2007 – Colour 

I am in high school, working hard to achieve academic colours and remain the top learner in my grade. Outside of school, I am obsessed with soft rock and white boys. In February I fall in love with Neil’s soft pale hands, army-boy haircut and blue-green eyes. He writes me a letter in pink ink and slips it into my hand during school hours. In the letter he tells me that I am beautiful for a black girl and that he wants to kiss me. In March he tells me he suffers from bipolar disorder and that he was locked up in a room for weeks as a child. A pattern of confusing and inconsistent behaviour begins and we both blame his illness. In May, he confesses that he has three girlfriends and I am one of them. I ask him if the other two girls are white. He says nothing. I have my first breakdown during one of his manic episodes. I do not know how puppy-love morphs into mental illness, but Neil leaves me in June and in less than a month I find myself hospitalized and weighing less than forty kilograms. The hospital records say major depressive disorder and anorexia nervosa but there is only one name on my tongue: Neil. I write myself out of the pain and anger I feel. Sessions with my therapist are the only opportunities that I have to share what I have written, and I take full advantage of them. The recurring theme in the pieces I write and share with Dr L is that I want to live.

Nkateko Masinga

2011 – Inheritance

I am a twenty-year-old medical student, still a high academic achiever and now a member of the Golden Key International Honour Society for being in the top 15% of my year. I am knee-deep in academic journals about dysmenorrhoea, a disease I have inherited with my womanhood. I throw up during a chemistry practical and the lab assistant asks me if I am pregnant. I say no and excuse myself for the rest of the class. The next day I explain to him that I get sick during my period and he looks at me with an expression I can only describe as the love-child of sympathy and disgust. My mother’s endometriosis lands her in hospital for the second time in six months and I fear that she passed down her tortured womb to me. I start taking Triphasil birth-control pills from the clinic where I work and for three months my period is lighter, and the pain doesn’t leave me doubled over and wishing for death. We change clinics and I no longer have access to the pills. While consulting with my family doctor for a mild respiratory illness I ask about birth control pills for painful menstrual periods and she tells me I should try Yasmin or Yaz. My payment options are the family medical aid or my bursary stipend. I know that neither are a possibility: being on birth control will imply that I am having sex and my parents will kill me. Using my bursary stipend means sacrificing food or transport fare. I decide to abandon the idea. My uterus continues to torment me monthly. I write about the pain.

Nkateko Masinga

2015 – Secrets

I am in my fourth year of medical school and my first poetry chapbook has been published. I am living in student accommodation close to campus and the training hospital, so my parents do not know about the book. Later that year I get invited to speak at a women’s conference at the church my family attends and to bring copies of my books. I find out that my mother will be attending the conference and go home to tell my parents about the book. My father tells me that I am living a “double life” and my mother remarks on how “scary” the cover of my book is. I want to tell her that racism, Apartheid and xenophobia are scary, that the Bantu Education Act and the Immorality Act are scary. I want to explain that the cover reflects the book’s contents, but I say nothing. She will never read my book. Neither will my father. At school, stress eats at me. I stress-eat. I get sick during my internal medicine rotation and my dysmenorrhoea graduates to dysmenorrhagia. I bleed for three consecutive weeks before going to the doctor to find out what is wrong. I receive haemostatics to stop the blood and there and then make the decision that I will leave medicine as soon as I finish my degree. I tell myself ‘If I do not leave, this career will kill me.’ I keep writing. My parents find out that I am working on a new book and I am given me an ultimatum: stop writing or lose their support. I choose the former.

2019 – Purpose

It is February and I am boarding a plane back to South Africa, leaving Nigeria and the Harmattan heat after a month as a writer-in-residence at the Ebedi International Writers Residence. It has been a month of growth in my writing, a month of experimenting with form in poetry and submitting applications for various opportunities in the literary field. I smile at the thought of the acceptance emails I have received while I was here; the rejections too, intermittent heartaches that are an inevitable part of the journey. I smile at the memory of being given a Yorùbá name: Àlàkẹ́. As I get onto the aircraft, I vow to Nigeria that Àlàkẹ́ will return, a promise I have made and fulfilled twice before when I was in the country for the Ake Arts and Book Festival (in 2017) and the Lagos International Poetry Festival (in 2018). I think of the other countries in Africa I am yet to visit, the wonderful people I am yet to meet, and I grateful for the day I made the decision to pursue what I love wholeheartedly. Jet-lagged and tired, I get home to find that I have mail: a copy of a literary journal that my work is published in. Later that day I receive an invitation to co-host an online poetry workshop with a fellow poet. I say yes. Another day passes and I receive an email requesting that I share my writing journey to inspire others. I say yes to that too, and so I begin writing my story…


About The Author

Nkateko Masinga was born in Pretoria, South Africa. She is a writer, performance poet, publisher, TEDx Speaker, 2018 Mandela Washington Fellow, World Economic Forum Global Shaper and 2019 Ebedi Writers Fellow. Her written work has appeared in Brittle Paper, Kalahari Review, U.S journal Illuminations, UK pamphlet press Pyramid Editions, the University of Edinburgh’s Dangerous Women Project, and elsewhere. She is the founder and managing director of NSUKU Publishing Consultancy. Her work has received support from Pro Helvetia Johannesburg and the Swiss Arts Council. She is currently a Contributing Interviewer for Poetry at Africa In Dialogue.

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