by Frank Malaba
After 2 years of not hearing the owl that hoots from the silver oak outside my bedroom, I can hear it again at 4 am this morning. I’m reminded of what’s transpired in the last 2 years, and I have more respect for this creature that I’ve not met but whose unmistakably soothing hoot stirs something indelibly moving in me. I can’t put my finger on it yet, but I know it makes me feel connected to this tiny little apartment that I call home.
The first time I ever heard one was at my rural home in Dandanda, Lupane. We were all gathered in my maternal grandma’s rondavel kitchen. About 8 of us. My Gran, Uncle Max, My brother Thabo, Debra, my cousin, Aunt Thembi, cousin Sandra, Peter the herd boy and myself. We’d just eaten and the girls were shelling the maize and cracking groundnuts to make “peanut butter” the next morning. I had no idea what the sound was at first. But what I do remember, is that on that particular night there was a crescent moon. My grandma was restless; I did not understand why. She was an identical twin and unbeknown to me, every crescent moon triggered restlessness in her and simultaneously in her twin who lived hundreds of kilometres away.
Added to this, the sound of a hooting owl was not to be tolerated on this already stressful night. I remember the sequence like a movie montage… We were all talking. Then a hoot was heard. Silence. Wide eyes darting around the room… then a second hoot. My Grandma lept up from her goatskin mat, wide eyed as a bream and dashed to the clay shelves. There, like an alchemist hard at work she skilfully poured a heap of rock salt into her weathered hands and muttered something while chucking some of the salt into the fire into the hearth of the fire on the rondavel cooking fireplace. And with that she took off at the speed of wind to the embers that remained aglow on the outside fireplace where she cast the remaining salt and screamed, “Whoever sent you, take back to them what they sent here! We don’t want you! We’re protected!!!”
I, being 11 at the time, was confused! Who was she talking to in that manner? A bird? Why? My uncle looked over at me, sitting about half a metre from him and explained that the owl was probably a messenger sent with ill intentions to spy, inflict harm or curse the home. A shiver went down my spine. What hogwash was this? But I’d be lying if I don’t say that for a season, I did walk around in fear of witchcraft that could be hotspotted via owls that knew where to find someone’s enemy and hoot the fuck out of them and leave the residue of cursed magic upon them. Today, however, this hooting outside my window makes me want to open my window and invite this warm voiced creature into my home and learn the secret to surviving a life of storms and winds that knock over almost everything in sight and still be standing on a branch in the aftermath to hoot the most beautiful hoot that awakens an unpinnable nostalgia for something you’ve not yet fully experienced nor ever will. Because that’s what a pure life presence does, it brings feelings so unfathomable you couldn’t put them to words if you tried.
Frank Malaba is a Zimbabwean writer, poet, and LGBTQIA+ activist. He is known for his works on queer identity, African masculinity, and mental health. Malaba's writing often addresses the experiences of being a gay man in Africa and the challenges faced by LGBTQ+ individuals in the region. He has been published in several literary journals and anthologies, and has performed his poetry at various events and festivals. Additionally, Malaba is an advocate for mental health awareness and often speaks about his own struggles with depression and anxiety. He currently has two touring productions: Stories of My Bones and The Chaos of Belonging. In 2014 Frank was recognized by Mail & Guardian’s 200 Young South Africans as an Achiever in the category of Arts & Culture. View all posts by Frank Malaba: https://frankmalaba.wordpress.com/ Social media: https://linktr.ee/frankmalabaFrank Malaba Prosetry