(Image from Pinterest: Rudo, Nyasha and Tendayi.)
” What do you mean you could not leave it there? You could have just walked away, LITERALLY!.” , Tunga shouted at Vongai as he pointed at the basket sitting on the sofa. Vongai had explained to him how she heard an unusual sound when she was walking home from work. Nurse Margaret had delayed her again, this time she had asked her to stay a while longer so she could go to the south wing which was a fifteen-minute walk both ways, to borrow a cigarette from the other nurses.
”Tungamirai, murume wangu, please hear me out”, Vongai knelt next to him as she pleaded with him. She had relayed the incident numerous times trying to convince Tunga how she could not just walk away.
She was halfway home, a few minutes from Bakayawa Grocery Store when she heard a strange noise near the big msasa tree which marked the entrance to the Mufakose township. She had thought little of it as she knew no robbers would be lurking close to where people would see them. She ignored the noise and kept walking, but as she walked towards the township, she heard it again, a loud wailing from where the tree was but she could not see anyone. She began to think it was Peggy, the infamous phantom that had been known to roam around Mufakose and luring drunk men and late travellers to their death and misfortune. She stopped in her tracks out of fear and began to think of how she was going to run if it were Peggy. Could she actually outrun a ghost? What if it was a dzangaradzimu, this could be worse because though they were known not to be violent, they used their height to scare you.
As she stood there deciding her fate, the wailing became louder and it began to sound like a baby. Vongai snapped herself out of her thoughts and paid attention to where the crying was coming from. She began to walk back listening attentively, to try to concentrate where exactly the noise was coming from. From the dim light supplied by the moon, Vongai was able to make out a huge basket underneath a big msasa tree. The noise appeared to be coming from the basket, as she came nearer to it, it sounded more like a new-born baby crying. She walked towards the basket and looked at it for a very long time before deciding on what to do. Was it truly a child or was she falling for a hoax? What if it was a tokoloshi or someone was trying to lure her and murder her on the spot? As she was trying to make sense of it, the crying began again and this time it sounded as if the baby was exhausted from crying. The cry sounded husky and low. Without thinking twice Vongai opened up the basket and beheld herself as she saw a baby, not more than three days partly swabbed in a white sheet with no clothes underneath.
“ Mwari wangu! ”, Vongai exclaimed as she picked the baby from the basket. The sheet had come undone and the baby’s tiny hands were out, with its fists in its mouth. Vongai could not help but notice the baby was very pale, she thought maybe someone had abandoned the baby because it was an albino and they did not want to be shunned. However, as she fully unwrapped the baby, trying to see if it had a napkin, she notices the blonde straight hair . She lifted the baby to her face to see clearly as she could not believe her eyes. A white baby dumped close to the township? Why and who would do such a thing? Were they hoping someone would find the baby or they just wanted to get rid of it? She instinctively began to rock the baby and wrapped “him” with her cardigan and stockings, removing the wet sheet. She did not have anything for him to eat, so she left him to his fists. He looked helpless and leaving him would be inhumane. What would Tunga say? She had made up her mind not to have kids and was adamant about it.
” What am I going to do”, she murmured to herself as she rocked the baby. He looked very peaceful and seemed to have fallen asleep.
“…I can not take you home. What will my husband say? I can not leave you here too, what if you d..”, as she was contemplating on what to do. She heard a ruffling in the bushes and heard a voice from where the pathway was. She carefully put the baby back in the basket and as she picked it to hide it in a tree hollow on the msasa tree, she was startled by someone poking her with something blunt on her back.
“You, kaiffar..w- what are y- you doing here?”, a male voice bellowed poking her back. Vongai froze and was terrified when she recognised the voice. It was Sergeant Burke, he was a villainous and crude UDI officer. He was known for arresting black people for absurd things and was feared by everyone in the township, except for Mr Tom who was his brother-in-law. Vongai slowly turned around to face him, praying he would not harass her but most of all, he could not ask her to open the basket which she still held in her hand. She saw the baton stick which was in his hand and which previously had been used to poke her, and her heart sank. She had never been a victim of police brutality all because of Tunga who had always made sure they avoided any encounters with the UDI police, but she had seen its sinister markings on her neighbours and family members.
