Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Born a Winner

In her life story, her mother had only a brief walk on part. She squatted in the darkness of the bush, hoping the border guards wouldn’t see her, and gave birth without uttering a single sound. When the baby fell onto the still warm Botswana sand, her mother was thankful she didn’t cry. She needed to get moving and a baby would slow her down, so she dashed out into the moonless night and without another thought, dropped the baby into the pit latrine, convincing herself that death was a better path for this small one than the life she herself had been condemned to live. An act of kindness. Then she made her exit forever.

The old man heard the wailing for some time and was becoming increasingly annoyed thinking the neighbour’s dog was, once again, harassing his goats. Finally, though he hated going outside at night since he had a pathological fear of snakes, he went out to take a look. He didn’t find a dog or even a victimised goat; instead when he shined the light of his torch down the toilet from where the sound came, there at the bottom laid a baby. As soon as the light hit her she became silent, sticking her tiny thumb in her mouth, and waited to be saved.

People grabbed up spades and big earth moving machines arrived and they dug the baby out. The police officer whose name has gone missing, some say it was Mompati others Mogami, wiped the shit out from between the infant’s wrinkled fingers as he sat with her at the back of the police car racing to the nearby hospital, and thought, this baby would grow to be something special, she was saved from a certain death for a reason. He thought, this baby was born a winner.

At the SOS Home where the baby was taken, a gnarled woman who was employed as a mother, proving in every one of her actions why paying someone to do such a job was not wise, looked at the old eyes in the baby’s small face and warned, “Those eyes hold some old secrets.” And so the baby from the pit latrine was given the name Diphiri, secrets.

As Diphiri grew, she was told the story of her birth. She had no opinion about it. It only gave her evidence that humans were a difficult species and she stepped forward with caution. She often used the pit latrine story to help establish observational distance between herself and others. Telling the story upon meeting a new person helped her. Their pity for the small baby was often superficial, while their eyes scanned her looking for the invisible traces of shit, metaphorical or otherwise. Diphiri watched and stepped away. There was no need to let them closer, neither she nor they wanted it, and that kept her safe.

On the day Diphiri’s life took the important turn towards the prophecy of the policeman’s words, she met a young man who came into the takeaway where she worked since leaving the SOS Home. She watched him walk up to the counter throwing his arms forward one at a time, each leg following with a slight hesitation as if they wanted to refuse the bossiness of the arms. Diphiri smiled at the argument of his walk. As the man got closer, she spotted a familiarity about him. His eyes, almost hidden under heavy lids, were coloured ancient with sights from an older time, a time from where her own secrets emanated. She was immediately captured and so stayed very silent and still, waiting.

He got his Fanta orange and magwinya then said, “I think one day I’d like to be married to the president.”

“Is that so?” Diphiri laughed at such silly words.

The man sat down on the front stoop and Diphiri, as there were no customers, sat down next to him. She noticed the smooth brown of his skin and how he smelt of coconut. “So what is your story then?” he asked chewing a piece of a fat cake.

Diphiri was surprised to hear herself tell him about her birth, and more surprised to realise that she wasn’t telling him to push him away, she was hoping that the telling would pull him in to her.

He listened, not looking away from her secret eyes, or searching her body for evidence of the shit from which she’d come. Diphiri noticed, too, that he didn’t pity the baby, instead his hooded eyes sparkled. “People are not saved for nothing. You must be very excited about the life you’re going to live.”

She’d never thought of it like that, and with a click-click her mind set out on a new course, a course set towards greatness. The young man finished his drink and fat cakes and left, but only temporarily. He came back because even his dream was now set in place to come true.


Anonymous said...

This really is a fable from which we could all take heed. From such inauspicious beginnings good things can grow. I liked how Diphiri was almost nonchalant about her start in life and I adored the quirkiness of people always checking her for poo. This could quite easily have been a sad story, but instead, it is one of hope!

Lauri said...

Thanks for you comment Selma, I know you're quite busy right now with other things on your mind so am grateful you took the time.

Anonymous said...

Excellent piece. As I said at SES, the opening is very engaging and locked me int the story. There is so much here that it feels like a prologue or initial chapter of a longer manuscript.

Of all the many intriguing things here, this sequence "Their pity for the small baby was often superficial, while their eyes scanned her looking for the invisible traces of shit, metaphorical or otherwise. Diphiri watched and stepped away. There was no need to let them closer, neither she nor they wanted it, and that kept her safe." Seems to just beg to be expanded - there is so much here, the concepts around psychological safety, judgment, prejudice, and compassion are vast and draw me to explore these things more through the eyes of this character.

For whatever it is worth, if you expand it, I'd vote for ending this segment, with "...instead his hooded eyes sparkled. “People are not saved for nothing." Feels more open, makes me want to turn the page and read more.

I really like this - thanks for the great read! And glad I can leave comments again :-)

Lauri said...

Thanks for your advice Kayt. I'm going to think about this story more and see if I can let it out a bit, see where it takes me.

Anonymous said...

An enjoyable read. Very compelling and engaging. The message I get is that it doesn't matter where you come form or how you got to be there but,rather it's where you end up and the journey that's the thing. Good work. David

Lauri said...

Thanks David!

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Shamuna said...

grt story, got me picturing everything to the end. But like the earlier commentators, i think this story has more to offer