I it all started with a white school teacher locking her grade 5 pupils inside a classroom a black boy in a corner breathing slowly deeply by the strength of his own legs frantically climbing attempting to escape by way of the classroom window, possessed by the fight or flight drowning under the laughter of school children, because he felt he was on the verge of dying. II often confused with claustrophobia, the nature of the fear is not one of enclosed space the fear is of being trapped & this is a fear that I have lived with for a long time now. III when the windows are shut when the doors are locked I reassure myself that everything is fine but only after I have seen the keys, & when I don’t see the keys, I am overcome by this feeling of drowning then to breathing slowly deeply my gentle lie just to get some sleep. IV the sinking feeling a transition into an aversion to signing things & once a small ring got stuck on my finger & as I struggled to pull it off my heart racing, all I was thinking was is this what commitment would feel like. V there were talks of hypnosis once, until I thought how could I live freely, knowing I once surrendered my mind for another person's spell. the essence of my issue is control, because I feel once I step inside an elevator I give myself to the machine that may well stop in limbo perhaps the doors may jam closed & remain that way for an eternity. the truth is rooted in the ground floor I have lied to myself saying that I elevate by the strength of my own legs my truth is I have absolutely no trust for elevators VI is the heart not imprisoned behind the rib cage, is the soul not imprisoned by the body, a heavy rock, sinking with each year a little deeper tightly entangled with the seaweed on the ocean floor is the same little boy still down there & isn’t it such a wonder how for so long he has somehow managed to hold his breath for all these years.
Observations during a Siege a first observation on laughter nothing was meant by it it was pure coincidence that a Mexican pale lager had the misfortune of being named ‘Corona’ the jokes were harmless & for a brief tender moment a light-heartedness to ease tensions with laughter described as medicinal or another way to keep from crying. a second observation on a false sense of security by definition, panic as “a sudden uncontrollable fear or anxiety” & who could have foreseen the commercial carnage an aged psychologist blames retail therapy or buying to manage an emotional state & so this was the moment in time when panic compelled a sudden rush can you believe survival comes at a cost a third observation on control lockdowns and curfews imposed, under the guise of ‘to protect and serve’ Lagos, Nairobi, Soweto on the news we are under the siege & to think of all the things we have in common with the rest of the world how protective measures become even deadlier than the virus itself. a fourth observation on a loss of power for some, the gravitas of things yet to register nor to infiltrate the depths of the nervous system, of all disinformation the fake news & above all the willingness to endanger others the reality of our fates intertwined the laissez-faire approach of those not willing to comply. a final observation on being desensitized the virus the regional statistics the measuring of ‘hotspots’ the ‘epicentres’ the active cases the number of recoveries the comparisons of continental graphs the mutations the vaccination conspiracy theories the so-called South African variant the numbers the numbers declining the numbers increasing the change the deaths today versus the deaths yesterday the value of a single life the date of the first death in your country the value of a single life the afterthought all the ways we have been changed by the siege.
Sihle Ntuli is a South African poet and classicist living in Durban. He holds a Master of Arts degree in Classical Civilisations and has previously lectured at the University of the Free State, where he was awarded the 2019 CTL Innovation Award for Curriculum Design and Delivery. His poetry was shortlisted for the DALRO Poetry Prize in 2017. He most recently became the author of the poetry chapbook, Rumblin in 2020. He has had work published in South Africa and across the African continent on notable journals such as Lolwe, Down River Road & The Johannesburg Review of Books.