(Image from Pinterest: Natsai and Rudo, her middle child).
Vongai ran towards her house when she saw Mai Dudzai standing by her door. She seemed as if she was peeping through the corner of the window to see if there was anyone inside.
” Mai Dudzai, kwakanaka? Is everything alright?”, Vongai exclaimed, trying to catch her breath at the same time.
” Ah, Mai Kufa, ko hamusi mumba? I came to check if anyone was in the house because Nhamo and Zivanai came running in the house saying they heard a strange noise in your house when they were playing behind there.”, Mai Dudzai explained pointing at the back of Vongai’s house, standing behind Vongai who was fumbling with her keys trying to get in.
” Ah, maybe it is one of those stray cats that got in again. I will have to tell Ba Kufa to do something.”, she suggested, unlocking the door and facing Mai Dudzai who was eagerly standing behind her.
“ Hhhmm, I do not think so. At first, I thought they were being children and I even beat Nhamo because he kept opening the door and letting the dust into the house. Can you imagine?”, Mai Dudzai trying to peep through the door as Vongai was getting into the house.
“Hhhmm, maita basa. I will see to it from here”, she responded trying to close the door behind her, but Mai Dudzai held it and tried to get in
” Ah, Mai Kufa, what if it is something more serious? Let me i…”, Mai Dudzai said.
” No! Maita basa henyu, but I am fine. Tunga will be here soon,so.. so there is nothing to worry about”, she responded slamming the door and locked it as soon as she closed it.
” Hezvo, asi vane katurikwa? Is she hiding something?”, Mai Dudzai said to her self as she stood by the door, fixing her zambia. She thought of going to the back of the house to investigate for herself. She had always thought of Vongai to be too private and never interacting with the other neighbours. Mai Tafura had suggested it was because she was a nurse and she had a husband who came back home even on payday, it made her feel superior. She tiptoed to the back of the house and went towards the toilet, she saw the light from the bedroom window and as she was about to walk over to listen and peep through the window, Nhamo came calling for her.
” Amai, Zivanai arasa bhinzi dzanga dziri pamoto. The fire is out and all the beans are on the floor.”, Nhamo reported, standing a distance from her mother.
” Aah, imi vana imi! Do you know how hard it was to get those beans? You think it is easy?”, she hissed walking towards Nhamo who was now walking fast towards there house knowing what was to follow.
Vongai heard her pacing towards her house as she held the baby in her arms. He was fast asleep but she saw streaks of tears on his face. Evident that he was the culprit of the noise previously reported. She changed him and tried to wake him up with a bottle but he appeared to be in a deep sleep. Vongai put him on the bed and covered him as she went into the kitchen to prepare dinner. Tunga had boiled the meat and cut the vegetables when he came back during his last break.
She knew their routine would not be permanent, but she did not expect it to be this soon. They had not come to a concrete plan, only suggestions. She had suggested to take him to the hospital and leave him outside the children’s ward without anyone seeing her. She had been examining every passage and entrance on her breaks and after work. Tunga had not been fully committed to her plan, he did not want her to get in trouble or for the baby being taken away from them and be given to someone who did not care. The only perfect and precise moment she would have to do it would be on her break, meaning from the time she started until her break, she would have him hidden in the bushes on the pathway she used to walk home.
” No, you can not leave our...the baby in the bush for 3 hours Vongai, pafunge. What if someone takes him?”, Tunga had said the last time they had the conversation.
” Ah, saka toita sei? I will have to wake up earlier and drop him off at 3 am so no one sees me.”, she suggested, even though that was the conclusion she had come to.
“NO! You know around 3 he will be awake and that is the time when he is most active. You should see him trying to talk.”, he said, chuckling and rocking the baby who was babbling away in his arms.
“ Saka todini? What should we do, because we can not keep up with this routine? We need to come up wit..”, Tunga cut her mid-sentence.
” Vongai, relax. We will find a solution. Nhai nhai, mwana.”, he said now talking to the baby who was cooing in his arms. ” Listen to your mother getting worried. Tell her we will be alright in Smith’s Rhodesia”, he said laughing looking at Vongai.
