Someone emailed and asked why I don’t write about Tamms anymore, did we break up? (Ho-ho-ho.) It’s because she’s 10 years now, a few months shy of 11-years. And it’s a big deal. I know you must think, but that’s young! It’s not. You should see her; her head reaches all the way up to my biceps. She’s tall. She’s becoming a young woman with young woman tendencies. She’s not the small girl who used to sit on my knee. (Of course I miss that.) We don’t kiss anymore. Now it’s only the forehead kiss that’s left, and I’m the one who initiates it.
Here is how I know Tamms is a young woman. Whenever I travel I buy the kids shoes and clothes. They are still at that stage where they think all clothes from abroad are good clothes. To be fair to them, some people I know have not come out of that thinking. The same suckers for whom groceries label fruits as ‘imported’ and they eat that shit up. Initially, I’d estimate her shoe size by placing my palm under her feet, because you never forget your palms in the hotel when going shopping. Now her feet are bigger than my palm. Technically this doesn’t necessarily mean that she’s a young woman because there are women with feet smaller than my palm. It just means that I can no longer reduce her to her feet. There was something very tender with me holding up my hand to a shop attendant and saying, “she’s this size,” and the attendant saying, “she is a midget?” and me saying, “no, this is the size of her feet.” She felt small. And she was mine.
I know she’s a young woman because now she doesn’t just accept things that I buy because I’m her father and I decided what’s cool. Because my kind of cool – your kind of cool, I will have you know – is not cool enough for these 10-year olds. Last time I was abroad she sent me for white ripped jeans (what my dani would have called torn jeans) and some half hoodie (whatever the hell that was). Since she’s now on Whatsapp she sent me a picture of what those items looked like, in case I returned with something that is worn by “old people”. (Like you and me, in this case.) I also know that she’s grown because she no longer counts the number of pieces I bought her compared to the ones I bought, Kim, her brother. If you have two small children you have to buy each of them an equal number of things regardless of the price. If you buy one item less the other will feel like they are not loved enough and will run away from home and live with an older woman or older man who smokes a pipe and never opens their windows. So if it’s three items for the boy, it’s three items for the girl. (A sock counts as one piece.)
She’s a great swimmer. I have a video of her winning some school swimming event. She’s a great swimmer because she’s got long, beautiful limbs which cut through water gracefully. Think of butter and knife. I never cheer at those school events. I’m never the parent who runs alongside the field or pool, hands flailing like a kite in the wind. I sit back and watch the other parents almost fall into the pool, screaming and jumping and going hoarse while capturing the event from their massive iPads. Because I know her. I know the length of her arms. I know the length of her legs. And I trust them. I also know that the other girls don’t stand a chance. Even those boys. When she wins and she heaves herself out of the pool, glistening in the sunlight in her blue swimwear, and her mom rushes over to high-five her – because most mothers in these events are kimbelembele – she will turn around casually to see if I saw that moment of magic and when our eyes meet I will wink at her but she won’t show that she has registered that gesture, she won’t smile back because she’s Tamisha Biko, she doesn’t smile easy. She’s ice. And ice is hot. But I’m cool. I always just know that she knows. I know her magic.
When she was much younger I’d ask her what she would like to be when she grows up and she’d say, “A mother and a doctor.” (I never asked in what order. Neither should you.) Now she says she would like to be a doctor. The mother part is silent. She also loves to cook. Although she can grill a mean chicken, she doesn’t like the hot kitchen much but prefers to bake. I have bought (under her supervision, of course, because I can’t be trusted with these complicated items) kitchen appliances like hand mixers and those special trays (are they called trays?) and cupcake cups and ingredients I have never heard of. Last holidays I enrolled her at a cooking camp for children and talked of preparing dishes I only read about in restaurant reviews. I was bursting with pride, my baby now preparing dishes I struggle to even spell – like beef stroganoff. (I can spell “beef”, though.)
Her cakes are amazing. Okay, they are not amazing, they are good. But one day they will be amazing and people will eat them with their eyes closed. Tamms asked me what I thought of one particular one and I said, “They taste good but they disintegrate,” and she asked, “What is that?” and I said, “They are not solid, when you touch them they break into many pieces.” She didn’t run away from home, so I guess she took the positive criticism well. Now she is working on having them not crumbling.
Sometimes I wonder, with barely suppressed hope, if that is her artistic side that’s coming out. I asked her if she would like to be a chef instead but she said no, she would like to do it as a hobby. Anyhow, I hope she nurtures it but then again if, at 15 years, she discovers pottery, then that’s also fine. I will be the guy who has all manner of pots in his house. I will be the guy who meets old friends in supermarkets and tells them, “My daughter makes great pots, I’m sure you would like one,” and then force them to buy a blue-painted pot. I will be the guy who uses the word “dexterous,” to refer to her artistic hands. But here is what I dream for her. That if God blesses me and continues giving me life and grace, I will send her off to some unheard of Asian university to study whatever the hell she will want to study then. A place like East Timor, or Myanmar or Vietnam or South Korea or even a small town in Hong Kong. A place that completely makes her unlearn whatever she has learnt and that shifts her thinking. That maybe she will love it and she will start a small bakery there (or in Soyo, Angola), something quaint and creative and cozy and in a small town with a population of 2,010, and she will love whatever she’s doing and do it very well and she will live a very small but very rich life full of purpose, devoid of excesses or greed, just being happy and content doing what she’s doing running that small bakery called Black’s Bakery. And once in a while I (60-years old then) will fly out for many hours to visit her and sit in the kitchen watching her bake and clean, or just sit by the big window and read a book or stare out into the small town streets. And her customers will come and ask, “Is that your father? How did he get here?” and she will say, “By boat.” And if she ever decides to marry I hope she marries a man better than me. In whatever colour or shape. But a man who loves her cake.
