The first time I had my own bed was in high school. I moved into hostel when I was 16 and shared a dorm room with 3 other friends. The only possessions I had were in a single bag my mother bought from PEP. Prior to moving into hostel I’d always shared a bed or mattress with my sister. We learned the economy of space and the importance of sharing when we moved around during our childhood, often into one-roomed flats. My parents shared a single bed and my sister and I slept on the floor.
Sharing space and having no privacy was part of my childhood and early teens. Having no space to be and think was the norm. It was only in Grade 12, where in hostel it was a matric privilege to have a room of one's own that I began to relish the endless joy of having my own room with a key and a lock. My own private space to think. It was by leaving the one-roomed flat (that I called home) that I was able to have a room of my own.
I have bitter-sweet memories of sharing space with my family in cramped rooms. No-one had to tell me but I knew that having space in the world where the outside can't come in is a privilege for many young women who grow up in poor families and can't afford the middle class idea of home and space: where everyone has their own room and cupboard to store, control and protect the possessions they have. Having a room means privacy and a space to be alone and even to be naked unashamedly. To be quiet with one’s thoughts or be allowed to sleep with no disturbances and even a place to hide. I have learned to love being alone and it often feels as though it's a privilege that someone can take away from me.
Yesterday I handed back my keys to my landlord for the flat I've been renting for the past year. Seeing the empty room I wondered about the stuff and things I’ve accumulated since my arrival in Grahamstown. Now that I have to move to another city I wonder why I feel the need to own stuff and things. Instead of one bag as I did when I moved into hostel almost 10 years ago, now I have boxes with books and handbags and odds and ends I’ve convinced myself I need. I can’t take any of them home (where my family is) because I live out of a suitcase and share a room with my sister and nephew. I grew up living with the bare necessities: school uniform and clothes that I could share with my sister, but now my bare necessities seem to include books, handbags and jewelry and scarves that I still haven’t been able to give away in spite of moving to another province.
As I look for a place to stay in Cape Town for next year, I am reminded of my restless childhood where we always seemed to be in between places. Each time we moved was a negotiation of what was necessary and what possessions were a luxury because we always seemed to be moving to smaller and smaller spaces (until our most recent move 5 years ago where we moved into a house with 2 bedrooms and proper cupboards). One would think after all the moving experiences I have had; I would have learned not cling to anything because things are just things and can be easily destroyed or taken away from me. However, I still like to think of myself as having enough. And somehow I will find another room of my own which will have enough space for the stuff and things I have accumulated. This shouldn’t be a luxury, but a part of growing up and finding somewhere to hide when it is necessary and be allowed to negotiate entrance into the world as I wish.
[*title from Virginia Woolf’s work]