This is not a diary entry. This is not an autobiography. Nor is it a profound allegory of life. My blog has always first and foremost been an outlet for my poetic elations. It is where the orphans of my mind can come to play. And I write under opium, not the actual kind, but the one that lives alongside the ventricles of ones heart. There again, they’ve come to play. Up until this point, writing prose on this site, the honest kind not the fictional one, was something that I have always been reluctant to do. I’m not an open person. Let me rephrase, I am not an honest person. Poetry allows me to coat the reality of my life in beauty. So that even the ugly has a night to dance with Prince Charming and doesn’t need to come home at midnight. The magic lasts forever in poetry. I’m not an honest person because the whole of my life, I have worn a mask. To be the fun, charming, socially active, foul – mouthed, loud East African girl. This mask has been on for so long that where it begins and where it ends can no longer be detected. I’ve believed my own story. But I want to start, how do you say, unpacking, no, rewriting my narrative.
Many times when I have faced a struggle that my mask cannot understand, I collapse. (Literally and figuratively). Literally – I don’t eat. I faint consistently, I seek unconsciousness in naps. I watch loads of shows to forget the life I’m living. Figuratively – I no longer recognise who I am. The mask becomes invisible and I see myself. This weak small 5 ft (I finally got measured) young woman who is incompetent in dealing with her own mental instability. I see that I am a stranger to myself. My hobbies have been cultivated, not lived. I even chose to have a favourite colour when I was 8 (dark purple) so that I wouldn’t be a weird person in my class for not having a favourite colour. That’s who I’ve been. I manufactured myself to fit in. One of the reasons I feel I did this was because, coming to England at the age of 5, different was something that was stamped on my forehead. I didn’t speak English, (whilst many think that my current rhetoric is brilliant, it took many years of training. I still get my tenses mixed and consciously have to ensure I get my pronouns right). As a result, I tried very hard to fit in. To no avail. On the other side lay my Zanzibari origin that I also had to fit into. I was pulled in many directions and, the mask was born. I consequently died.
Being so sheltered, (my uncle is deeply religious and wouldn’t allow me to do anything), my teenage years were a misery. School friends only existed in school. I’d have to get home by 4:30pm. I wasn’t allowed a phone until I was 18. This exclusion, whilst it got me good grades, ensured that I lived in the clouds, with my books. Till this day, I act out imaginary scenarios, not the kind that one does in the shower but full on other personalities and identities. This is the first time I’m owning up to this. When people say I’m enthusiastic, I think, brilliant. Fantastic, enthusiasm is good. But underneath the mask knows it’s because, people are new to me. Friendships are so important because I feel like I could lose them right away. I feel like I’d be told to stay at home and never leave and I’d be stuck with my books and my imagination. I know loss and loneliness like old friends. My mask says that I’m bubbly and happy. But I think this young woman underneath is scared and a sneaky introvert. She fears loss so much that she keeps many around her. She feels lonely in parties. She feels lonely in classes, she feels lonely in friendship groups. She very seldom makes Best Friends because, humans are fickle. They move on. They’re transient and shifty. She knows them well.
When I started Uni, that’s when I got to taste a bit of freedom, (the girl underneath the mask, not the mask herself. She’s met a lot of people, fell in love and been all over the world). First year of Uni was a shock. People of all different nationalities, personalities, origins and laughter. I made so many acquaintances but not friends. My mask was happy. My real self was still scared she never made lasting attachments. But I carried on. Seemingly happy. Seemingly buoyant and full of life. But I need an anchor. I anchor myself to one person at a time. And I seek this person out carefully. That I can entrust the mask and her other friend without them knowing, without telling them nothing about her. I had an anchor in between sixth form and uni. I spoke to him everyday. But it was always a one way friendship. I talked. They listened. It worked. Until, he could no longer listen. It hurt when I unhooked myself but I was quickly able to move on. Third year, I made another anchor. He was brilliant. (Funny how they’re all male) Warm. Kind. Funny. Similar interests. And some not that similar, that part was exciting. But the most important thing is that I respected him. Mightily. He was like a superhero to me. Like a professor Xavier. He could do no wrong in my eyes. And our rapport was in sync. Like, a good verse over a tight beat. (Brown Sugar reference: if not understood go and watch the film). I’ve never met somebody till this day that I meshed so well with. That I flowed with. He could do wrong but, somehow he was always right. He could be annoying but it was justified. I would be mad at him but I’ll stick up for him when he’s name popped in other conversations. I didn’t feel like I no longer needed an anchor as he was the water that my ship just rested so easily on. I was free to sway to any island as long as the water was beneath me. And I was happy. The mask was not needed around him.
