Lla: My parents were eaten by Fire – Wazi M. Kunene

My Parents were eaten by fire; I am eating myself to ashes.

There are people whom we know well, as friends but in time we learn that we don’t actually know much about them. We know how they laugh and that they don’t like locking doors but we don’t know why. We are often lost in their charisma, their ease in telling stories and how they carry traumatic memories so lightly. They are always in control of the conversation and you can never get what you want from them. They are in control of how far back you can take them.

My friend Lla and I met when we were nineteen in a taxi. We just really liked each other from then and became close friends quite quickly. Lla is very easy, she is clam, you might actually think she is not careful with whom she brings in her life but she is quite in control of everything. For eight year we have been inseparable – Lla and Hloni! Everybody knows us. But I don’t really know much about Lla’s childhood, I have figured that Lla is running around herself from something but I don’t know what. If I ask questions about her family, I never get straight answers, it also doesn’t help that she is a writer. I have begged her to please elaborate what she means when she says My Parents were eaten by fire. After years of begging she finally agreed to share something with me, insisting that it is because I am her only friend and the only one who has stayed. Starring at my kitchen floor as if I was laying on it, Lla told me this story:

I imagine my father would have a round nose and my mother would have pretty eyes just like me. I imagine them every time I look in the mirror. I imagine how I would never have burnt marks on my thighs and on my back and how I wouldn’t have to make up stories about them.

I would tell other kids my parents were eaten by fire, everybody sat around listening, watching how fire moves on skin, how their flesh became dragons drowning in their own breath. Fire. I have always told other kids my parents were eaten by fire, that rain ran for cover while people watched. I say my parent were eaten by fire, its better than telling them the truth, that I was abandoned, like a bag of garbage nobody wants to claim, let the cars drive over it until it is one with the road.

I lived in my aunt and uncles house until I was seventeen, learning how to be brick, learning how not to feel fire crawling on my skin but my plan was always to run away. My plan has always been to disappear, let them forget me, take the burden of feeding me off their shoulders. I had played around with the idea of suicide since I was four years old but I convinced myself that disappearing is cheaper, death is expensive!

By then I hadn’t learnt how to be brick, my skin could swell the second a belt hit it, a hand slapped, pushed and punched it. My aunt is a bully, they should take her picture and stop drawing figments of an imagined devil. They should draw her face for a devil, but my uncle loved her too much, to him she was an angel. When my aunt would feed me her tongue down my throat coughing, sneezing at me, the rubbish me, I would close my eyes tight and imagine I was not me, I was somebody loved, playing in a park with my daddy, I would imagine my mommy hugging me so tight, I would feel warm, liked and wanted. In my head, I was safe.


I think since I was four, I believed in shutting the real world out and living in a world were belts were for pants and hands could never form fists for four year olds. In my world, I was a happy child, I danced a lot. I finally learnt how to disappear and run away while people could still see you but you, you knew you were dead in this life and alive in a blissful place. You could curse me all you like, I had my own home in my head, my parents never left me and you were dead or never existed, in my head. I am very protective of world, my thoughts, only people whose tongues are not knives can visit my world.

Like you Hloni. You are kind. With questions, I am never caught off guard, I have stories packed up on my thick arms, and they are my shield. When I finally left, physically left my aunt and uncle’s home, my world was invaded! As a brick, I began to fall apart, I met some people, like you who made me lose control of the fire on my throat, I began to let the smoke out slowly, tickling the sleeping fire, it threatened to break out, wake up and burn! Though I kept to the same story, My parents were eaten by fire, but now it seemed like everybody I meet, befriend, fall involve with gets eaten by fire! No one knows that as a child, I was abandoned but everybody is abandoning me. I now think I am really the fire, I am eating myself to ashes!

In two months I will be turning twenty seven years old, you know but I would still go blank if you asked me to describe my aunt and uncle. I’ve had my eyes closed tight most of my life. I cannot tell you who my aunt and uncle were but I can tell you how I experienced life with them. Torturous, chocking, I wonder if broken children could be fixed. I still wonder today. The abandoned wonder a lot, I think. We know how to dream, we tell stories till the fire forgets how to burn. We know how to keep that fire on our throat, oh at least try, never show any smoke, we are careful with what we say, so you will never know the burning bushes we are. But some of these stories we tell are because we don’t have answers. I don’t know why I was abandoned, I just know I was and stories are my water, they have helped to me survive.

After that she just went silent, still starring at my kitchen floor, me, speechless with tears running down my face, I felt guilty. Ashamed for asking Lla to open parts of herself which I had no idea what to do with after. Still sitting in silence, Lla just starring at my kitchen floor, I thought, I am not sure if I want to know more, my tears could never drown her fire. I feel she has a lot of fire and I’m afraid of burning


Photo: Botswele Mogotlane


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