Vongai knew that her husband was not going to help her come to a solution. He had become too attached to the baby, he had forgotten keeping the baby was never a permanent solution. He now came home straight after work and he now rarely spent time with his friends. Tamuka had complained the last time she saw him, saying Tunga and Fungai were now forcing him to marry regardless of the UDI’s rules and regulations. She saw that she was the one who had to come up with a solution. She was certain Mai Dudzai would pay a visit to investigate and quench her thirst for gossip.
Vongai sneered and shook her head, she peeped in the bedroom where the baby was sleeping as she stood by the Primus stove. The smoke began to get into her eyes, the choking smell of paraffin choked her, forcing her to open the window. Her mind reverted back to the predicament at hand. She quickly turned off the Primus stove, took the baby, placed the baby in the basket and left the house.
Vongai arrived at Sangano shebeen as Natsai was getting ready to open for the evening, She was at the back arranging crates and taking bottles of scud out of the old fridge which hoarded all the stock. Natsai was startled when she saw Vongai standing by the back door. She did not say anything however, the look on her face spoke volumes.
” Hezvo nhai Mai Kufa, you startled me. Are you well?”, Natsai asked.
” Ye.. no. I mea.. I need your help.”, Vongai stammered, looking at the basket in her hand.
” Oh, alright. Please come in. Pindai, so we can properly talk.”, she suggested, gesturing her to go into the house. Natsai was a bit perplexed as she was never close enough with Vongai to even consider her a friend. She always thought of her as a sister in arms, waking up every morning to face the world with a smile regardless of how it spat in her face. She was confident the request would not be something out of the ordinary, maybe she wanted to exchange the baby clothes she bought a week ago or maybe a bottle of whiskey for herself. Howbeit, she was not prepared for what Vongai asked and revealed as they sat inside the shebeen.
” Asikana, hamushure?! Why would you bring this here and why me?”, Natsai jumped out of her seat when she saw the baby in the basket, his blue and bright eyes fully open, sucking on his fists. She could not believe her eyes. Vongai just sat there looking at her but not saying anything.
” Mai Kufa, please. Budai henyu. Leave my house, you want us to get killed?”, Natsai continued as she stood with her hands on her waist.
” No, y-you are the only person I could think of.. please ndibatsireiwo. I need help to protect him.”, Vongai explained, holding the baby.
” I am sorry asikana, but I do not see how this is my problem. Please leave!”, Natsai blurted, now panicking. She knew the capital punishment of doing things that were against the law. She had given her life up for one white man but she was not willing to lose her life for another. She could not believe this was happening to her, she had been content admiring Vongai from afar.
Vongai explained her predicament to an irritable Natsai. She gave her all the details of how she ended up taking the baby and how they have been keeping it without anyone knowing for the past 3 weeks. She confided in her how she did not want a baby for herself but abandoning this one was not an option. She told her about the routine her and Tunga had grown accustomed to, although they knew it would be temporary, they did not think it would be so soon they would have to look for another one.
” I know we are not the best of friends, but I do not why I ended up coming here. I jus.. handizivi ndodini,” she concluded.
Natsai paced in the shebeen, she could not think rationally. If she were to accept and keep the baby, how would she take care of it? How would she explain it to her inquisitive children and what would she tell Tom? She knew she had to do something before her loyal customers started coming for the evening. She sat besides Vongai who was now more relaxed than before. She looked at the baby and could not imagine how anyone would abandon a helpless child. She knew she had to stall, tell Vongai that she had to discuss with Tom first before she could come to any decision. This would only give her more time to say no, politely.
” I wish I could help you as soon as possible, but let me discuss it with my husband first before we do anything.”
” Oh, will he be back soon bec.. “.
” Ah, Mai Kufa zvazvemangwana. We will see to it tomorrow. He has gone to Acardia for stock.” Natsai said, getting uncomfortable with her lie. ” I need to open up now”, she continued.
Vongai quietly stood up heading towards the door, Natsai was behind them, escorting them out. As they got to the door, Tom opened the door holding Rudo in his arms. She was holding chikendikeke, giggling as her father tickled her. The two women stood in silence looking at the two guests who had joined them. Natsai greeted her husband and told her daughter to go and tell her sisters it was time to do their homework. Rudo kissed her father and hurried out the door, her snack in her hand trotting to find her sisters.
