” Jokers to the left of the crosstown traffic, and jokers to the right..”, these were the words he madman who used to sit by my father’s shop used to lament. I never understood what he meant, nor did the many customers who frequented my father’s shop. He used to come early in the morning before light broke and stationed himself by the entrance. Not too close to block the entrance and be a nuisance, but not too far to hear the chatter that filled the shop.
His name was Mozi, as we got to understand. An old neighbour of his had recognised him. He had come o my father’s shop to buy cartons of beans and packets of rice, he was a vendor. He had travelled all the way from Norton, which is 40 kilometres from here. The man had tears in his eyes when he saw Mozi, who did not seem to recognise him but appeared to be beguiled by the empty bottle and spoon he had in his hand.
” Mozi”, the man exclaimed as he moved closer to him, ” It is me, Moyo.” Mozi turned to the direction of the man but appeared to be looking over him.
” Jokers to the left of the crosstown traffic and jokers to the right.”, Mozi shouting and reverted his focus to the bottle and spoon he banged without rhythm.
Earlier when I arrived, I was walking lazily when I saw Baba’s automobile parked outside the shop. He was supposed to have been at Mohammad Musa buying stock, but I guess they had run out of basic essentials again for him to be here at this hour.
” Morning Baba.”, I said as I walked into the shop. Baba nodded and proceeded to talk to the man in front of the counter. I had never seen him before, but the way he talked to Baba deemed as if they had known each other for long.” Yes, Norton. He used to be my neighbour and a few years ago he went missing and no one ever heard from him again.”, the man said moving to wipe his eyes with the back of his hand.
” Hh-mm, what a shame. Did he have a wife or any children?”, Baba asked him, leaning forward in his chair and resting his arms on the counter.
” No. He has always been like this. When he disappeared, he had gone to the river with his mother.”, he replied, shaking his head. ” That poor woman at her old age had to take care of Mozi. Instead, him taking care of her.”
” What a pity.”, Baba exclaimed as he folded his hands across his chest. He glanced at me but quickly reverted his attention back to the man. I knew he wanted to tell me off for being late again, but I knew he would not do it with company around.
” You know.”, Baba suggested, ” You should go and say hello. He might remember you.”
” Hh-mm, my brother, it has bee too long. I doubt he even remembers his mother. Rest her soul.”
” Please, let us try. It might do him good, seeing a familiar face.”, Baba said walking from behind the counter and leading the man towards the entrance, where Mozi was singing his anthem.
Moyo came back into the store and sat on one of the stools. A tear ran down his cheek but he wiped it before it touche his lips. Baba touched his shoulder and pumped it, shaking his head. They were quiet from a moment until Moyo broke the silence. Mozi was still singing his anthem as Moyo told us more about Mozi’s past.
Mozi was born in a rich family and was an only child. When Mozi’s father’s relatives saw that he had difficulties talking, listening and would see things which were not there, they pressured his father to marry another wife. They believed it was his mother’s fault she had given birth to an imbecile as she was from an unknown tribe. Mozi’s father eventually left after his mother threatened to kill herself if he did not leave Mozi and his mother.
His mother took care of him on her own and after Mozi’s father left them with nothing, she did not have money to take him to the hospital or to any specialists. As his mother got older and frailer, Mozi became worse and at times would run away from home. People who knew him around the village would bring him back after finding him in the next village. In the next village was an old man who liked Mozi and he had been in the liberation war.
He always told stories about the liberation struggle and his experience. Mozi loved his stories and would spend day and weeks at the old man’s house. The man did not mind having Mozi around because when he became agitated and started lashing out, the old man would sing him a song. The song went like: Jokers to the left of the crosstown traffic, and jokers to the right, to war we go and together we stand. His mother would visit him once in a while as it was quite a long distance for her to walk. It was not long after the old man died that Mozi went missing and no one ever saw him again. His mother died of a broken heart not long after she disappeared.
Moyo narrated the story as he looked out the window at Mozi. ” I am afraid the only people he will recognise are the old man and his mother.”, he said standing to leave. Leaving Mozi to the life he had grown accustomed to.