Space. I grew up in Zimbabwe on two acres and spent my days riding my bike and swimming, with school taking place along the way. I was a daydreamer and I was free to roam in both senses. There was a war going on outside the city, (I was still too young to fully comprehend its ramifications) but I inhabited vast spaces of freedom (at a time when freedom was not freely enjoyed), both in my mind and also physically. I left Africa when I was seventeen and came to London. I remember sitting on the tube and then the bus when I first arrived and marvelling at how all the houses were joined together.
Soon I began living in smaller and smaller spaces, during one rough patch I lived in a hostel in Kentish Town. My baby son and I lived in one room for fourteen months, before we were given a two bedroomed space of our own. We are still here now, only now there are two more children and a husband here too. I do love this place, though we have become like trees whose roots are being forced out through the ceilings and floors. My son who reached my knee when we first came is almost a head taller than me now. I was always able to touch the ceiling on my tiptoes. When I first came I would lie awake imagining the sleeping people stacked above me. The rooms in this flat have been painted and rearranged many times and now most of them are multifunctional apart from son one's and the bathroom (apart from in the usual ways) but I still inhabit vast spaces in my mind and I am still a daydreamer.
"There is sunshine in the moon too," my small daughter said, as we travelled home to London from Wales on Sunday night and the moon began to shine in the darkening sky. Her comment made me think of the imagination and its projections which are no less 'real' though they are dislocated - dis-located. From my moonscape bedroom in my small central London flat, I managed to produce a novel that is African because I am. African because I was born there and my imagination was birthed and raised there - I may not be black, but I consider being told I am not African a type of racism. My novel was produced in a small room in a flat in central London, but it still took me roaming to the sunshine spaces of my youth.
I still dream of and often long for more space. Zimbabwe is with me all the time, sometimes just in snapshots: a green mamba whipping across the road, the sharp tang of granadilla fruit, the silken feel of silkworms in silkworm season, the taste of sun-warm over-ripe mulberries. There are other frightening, bloody memories too.
Would I be more creative, if I had more physical space (given I had time-space too!)? We are still working towards living in Wales, which to me, for now, is an alternative to Africa. The Welsh landscape is as spiritual to me as Zimbabwe. No wonder there have been so many spiritual revivals in that singing land.
Space to roam, space to dream, the sun and the moon, places been and become, and places yet to go.