Often what happens when people like this get too close, of the opposite sex that is, tensions arise. Sexual ones. In addition to being a complete sucker for a man with even the minutest level of power and yet, a man who can remain humble, calm and collected, I didn’t kill this tension when I saw it rising. It was daring. My mask figured, why not, don’t spit the fire out. My actual self was terrified, shy, scared as fuck but she was carried by her sister the mask and told her to take over. At the back of my mind I knew, I knew so very well that I would end up falling. But, the mask was strong. She could protect me. It would be fun she said. I hesitated, but heeded to her will.
It didn’t take long. I fell. Not hard at first. In fact. Not hard at all until the summer. But another girl got in the way. She was not better than the mask but with the events that have happened I’m unable to figure out whether she’s better than the girl underneath it. I think she is. Why else would I be in complete turmoil. He went for her instead. I was devastated. Used and abused. This mask that I had worn all my life, that I thought was perfect, brilliant, was also refused. By the one person I needed. The sea dried up. The ship abandoned. And whilst the anchor exclaimed his need of the girl with the mask. She knows it’s a lie. He wants things that can’t go well together. He wants a girl who wants her and another he wants. He disappointed me. I can lose everything but once I lose respect for someone, once the pedestal has collapsed, death isn’t far. Don’t get me wrong, I still love him. I’m always in search for him. But I understand when my presence will cause chaos. And I am certain it will. For him. For the girl he wants. And for myself.
And so, The Girl underneath was once again, left vulnerable. She can’t survive.
Two nights ago, I sat on my bed in my house in Zanzibar. My little sisters whistling snores lightly keeping the Mosquitos company. And I felt death. My lungs collapsed. I couldn’t move as I felt like a cement wall was pressing on my chest. My head was ringing. I couldn’t see. I was hopeless and I saw no end to my pain, I couldn’t sleep. Quickly I reached over to my phone, stifling my cries of agony and looked through my contact list. I couldn’t see anybody to call. I drafted a message to the Sea in my notes, confessing everything (I had already confessed my emotions, just not the brevity nor the length nor my sadness). I then contacted a dear friend of mine. The message read, ‘ I don’t know who else to speak to. I feel like shit. Utter shit. I can’t stop crying I just feel useless. Like, I never cried about this issue and today I can’t stop. And I feel like my chest is being pressed. I Dnt know what to do.’
No answer, it was late. I got up. Paced my house. Left and went into the courtyard outside. I looked up and stared at the stars and I woke up shivering in the morning as the call to prayer was being bellowed in the crisp morning air. ‘God is great.’
I had survived.
I’ve come to realise that I love with the intensity of a penguin. I love for life. To be honest, I don’t think this is love. I think it’s worthlessness. That’s What I feel. Worthless. I know what love is. Love is warm. Love is home. So I’m not worried that I’ve fallen in love. I have just lost somebody who made me feel, at peace with my inner self. Who I’d sit in silence listening to Beyoncé because I’m only a chatterbox (my mask is) to those who are friends with this mask.
Now that I’ve lost my mask. I’m making a conscious decision to never put her on again. I want to find out about myself. I want to know what she likes, I want to feel what she feels and not be afraid to show it. I want to allow her to be mad and sad and quite. I think she’s quite. I don’t know when I’ll get used to her. This new person who carries my name, has my eating habits, my height and speaks to the people I have around me. This The Real Ra’ifah who isn’t who she is. She’s trying desperately to find somebody to latch onto but will never be the same again.
I think I need to latch onto myself. Wade in the tides on my own for a while. Fall out of intense like with the stranger who nearly had me. And fall in love with Myself. I’m not looking forward to it. I’m sick with worry and regret. Sick in homesickness. I miss Harvey. But going back is selfish. I’ve overstayed my welcome there.
I’m going to London in two days. I’ve made a to do list that I’ll probably never look at again. I’m trying desperately to stay afloat. I’m shipwrecked. And no one is coming to save me.