Every man is a son to a daughter. And we only remember when we see the blood. – Jacob Banks
Uyinene’s face is plastered at every stoplight we pass, a beautiful ghost whose crescent of a smile haunts me under the headline “Missing.” The sun is shining; a girl is missing. I’ve seen her in my Twitter feed too. She greets me every five seconds on the timeline, in a flood of stunning photographs that could easily be featured within the glossy, polished pages of a fresh VOGUE issue. The essence of her being saturates every conversation. She is that beautiful, that striking, but she is still missing. I click refresh and I become acquainted once more with that ominous sparkle in her eyes. Her dimples perforate the timeline. There are too many holes in this story, too many things slipping through the cracks. I feel like I’m being shown a highlight reel of her life.
Why would someone so perfect voluntarily check out of existence? I visit her Instagram, seamlessly curated. One post in particular stands out to me. It is a single shot of a person whose face is outside of the frame, holding up their white shirt and scrawled right across the front in black, capital letters is the statement. “Women don’t owe you shit.”
Her presence demands so strongly to be felt within the confines of my phone screen and yet it is her absence that makes the most noise. Each retweet is akin to the striking of a match, one spark, two sparks….three. The timeline is swept up in flames. It burns for days. I sit in the back of the Uber shrouded in a veil of silence, my fingers smelling of gasoline from scrolling through the ashes of a fast-burning movement #BringNeneHome.
My aunt and the driver, who happens to be Zimbabwean, are engrossed in a heartfelt discussion of home, oblivious to the fear consuming me in the backseat. If I were to go missing in this country, who would make noise for me? It is my first time in South Africa, and instead of feeling elated, I am scared.
There are no potholes on any of the roads we traverse, but I keep thinking of the potholes entrenched in the hearts of those seeking their friend, their sister, their daughter. Her disappearance has left too big a void, moon-sized craters inside the hearts of strangers who have never even met her. She is a stranger to me, and yet she is so familiar. I keep feeling like I can’t breathe inside this car. There isn’t enough air, so I roll down the windows.
And there she is, sitting next to me, calm and pensive. I am at a loss for words. I know she is a figment of my imagination, yet this girl’s phantom is full of so much life. She throws back her head and laughs, “Welcome to South Africa, the GBV capital of the world, home to the finest species on earth at risk of going extinct, the black woman.” Her tone is drooling with sarcasm. I look at my tour guide and the halo above her head. She is only nineteen. I am 21, and a part of me wants to loan her the extra two years I have lived.
“My sister is your age,” I whisper, heartbroken. “You are too beautiful to die.” Her face is crestfallen. “And even if I wasn’t, would that make me unworthy of living?” She fades quickly, but her words remain, a hot needle piercing flesh, permanent like a tattoo, like bloodied ink on drying skin. Does the affluence or the influence or the beauty of a woman guarantee her a longer lease on the time she has left to rent an existence on this earth? And if so, what does it mean for the women whose faces never make it to the headlines? What does it mean for the girls who will never get a hashtag or a slot in the primetime news? The plain-looking ones we don’t give a second glance are evicted from this earth without so much as a tear shed for them.
Time and time again the world has proved that she has no love for the daughters of Eve. Time and time again, our blood is spilled at the altar of patriarchy, a sacrifice, and the wooden caskets of our bodies burnt as an offering to the unforgiving deities of men. It is never enough. The game is rigged and the goalposts are constantly shifting. And although we call our men trash, we still recycle them,
The Uber driver helps us to find a decent hotel in Pretoria. The 45-minute drive from Johannesburg to here has left me fraught. We check into our rooms at Hotel 224.
“Dumelang mme,” the receptionist has a solitary gold tooth in a mouth full of white ones. “Legae?”
