The day I found a time machine in my old childhood cupboard
The things I learned about the me I used to be.
When I eventually moved out of my parents’ home in my early 20s, I packed the prized possessions I had collected over the years and stashed them in the cupboard in my childhood bedroom.
I locked the cupboard door and put the key in a safe place.
That was in 1993, when FW de Klerk was the future former president and my hair was so long, I could sit on it.
And then I lost the key.
Every now and then, I would search all my usual hiding places for the key, but, like the Tembisa decuplets, it had vanished into thin air.
Over the years, I would try loose keys I found, but none unlocked the cupboard.
When I visited my parents, I would go to my old room and stand in front of the door and stare at it, wracking my brain to remember what was inside.
One day, I walked into my old room and sized up the cupboard, which had remained closed for more than two decades. It was time for its mysteries and skeletons to be revealed. I called a locksmith.
So many changes had taken place while the cupboard was closed: people were born and became parents, phones became so light you could carry them without damaging your back, 9-year-old Mark Zuckerberg became a billionaire, apartheid became a democracy, and a 20-something-year-old long-haired hippie transformed into a middle-aged, balding “responsible member of society”.
The locksmith jammed a screwdriver into the cupboard door’s keyhole, smacked the screwdriver with a hammer and – bam! – the lock broke.
The door creaked open. I stepped forward and breathed in air – air from a lifetime ago.
I started to make my way through my long lost forgotten treasures: my Grade 2 school report; Guinness Book of Record cards (the person with the longest fingernails that twirled into spirals impressed me and freaked me out); a packet of ½c coins; a poster of the Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci; a ticket stub for a game between the Transvaal Mean Machine and Natal; Tiger comics featuring Hotshot Hamish; Gerrie Coetzee’s autograph; my coveted breakdance yoyo; a collection of Chappies wrappers with Did You Knows (“Did You Know … your ears and nose never stop growing”); and a green buddha figurine, whose tummy I’d rub to bring me luck.
My next find was a cassette with a mixtape I’d made by recording songs from the radio. Ripping songs from the radio was all about timing. If you hit “record” too early, you got a few seconds of an advert or the DJ’s schpiel. If you hit it too late, you’d miss the song’s intro.
I remember calling a radio station and requesting Van Morrison’s Brown Eyed Girl so I could record it on my mixtape.
I plucked up a file filled with angst-ridden poems from my brooding teen years. Maybe the key lost itself in a noble attempt to ensure these horrors were never inflicted on the world.
There was a letter from my friend, Kristina. Kristina was a German exchange student, and we had become close while she was in South Africa.
I remember saying goodbye at the airport.
“You’ll come to Germany and maybe we’ll even get married,” she laughed.
I never went to Germany. Kristina never returned to South Africa. We exchanged a few letters. The one in my hand was the last letter she wrote. I meant to write back, but never got round to it.
We would listen to my mixtape in my bedroom as we set the world to rights.
I looked at her letter and could hear Van Morrison singing, “You, my brown-eyed girl. Do you remember when we used to sing, Sha-la-la, la-la, la-la, la-la, la-la tee-da.”
Next to come out of my cupboard is a newspaper clipping of a 1980 article on the Year of the Child. I’m interviewed about what I want to do when I grow up.
“I’d like to own a chocolate factory,” my 9-year-old self declared – a dream I still hope to achieve when I do eventually grow up.
I took out a dog tag with “Zardoz, 430396” engraved on it. The tag had belonged to my galoomphy dog; the best friend a boy ever had.
I reached into the cupboard and fished out a record. I wiped the dust off the jacket. It was the first album I ever owned – Rick Astley’s Never Gonna Give You Up.
And as I had done many times when growing up, I clenched my fist into a microphone and sang heartily: “You’re no stranger to love, you know the truth and so do I …”
It was only when I got to the chorus that I realised that, after a quarter of a century, I had just Rickrolled myself.