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  • Thandi Sebe

The Little Girl and Her Quest for Normal

There is a little girl, no older than 7, her curly hair tied back with a worn-out pompom, dressed in a t-shirt with a faded horse-print and princess shoes, commonly known as ballerinas. She is standing in a long queue of a public swimming pool tugging on her mother's arm while repeatedly calling out her "name". "Mama, Mama!" she calls, but her mother is distracted, engulfed in a boring adult conversation with the older lady ahead. Unperturbed, the little girl puts her hand in her mother's bag and fishes out a wallet, still incessantly calling "Mama! Mama". She looks around to check for any eyes resting on her, scanning the place for sceptical looks. She is not really trying to get her mother's attention at all, she is just making sure that anyone that might see her put her hand in this white lady's bag knows that she is this woman's daughter - not a little seven year old shameless thief. It's a precaution she takes sometimes. She is well aware of how people perceive her and equally aware that no one person standing in that queue would believe that there is a relation between her and her mother. A little brown girl and a white blond woman; somehow people are unable to see that they have the same eyes. The little girl spends evenings listening to cassette tapes for hours on end, diving into the worlds of Benjamin Blümchen and Bibi Blocksberg, two very German children's characters. The characters' relatibilty seems questionable; Benjamin Blümchen, a middle-aged speaking elephant and Bibi Blocksberg, a little white blond girl. But yet, they are her role models, her heroes. She has a whole box full of those tapes under her bed and she knows the most of them off by heart. Religiously, every night without exception she chooses one and slides it into her cassette player. Really, she would love nothing more than to be just like Bibi. She seeks comfort in the most mundane part of Bibi's world; mother cooking soft-boiled eggs for breakfast, father reading the newspaper, Bibi eating Nutella out of a jar in the kitchen of their little flat of a high-rise apartment building. It all seems so safe, so cozy, so normal. Now, the thing about Bibi is, that she is actually anything but normal because her and her mother are in fact witches - flying broomsticks and spells and the lot of it. In fact, Bibi's entire character is based off of being different from everybody else, her character created as far away from the norm as is possible. And yet the little girl is jealous of the type of quaint, normal life that the little witch inhabits. And this although their lives are not even all that different: her mother too cooks soft-boiled eggs for breakfast and her father reads the newspaper more often than not. But there is a fundamental difference between the lives of the two: Bibi Blocksberg can pass as normal, as long as she does not hex someone openly or fly her broom to school, no one might even suspect that she is any different from anyone else. For the little girl passing is not a possibility. Her blackness stands out in a class full of white children, she cannot take it off and lock it into a closet as Bibi does with her broomstick when people are around. And while Bibi Blocksberg too sometimes struggles to fit in in her own town, at the end of the day her other-ness is always appreciated, celebrated even; like when one of her spells rescues the children in her apartment block from a fire or when she heals the city mayor (despite his anti-poor policies). The little girl's otherness on the other hand is never celebrated and fitting in for her means trying to disappear, to not draw attention to herself. Fridays after school the little girl goes to Stadtmission, a sort of aftercare with a Christian undertone. Allthough, overtone is probably more accurate because as the name suggests, it is rather missionary in nature. But it is not the Christian aspect that motivates the little girl's attendance, rather it has to do with the pizza and the icelollies that are served with a film of the childrens' choice (usually a democratic vote goes to either Home Alone or Beethoven 1 or 2). Pizza however is followed by story-time which takes place downstairs (in what memory will later turn into a sort of dungeon). Here, the main purpose of Stadtmission takes place as the adult person taking care of the children reads a scary story from the bible: a story about a mother turned to stone or animals that drown because they do not listen to God or something along those lines. The story is then followed by a little discussion to make sure the children convert what they have heard into lessons to take home with them and implement into their lives. On one such Friday the old white woman has just finished reading a story and closes the book. It is not clear whether she sees the little girl sitting there in front of her, her legs crossed and growing numb, or whether she has just forgotten that this girl is black (as happens surprisingly frequently). Whether she is aware of her spectactors or not, she addresses the children and solemnly explains: "You know, Africans, black Africans, these people