For Sean, this was his first book launch, and he was nervous. The Music Academy had started “First Thursdays”, as a monthly event to showcase budding artists. Sean had shared some of his poems on Facebook, Romney had seen them, connected him with the Music Academy, and now he was here.
Sean took a puff of weed to calm his nerves. He knew that the local embassies sent a couple people to each event. The British Council, The German Society, The Italian Arts Centre, Alliance Franchise… If they liked him, they could offer a 6-week residency at a writing camp. The stipend could pay his rent for 6 months.
He needed this.
He had put in the work. He had touched up his dreadlocks, make them a little less unruly. He was wearing his lucky shoes: a pair of black and white All Stars. He had ironed his black chinos. The dashiki was a custom design by Revolution Regalia. A loose-fitting material, orange in colour, with intricate black detail on the arms and sides. On the back, in a hand-written style, the words, “Azania Arise.”
“Thank you all for being here.”
The glare of the stage lights took some adjusting to. The 30 or so people in the audience feeling like pixelated figurines. As his gaze adjusted, he could tell the relaxed air of the patrons. For that, he gave silent thanks to the complimentary cocktails.
“I am so glad to have you here with me.”
Sean could see his little brother in the front row. To the side of the stage, his business partner was working the angles. Making a pitch. She was relentless. He saw his friend Romney, with two chugs of beer. Typical. Most of the audience had handwritten name tags. The Music Academy used those to encourage people to interact.
“My poetry was written during the first 3 months after coming back from Uzbekistan. I was doing my Masters Degree in Biofuel and Sustainable energy. I know, not the most artistic program.” He smiled.
“In Uzbekistan, I felt untethered. Disconnected. It was a cultural shock for me… And not always in a good way. I had to eat new food, speak a different language, live in a dormitory with 40 international students. I felt small. Dispensable. Lost.”
Sean took a deep breath, letting go of the tension these memories induced in him. He rarely liked talking about that time. To his family, to his friends, to his therapist. To anyone.
“Coming back to Zimbabwe, was restoration for me. It was seeing people that looked like me, that talked like me, that grew up eating terrible food, like I did.” He could hear the laughs from his audience.
“Trust me guys, Nyeve and Mufushwa has nothing on Jollof Rice. Nigeria and Ghana are the plug when it comes to food!” he put his hands up
“Still, Azania Arise is my dedication to us. To the places, the practices, the people that I call home.”
Sean considered reading from his book to hide. Yet, he had written the poetry both as a means of connecting with people, and as a confirmation of the way his community had restored him.
“The poem I will recite is on page 8.”
As the people thumbed through the chapbook searching for the page, Sean scanned the crowd, until he saw her. A muse to give his words a physical form. Her eyes a focal point. Her being would imbue his words with the weight of sincerity.
“It is entitled Niche.”
She was sitting beside Romney. Wearing an ankle length black dress with sparkly details. Draped in a grey bolero jacket. Her wig a cropped bob. Her earrings, dangling.
You could tell the effort. The modesty. The formality. She was clearly coming from work. Possibly new to the artistic scene, she wasn’t even holding a drink. Fidgeting, but focused on the stage, on him. Her name tag, in capital terms, ‘MUTSAWASHE.’
“I see heritage in your nappy hair
Identity on your brown skin
Honesty in your stretch marks
Resilience on your scars
Warmth in your crooked smile
I see beauty… In you.”