Her accent is thick and I place imaginary subtitles below her mouth as she speaks. The perks of consuming South African television back home means that I’ve picked up some vocabulary from my favourite daytime soapies, Scandal, and Rhythm city, but Auntie Miriam is having none of it. She bursts into her hybrid British Zimbabwean accent, the effects of diasporan living, and now I fear that my Shona nose is distinctly noticeable to the lady behind the desk. She swiftly switches to English but punctuates every sentence with neh.
Our room has a tiny balcony overlooking the street. It’s small and quaint with two single beds on either side of each other. We order food on room service and Itumeleng, the waiter I exchanged looks in the lobby, asks for my name.
“Chioniso,” I say into the receiver of the handset. “Coming right up, ma’am.” I smile.
I get the impression that he is curious. The tone of his voice carries a warmth devoid of professionalism. Perhaps it’s all in my head; this is a hotel. I am not the first girl to walk through its doors and I certainly will not be the last.
I say a prayer for Uyinene before we sleep. I hold on to the fraying Twitter threads of hope that she is alive, but a few days later, while we are still waiting for a response from the embassy on my visa application, they find her body. The gruesome details of her rape and murder are splurged across the news. Her burnt remains are found buried in a hole beside an unused railway track; the timeline goes up in flames again. My fingers smell of the petrol her killer doused her body with. I heave. How does a post office visit turn into a post mortem? When did the post office become a butchery?
She went to collect a parcel. She came home in a body bag.
Am I next? The hashtag consumes social media. UCT is up in arms. Women are raging on the streets and the screens of smartphones, televisions, and computers. A part of me is praying to see a phoenix rising from the ashes of this fast-burning movement, but even black girl magic has its limits. We do not possess the power to resurrect ourselves back to life. We cannot perform miracles when the temples our spirits reside in are so brutally demolished, when we are slaughtered in a less dignified manner than animals. Womanhood is a religion that few want to believe in.
It is 2021. It has been two years since Uyinene’s murder. My sister is 21. I am 23. I still think of you, the girl I never met. The girl I felt I had no right to speak on. I remember you. When I see the photograph of a 14-year-old rural girl on my timeline, her stomach swollen to the size of a watermelon, Memory Machaya, a child bride who died giving birth at a church shrine in the Eastern region of Marange, Zimbabwe, I think of you. She does not amass retweets or hashtags. She has no Instagram to visit. I see her on a couple of people’s WhatsApp stories, and that’s it. She disappears into the algorithm, swallowed by the vanity metrics of digital socialites and influencers. Her lease on this earth was shorter than yours.
We are either coming or going from this world, transported through the spiritual realms of the universe as parcels of God’s goodness. And so in this letter I have written, I recall the photograph of you in a 90s inspired fit similar to the one worn by Janet Jackson’s character in the film Poetic justice. You were an aspiring film and media student, something I was already pursuing when I came to know of your existence. And since I was meant to be a lawyer, and that never quite happened, all I can offer you as the poet that I am are these words, this flimsy attempt at poetic justice for you. I know that the God I believe in is good, and I know that this time he will make sure that you receive your parcel. I have addressed it to Heaven’s gate, and I pray that when you open it that you might hug Memory close to you and know that the memory of you is not lost. My little brother is growing up in a household of women who love him. His sisters will not become statistics.
Because of you, I can confidently say to the next man who slips a lecherous comment about my ass: “Women don’t owe you shit.”
About the Author:
Chioniso Tsikisayi is a spoken word poet, writer, singer, and filmmaker based in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. She is passionate about the creative arts and conscious storytelling. Her first body of music titled Heaven Is Closer Than You Know was released in November of 2020 in collaboration with award-winning media hub Cottage47. Some of her credits include performing at The PiChani( a Pan African lifestyle and networking event for young creatives excelling within their fields) as well as at the opening ceremony of the European Film Festival in Bulawayo. She is a finalist for Grand Slam Africa 2021 hosted by Kenya Poetry Slam and Cre8ive Spills and placed third for the Intwasa Short Story Competition 2021. Brittle Paper named her their November Spotlight Artist.