Withhold a smile only when the smile can hurt someone. Otherwise, let it bloom forth in a riot. | Vera Nazarian
I don’t know how many of you remember Mandela. He was about 6 when i first met him. His parents lived in the last house on the street. I say the last one because the house directly opposite theirs never got a new family. I mean 3 years passed and there was no life in that place. Parents even started telling their children ghost stories just to get them home earlier on in the day. Only the teenagers had the guts to stay out late.
I actually don’t recall when he and I met, but when we did, I always thought him to be a queer child. He’d laugh one minute and the next he’d act like a basket case. I know, that sounds harsh , but you’d have to have met him then to understand. He always carried a razor or a sharp rock around. I never understood how his parents never found out, but he always did. We would be playing with the neighbourhood kids and suddenly a piercing scream would echo all around. And it was never Mandela who screamed, it was the child that was unfortunate to find him hurting himself.
After that the kids would run away and leave him there, and we would hear stories of how his parents threw a fit when he got home. I always wondered what would happen in those closed walls. I mean the child was only 6, what would happen?
I’ll admit, I was one of the kids that would run away, but three times into the running, enough was enough. I decided I wasn’t going to run anymore. I was going to talk to Mandela and he would be my friend.
This time the game was hide and seek. Mandela had hidden behind the huge rock next to Mzanzi’s shop. We were all holding our breath hoping Tina wouldn’t find us. And then we heard it. The piercing scream of a little girl shattering our ears.We all knew it was because of Mandela. This time he had cut up his left hand and he sat there as if hoping to bleed to death.
I was 8 at the time, so I couldn’t do much. The kids ran away and left us there.
“Are you coming Zoe?”
“No. I’m staying with him.”
I sat down next to him. I don’t know what I’d hoped for but there I was. A hopeful 8 year old. Then he burst into tears.
“What’s wrong Mandela? Why are you crying?”
Silence. He just sat there. He didn’t even lift his head to look at me. So I sat there waiting for what was going to happen next. I decided to play with the grass and wait.
Then I heard him speak. It was actually the first time he spoke without shouting.
“I’m sorry,” he said.
“It’s alright Mandela.”
I stood up and put out my hand. He took it and I helped him stand up. Then we stood there for about 30 seconds and looked at each other. And I think that was the most Mandela and I ever shared. That moment of total silence and pregnant words. All cooped up in that half a minute.
I started making my way home, and like the moment we shared meant something, he followed me. We got home and found my sister Maggie. She was 14. I told her to get Mandela elastoplast. That he had fallen when we were playing.
She took some purple liquid which I later came to know was spirit. She put some on cotton wool and wiped Mandela’s cuts. He screamt like a little baby. Then she put the elastoplast on his cuts.
“He’s lucky. It could have been worse. Next time watch where you are playing.”
It was about 4 o’clock. Maggie changed the channel and put on cartoons. She made us sandwiches and juice. When we finished eating, Mandela got up.
“Thank you” he said.
And that was the beginning of a friendship.
Love is kind. Sometimes we chase after fairy tales in life and sometimes we catch them. Other times we sit there asking ourselves where things went wrong. Why we didn’t do more. All it takes is a decision. Not for you. For the other person. Whether it is helping an old man cross the road or giving a pregnant lady a seat in the bus, kindness is love. Love is kind.
Maybe one day I’ll tell you Mandela’s story.
~Poems & Stories~