Text: Abi Tlhako
Photograph: Supplied

The memory of my first encounter with blood
Was a nose-bleed in the pre-school sandpit
Kids gathered around my funeral in fascination.
I had buried the crimson drops in the sand
By the time help arrived.
This became my trademark.
The one who buries things that frighten her.
I showed the shirt to my mother.
“soak it in cold water” she said.
But remember to fulfill them in the end.

At twelve, my blood called for a different kind of burial.
No procession for metamorphosis.
Mama had warned me
About this mourning of girl children who still lived.
Myself, a new corpse among other new corpses.
Unaware of the life we were losing.

The flies swarming around our hips
Could smell the party beneath our tiny tunics
The older corpses said to run
Away from those who would always survive us.
We were a massacre in waiting.
I showed my dress to my mother,
“soak it in cold water” she said.

At eighteen my blood called leeches.
Called them from every body of water I was told not to swim in.
The flies around my hips were under my spell.
I, the witch who bleeds but never dies.
Nothing about flies or leeches terrified me,
I called them myself.
When my mother found my body
Face-down where the reed sea used to flow,
She soaked me in cold water.
Now awaiting a pit in a graveyard,
Where my kind fear to rest.
We knew flies and leeches by first-name now.
When this body hit the floor of the sandpit,
When the flies got trapped in my bleeding skirt,
When the leeches sucked me dry,
When I no longer bled for an audience
that would only clap at my final breath…
I soaked it all in cold water
And the blood washed away.
My mother said, we were never corpses.
I had never died.
She had died many times and returned for me.
She said death was only enjoyed by leeches, flies and funeral-goers.
Mama said to soak me in cold water,
This whole time
I was a seed, not a corpse.