The Race

100m race track

The crowd is cheering but the loud cheering and singing annoys me these days. Would it be wrong if I said that the cheering and the screams are as good as the buzzing sound of bees?

The track has become a part of me, on some days I even meditate or daydream whilst running the 100 meter race. I know that the girls from my class hate me but hard work is the reason I always take the golden trophy home, be it in Drama club, Chess club, athletics team or even in the academic field. I really like Dean a lot but I do not understand why he always makes fun of me. Maybe it is for the best if the two of us do not see eye to eye because even if he admits that he likes me he will never be able to find a spot to fit into my demanding schedule. What would I give up to fit Dean into my tight schedule? Maybe some stones are better left unturned.

'Competitors on the line' The umpire shouts and immediately the whole crowd becomes silent. As I look up towards the finishing line, I realize that my heart is pounding, and at that moment, fear overpowers me. The girl on my right hand side is panicking and chances are high that she will either make a false start and get disqualified or she comes in last place. I now regret the words I said to her earlier "break a leg"; in asmuch as it means good luck, what if she literally breaks her leg while running the race?

As the starting gun is fired, I focus my eyes on the track and begin to sprint. I can actually picture my mother standing by the kitchen counter reciting these words, "have fun, make me proud and maintain that body because before you know it you will be looking like a pig". Sometimes I wonder if she uses those words only to mock me or she wants nothing but the best for me. Why is that my mother finds it shameful to gain weight and why does she believe that being beautiful is defined by your body structure? Beauty is something that comes from within and it is not defined by your body structure or your appearance.

I know that some of my peers envy me but if only they knew that I am as good as ash on my own they would definitely spit in my face. How I long to make simple decisions on my own, the type of clothes I wear or the food I eat. My age mates can actually visit the hairdresser on their own but 'Miss Perfect' has to depend on her family to decide for her.

The reason why I hold my breath and force my feet into a size 5 school shoe each morning is because my mother made me believe that if you are a beautiful woman your shoe size should not be a size 6+. Why is my classmate Georgia a size 7 but she is so confident and walks with her head held high?  

My life revolves around the three phrases that my parents use which are "yes", "not now" and "no". How I long to experience how it feels to fail an in class test so that I  get to walk down the path of disappointments. Is it not better to make a mistake when I am still sixteen and be able to learn from the mistake than to make a mistake ten years later and wish you could have saved yourself when you were young?

Would it be a crazy idea if I said I really wish I could reach out to my reflection in the mirror? All I want to do is get to know her better.

Sometimes I wonder if I am able to  function on my own. Do  my parents own me? Maybe I am some sort of a robot and my dear parents programmed me, maybe  they do not only own me but they  have a manual to my life.

Sometimes, I wish I was not the most popular girl in my stream, I wish I had real friends too but unfortunately the only friends I  have are my clubs, sports and school work. Would it be a crazy idea if I said I really wish I could reach out to my reflection in the mirror?

All I want to do is get to know her better. I want to know everything about her, from her strengths to her weaknesses, because I only know little about her and I feel like an alien in my own body. If only I could reach out to her I would look at her and ask her if it does not scare her that she is close to perfect according to her peers. Mistakes and failing are foreign  but these two words have moulded and strengthened some of her peers. I really wish she could  bump into a  few mistakes and regrets while she was young but.

The only reason I play chess is because each and every time I visited my uncle he would ask me  to play chess with him. Uncle Lincoln made me believe that chess  is an exciting game. "You sing like angel Jo, (which is short for Josephine) why don't you join the drama club?"

My father made me believe that the only place that my voice belonged was in the theatre and this is how I ended up being in the Drama club. I really enjoy being part of the Drama club and the chess team but sometimes the commitments are overwhelming. My grades need to be well above average because my mother enjoys screaming and being a happy parent when I receive numerous prizes at the end of the school term.

I spend as much time as I can in the training field. Maybe it is the fear of turning into a so-called pig. Why is that she has her own definitions of beauty and I have to tag along? I can hear people shouting  my name but the voices become distant as I reach the finishing line. I want to look back but the stomping of feet behind me and the cheering brings everything  back to reality. The race is not over yet, the results can just change in the twinkling of an eye.

Race track

The echoes of loud music, the screams, the cheering and the shouting startle me. It takes me a few seconds for it to register in my mind that I  am in an alien space and  fear and confusion paralyze me. Why am I lying down in this tent ?

What happened to me, was I not running the race? I scream and a young boy with a personalized t-shirt whose words I am struggling to understand because they are good as gibberish to me and the young boy is just staring at me. I quickly get up from the stretcher bed "Where are shoes ? I need to go and finish the race". I shout and scream at the top of my voice but the young boy does not pay attention and it really annoys me, if only he could help me put on my shoes.

"Jo, get some rest please” If only he knew that all I want is to finish the race, I begin to yell and tears, sweat and mucus wet my face. I can sense that someone is close to me but my vision has become blurry. It feels like someone is pulling me down. I want to break free but it is impossible. Although I can feel that my face is wet I will not wipe it. I have decided to let it soak  because it feels good to be able to cry, to allow myself to be vulnerable without my mother shouting at me for not only humiliating myself but my family  too.

I am lost in between the waves of my emotions and there is nowhere I can hold onto.  Who will be able to save me?  I want to scream but some part of me wants to keep on exploring the world of allowing myself to be vulnerable. I want to dig into the well and clear the rubble and dance like a cheerleader when I would have discovered the special jewel which is my identity.

