"Power is the thing that caused my face to swell. The thing that showed me love in its rawest form." Read an excerpt from If I Stay Right Here
What is Sex? Sex is a humid climate. What is Desire? Desire is snow. What is Loneliness? Loneliness is a badger trying to figure out why it looks different to an otter. What is Obsession?Obsession is trying to fix a broken chair without realising that the chair is just bent at the knees and that’s how it was born. What is a Dyke? A dyke is an intricate, indecipherable encryption.
Chwayita Ngamlana, in her electric debut book, explores the above questions through her characters as they struggle through the volatility of love, the danger of not knowing themselves and
discovering their voice in the world.
The story follows the characters, Shay and Sip, who are very different in class, style, character and education. Shay is a journalism student working part time as an intern on a site that has no clear sense of direction. Sip is an unemployed varsity drop out and ex-gang member.
Their vastly different lives make it challenging for them to be the kind of couple they so desperately want to be. Unable to get themselves untangled from the web they’ve created, Shay and Sip use money, other people and sex to fix things, but is this enough?
Ngamlama has created a world that is somewhere between the present day and a sub-world of delusion. The reader will want to watch both story and characters unravel. This book will touch anyone who has lost themselves or their loved ones to unhealthy, destructive relationships.
Chwayita Ngamlana was born and raised in Grahamstown. She is an only child who found comfort and companionship in reading and writing from the age of 10. She has a degree in music and has her master’s in Creative Writing. This is her debut novel – and it won’t be the last.
The Worst Power
In this place a fist represents strength, freedom and empowerment.
They told us that in those institutions for fragile minds. With only a few years on Earth, we listened attentively to experienced superhumans who dedicated their lives to showing us how to live.
We concluded that they must have dropped down on our planet to tell us what they see from above. We didn’t know much back then.
Small eyes looking up from wooden desks, scared that these superhumans would ask us questions or say the words “spot test” or check our homework to see if we regurgitated correctly.
They had a leader and the leader was their hero.
She was our hero too.
She was like the queen of the bee hive. Whenever people were sent to her office she banged her fist on the table. I had only heard about this fist, but eventually I too found myself seated across it. It was more terrifying than the fist the superhumans banged on their desks whenever we got a little too loud and excited.
Her fist put a lump in my throat and seemed to shake the ground beneath me. I didn’t have to go to her lair all that much, thankfully. I wasn’t as interesting as the bullies, thieves and back chatters. She saw them the most. I remember how she squeezed that bony fist until her knuckles whitened, her bones protruding through the skin, stretching it thin. She pounded it on her desk and used it to punctuate her words, to fuel them so they arrive quicker.
It was then that I learned how loud a fist against wood can be.
Then they taught us about a superhero who was bigger than she was. A man who had come out of a 27-year-long struggle. He told the nation that in each single fist are a thousand reasons to keep living, to persevere and to form a unity. That was the latest meaning of a fist and it stuck. Every knuckle, a symbol of the country’s colours and willingness to stand for something. We accepted the strength of the fist because we were told these things, we saw it in action and we read about it.
Years later I’m clenching my hand hard to see what a proper fist is supposed to look like. I want to feel its power.
I’m realising that a closed fist is not easy to make. Wikipedia told me to curl my fingers into my palm and then lock them in with my thumb. This is also supposed to help me with my anxiety and help me recall information. I’m pretty sure I’m not doing it right.
Nothing about it makes me want to stand tall, be proud and raise it to the sky.
All that’s happening is the escape of my blood and the surfacing of yellow fat.
It says that if I’m able to form a fist then I’ll qualify for a fist bump – “a display of acknowledgement and friendship, sometimes celebration or greeting” – and the list goes on. Whatever I can’t say through my mouth will be tucked away in between my fingers and then passed on through a collision with another fist.
So why five knuckles? Better to put a stamp with, my dear.
Knuckle no. 1 – to imprint a lasting, prominent dark mark.
Knuckle no. 2 – to add a shade of green to the mark.
Knuckle no. 3 – to release passion.
Knuckle no. 4 – to get you to hear me.
Knuckle no. 5 – to show the world what is mine.
Without these it would be impossible to show you how I love.
I imagined her telling me this when I came to on the ground. The car I had left idling, slowly dimming its lights now, trying desperately to hide me so that I may disappear into the night and pretend I was never there.
The car has a lazy eye.
The street lights worked against me. They didn’t know me enough to protect me or show mercy. The stones pricked my back, gave me tough love, pushing me to get up.
Still I lay there like an injured stray dog.
The breeze brushed over the dry streams on my cheeks and gently carried the news to whomever it may concern. I saw it struggle to carry this heavy mess and drop it where it found it. It decided to wait until I got finished off so it could take my spirit instead. Spirits are far easier to carry.
I didn’t know that even stars can form a fist – a replica for the five-knuckled bony fist that collided with my face earlier and left its residue on my heart. The sky became a mirror, the stars now forming hearts around the fist, mocking me.
This is how we take care of each other now. Raising fists in the air is no longer the ultimate gesture of power. Power is the thing that caused my face to swell. The thing that showed me love in its rawest form.
I lay there and closed my eyes, drifting deep into blackness and back again. This is the part in the movie where the girl clutches her T-shirt, rolls over to her side and gets into a foetal position while crying hysterically. She turns to her side so that the tears don’t get into her ears. There were no tears, though.
I was on my back, stones still pricking me, unable to move. The loud sound of a fist still ringing deep in my ears. I didn’t remember a fist against wood being that loud.
I turned my head to the side, took gravel into my left hand, formed a fist and watched the soil seep through.
Fists are so valuable they could be sold. The superhumans must have forgotten to tell us that.
- If I Stay Right Here by Chwayita Ngamlana
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