Words left unspoken – Thulani Dube

First Runner Up

Words Left Unspoken – Thulani Dube

It is always crowded nowadays on the trains. That morning commute to work has evolved to horror. I see her each morning now. I believe she looks for me, not out of love though. Part of me wishes I never offered her my seat. She wakes me up with that mellow “unjani mntanami” (how are you my child). I tried to keep my eyes shut once just to keep my backside on a seat. That is the reason that I buy a first class train ticket after all. Though my youth is still ripe, a one hour train ride as a standing passenger does bring pain to my heart.

I saw her a few weeks ago, sweet old lady I thought. Felt a shiver run up my spine right up to the strands of my hair. The resemblance was uncanny. I hardly smile but she just lit up my face and I could not control the action there after. I have to say not much brings joy to my heart these days, though that day she shone some light into that dark place I call my heart. “Sawubona Gogo, unjani”, I said. As she replied, her voice drew me back to reality. It wasn’t her. I felt joy, I felt pain. Now that I think back, I really don’t know what I felt. How could I, a real man show no feelings, let alone attempt to paint that picture.

I rose from my seat. I was raised this way – how the world has changed. I see school children nowadays that will not offer the elderly a seat in buses or trains. This culture of selfishness has been creeping into me ever so stealthily. At times my actions would make her turn in her grave. Maybe not turn in her grave but rather slap me uncharitably across the cheek right back into yesterday. Oh, how I would love that.

Thoughts ran through my mind as if unleashed and in every direction they scattered. Though that day I was happy to see her, I hated her for the flood of emotions that she released. After all she taught me that. If you are to be a man, you must close yourself off to the world, this world is cold so you must be colder to survive. Till this day, the chill in me is alive. So many memories in a second gone past. The noise and the rocking and jerking of the train drowned by the beating of my heart. I took deep breaths to drown out that panic attack. She raised me to always be in control and I loved her for it. I hated her for leaving to soon. I can never hate her, I hate the world for taking her away from me. I had to keep my anger focused on something and the world always seems like the best scapegoat.

I remembered those lazy Sunday afternoons that we used to sit on the stoep and she would drink her mahewu whilst knitting or sewing something. “Never let those hands grow idle”, she would always say. I would sit obediently, patiently waiting. The joy it brought me when she would say “Go and get your glass”. Her voice still sweeter than any melody I can recall. I would rush into the kitchen, leap onto a chair and find my special glass from the cupboard. It was the only time I would drink from a glass at that age. The metal mug was the way of life every other day. She would pour me a drop of mahewu in my large brown glass. Yes I had claimed that glass as my own. It was never about the mahewu, not at all. I realise it now. The truth is it was all about the fact that I got to spend time with my grandmother. Granted, she helped my mother raise me, I guess those moments when it was just about us were magical. They thaw my heart every time I let such a thought creep in.

I realise that many share the experience of having such an active granny in their lives. For me it was a blessing, even more so a blessing that as she helped shape my life my mother was always active in this molding process.

As the beating of my heart returned to its steady pace I acknowledged the blessing of having three strong women in my life. My granny, my mother and my baby sister. I realized that by holding on to these values of the strength in me because I must be a man, I would fail to mention that the number is four rather than three. My better half would drive a stake through this stone heart if she ever knew that feelings were kept at bay here. Not today though. As she walked into the train, I felt a swirl of emotion so strong that try as I may I would never be able to hold it down. On this day, the war was lost. I realized that I loved her to bits my Sihle, but surely had never told her this. I tried to let my actions speak out loud though as a soul searched in that very moment that I gave up my seat , I conceded that maybe it was my voice that needed to do the talking as opposed to my actions.

In that very moment, I realised how much I missed ugogo umaDhliwayo. I pain that I even missed her funeral and it felt like a sword was splitting me in half. I cried in private, not even my love Sihle saw me shed a tear. I was raised to be strong. Days rise and fall and still I keep my tears at bay. This is what she said strength was. The world must never see you cry she said. I hold those teachings ever so dear to my heart, I live those teachings.