She’s a phlegmatic, Tamms. Like me. We both don’t talk much. I can read her moods by hugging her and she can read mine by looking at my forehead. We can sit next to each other and say very few words and it is okay. It used to bother me, but I realised that like me, silence doesn’t bother her. We can sit in it comfortably. If I don’t have anything to say I won’t open my mouth. People shouldn’t just speak because their voices work. She’s like me in that regard and I can tell she will grow up not liking loud parties or big groups or undue attention. We are not the life of the party. We are comfortable at the back. My little girl is a leopard, just like her father. She walks the shadows and she knows she belongs there. Whenever I pick her up from school, we exchange niceties, I ask about school and her day and 10 minutes later we recede into ourselves. She naps as I drive. She might wake up and say, “Can we buy pizza?” and I say, “Sure, how much money do you have?” And she offers me the thinnest of smiles, because she’s Tamisha Biko. She’s ice. And ice is hot.
A few weeks ago I went to pick Tamms up from school and as I waited in the car her best friend came to the window to say hello. She’s called Kayla. I was flattered that she told her to come say hello to her dad. Which means she is not embarrassed about me. Yet. Or my wardrobe. Kayla was sweet. And shy. And tall. I said, “I have heard so much about you, Kayla, so good to finally meet you.” I couldn’t think of a joke fast enough because I was overwhelmed with gratitude. In the car she said, “I told Kayla that you are a writer.”
“Yeah. I told her you write on the internet and newspapers,” she said. “I told her to read the one about when Kim fell and bled at Karura.”
“Oh you read that story?” I turned to look at her, surprised.
“Nice! Do you read my stories often?” I asked with mild panic.
“Not all of them. Sometimes in the newspaper.”
“What do you think of them?” I asked.
“They are nice.”
Nice. Oh, boy. I wasn’t going for nice. A relative asked me what I think about her reading some of the unsavory things I write here. I think it doesn’t matter. I hope she will accept me for who I am and the warts that come with it. If she grows to make her pottery with her hands, surely I should also be allowed to make my pottery with words. I hope she thinks, “Whatever my father writes has got no bearing on me as Tamms.”
She’s a young woman now. She isn’t loud or expressive, she just sits quietly and observes. She’s a fly on the wall. Always picking non-verbal cues. Always sussing out situations. She’s not pushy. She will ask for something once and never ask again. Like me, she keeps things under her hat but when called for an opinion she doesn’t know how to sugarcoat it. That’s how she came to say that my trousers were horrible and I shouldn’t go to her school in them. She never shies from saying no, even when an opportunity to impress me by saying yes arises. She notices small things, like I do. She will say, “Papa, is your shirt new?” And in a world where nobody bloody notices your new shirt, that always comes with such warm feeling. She’s very proud. She will not beg. She’s a walker, like me. I suspect that she won’t think twice about walking away from things and people at the drop of a hat. I love that. I hope it means she won’t suffer foolish boyfriends. That she will tell boys, “See this bar? This is how I want to be treated, if you fall below this bar, I’m out.” She is getting to love reading, only she reads faster than I do. I read slowly. With my mouth half open. She’s me, only much, much prettier.
We are slowly embarking on that part of father-daughter relationship where what I do and what I say will greatly impact her life because I’m told that it’s fathers who eventually ruin their daughters. So I tell her that she’s gorgeous and smart and that being tall is not a bad thing at all no matter how many boys in her class are shorter than her. That she should never ever stoop while walking. Walk straight, walk proudly, let the world crane its neck to see you, never stoop for the world to see you. If the world wants to see you, the world will see you. I’m also teaching her to be dependable by showing up when I say I will show up and showing up on time. By doing everything I say I will do. By saying sorry when I’m wrong. By always asking her; “But what do you think?” so that she can voice an independent opinion, even if I will disagree with it and overrule it. And when I fail, and I’m sure I fail her many times as a father and as a man with many complex weaknesses, I try to do better. I’m also selfishly edging her towards the art of writing in the hope that she will find a relationship with words by making her write a composition a week. Hopefully something that doesn’t include “no sooner had she walked in than…” Maybe she will write, maybe she won’t. That’s also okay. She can do anything she wants to do – she’s Tamisha Biko, after all.
She remains a lovely kid that I’m immensely proud of. She listens. She says sorry. She says thank you. She cares for her little brother. She’s responsible. She prays. She listens to her mother. She’s not fussy. She’s isn’t the brightest in her class (neither was I, not by a long shot) but she works hard when she’s not being careless. (Like me.) She’s temperamental. (Like me). Moody. (Like me). She’s sloppy. (Like me.) She’s a fast reader. (Unlike me.) She loves sweet things. (Unlike me.)
She’s my baby. I know her magic. She’s ice. And ice is hot.
Ps. Have you registered for Bikozulu Writing Masterclass? Please do; firstname.lastname@example.org. Few slots left.