speak to their ancestors." One might shrug and think, 'okay, perhaps not all Africans', but it is hard to dispute that there is at least some truth to her statement. But she is not finished. She continues to reveal that this practice of talking to the ancestors is one that the Christian God does not approve of even one bit and that therefore the practice is one used by Africans to hide from the Heavenly Father. In short, the practice is evil in His eyes. Needless to say, the old white lady's words bring fear to wash over the little girl in mighty crashing waves. But she does not stir, she remains seated, cross-legged and still and hopes that if she does not move, no one will notice that she is one of these black Africans. From that day on, every night the little girl prays to God in an attempt to ask for forgiveneness and to protect her family. She is not certain that these little night-time prayers are enough to make up for her people's sinful ways and so she looks for opportunities to appease God, to get in his good books. One such opportunity presents itself to her one day at school, where a little second hand flea market takes place during the long break in the afternoon. Now a 25 minute long break is really not that long and gives barely enough time to shove a sandwich in your face and play hopscoth for 5 minutes before running to the toilet to make it back just in time for class. And because the flea market is right at the top of the school which was built into a mountain more than one hundred years ago, by the time the little girl arrives up there she has just 10 minutes left to run her hands over the dusty cassette tapes in search of a Bibi Blocksberg that she has not yet heard. But there is no Bibi. Instead, "Jesus" catches her attention, printed in bold black letters on the back of a red cassette tape. "Jesus Lieder" - a tape with songs about Jesus. A wave of guilt as she instantly recognises that there is nothing in the world that she wants less than this tape although of course she really should jump at the opportunity to buy it and to prove her loyalty and love to God. She is nervous; has he heard her thought and if so, how does that make him feel: the fact that she does not want to listen to songs about his son? Of course she buys the tape and she hopes quietly that God is paying more attention to her action than her thoughts. But she cannot bring herself to listen to the tape. She is afraid that the content might be just as terrifying as those stories she has heard read to her from the bible. But yet, every evening when it is tape-time, although she already knows that she will pick Bibi Blocksberg, she visibly makes a point of contemplating the option of picking the Jesus tape in the hopes that this, combined with her feeling of guilt associated with not choosing it, might in itself constitute in the eyes of God some kind of worhsip. Somewhere along the sentiment: it is the thought that counts. Her fingers will hover over the tape, pick it up even, but then quickly put it back. She cannot be certain that this might work, but just incase she adds an extra solemn "Lord's Prayer" before going to sleep. "Vater unser im Himmel / geheiligt werde Dein Name / Dein Reich komme / Dein Wille geschehe / wie im Himmel so auf Erden / unser tägliches Brot gib uns heute..." And she never fails to add at the end a sort of editor's note: "Amen. And also can you make sure my family is okay, I know what they do is wrong, but ...please?". Her convincing skills need practice, but her heart is in it. It is only much later, when the little girl is not that little anymore, perhaps 14 or 15, that she is able to shed some of her fears of an Allmighty, Allknowing, (Allloving?) God. It is only much later that she begins to stumble over the line: "Give us this day our daily bread". Is he not listening? Or is he willfully ignoring millions of people across the planet crying out to him day in, day out? "Unser tägliches Brot gib uns heute"?. Why won't he give the bread that the people ask for? Around the same time that these lines begin to lose their meaning and their fearful impact is the same time that she begins to slowly change her appearance when she goes to school. Her pompom becomes less restricting until one day - praise be to Mel B aka Scary Spice - she gathers the courage to enter the school's premises with her afro freed and round, pompous and proud. Of course, there is discomfort at first as the other children ask to touch her hair, surprised at the spring as a strand coils back in defiance to their grasp. It takes her a long time to get comfortable with the stares and turning heads. But as the little girl stops by all means trying to be invisible, to fit in, she begins to slowly come into herself and she finds solace in the freedom that comes with being without shame. She no longer calls her mother's name to prove anything to anyone, she knows that they have the same eyes. And although she does not speak to her ancestors frequently, some nights before she goes to sleep, she calls upon that old white lady from Stadtmission, herself an ancestor by now, and...well she honestly tells her to go fuck herself.

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