Natsai looked at her husband and sneered as she took extra blankets from the top of their wardrobe. She could not believe he had agreed to keep the baby whilst the Kufa’s looked for a more convenient plan. He had listened to Vongai narrate her story to her husband, as emotional as she was before. Natsai was empathetic with her, but she did not feel she necessarily had to help. She already had her own predicaments, adding another one was not going to help or make it easy, even if it was the kind thing to do.
” Natsai, it is only for a while. A few days and things will be back to normal.”, Tom said, trying to help his wife, but Natsai threw the blankets on the floor.
” Tom, tomuisa pai mwana wacho? Huh, we hardly fit in this house as it is. How is this going to help us get a better life?” she said.
” I am doing this for us, for us to have a better life Natsai.”, he replied.
” How? Please, ndiudze. How is this making things better?”, she said looking at her husband. ” I know you have a good heart, and that is one of the reasons I fell for you. Asi you have to reason too. What are we going to tell people when they hear a baby crying or when the girls start saying things to their friends? You know Nyasha haanyarare.” she said as she sat on the bed.
” April 4th.”, Tom said. This was a thing they did when they got into a disagreement or argument which could not be resolved at that time. They would take time to cool off and think about it. It was the date of the day Tom saw her again after the incident with Hillary. Natsai stood up and walked to the door.
” I am going to put the girls to bed”, she said walking out not waiting for Tom’s reply. Tom watched his wife leave and sighed. He looked at the baby who was sleeping in his arms. He would have passed as his child. His blonde hair, pale skin, though he had darkened due to the over 30 years African sun and his blue eyes. He put him on the bed, but he began to cry. He picked him up and memories of his three daughters doing the same a couple of years ago, flooded him.
” You are a blessing in disguise aren’t you? Hee?”, he whispered to the baby. ” God, is this a sign? Is this what you deem right?”, he said looking up, then at the baby who was fast asleep again.
” Asi Shuvai pafunge, I love you and you love me. What else are we waiting for? Let us just get married.”, Gumi said it matter of factly. They had been courting for over nine months now. Gumi had been trying to marry her since the day he met Shuvai. She was someone no one ever thought to bring to their mother, but something about her drew her to him. Her rebellion against the characteristics of an ideal woman. She was gentle, kind and poised but many quickly judged her smoking, drinking and fashion sense as unacceptable. She worked as a Secretary at Zupco, the only bus service for black people in Rhodesia.
” Gumi“, she sighed heavily blowing the smoke in the opposite direction, ” I already told you where I stand with this marriage thing. Iwe neni tinofara, we enjoy each other as it is. Why bring marriage into this? We are two people who officially love each other, I do not see what a piece of paper has to prove.”, she explained as she stroked his face with her free hand. Gumi decided to leave the topic hanging, but he promised himself to revisit it again. They were having a picnic at the Hunyani River just outside of Salisbury. It was a tradition they had of going once a month to enjoy themselves and friends. This time around they had brought Vongai and Tunga who sat from a distance from them, gazing at the children who were playing near the river. Practising there diving and swimming in the murky water. They had their basket in front of them and appeared to be having a serious discourse.
” Ziso rangu riri kupfuura, my eye has been twitching for a couple of days now.”, Vongai said as she rubbed her eye.
” Iropa riri kupfuura. Blood is meant to circulate. I know you think it means something bad is going to happen.“ he responded looking at his wife.
” Tunga, you know how seriously I take these things. Remember the last time it happened, amai vakadonha mungoro and now she can not walk properly. It always means something bad is going to happen.”, she said.
” So what bad thing is going to happen now?”, Tunga asked his wife chuckling as he lit a cigarette.
” I know you are making fun of me, seka hako.”