“Answer me!”, he bawled at her as he staggered, struggling to stand still. Vongai was terrified, she thought of just pushing him out of her way and run for her life, but fear paralysed her.
“I-I was relieving m-myself, sir.”, she lied hoping he was going to be repulsed by her activity and leave her.
“Bloody hell, you people are disgusting! Animals!”, he bellowed as he stood in front of Vongai gawking at her. Vongai stood there scared for her life and hoping the baby not to make a sound.
“W- What do you have in there? O- open it, n-n..”, as he moved towards her, pointing at the basket.
Vongai moved back, trying to move away from him. He kept moving forward and closer to her until she was pressed against the msasa tree and could smell the stale odour of alcohol and sweat. Vongai was terrified, she wanted to cry but did not want to wake the baby. He held on to the basket tightly with one hand and held her chest with the other one. Sergeant Burke moved closer to her and stared at her for a few seconds without saying anything. He glared at her chest and then her face and smiled. Vongai began to sob, she knew what he was thinking and knew what was to follow. She thought of pushing him away but she was afraid he had seen her face and would recognise her when he was doing his patrol “rounds” in Mufakose. Sergeant Burke slowly put his head on her chest, with his arms hanging on both sides. Vongai stood there paralyzed, the baby was starting to whimper. She tried to sway the basket so the baby could not feel scared or alone but it did not make it better. The baby began to cry, loudly and very audible. She could not move because of the Sergeant’s upper body weight on her chest. She wondered why he had not moved in the few minutes he had rested his head, he was not moving or talking and the only sign of life was his breathing pattern. She realised he had fallen asleep on her chest. He was not snoring or wheezing as Tunga did whenever he came home drunk, but he was breathing as any non-snoring person would. To free herself and attend to the crying baby, she decided her own fate and pushed the Sergeant off her chest. He slumped on the ground with a thud and let out a groan, he let out a few runts then began to snore. As soon as Vongai detected he was still alive, she ran for her life.
” Ndamhanya, I did not even stop at Mai Kaitano’s shop for bread and milk for tomorrow.”, Vongai said as she explained to her husband still kneeling next to him. She added how when she arrived home, she took the baby out and washed it. She realised it was a boy and he had a big wound on his right leg. It made him wince every time she touched or moved his leg. Vongai had dressed it in some gauze and dressings she had managed to get from the hospital that one time when Tunga had been injured after the roof of one of the houses they were working on had collapsed whilst he was inside. She wrapped him in one of Tunga’s t-shirt’s and cut two holes into her shower cap to make a homemade waterproof.
“Adya? Has he eaten?”, Tunga asked as he leaned over to get a closer look at the baby. He felt sorry for him but he did not want to get attached either.
“Ehe, I gave him the last of the fresh milk.”, Vongai said as she took the baby out of the basket who had begun to whimper. She began to rock him and trying to soothe him. She checked the shower cap to see if he was wet but it appeared dry. She was tired and could not think as to why the baby was crying.
” I just fed him, I do not know why he is still crying. Shhh shh, heehuwe chinyarara mwana. Heehuwe c-chi…”, Vongai began to cry. She was scared and the shock of what she had done was beginning to sink in.
” Nhai Mwari, what have I done!?”, she began to sob as the baby wailed in her arms. Tunga stood up and took the baby from Vongai. He did not want to say anything that would further upset her, even though he had a lot to say. Mxm, Vongai so? She would have just easily walked away and not tried to pry. Now she is crying over something that would have been avoided. Yaah, I guess this is for better or for worse. Tunga thought to himself as he rocked the baby in one hand and holding Vongai with the other.
“ Enda unorara Vongai, you have work tomorrow. I will take care of him and think of a way forward.” , he suggested standing in the dining/kitchen rocking the baby who was turning red crying. He was trying to find a way to calm him before their nosy neighbour came knocking.
” I do not mind staying up Tunga, I-I brought him here so…I should take care of him”, Vongai replied standing next to him. She was trying to collect herself and take on the burden she had added on to their already hard life. She knew Tunga was already scheming on what to do next. He had always been the problem solver in the marriage and he was never one to point fingers, he unfailingly evinced how they were a team.
