Columbia

* According to Wikipedia “Columbia is the female national personification of the United States.”

Within the extra-fortified walls of yet another Broadacres townhouse estate, Columbia rides her merchant bicycle, selling her wares. She gives the impenetrable security guard her usual friendly universal smile, as he escorts her in, interrogating her, seemingly knowledgeably, on her state of affairs.

“I’m looking for the Buthelezi home” she asks after the pleasantries. “Do you have an entrance code?” the security guard asks, as he was so diligently trained to. “I don’t unfortunately, but they won’t mind” she replies with a smug smile. “Ya, I’m sure it’s fine” he says as he lets her in. “I’m not sure, but I think they’re at No. 44”

Riding her bicycle full of wares, she approaches the house marked 44, and finds 6 year old Thandi Buthelezi playing outside with her neighbour Khanyi. “Hi kids!” Columbia greets them with her brazenly welcoming spirit. “I came to visit your family today”.

“Umm… who are you?” Thandi asks.

“Don’t you remember? I gave you Cocomelon and Barney, and so many more things. I actually thought you’d be with them now” she replies confidently.

“Well, we have load-shedding now, so we’re playing outside with our toys” says Khanyi.

“Ah, Barbie dolls, I sold them too” remarks Columbia. “In all shapes and colours. So that you can see yourself in us, umm, I mean in them!”

“I should probably call my mom cos we aren’t allowed to talk to strangers” remembers Thandi.

“But didn’t she say we shouldn’t disturb her because she’s working on a big work project?” says Khanyi.

“Ah yes, she’s implementing the ‘Best Practice Digital Transformation Plan’ I sold to her company through my universally knowledgeable consultants” remarks Columbia proudly.

“Who are you guys talking to?” shouts Bongani, Thandi’s older brother, from his upstairs window.

Bongani is normally hidden in his room, out of the sight of most people, as teenagers usually are. Lately, Thandi has overheard him talking a lot about something called “injustice” and how he wants to see more “black and brown people in shows”. She’s not too sure what that all means.

“Hey Columbia, have you also been selling the stuff that’s keeping Bongani in his room?”.  Thandi asks.

“Of course I did!” exclaims Columbia. “That one was sold on a subscription model, so he gets all the updates to correct the defects from earlier releases. The fixes come with detailed explanations of where earlier releases were wrong, especially highlighting who was responsible for getting it wrong. They also come with therapeutic frameworks to make sense of the world through our eyes, to keep you entertained until the next release”

“Umm… what’s defect, and therapeutic framework? That sounds stupid” says Khanyi

With a loud gasp in shocked exclamation, Thandi puts her hand over her mouth. “That’s a bad word Khanyi!”

“Well, we’re not supposed to be talking to strangers” remembers Khanyi.

“But I’m not a stranger, I’m an intimate part of your everyday lives” reminds Columbia.

“I think you should hamba. That’s the Xhosa word for go away. I learnt it from my cousin in Mthatha” says Khanyi.

“No it’s not! It’s the Zulu word for go! I heard my cousins from uMzimkhulu say it when we went in December” corrects Thandi.

Bored and confused by their disagreement, Columbia offers a solution to distract them from their tension. “Here’s a brand new TV show I’m sure you’ll love”

“But we have load-shedding. We can’t even watch TV now” replies Khanyi with growing scepticism.

“Actually you’re a stranger, we’re not allowed to be talking to you!” retorts Thandi. “Hamba Columbia Hamba” she chants.

And in one loud chorus, the girls repeatedly chant “Hamba Columbia Hamba”, chasing her out of the estate gates, onwards towards the next extra-fortified townhouse estate.

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