I at that time was just eleven, and unwittingly on the receiving end of some very unfair prejudice that suddenly took me into its sights and took aim. I won’t try to fathom my mother’s thinking here. I can only surmise that she, in her extreme anger at the situation, was stone-faced determined to never let it happen again. She became my enemy, overnight, and I became hers.
Nothing shocks the world anymore.
Stories like mine they’ve heard ten times over, in a hundred different places and from a hundred different people.
They aren’t impressed at hearing how a part of me has died: smashed to smithereens by the car that I was driving.
They can’t be wearied with knowing that my insides are now outside, strewn all around.
So then, can I tell You, Lord?
Can I dare to speak out loud to you the things that I have done?
I would have to stop pretending to ignore you,
I’d have to look up, look you in the eye
And I’d have to see, have to stomach your expression
As you look back at me
I could try to forget, put it out of my mind
But the stench of death is swirling around me
A sulphurous smoke that’s engulfing.
And though the world around me neglects to feel
They splutter and cough, and they frown at the smell.