My poor heart is now pounding, I wish I could make the pain disappear but the pain intensifies by the minute  and I am unable to relieve the pain. How I wish I could make the pain stop before I turn into a bomb and eventually explode. I try to sit down but my breathing gets heavier by the second. I want to break free, I wish I could fly away and be able to see the world in a different light. If only.

"Jo I need you to look at me, can you do that ?" I nod my head and although the voice sounds  familiar I am failing to recognize who the person is. Droplets of sweat soak my t-shirt and it feels like I am walking inside a blast furnace. "Jo you are having a panic attack ,you need to relax." The voice really sounds familiar,  I really wish I could identify who the person is.

"I can't die,I need to finish the race. All I want is to finish the race and get some rest."

"Jo you are not about to die, all you need to do is to concentrate on your breathing."

I am glad that I am not dying, because I need to take the trophy home and make my mother proud.

With time I begin to feel like a heavy load has been lifted off my shoulders and when my alien helper tries to help me count to ten I get lost.

"One ..Two.. Three.. Four.. Five.. Zero.. Nine."

"Let us try something different, think of a happy place"

I giggle and I immediately think of Dean, although I am in a tornado there is one person I will never forget.

"My happy place is at a beach with Dean, building our sandcastles and sipping some coconut juice."

The thought of Dean feels therapeutic, I realize that the sweating and the palpitations have ceased. At that moment, I realized  that the person who was helping me with my breathing was Dean.

I am both humiliated and happy that I always think about Dean all the time even when I am at my lowest. As Dean helps me get back on my feet it dawns on me that my t-shirt is soaking wet with mucus, tears and sweat. Dean catches a glance of  me trying to cover my  t-shirt using my hands and he offers me his jacket which I gladly accept with open arms.

How I wished the two of us had met under different circumstances, how will I be able to make it through the school term considering that Dean always makes fun of me in class? With a stranger's pace l follow Dean out of the tent towards the benches which I arranged outside the first aid tent.

"Congratulations you won the race but, as soon as you reached the finishing line you fainted. The boys from the first aid team and I had to play the guessing game and whoever hesitated had to babysit you.”  I roll my eyes and look away. I  am sixteen and I do not need a babysitter but according to Dean I am the jewel of the stream. I am glad that I won the race, because my mother was going to, I stuttered and bit my lower lip. “Your mother was going to what?" Dean asked.

Everyone sees me as the perfect human being in our stream but I really wish they knew that I envy them. I envy them for being free to make mistakes and learn from their mistakes. I wish I could also have the power to choose instead of joining a certain club or sport just to make my family happy. Is it worth it if I end up losing myself?

Race track
Adjusting to change is difficult but sometimes change is all we need to put our lives in order.

"Jo you can make decisions on your own, you own your truth and if you want to fly or dance. Who can stop you?"

I am so used to Dean making fun of me, I have actually developed thick skin. I am immune to Dean's sarcastic jokes.

"Dean I wish it was easy, how will I tell my mother that I cannot be part of the school athletics team? It will break my uncle’s heart if l tell him that I quit playing chess. I have to maintain my grades obviously but where will I get the courage to tell my father that I enjoy being part of the Drama club and I would love to pursue my studies in Fine Arts?” I let the  tears wet my cheeks and look into Dean's eyes who remains silent.

If I was in Dean's shoes I would run away because he believes that I have everything figured yet I am crumbling down. The same boy who always makes fun of me is the person I have decided to open up to. To allow the wound to bleed, to allow myself to feel the pain that has been brewing and fermenting inside of me for a while. All I want is to  offload the heavy load that is bruising my shoulders. Would it be too much to ask for ?

We walk to the ice cream parlor and Dean buys me a huge tumblr full of chocolate ice cream. I have decided to make my own decisions and to choose myself, my happiness and well-being before anything else. This is why I have decided to eat the ice cream and even if I gain weight I will be happy rather than being miserable. Who would have thought that Dean could be kind and that he wanted to be my friend and this is why he always made fun of me?

Dean quit playing football because according to him it was time-consuming and he would no longer be able to volunteer at the soup kitchen. He chose volunteering at the soup kitchen rather than playing for the first team just because he realized that he enjoyed helping people over dribbling the ball. 

Dean's parents wanted him to be a politician but he prefers working with numbers and this is why he is now studying commercial subjects. Dean wants to live his dream, not his parent's dream no matter what. Maybe I misjudged him but it is because he pushed me to the limit. He pushed me until I decided to build a protective layer just to protect myself.

No one knows about my peach diary where I write my stories and poems, no one knows that the theatre is a place where I become alive and feel at home. The theatre is my happy place and I have made up my mind that I will tell my parents that I would love to pursue my studies in Fine Arts. Chess has helped me deepen my focus and this is why it is easy for me to concentrate, it has also helped me with my planning skills but unfortunately I was unable to plan my own life. 

The tables have turned and it is time I put myself first. It has been a battle that I have been fighting for a long period of time but Dean was the light that guided me out of the dark tunnel. Adjusting to change is difficult but sometimes change is all we need to put our lives in order.

It is high time I take a step towards choosing my hairstyle, the food I eat and the clothes I want to wear. It is never too late to make your own decisions, your own choices and above all choosing something that you deeply love.

Takudzwanashe C. Ndangana is a young author from Zimbabwe and part of the Youth Mediathon class of 2020. Check out other pieces of content developed by Takudzwanashe's teammates on mental health.