by Masiyaleti Mbewe
I used to think I was in love once. I was 21 and burning off the thick skins of innocence outside night clubs in the capital seemed like a good idea.
It was trashy and fun and painful and sweet and everything a bad poet would need to write another verse. When it ended (as most things do) the many months I spent bent over toilet pots spewing unrequited love left me circling the afterlife. As I lay there, my sister crossed my mind. Unlike me, she stayed home, drawing characters from her favourite anime.
She goes through miles of blank paper, highlighting, shading, erasing, trying to get it right. When she’s done, when everything is in its place, she looks to me, hands shaky, face wide and waiting, for approval, for validation. “It’s beautiful,” I lie, choking back the colorlessness of knowing. Her frame is shakier than mine, her voice much softer and in the hollow of her chest her mammoth heart pumps only the purest blood. I worry that some boy will steal the whitening glow of innocence from behind her big brown eyes, I worry that when this happens she’ll look to me in the same longing way, and I’ll wince, drown in shots of vodka and sob bitterly into my soup as if the pain were my own.
Of course I know that this is something I cannot help. I could travel back in time, walk up to this boy and before he can utter the words that would send my sister into the love trance of an eventual heartbreak, I’d tear open his flesh and rip his heart out, mid-beat. In this way I would save her the pain, but I know it would be futile, a waste. She’d meet another boy and it would happen anyway.
So when that day comes, as bone-grinding as it may be, through all the tears my sister will shed, the only thing I’d have her learn from my graveyard of life lessons is how to love again. In place of her childish drawings, I’ll teach her to channel the horns of her demons onto her flat canvas. Under the strokes of her blunt pencil I’ll watch the timid wobbling of adolescent heartache turn into the beast of brilliance.
“It hurts,” she’ll say.
“I know,” I’ll respond. “But if it felt like love, then it was real, and if it was real then you have no choice but to make art.”