What does it look like when black lips meet?

In an airport when I was 11. That was the first of two memories I have of actually seeing two black lips meet. It was quick. My mother was travelling overseas and would be gone for a few months, maybe a year. She must have been scared. My father must have been terrified; two pre-adolescent children to take care of alone. It was quick. I didn’t look away like the kids on TV. I didn’t squirm and say, “eeew!” I was bemused. That is what love looked like. It looked like terror. Terror with a pinch of hope.

I cannot imagine what it looks like when black lips meet. I am brown of colour, and kinky of hair but my mind’s eye does not know what it looks like when black, thick lips meet each other. How do they intersect? How do they connect? Come to think of it, I don’t know what it looks like when people from South Asia kiss, or Middle East. This is a problem too. I close my eyes and focus. But I don’t know what it looks like when I kiss.

Overuse kills words. The word representation means little to me today, less than it did yesterday, more than it will mean tomorrow. My brown eyes are as glazed over as the next peach coloured person’s when the word is mentioned. The word is too complicated. Jeered every time anyone with an un-peach skin tone speaks. It’s too complicated for an issue that is quite simple. People want to see what it looks like when they kiss. Strange as it might seem. Let me explain why.

For those in the back, who may still think that we ride elephants to school in Africa, here is a quick lesson in context: we all watched the same TV shows as children. More or less. Whether you were in a city in America, or Europe, or in a living room in Africa – the experiences of television were unfortunately the same. On my 10th birthday I made a fist with my tiny hand and kissed the creases as instructed by As Told By Ginger. At 13, Princess Diaries taught me that my leg is supposed to pop up uncontrollably at true love’s kiss.

Before all of this, Disney taught me key lessons: you kiss before happily ever after, true love’s kiss will wake you from eternal slumber, your eyes have to be closed (it is the custom), the phrase ‘true love’s kiss’ and most importantly, a romantic kiss is one where you put your lips together. It is different from the peck your family gives you. Your lips have to lock. They have to make a zig-zag. Disney made me wise. Armed with all this knowledge, at 14 or 15, I kissed a boy and I liked it. Suffice to say I haven’t stopped kissing since.

A kissing enthusiast from the age of 6, I’ve always had questions. Most of these answers are easy enough to find with a click of a button to the nearest sitcom. By the time I was 18 I had done so much research that I had only one other lingering question that I had to learn outside the magic screen – what is the difference between a French kiss and a kiss kiss. I let the question slip out of my lips one lazy afternoon and after looking at me like I had suddenly grown a horn on my nose, my best friend sighed and replied, “You put your tongue in his mouth and he puts his tongue in yours”. This added a new dimension to my kissing story. A whole new world, as Aladdin and Jasmine would say. (“A new exciting point of view” I continue.)

The question that plagues me now is what do I look like? It dawned on me, a few months ago that I have thick lips. The person I have been kissing for a few years now, also has thick lips. Honestly, the thought alone, of what it must look like, fills me with a little dread. Before, you begin to judge me, this is why. The second and last time I recall seeing two black lips meet was in a Nigerian movie in my adolescence. The basic storyline of the film was an old sugar-daddy cheated on his wife with a school girl. Besides the kiss, this is all I remember from the film. The old man licked the girl’s face and slurped and smooched it. How was the poor girl breathing, I thought. I watched in awe. My parents, who were accustomed to changing the channel every time something inappropriate popped up (eg kissing+) also sat there stunned, the remote dangling lamely in my father’s hand.

Did I look like that? Was me kissing equivalent to letting people lick my face? Surely not. But I couldn’t tell. One day, whilst kissing my high school boyfriend, I decided to open my eyes just to look down and check what my lips looked like. Never. Doing. That. Again. Why? Firstly, my kissing-partner did not get the close-your-eyes memo, so he was staring right at me – which I found creepy. Secondly, double vision. I saw his eyes in double vision and got the fright of my life. Again, for those in the back taking notes, here is a friendly tip, it is not a good idea to open your eyes when kissing.

From experience, I can say that race is not a determinant factor on how you kiss. Let’s make it clear. One last time for those who may misconstrue my words: your melanin or lack thereof does not affect your ability to kiss young Jedi. I am African. I haven’t stayed long-enough on any other continent to know if the rules are different, but in sub-Saharan Africa people don’t just kiss on the street.

Contrary to the opinions of some, Africans do not spend their days having sex on trees or on the backs of elephants. Our elephants are busy teaching in schools – thank you very much! And kissing is just not an ‘in-the-light-of-day’ activity. The rules of my upbringing were: do not be seen with a boy, do not touch a boy. If you break the cardinal rule being clapped by an ‘Aunty’ (i.e. any older woman) in the grocery store or some other public place. Or worse, you will end up in a tabloid. Your moment of dark happiness splayed on newsprint for all to see – then a gaggle of random of aunties will chase you down the street for your immorality.

Now, in my mid-twenties, I muse over kissing as I sit at my desk pretending to work. I still have questions. In the middle of a working Monday, a memory came to me. My parents kissed once when I was younger. It was at the airport. My parents shared a dark moment of passion. I didn’t realise then what I realise now. Everything just stopped. The aunties waited, trying to figure out how to drag Mama from Dad. I stood there in silence trying to commit to memory what it looks like when two thick lips meet.

*Photography by Lusi Mbira

Teresa Samkele is a Zimbabwean writer obsessed with untold stories. Published in her teens in the UK-based ‘Young Writers’ Anthology, her work serves to tell the African story; the human story. She grew up in Botswana and Zimbabwe, and studied in Cape Town, South Africa for many years. Brain-child of the emerging publishing house, Shangaan Press, she currently splits her time between administration of the publishing house and work on her debut novel.

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