There was a girl in my primary school that was taller than us by the time we were in Class Six.
I don’t remember her name, but I remember her knees; they looked like the nodes on an old, knotty tree. I saw her knees during physical education class – PE, as we called it.
She would gather her dress in her hands to play kati and her knees would be in full sight, and I’d stand there by the playing ground thinking, boy, that girl’s knees can make a hole through a wall.
She was conscious of her height, so she slouched, which made her look like a female undertaker. The other kids made fun of her height, so she was always defensive and aggressive, down for a fight with anyone, boy or girl, who crossed her path.
She was pretty though. She had big eyes. She was brown. She had breasts when breasts were not even in fashion. And she had a wonderful laugh. When she laughed you almost forgot that her knees were crude weapons. Almost.
We finished primary school and life scattered all of us like pollen in the wind. Then, in 2012, I ran into her at Sarit Centre. I saw her standing in the line to validate her parking ticket and I instantly knew it was her. It was her height.
SLOUCHED TO HIDE HEIGHT
She towered over everyone in that queue. Her face hadn’t changed one bit either; she was still brown – browner, even. She had those gorgeous big eyes. She was still pretty. And she had full breasts.
She still had that full infectious laugh; it’s amazing how time has nothing on someone’s laughter. Time doesn’t affect the well of laughter.
She was heavy with the weight that motherhood sometimes puts on women, but it was her alright, and I could tell that she never lost that slouch; her shoulders bent forward from the pre-pubescent days of trying to hide her height. She slouched in adulthood as she slouched in childhood.
I waited for her to finish paying, then I stopped her to say hello. She couldn’t remember me instantly. (I was fat in primary school. Fat and silent and dull.) I said, “Jackson Biko. Class eight red?” She looked at me closely and said, “Oooh, gosh, you have a beard now! A man!” (I pumped out my chest slightly, like an ape!)
I was embarrassed to ask her name, and she didn’t offer. She said she read my name in the newspaper and online and she always wondered if it’s the same Biko who she went to school with. I nodded and acted like it wasn’t a big deal the way my four-year-old son does when you tell him he’s looking smart.
We caught up. She has children now, married, professional woman and doing good from how expensive her handbag looked. I wanted to tell her jokingly that I remember her knees from those days, but maybe that would have offended her, so I didn’t.
Anyway, the whole point of this story is about tall women. A university student with a nice name called Vannet, who is 5’8’, emailed me lamenting how tall women have challenges that average women don’t. They get noticed even when they don’t want to get noticed.
CHIN UP GIRLS
They draw too much attention to themselves. They intimidate men unknowingly, and it’s even worse when they realise you are smart on top of being beautiful and tall. “Men take off,” she wrote. You suddenly become a mountain they don’t want to climb.
She talks about how finding trousers that reach her ankles and sleeves that reach her wrist are a challenge. She also laments that being tall, men assume that she is independent. “I rarely get guys to help me out, even to lift stuff up. They assume I don’t need help.”
I suppose that she also has to be sensitive about the kind of shoes she wears before meeting a man who is shorter than her. I told her, “Being a tall woman is a beautiful thing. Hold your head high. If a man runs away because of your height then maybe he’s not the kind of man you need.”
My nine-year old daughter will certainly be tall. Her mother isn’t short, and she has tall relatives from both sides of the family. At nine, my daughter is already as tall as they come. (Her knees look decent, though.)
I’d hate for her to make excuses for her height one day. To slouch. To conform. To feel the need to lower her height to be the same as the masses. Once in a while I tell her, ‘My, Tamms, you have such a beautiful height, I love it.” I hope it gets to her head and she always stands tall.
She will no doubt meet short boys in school who she might fancy, boys who might make her feel that her height is a liability, that it’s a yoke to be borne with stoicism. Unlucky for those boys, her confidence will have been reinforced by my wiring.
I will be praising her height so much that if a short, fat boy (like I was in primary school) makes fun of her height she will say, “Oh, please, you wish you could be as tall as me. I know you would love to brush your teeth without standing on a stool.”
Chin up, you young, tall girls. Chin up. Height can only be worn with grace.