and the intimacy of the archive
By Shameelah Khan
I catch a glimpse of myself as a child that exists now only in the archive. I devour the visual restlessness that persisted in me in some old footage captured from a family holiday. I sit on a beach-chair and sulk. My father’s voice, from behind the camera, “and this grumpy child of mine, is upset again.” I fold my arms inward and give him some attitude, rolling my eyes, “no, I’m not.” I watch as the shaky shots paint before us an ocean, scattered holiday apartments in Durban somewhere and kids on the beach clutching onto their melting ice-creams. I search for my mother in the archive but she is far away. “Where is mummy?” my present self asks my father. Almost a demand. He scans his shaky-camera lazy filmed-shots and there- there in the distance we see her, walking far away from us, dipping her feet into the ocean water. The camera hastily zooms out and catches the smile of my baby brother scratching through the sand mumbling baby words. The footage is about him. The footage is for him. “He was such a cute baby.” We all agree. He was obsessed with Mr.Bones back then, trying to string together words from it, barely forming coherent sentences. He was a cute baby. The reason things stayed the same for a while. The reason we were together for a while.
I needed this footage for a documentary project. My research results in us huddled around my laptop screen pointing at hilarious moments or just the absurdity of witnessing ourselves back in time. My hair was a little bit too outrageous. My sister’s style was slightly questionable. My brother’s luscious golden-brown curls reflected in the sunlight. My mother’s body still as goddess-like as ever. My father, a hidden voice behind the cam-recorder, not seen in a single frame.
The night starts off warm and familiar, filled with happiness and joy as we relive snippets of our past. I look to my father “mum never really smiled…she was so….” He completes my sentence, “I know…”
I memorialise her.
I ritualise her.
My sister is pacing up and down near the ocean, not sure where she should be in that moment. She was young then. Younger than I could have remembered. Where I see a complete restlessness in myself, I see the complete opposite in her. So sure of herself. I am everywhere my younger brother is, holding his hand or carrying him through the swimming pool, as if he were my child. I wish though, that I had spent more time getting to know my sister as a child. What was she like back then? We never really got along. We never really had much in common. I wonder if she had felt the same kind of pains and losses that I often carried so deeply then, even as a child. My sister leaves us and heads to her room, unable to continue to digest our family memories, I suppose. I envy her a little. I wish to also escape the nightmare of this togetherness.
My eyes, still wandering far away into the archive, in search of my mother’s memory.
“I memorialise her”
“I ritualise her”
In this issue:
Love in The Time of the Virus by Jarred Thompson
Commute by Nkazimulo Moyeni
East Side by Mike Rullo