My first remembered door was a toilet, me traumatised on the wrong side, trapped, wailing. Dad slid under the door a mysterious bit of serrated metal, introduced with the newly minted word, key, key … pick up the bloody key! Then, as I triumphed over the white oblong of wood and its forbidding creaks, three huge figures rushed up to me. They coalesce in memory as mom, dad and sister. I think they were laughing with relief, perhaps somewhere in Durban.
All three figures have vanished now. The last time each was touched was just before a door closed between them and me. Cheerio to dad while he handed me the keys to the home as I set off for school in a year framed in a set of digits sequenced as 1981 — four numbers strung together, ostensibly to create meaning. Saying bye-bye to mom on a porch in Fish Hoek in 2002. Or waving Tammy goodbye through the departure gate of Jo’burg airport, 1979.
Doors eulogise and sum up my last remembrances, unblinking, gaunt as gravestones.
And when was it that mom, dad or Tammy ever first opened a door on me and said hello….?
Beyond recall. But richly here, in this moment, as I crush a bud in a garden for the release of that perfume in ever-present commemoration. Don’t we all need our inner gardens of remembrance, to go there slowly for sanctuary?
(Especially the dispossessed do, those without centuries of the same home and country trudged into them. Our kind is all around the world now. Our world. Our world. I love to boast what I “am”: a born and bred South African on an Irish passport (ancestral entitlement, mate), living with permanent residence in New Zealand after working for seven years on another planet, mainland China. Let’s compare university-of-life qualifications, pal. Mine’s bigger than yours. Oh, you did the Czech Republic and environs for ten? Okay, you win. He who dies with the most work visas in his passport wins.)
Doors which open or close at night frighten my body. It crawls with electricity, and in that glimmer there’s still dad dragging mom out of their bedroom-sanctuary, then slamming the door on her. She then opens wider my secretly cracked-open childhood door to fall asleep sobbing in my bed.
To this day, that door bangs.
I reason it away: She didn’t want sex. He couldn’t perform. She couldn’t perform. It wasn’t about sex; it was something else. But that door is always here, the spine wincing in bed in the widowing hours when I hear a door smack to or crack open.
A relative of doors is the silence in books. They ruffle open, keen histories waiting to be sniffed: a path through woods inviting you to tramp down. Or a smear of wind-tossed roses throwing you back to the first flower ever smelt, lifting you forward to new kindlings in our greatest gift: consciousness. To slap shut a read book has the smack and sound of lips after a fragrant meal. You stare at the thing in wonder in your hand.
Books and words taught me to wonder again at doors. To savour what might happen — God alone knows what might happen, who might go forever – when you crack one open or reverently watch it close again, under your hand, or another’s. To smile at the tiny courtesy of holding open a door for a stranger. To acknowledge each pull and shut, while unseen hinges just do their mundane, miraculous job. Doors are lungs, teaching you to open, to breathe.