So many times she was there for me. Ploughing the way to a future that I may call bearable. Her strength I will always admire though hard as I try can never duplicate or emulate. She made sure I was fed and always clothed. She was a true hustler, always on the grind to ensure we lacked nothing. I remember the day she slept on the floor in my room when I was sick with chicken pox. Her words were “I can never ever let you out of my sight when you are sick”. Though she will never know it, she was my hero. Once she asked me what kind of man I wanted to be when I grow up and my response was “ngifuna ukuba njengawe” (I want to be the man that you are when I grow up). She set such a high standard.

She taught me to be an impenetrable fortress. A stone heart. I love it but I hate it. To the women in my life they may never know my true feelings. To her she will never know my gratitude and love I had for her.

That moment I gave up my seat on the train, in the storm of emotions I wished I could read her a poem I wrote for her. I could never let my feelings out of my heart so I scribbled them in my notebook and kept them hidden from those who needed to hear them. Ironically, I write many poems on the train. Maybe the noise is an escape. I penned words to three strong women in my life:


This is a shout out to hip hop

Saluting the greats that are my hip hop

Not to be confused with imitations

Real hip hop cannot be held down

Truly no limitations

Loud and clear I hear the whispers

What is my hip hop you ask?

Confusion lays upon your faces like early morning dew

The time to know the truth knocks at your door

Long overdue is what it is

What is hip hop?

Hip hop is my mom waking me up every morning

Hip hop is her strength as she carries me through life

Hip hop is in her voice telling me I will overcome

Hip hop is in her voice, forever warm

She is the rock that is hip hop

Shout out to hip hop I say

Hip hop is my grandmother waking me up every morning on days past

Telling me that I am strong and the future is me

Hip hop is her loving hug

Shout out to hip hop

Salute to the greats, true pillars

As silence grips your bodies

And the realisation that is hip hop subdues you

I give this loud shout out to hip hop

Hip hop is in the smile of my sister

It is in her voice of encouragement

Telling me destiny is in my palms

That is that destiny I stand as king

This is my hip hop

So hear me clear

Hear me loud

This is a shout out to hip hop

Hip hop that shaped my life

My hip hop

Big shout out to these women in my life

True pillars, pure strength

This is my hip hop


And to you Sihle, sthandwa sami, love of my life.  I know now that these words must never be left unspoken. Someday I will be man enough to let these feelings rain down on you. This strength I was raised to have as a man is truly a curse and no strength at all. Though I have mustered it, well it has cost me the freedom of knowing that those who need to know are in the light of that knowledge.

I wrote you a love song-
Poured my heart into its lyrics-
Baked it in the warmth of my heart-
I need to shout out these feelings-
Serenade you with a drizzle of emotions-
I wrote this with love-
Penned it so clearly with my feelings-
Etched it so gently on my heart-
I wrote this song for you-
A song drenched with love-
I wrote you a love song-
A song you may never hear-
Whose words I dare not utter-
Feelings I may never share-
All sealed in this love song-
Hidden under the shadow of reality-
Cruelly holding me from singing my song
I wrote you sweet melodies of love-
Tunes you will never hear-
I feel joy , I feel pain-

Keeping this inside torments my soul-
Joys of sweet melodies seasoned with the pang of heartache-
Heart to heart shall never be-
As only my heart sees this song-
Only my soul hear its lyrics-
This is your song-
Though sealed in the confines of my heart-
Away from intended heart-
Miles away from you-
Distance shields you from this song-
I wrote you sweet melodies-
I wrote you a love song-
A story of feelings-
I keep it in the basement of my heart-

That split second on the train gave me an insight on what true strength is, what being a man is. Words left unspoken will rob you of this strength and with that realization I strive to be a new man with a new strength. A strength to speak and let those I love know that my love for them is true and real.