You Do Not Belong Here
“You only are free when you realize you belong no place — you belong every place — no place at all.” Maya Angelou
On the sea, in an unidentifiable location, a ship floats. Anchored to the sea bed, where the cells of forgotten humans are ingested over and over again. Off the ship hangs a flag. Inside the ship, on the lowest deck, a bevy of bustling maidens prepare to sell their womanhood to Caucasian captains and merchants. A madam conducts them. The maidens take turns to use the dressing table, climbing over each other, for the best chance of avoiding discipline. I am one of them. With a whistle through her fingers, Madam lines us up. We exhibit ourselves to her. Nails on display, faces uncomfortably poised. Chin up, chest out, shoulders back, stomach in. Madam examines every stocking, buckle, bustle and bonnet. She sends me back saying my hair looks wild and that I need to tighten my corset. When Madam is confident in our appearances, she directs us up the rickety wooden stairs that lead to the upper deck. Each maiden’s dress or skirt is held by the maiden behind her. On the top deck, Captains and Merchants chatter in anticipation. A zealous energy blows amongst the sails of the ship. The sound of seagulls, clanking of glasses and hegemonic masculinity, grows louder as we approach the top deck. We spread out and begin approaching the men of conspicuous consumption. An hour and a few conversations later, I find myself standing alone. The Merchant I had been speaking to, had taken off to the lavatory. Nervously, I pull my gloves over my elbows and wait for his return. When he walks back onto the deck, he approaches two maidens and a Captain, who seem to be flirting and laughing. After a minute or so I realise that he is not coming back and his interests are elsewhere. I thought he was interested in me, but perhaps just not enough to see past my mustard brown complexion, barely disguised by pale makeup. Pretending not to notice his abandonment, I reach for a glass of water from a waiter’s tray. We were only allowed water on this occasion, but if we were lucky enough to go home with a man, we may have some whisky under his supervision. As I take the glass of water from the waiter’s tray, intending not to look him in the eye, as if by magnetic force, my eye catches sight of his. A moment of alignment. His dark tanned skin glows and reflects off mine. A nostalgic sense of familiarity tugs on my heart, followed by an empty sensation. In that moment, I shudder away, then wondering if anyone has noticed our resemblance. As I bring the water to my mouth, Madam swiftly approaches me in a non-confrontational way. To my surprise, she takes the water from my hand and gently pours all of it down the front of my dress. She pretends to apologise and in a gentle voice says, “None of the men seem to like you. Put on something that leaves less to the imagination.” In other words, go and find something more provocative to wear and hope a man is willing to buy your services for the night. Otherwise you will be punished. Punishments range from acts of humiliation such as public lashings, to deprivation of any food, other that what was needed to keep us alive (usually porridge, potatoes and beans for weeks).
Startled, I head down to the lower deck dressing room to change my wet dress. As I walk down, I try to think of all the garments which had not been worn already. I begin rehearsing what to say if anyone asks me why I changed my clothes. I will say something along the lines of “Oh I just spilt some water down my front, I can be really clumsy sometimes!” The dressing room is the quietest I have ever seen it and my thoughts are the loudest I have heard in a while. With Madam’s voice loud in my mind, I hear “The more ankles the better.” I sieve through the dresses, ruling out the ones that cover the chest and looking for dresses shorter in length. With two options, I go over to the dressing table to try them on. The first is a beige calico dress with an extremely low square neck and frills on the shoulders. Before putting the dress on, I put on a pair of flesh coloured stockings, which are extremely pale next to my brown skin. I wrap a bustle around my waist, but I cannot get it to fasten at the front. After minutes of pulling and tugging, it eventually clips. The bustle is supposed to create volume around the buttocks area, however on top of my already rather large derriere, the bustle protrudes more than deemed ‘normal’. Wanting to make sure that I look ‘desirable’, I try to see myself through the eyes of a man. Staring into the mirror, I no longer recognise myself. For my tender age, I feel and look so aged. An overwhelming fight or flight feeling rushes through my body and a voice in my head saying “You do not belong here.” After years of nights like this one, which usually ended in lashings and humiliation, I finally feel like I can’t bear to be in this position any longer. Throughout my time here I have let my imagination run wild with escape plans that I haven’t gone through with but tonight I am being guided. Suddenly it feels as easy as just slipping away. I feel hot bubbling blood rushing through my body, from my feet to the tip of my nose. I unclip the bustle and run up the stairs in my undergarments. Straight up to the top deck in what feels like a few seconds. By the time I am at the edge at the back of the ship, I have everyone’s attention. I turn to look at them and before anyone has time to react, I jump. I am falling for a really long time. I feel relief mixed with fear of the unknown depths in which I am about to vanish. However, somehow, the sea is still a more desirable place to be than that ship. As my skin contacts the water, I feel as if my body is being held. Held in a way that I have never been before. It feels as if someone is gently pulling me under. My body spirals round and round, down towards the sea bed. Now it feels as if the bubbling of my blood has stopped, my thoughts are louder again. I start to hear what sounds like humming coming from all directions. In my ears, between my toes, around my neck. Like a warm vibration. I am guided downwards, till my feet touch the soft sand particles below me. My body lowers onto the sea bed. “Night Flower, you are home now.” The sea speaks to me through her tiny molecules seeping into my eyes, mouth and ears. “So you could hear me calling you?” she says. My mouth is pulled open by Sea and she fills my lungs. Images of familiar people, fill up my eyes as Sea feeds me ancient wisdom and information from my ancestors. I am learning about the people whose bodies and souls I am a manifestation of. Suddenly I understand who I am. Sea begins to spiral my body around and around again. Pulling me up gently towards the surface. As we approach the surface, Sea glides my body up a bed of rocks. As we trickle up the rocks, she leaves at the top, bare bodied and at the feet of a long straight haired, pale skin woman. Woman of the rocks turns her head to look at me over her shoulder. Her wet hair drapes over her breasts and her dark green eyes look at me as through she is looking into my soul. She says provokingly “What are you doing here? Why did Sea bring you to me? You don’t belong here.” I begin to pull myself up off the rocks and say “let me show you that I do belong here.” I begin to slide on my front back down towards Sea. When I reach Sea, I spread my arms out in front of me and begin to swim fast. As my pace increases I hear Sea humming again. I begin to effortlessly glide through the water like a bird does through the sky and as I look down towards my legs I notice that I am rapidly growing fin like flaps. The more they grow the faster I swim. Eventually I no longer have legs. Woman of the rocks swims up beside me with a smile of pride and I say to her “I told you. I belong no place, I belong every place — no place at all.” We continue to swim with no particular direction while Sea teaches us truth of our universe. We begin our journey of learning the infinite interconnectedness of all living things and the ancient technologies of the earth.
You do not belong here by Zethu Maseko
This is short experimental text which has the potential to be extended and expanded. I Intend to continue my creative writing after graduation.