17285895476_22e9ed9848_oI watched the cigarette smoke dance to the blue. I watched the smoke disappear into the sky and buoyant clouds. I saw evanescent birds screaming for help, but humans thought they were singing. I watched the cigarette ash falling to the ground in funereal pace like leaves in autumn. I watched the wind shanghai the ash to a place too small to be noticed. I saw the ants conspiring to revolt, but humans thought they were just preparing for winter. Nature was angry, and the anger manifested in catastrophic earthquakes, volcanoes, floods, drought and disease, but humans dismissed them as natural disasters.

I felt dead and empty and went shopping. I bought cigarettes, a shirt, a book and a new app for my phone. I still felt dead and empty. I was not the only one who was dead, empty and shopping, everyone else seemed to be just like me. People everywhere were eating, shopping and dead and it seemed to me that this was a routine that had been going on for generations. We shop, we eat and we die. Everyday.

My hellish life in an abyss of blackness made me attend rallies and join political parties. They gave me a t-shirt to be identifiable and made me sign a form and sing praises for the leaders. Leaders are usually big bellied and suspicious. They have titles like Commander, Baba, and for some reason deserve respect. After signing a form you must wear a t-shirt with the face of the leader, and you must defend and not question them in public. If you do the opposite you will be ostracized, and apparently it is cold when you are ostracized. These political parties don’t do much really. They make promises and give members free t-shirts every now and then.

I went to church, clubs, and parties. I was fatigued. But I continued to go to boutiques. When my bones complained, I fed them energy drinks and 8 hour sleeps that are never satisfactory.

I started feeling like this after my second year in university. I had no idea how to feel any other way. I explored everything from Rastafarianism to Buddhism, but the feelings were unabated. The more I tried to find meaning the more I felt alienated, completely disconnected with the world. Nothing mattered and nothing made sense. I always felt like I was stupid or everyone was stupid. My world had turned into an asylum, and everyone seemed to have made peace with it.

My parents want to kill me. They know that if they don’t kill me they will die disappointed. They were killed by their own parents. This murder is a curse that has to be passed on from generation to generation.

My parents failed to defend themselves and their nation. It is not my fault that Africa remains a sick, poor and molested nation and that they have no idea how to save it. It is not my fault that they are teachers, nurses and doctors of a dying nation. It is not my fault that they hate themselves. I also have my own self-hate to deal with. I cannot change colors and reinvent numbers.

It is not my fault that they fucked without a condom and that I was the consequence. I don’t owe them anything. If they insist on trying to murder me with their expectations, I will expose them. I will expose their failure to raise me. Not only did they fail to tell me that I am black they also failed to tell me that I am strange and unwanted in the world. They failed to tell me that the world will rape me and apologize with a kiss, a kiss on the cheek.

They made me spend 15 years in school so that I could wear a gown that will be too heavy for me—a black gown of burdens. I graduated, and they applauded. They boasted to neighbours and relatives about my promotion as a sophisticated a slave. My parents organized a graduation party for me celebrating the fact that I had finally received my license to be a house slave. They attended my graduation ceremony wearing their traditional clothes and ululated like insane chickens. Like fools celebrating an offside goal. I am sorry father, you were stupid enough to be tricked, scammed, and given false hope. It was not the first time. You were also a victim of a similar fraud in 2010. Do you remember the world cup? You thought our lives would change. Nothing change we are still black and suffering.

Gold and honey.
Today and Yesterday.
Green and Grass.
Sky and Ocean.
Father and Mother
My degree is useless as your semen.

Mother, why are you dishonest to your children? Why do you emulate snakes that give birth to children only to leave them to be raised by the dark of the night? Why do you want me to respect you when you are not brave enough to tell my father that it always feels like rape. Mother you were a coward for not having enough courage to tell me that I am black and that there is something wrong with being black.

Mother, I saw you and father fucking. The image has never escaped my memory. You were on your back pressed against the bed with your eyes closed and your hands holding your thighs, separating them like hands separating an orange in half. Father was breathing heavily, the way he breathes when changing a tire.

I saw this…because you did not work hard enough to build a decent house with more than two rooms.

I am sad that I have to witness your failures choking you to death. I wish I could help.




Post image by Joana Coccarelli via Flickr

About the Author:

Portrait - MbheleMbe Mbhele is an illegitimate child of Dambudzo Marechera and Brenda Fassie. He is nostalgic for a past he has never experienced and as a result listens to Jazz and drinks Zamalek. He is 20′ something but in his head he was born in 1976 a second before Hector Peterson was shot. Studies at Wits University and regrets ever doing it.

Other people say that he vandalizes walls but he thinks he is giving the city life with his thought provoking graffiti. He is a co-founder of Black Thought Symposium which is an art movement based in Johannesburg. He is committed to scholarship and the black radical tradition and dabbles with doodling and origami. In his spare time  he finds something to do that will disturb the mundane lives of the apathetic African youth.

He runs an art blog and participates in social justice projects. He has a dialect of a taxi driver and the politeness of the Kings. Loves reading and abhors writing but once you read sometimes you just have to write. His favourite two words are ”Biko Lives”.

blog address: http://mbembhele.tumblr.com/

twitter: @mbembhele


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I'm finishing up a phd at Duke University where I study African novels, which I believe are some of the loveliest things ever written. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

2 Responses to “Pendulums and Puppets | by Mbe Mbhele | An African Story” Subscribe

  1. Catherine O 2016/03/02 at 6:32 pm #

    Interesting story of torment. I do think every African citizen has a modicum of blame and responsibility when it comes to the state of the continent.

  2. Desmond 2016/07/11 at 6:52 pm #

    Brother Mbe, please continue to write, I too hate writing but your words have a way of reaching down and touching my soul. If you have more please post them. I felt your cynicism, your pain, disgust, anger, but also your happiness and freedom…. thank you for sharing.


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I hold a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor. I love teaching African fiction and contemporary British novels. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

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