” No, chinorara. I will take care of him. Do not worry.”, he suggested as he walked to their kitchen unit which Tunga had fashioned. He did not look at Vongai or show any emotion. He tried to rock the baby who was now crying with a rasp. He precisely needed time to himself, and the baby, to figure out how they were going to go about. He was furious, but he knew overtly expressing it at the present moment, would not lead to any resolution.
” Ok, goodnight. If you need anything, please wake me. There is a bit of mil..”
“Vongai, please. Go to bed, I am a grown man and I can take care of a child. Wanzwa?!”, he blurted out as he faced the kitchen unit, trying to avoid Vongai. His outburst startled the baby who had stopped crying and he started whimpering again. Vongai sighed and quietly walked out of the room, she knew saying anything would make Tunga angrier. She did not get the chance to have a wash before bed or perform her night skin care routine. She trod into their bedroom which consisted of a 3/4 bed, a washing basket, a wooden shoe rack with their two pairs of shoes each, a zambia that divided a quarter of the room to cover their clothes carefully arranged against the wall and a chest of drawers which was had a can of Macho spray, a tub of vaseline, a jar of Oil of Olay she had gotten from Nadia, a small bottle of Mum deodorant, a can of multipurpose Kiwi shoe polish, face powder and two shades of lipstick. She put on her nightdress and tied her hair, she stood in the middle of the room trying to hear if the baby was crying or if she could make up what Tunga was doing basing on the sounds he made.
She checked the time on her wristwatch as she put it on the chest of drawer. It was a little past midnight and she would be up in four hours. She got into the covers and fluffed her pillow which was stuffed with old clothes and dried lavender. She held the blanket to her chin and tried to force herself to sleep.
” Mwari, thank you for Tunga and for giving me the courage to save this baby. However, I do not know what to do now. Hear me, Lord, what will I do? May this not backfire and may it not break my marriage, please. Please God, ndapota. It is the only good thing in my life.”, Vongai inaudibly prayed as tears rolled down her face, drifting off to sleep.
Tunga put on the Primus stove and placed the kettle on the plate, holding the baby in the other hand. The baby was sucking his fists and he was wide awake. Tunga tried to put him back in the basket but he began to cry as soon as he put him down. He picked him up and he stopped crying. He put him down again and as soon as he put him down, he began to cry again.
” Hezvo, is there something biting you in that basket?”, Tunga questioned as he surveyed the basket but could not find anything. He could not understand why the baby was crying, he put him on the sofa. As soon as he laid him down, he began to wail very loudly. Tunga quickly picked him up and he immediately stopped crying. He began to laugh realising the baby did not want to be put down. It also dawned on him that he was feeling lonely and was scared to be left alone. Tunga moved him closer to the lamp and looked at him. The light pierced through his blue eyes and he was concentrated on his fists.
” What shall we do with you, huh?. You are clueless of how much trouble we are in, and it is not your fault.”, he whispered to the baby who was oblivious of what was going on. The kettle began to hiss on the Primus stove and quickly rushed to it turn off, with the baby in his arms.
He could not find anything conducive to use as a bottle for the baby, so he put the milk in a tumbler and placed the milk in a dish with hot water to warm the milk. He thought of how best he would feed him and realised they had an unused syringe which Vongai had brought from the hospital. He searched all the drawers in the kitchen and later found it with the cutlery. He was not sure if the baby would take the milk or like it, so he added a bit of sugar.
” After the day you have had, you deserve something sweet.”, Tunga said as he sat down with the tumbler of milk, a syringe and the baby. He tested the temperature of the milk on his arm and was satisfied that it was the optimum temperature. As soon as he put it on the baby’s lips, he began to suck on it frantically. He pushed the syringe slowly so as not to choke him.
” What shall we do with you now?”, he sighed deeply giving the baby the milk.
Tunga looked at him whilst he suckled on the syringe. What was he going to do now? He could not leave it entirely to Vongai, he had known her good heart would put them in uncomfortable situations. It was one of the many attributes that attracted him to her. She was always selfless and kind but firm at the same time. However this time around, it was Tunga who has to be the selfless and kind one. He was still in the infancy stages of these qualities, but he also knew he had to protect his family, which was composed of Vongai and that was all he needed.
