Stranger in the house

Jackson Biko laments the passing of the years and wonders what has happened to the child he once knew…

teenagerTeenagers – they grow taller. Lankier. Weirder. Their limbs become longer, bonier. Their faces break open. Hair. All over. Hair on chins and on hands. You hear your son speak and he doesn’t speak like your little boy anymore. He speaks like he swallowed an adult.

Teenagers – they steal around you, like a boat around a rocky outcrop, opening doors, moving silently from room to room like ghosts, like mist under a door. Almost like they don’t live here anymore. Like they don’t belong. They become different people. People who don’t even like you. Suddenly you are the guy they feel awkward around.

Then the music. Weird music. Music that spears through walls as if it’s made from laser. Music that goes with the clothes, which now look incomprehensible. The pants that sweep the floor. Things that hang all over the place. The eyeliners that are too pronounced. The piercings on body parts. Shoes that look like boats.

And the walk. What’s up with that walk? They never walked like that before. Who tampered with their centre of gravity?

Because they say so much with their mannerisms, clothing and music, they have nothing left to say with their mouths. At least not to you. You seem to make them sulky. You can’t ask questions that don’t seem intrusive. You can’t touch their phones. Their stuff. Or walk into their rooms without knocking. I don’t know, you could get shot accidentally. They seem to spend more time brooding. And when they say hallo, it’s always a mumbled word if you are lucky. Or a nod. You get nodded at many times, as if you are their ‘homie’.

And their friends are just a mirror of who they have become. They come over, bony shoulders poking through their T-shirts, caps covering half their faces, chewing gum. They shake your hand without looking at you. Then they vanish to their room, door closing firmly behind them. Then you hear laughter and it surprises and saddens you. You are surprised that they are still capable of laughter like humans. Saddened that they can never laugh near you anymore. At least not with that level of pleasure.

These aren’t the children you raised, these gnomes living in a parallel universe under your roof. They have become strangers right before you eyes. That’s what happened. Strangers. Dr James Dobson, you know him, right? That guy who comes on TV and breaks down family stuff for you? He says you have to step back and let it run its course. That they will come round. That they are confused with what’s going on as much as you are. But when, Dobson, when?

You have been reduced to that guy who asks his wife to decode what’s going on: Is he OK? Does he want to come with us? Is she happy? What does that mean when she cuts her hair like that? What did she really think of that dress I bought her? You can tell me. I won’t get hurt. I swear, I won’t.