He looked at me across the counter, pen poised above the form, and asked where I was born. We had made good progress up till then. Name, age, gender, marital status, I knew all the answers. But now: where was I born? A silence floated in the ice-white hall and wobbled outwards like a slowly blown bubble. My breath was going nowhere. He asked again – Your place of birth? – and the walls dissolved into sunlight, straggled poinsettia bleeding white, mealies roasted in mopani embers, crack of msasa pods curled beneath my foot. Somewhere in a non-existent country. He was getting impatient, I could see, so I drew my coat a little tighter round my self and scrabbled to release my breath. In my mental fists I held two names, one in the past and one in the present. Which one should I give him? I opened my mouth and offered the name that was on the palm of my tongue.
This poem first appeared in The Stony Thursday Book no.16, Summer 2018, edited by Nessa O’Mahony.