On realising that the baby had fallen asleep, Tunga carefully put him back in the basket. He stood and looked at the baby peacefully sleeping, contemplating on the plan he had quietly hatched whilst he was feeding the baby. He shook his head and walked towards the door. It was already dawn, the birds were singing their morning chorus and he could hear Dudzai their neighbour preparing her floor polish and soft brooms for her first round. She always started shouting from her yard and this would alert Vongai that it was time to wake up. Tunga braced himself for his wife to come into the dining room. He decided he was just going to tell her what he had come up with and it was the only way they would all be safe.
“Hapana zvimwe zvatingaite.”, he whispered to himself and he stood by the door. He took out a cigarette and rolled it between his fingers, he shrugged and put it against his lips and lit it.
” That is the only way.”, he said thinking out loud, blowing the cigarette smoke towards Dudzai’s house, as she coincidentally started her marketing slogan.
” Cooooobraaaaa! Coooobraaaa! Cobra yered, black neeeye white! Coooooobraaa! Miiiiitsvairooo!”, she shouted as she walked down the road, oblivious to what had been happening next door.
Tom rolled over and looked at Natsai who laid on he stomach fast asleep facing him. He studied her face, which he never got tired of looking at. He pondered on how he was going to provide her with the life she deserved. He had promised her the best life when they got married. A house in the suburbs, with a swimming pool, an electric stove and a brand new Singer sewing machine. He would build a bar in Arcadia where there was a wider clientele for his business. He would hire someone to work with him at the bar who would close up whilst he would go home early and help Natsai put buttons on her orders and spend time with his family. It broke his heart that he was not able to fully provide for his family and gave them what they deserved. He thought of his children Nyasha, Rudo and Tendayi, they did not deserve to be treated differently because of their mother and also because of him. He knew other things were beyond his control, but he was determined to provide the best for his family regardless.
“ Ba T, are you staring at me?”, Natsai muffles with her mouth covered with the pillow. Her eyes were still closed and she was still lying on her stomach. It was a rhetorical question but she enjoyed the different reason he gave for staring at her. This time, he did not reply. He sighed heavily and put his hand on her back. ” Kwakanaka?“, she questioned him, opening her eyes to look at her husband’s face.
” I have been thinking.”, he confessed looking at their asbestos roof which had a hole that he had covered by glueing a piece of wood.
” Well, that is a bad idea. You thinking?”, Natsai joked with her husband but he did not laugh. She realised his face grew serious and he did not turn to face her or tickle her as he always did when she said something witty.
” Natsai, are you happy? Honestly, are you happy with this?” he said moving his hand around the room to gesture what he meant. He sighed deeply again and kept quiet, thinking of how he was going to get them out of this. He had been content living in Mufakose all along, amongst people who had different perspectives on why he was amongst them. He was fully aware of it but he could not leave his family, he could take the misunderstandings but ever since Allan came to visit a few nights ago, he was now having a change of heart.
” Are you truly happy? Taura chokwadi hako,” he asked her again, turning to face her.
” I am comfortable, we have talked about this. We can not change the leaders of this country but we can enjoy what we can whilst we still have the chance.”, Natsai replied she sat up on the bed fastening her bonnet.
” Mai T, remember what I promised you when we got married? Ndinoone sekunge ndafoira semurume. None of what I promised you has come to pass. I promised to make sure your sewing business would be successful and you would get a contract under my name from Power Sale or even Woolworth. I have failed you.”, he scoffed with tears in his eyes. Natsai knew and understood what he meant, she had tried to segue the topic each time Tom said something along the lines of it. She knew it would bring her to talk about her hopes and dreams of being a teacher that were thwarted because of love. How she wished they would escape and just be a family without worrying about what people thought of their union. Friends and family had abandoned her for her decision and she had been bitter about it. It hurt her to have to think of how her children would never have grandparents or ever be fully accepted or how her neighbours called her a traitor for marrying the enemy. He would never be ready for such a conversation, she had made her peace knowing she would never be fully or truly happy but she was comfortable, and that was good enough.
” Ba T please, achiri makuseni. Are we not a family? Do we not have a roof over our head and do we not have healthy children who are loved? Chii chimwe chatingade?”, she questioned him getting up from bed a bit frustrated.
