Blessing Musariri Shelling The Nuts
After months of chomping at the bit and an almost unflattering eagerness to be gone from home, apparently my niece arrived at her university dorm room and promptly burst into tears.
I completely understand.
When my sister told me I laughed and laughed because I had the exact same reaction many moons ago.
It was a different room, different country, different experience all together, but the feeling was the same.
For as long as I could remember, my ambition was to go to university in the UK, at the same time as my absolute best friend for ever.
We talked about it endlessly and for my part, I stayed as far from trouble as possible, because any hint of controversy meant that university abroad was no longer an option.
Of course the one guaranteed misdemeanour that would see my ambitions cancelled without hope of resurrection, was to fall pregnant and so I acted according to the memo and stayed completely paranoid about contact with boys.
I wanted to go abroad to university and that was my top priority. I could imagine the independence I would have — no curfew, a bank account with a cheque book that I would sign on, freedom to shop whenever I wanted, freedom to hang out with whomsoever I chose without fear of being spotted by nosy neighbours and others inclined to form part of the village necessary to raise a child.
It would be more freedom than I could ever dream of and I would finally be an adult.
The time came, when after a few scares in the form of disputes with my father about various things, I was finally in the end zone of the launch into adulthood.
I went kumusha with my father to bid my grandmother farewell, I came home, shopped for a brand new pair of Lee jeans and some warm jerseys, packed my bags and made my way to the airport.
Unlike the days when my eldest sister went off to university and the whole family went to the airport to see her off, I was accompanied my father who hugged me, patted me jovially on the back and sent me off with the words, “I know you’ll be okay.”
Of course I was going to be okay, I was off on the adventure of a lifetime with my bestie and what larks we were going to have.
My cousin met us at the airport and the first reality check happened when we dropped my friend off somewhere near her university, two or so hours away from London and continued on. I spent a week with my cousin and his family and was placed on a train to London with the confident parting words, “Okay Madube, see you at Christmas. Be good asikana.”
I had never been anywhere in this country on my own, much less on a train three hours from London with an address of where to go and no idea of what would happen when I got there.
This is when true disquiet began to make itself known.
At Euston station I was immediately a mark for unscrupulous taxi operators who could tell just by looking at me that I was as green as the grass in their sheep dotted pastures.
I gave the address of where I needed to go and with great suspicion, boarded a mini-cab.
My fear was that I might be stolen and never heard from again, however, I should have been more concerned about my money.
I later discovered that I was charged 11 pounds for a cab ride that should have cost me 2 pounds 35.
I felt really stupid. But, this was not before I opened the door of the place that was to be my new home.
In my defence, I had never been a boarder and I was totally unprepared for the gut-punch of the unfamiliar space waiting for you to claim it.
I looked at the ugly industrial carpet, the ugly mattress lying as if sighing tiredly and saying, oh well come on then, you’re only the 100th person to bend me to your body shape, I smelt the strange air with it’s whisper of cigarette smoke and other foreign things and I dropped everything. I could not stay there in that barren, impersonal space.
I decided then that I needed to move immediately to the other building that had appeared more warm and welcoming. After lugging my suitcase, my travelling bag and a satchel two blocks in a steady drizzle, I was damp, crying and sweating at the same time and to my dismay discovered the rooms at the alternate buildings were the same. Thus began the 90 days of mourning. I mourned the loss of everything I knew, the loss of my safety net — my parents who had done everything for me and all I’d ever needed to do was wake up in the mornings. I mourned the absence of my family and friends and my confidence in understanding my place in the grand scheme of things.
Back home, I belonged to a unit, I was my parent’s child, my siblings’ sister and a Zimbabwean amongst other Zimbabweans.
Here, I was suddenly a name on a badge at Freshers week, shaking too many hands and having to begin to explain myself to people who knew nothing about me.
There was no reference for anyone as to whose child I was and who was my sister or my brother.
This was the freedom I had so longed for; to be grown, to be me, finally.
Only, I felt small and insignificant and lost. This was not how it was supposed to be.
I cried. I cried in the morning when I got up at 7am to get ready for classes and it was dark and drizzling outside.
I cried in the drizzle on the way home at 5pm after classes and I had to walk to the train station in the dark, huddled under an umbrella, a heavy bag of books on my back.
It drizzled steadily for a fortnight and every time I found myself outside and on the way to school or back, it was already dark and the street lights seemed to be laughing at my misery.
I called home and told my parents, I wanted to come back. I told them how unhappy I was and how I had made a mistake in what I thought I wanted. Parents back then were made of stern stuff, they simply told me, to hang on in there and that it would get better.
Of course I didn’t believe them. How could they possibly know what I was going through?
They were cruel and uncaring, toughened by life.
When I wasn’t at school or sleeping, or crying in the shower, I was on the phone calling everyone I knew to tell them how miserable I was.
Fellow inmates at the hostel started referring to me as, “The Thunder cloud.”
“Oh here comes the thunder cloud,” they would mutter as I approached them my lament primed for their reluctant audience.
Christmas came and I found myself in the comforting bosom of my cousin’s home, only suddenly I didn’t enjoy the rules and the structure of family living as much as I had mourned their loss only a few short weeks before.
I didn’t appreciate the having to account for my movements and my productivity during the day.
I did not enjoy the duties I was given or being woken up and being told to go to bed at a time not of my choosing.
I slowly began to appreciate the freedom I had so spectacularly rejected for the reason that it had been too jarring in its absoluteness and by the time I returned to the hostel I was transformed.
It didn’t matter that it was still dark and drizzling, inside me, the sun had finally come out.
I went on to have the time of my life for the next five years.
I made friends with people from all over the world and I found a space in which to stand firm within myself.
No one there knew who my mother or father was, no one knew any of my siblings, they knew only me, and I had to decide who that was.
This was what my new freedom meant.
I told my niece this story and decided to share it in the hopes that it will help other young people starting out in new places this year.
No matter where you are coming from, when you find yourself faced with the unfamiliar presenting itself as your new life and you’re thinking, there’s no place like home, just remember that home is a space into which you are meant to grow.