Two nights ago I had a dream, half waking half sleeping. The green light on the fire alarm, glowing in the dark, began morphing into the features of a powerful , benevolent green goddess. More ancient and wild and loving than anything imagined or written. I was there, still separate, holding back from full surrender to the growing vision. I could not connect, and yet I was glad to see her, to know that this possibility is inside me, is growing, if slowly and replete with the fearfulness of coming into the fullness of life’s possibility. I was sleeping on the couch. My room seems cold at the moment, a holding space for laundry and the cupboards that I need to go through with Mary Kondo’s eye, weeding out all the unsuitable items that don’t really serve my life, that clutter up the space. But this is labour I can only do in stages, I am inside the limits of what my reality currently is. Responsibilities of work, children to play with, bathe, put to bed. Clothes to launder and beds to change. Lectures to write. So the couch, lit up in the glow of a low warm light at the end of the day, when the house is quiet apart from me and the cat, becomes sweet and cosy. Free of obligations. Covered with the zebra print mink blanket I bought in Kilburn with the birthday money my granny gave me back in the day. This is the flowering beneath the ground, the gestating point, the cracking open of the seed as it becomes aware of a light not yet seen.
I watched my father growing a garden made out of cactus and succulents in the backyard of our house. The sky was always very big and very blue when he worked on his creation. He carved it out of the brick steps that led up to the pool. Plain and predictable white suburban stairs, the ordinary life of the racial elite in 1980’s South Africa, glistening with water and the smell of braaivleis. My father was those things, and also brown skinned and racially ambiguous in his cut-off denim shorts, inserting objects and magic into the garden he grew over those stairs under the sun. He made one for each of his three daughters. Was mine on the end or in the middle? I don’t remember that detail, just that in the end all three gardens merged into one. I watched the tossing of the soil, the setting of the rocks and stones, shards of statues, icons, glass pieces and the spikes of cacti gathered on walks in the veld and koppies that still surrounded Alberton back then. Those walks where me and my sister would trot behind him, learning how to use our feet like noses to sniff out potential traps and trips on the ground. My father would stop and pull up plants, take cuttings. Sometimes producing a frying pan and a fire to make bacon and eggs. I can’t say that we were part of it so much as spectators, watching. I did learn some things. How to pull a piece of a cactus plant off and stick it into a new pot where it would magically keep growing, without roots. You don’t need roots to grow. What a lesson I think now, looking back. The garden became ever more outlandish and charged with sorcery and indifference. I loved to watch it. At night I would explore its perimeters, finding glow worms clinging to aloes. I have stopped collecting cacti now. I last had them ten years ago, a small collection on the windowsill in my house in Brixton. After that, they fell away. Like my memories of my father’s garden, the one he made for us as an expression of his Self. My fingers are humming with the energy of it. Our relationship has been so problematic for so long that the garden was forgotten. And it was something that I can say with certainty was an aspect of him that I can love and grow from. For a very long time I have not mourned the loss of that home. I know that this is in part because of the problematic politics that surrounded its situation within a place marked by white priviledge. Better to let it die unmourned or acknowledged. It leaves me with a question: can beauty ever come out of evil? Can the essence of a pure and real love grow out of a place that could not continue to exist? I find the answer in the cactus. You don’t need roots to grow. And with patience, a flower as beautiful as the dawn will blossom. I think of the comments written by white South Africans on Facebook, barbed and mean spirited, that cling with misunderstanding to that statue of Rhodes, as if roots of any kind are better than none. I am the cactus that flowered. If only they knew how easy it can be to let go.