” Mai T, you and the children deserve better. I want you to be happy, to experience happiness. To have that new Singer sewing machine that you have dreamt of. For the children to go to a good school where they do not have to share a book with ten other people at the same time. I can not do this anymore. We can not die like this. Kwete.” he vowed as he stood and walked towards his wife who was gathering her toiletries to prepare for a wash before they had to wake the kids for school.
” Saka wafunga kuita sei? Do you have a plan or you are just dreaming out loud makuseni ano? Huh? Tell me, what is your plan for us to escape this?” she exclaimed gesturing with her hand as he had before. She did not want to face him, her eyes were burning with tears. She had killed all hope of ever leaving Mufakose and she had wrapped herself in that bubble. She had stopped herself from dreaming or thinking otherwise, Tom’s “hope” was slowly dismantling her wall but unlike Tom, she did not have the luxury to “hope”.
” Handina parizvino.”, he replied feeling defeated but determined, he tried to hold her but he knew his answer had thwarted an ounce of optimism in her. He heard her sneer at his response, he knew he had hit a nerve and knowing his wife, she believed in action more than words.
” Bva ngatinyarare nezvazvo. What is the point of us having hope when there is literally no way forward?”, she turned around and looked at him, her eyebrows furrowed and turf of her escaping from her bonnet. Tom walked towards his wife but he stopped when she reached for her zambia which she quickly wrapped around her waist, leaving the room without saying anything.
For the past 4 days, Tunga and Vongai had gotten the hang of their routine to keep the baby safe and a secret. Vongai would wake up around 4 am, as usual, prepare the baby’s food and put out clean clothes she had managed to buy from Natsai. She had told her they were for her sister Mazvita, who had just had a baby. Natsai had not wanted to ask too many questions because they were not the closest of friends, and also because Mazvita was about the same age as Nyasha, her firstborn who was only 10 years.
Vongai would get herself ready for work and alert Tunga that she was leaving for work. Tunga who started work at 8 am and would only walk 30 minutes to go to work, would wake up around 6:30, which was also the time the baby usually woke up. He would wash him, change him and give him his bottle whilst he got ready for work. They had realised he immediately fell asleep after being fed and burped. Tunga would rock him whilst on the lookout for Tamuka and Gumi who came to get him on their way to work. By the time they arrived, he would have placed the baby in the basket but he would leave it open with a mosquito net on top of it. He would prepare a bottle for when Vongai would come on her morning break which was around 10 am. He would also leave a glove with soaked rice on the baby’s stomach. Not too heavy but light enough to make it feel like a hand on his stomach. It was an idea Vongai had come up with to have the baby believe he was not alone. Tunga had thought it to be ridiculous but it had seemed to be working.
He would stand by the window in clear view of the sandline from which Tamuka and Gumi would emerge from with their picks and shovels. He would quickly place the baby in the basket and made sure he was safe and nothing would trouble his breathing. He made sure to close the windows except for the one in their bedroom which he opened slightly for fresh air. He would go to the back of the house where the bedroom was and survey the premises before leaving.
“Ko mudhara, can I spend a penny? I left the house in a hurry because of Gumi..”, Tamuka asked as he walked past Tunga and going straight to the back of the house where the toilet was outside. Gumi shook his head as he looked on drawing on the stab of cigarette he had in his hand.
“Ah shaa, we are late. You can hold it in.”, Tunga responded holding his arm. Tamuka did not make anything of it and proceeded to walk towards the back.
“ Tamuka! Shaa ndati we are late! We do not have time.”, Tunga said as he grabbed Tamuka by the arm and pulled him towards the road.
“Aah mudhara, how far? I will not b..”, Tamuka tried explaining but Tunga did not seem to be interested. Gumi began to walk towards the road, he was not interested in being the voice of reason, so he made a run for it before they consulted him.
” Hande, you can go behind the big msasa tree on our way.”, Tunga suggested, walking behind Tamuka who seemed more annoyed than anything.
” Ah but mudhara Tunga, you do not have to treat me like a child.”, he sneered, ” I see you won’t have any trouble raising kids. You are already equipped ka. Too strict nezvis…”, Tamuka muttered as he brisked up his pace to catch up with Gumi. Tunga was not paying attention to his friend but was listening attentively to any sound coming from the house. After being certain of no crying or whimpering, he ran after his friends certain Vongai would make it back before he woke up.