My Name is China
Everybody calls me China. It’s because of the way my eyes slant. I half think its true when they tease me about my dad being a Chinese man. I look nothing like my parents. My father is Zulu: his skin is dark and his bones are dense, typical of his kind. My mom resembles the Khoi San of old: hunter gatherers with light bronze skin, and twigs for legs able to trek for days. I look like her most, but still a far comparison.
Only a few boys know my real name. It is Moya, which means wind in my native Xhosa tongue. I like it much better than China, but China is what everybody knows me as. We are a collection of boys who live in a squatter camp called Duncan Village. We dropped out of school when we were old enough to walk from home to a busy street called Erik’s corner. This happened for most of us when we were around 8 years old. Erik’s is the place where we beg. Not for us, but for our families. The boys that have fathers don’t need to beg, but ours are gone; they are dead or they are in prison. Our mothers stay at home with the babies. We are the breadwinners.
I prefer school over begging. I enjoy learning and the feeling of growing in knowledge gives me a hope that begging simply cannot. Asking for money is a tiresome task. My feet burn on the hot cement while I employ every kind of sad look to conjure up a few coins from passers by. My mother told me I could stay in school if I wanted to. She had just given birth to my third baby brother. For three weeks we gathered scraps of food from garbage dumps and water from a nearby stream. After all of us got terribly sick I knew I had to give up school. While I don’t earn enough money to buy fresh fruit, vegetables or meat, I am able to afford bread and bones for broth from the money I bring home by begging. For that I am proud; that I can contribute to the well-being of my family. Though my mother gave me a choice, I felt like I had none. I don’t believe I’ll see the walls of a classroom again. This is how it goes. This is how it has gone for my older brother. My earliest memories keep him leaving the house to beg for the rest of us. Unfortunately he’s in prison now. Like my dad. My brother stabbed a man for money. My father was arrested for dealing drugs of which I am unsure of. My good friend Johnson says we don’t have to end up like that. Once we become men we can be car guards and that will be our lot. And although a car guard is never what I dreamed of becoming, I’d be able to better afford a life in the squatter camps.
For now I must continue under the hot African sun with my feet glued to the path that is in front of me. I am conflicted daily with this predicament. The dark swirling waters in my mind hold not a single hope to veer from this certainty. I am stuck. I am bound to a life of poverty. I shift from coin to coin, crumb to crumb, and the daylight might as well be the night. Sometimes when I am tired and hungry and my feet feel as though they’ve been captured by quicksand, I see small crevices of light that compel me to hope against a backdrop of generations steeped in lowly living. The cars are few and the sun is beating directly over my head. I close my eyes and gaze at a world that could be. I have a steady job that allows me to afford fresh fruit and meat to store in a freezer. I am never hungry. I am dry and covered by a roof that lacks a sign of leaking and doors that close shut to protect against cold winter winds. I am dressed in clean clothing and wear socks without holes and shoes that haven’t come undone.
Ten cars may have passed, but somehow these visions give me strength to carry on. I am but a wind that is blown by a fate that is cruel and lonely. But I am a wind. And I must prevail. I will follow the courage of my heart against the reality of my existence. If by begging, I can keep my baby brothers in school, then perhaps one day we will leave the red soil and tin shanty town of Duncan Village for a place that keeps a fridge and a bowl of fresh fruit, and doors that close shut to hold back the cold winter winds. My name is China. My name is Moya.