Vongai looked at her husband as he continued to laugh. It was the first time she had seen him laugh in over a month since she took the baby to Tom’s house. He was enraged when he came back home and found out what she had done. She had explained to him what had happened with Mai Dudzai, but he could not hear of it. She had known he was attached to the baby, but as much as to not talk to her for 3 weeks. He had stopped sleeping in the bedroom and would sleep on the sofa in the dining/kitchen. He came back home late and when Vongai went to work, he would be fast asleep on the sofa. Tom had told Vongai they would come and visit at certain times as not to alert their prying neighbours, but Tunga would not bring himself to do that. He felt something had been stolen from him, he experienced a sense of his masculinity being stripped, not only by Vongai not involving him in the decision, but being told when to see his son. He felt reduced as a black person, to be seen as someone who was not able to make it without the help of a white man, a white saviour.
He had stopped going to Sangano shebeen because he could not bring himself to face Tom. He felt ridiculous loathing someone who was helping him, but he was jealous and angry at how he could have anything he wanted without question because of who he was. He was angry, had been betrayed and he missed the baby. The only one he could confide in was the one person he could not turn to. He did not know what to say to her, he felt he had failed her as a husband by not coming up with a solution sooner. He had failed to protect his family and his wife out of fear, had acted on his behalf, to try and save them.
He looked at Gumi and Shuvai, who were sharing an apple and laughing. He turned to his wife who was flicking gnats off her arm. They had been circling over them for a while now and Vongai was becoming annoyed. Tunga could not deny how beautiful and precious his wife was, he helped her to flick the gnats and drew on his cigarette.
” Nezuro manheru before you came back home, Tamuka came to see me.”, he paused and blew out the smoke, ” He said he felt he had to see me before he left for Chivhu to see his grandmother. He was going on and on about how as men we had to stick together and fight for freedom. He was drunk.. but he went on and on about how he has appreciated me and loved me as his big brother”.
” Wakamuti kudini?” Vongai asked, rubbing her eye.
” Nothing, I just poured him the last of the brandy and we toasted to a full and free life to come. It is what we can hope for, isn’t it?” Tunga replied looking across the river where the children were becoming fewer and fewer and the sun going lower and lower.
” Yes, I guess.”, Vongai responded.
” I guess its time to go, Gumi and Shuvai are packing their basket. Handei.” Tunga said standing up and stretching before helping his wife up. They decided to walk home, even though it was a distance, they talked and laughed all the way. They bid each other farewell and each couple made their way to their humble abodes.
As they turned the corner to their road, Vongai saw a little girl sitting by her door. She could not make up who it was but she seemed familiar. She was knocking on their door and looking through the front window to see if anyone was home. Tunga and Vongai walked quickly towards the house.
” Ndingakubatsire nei?”, Vongai said as they approached the house. When the girl heard the voice, she turned around and saw the couple holding a basket. It was Rudo, Tom and Natsai’s last born. She was breathing heavily and her knees, legs and hair were dusty and ashy, evidence that she had been playing in the streets.
” Maswera sei? Baba said you should come to the house now,” she reported, seeming distracted by the children across the road playing maflawu.
“ Is something wrong? Chii chaitika? Is it the baby?”, Vongai asked panicked, handing the basket to Tunga who was unlocking the door.
” Handizive, they just sent me to call you both and tell you to hurry.”, she responded as she walked away. Vongai realised she was oblivious to why they had been sent for. They left her playing with the children across the street and paced towards the shebeen. On arrival, the shebeen was empty and dark, which was unusual for a Saturday night. They met a couple of gentlemen grunting in annoyance as to why the shebeen was closed. They went through the back and knocked softly, Tom opened the door and let them in. He looked nervous and he was sweating beads of sweat. Tunga led his wife is, walking closely behind her as Tom closed the door.
” Kwakanaka? Where is he? Is he alright?”, Tunga asked without greeting Tom who was still standing by the door.
” Y- yes, he is alright. It is j-, I am very s-“, he stammered standing by the door. He sighed heavily. Tunga and Vongai looked at each other confused, not knowing what to take from his response.
” Please come in.”, Tom said, leading them towards the shebeen which was still dark. He seemed to be a bit unsettled.
” Where is Natsai?”, Vongai asked, confused. She could not tell what was going on because Tom’s actions were making her nervous.
” She will be back soon, she has gone to the market”.
As Tunga and Vongai got into the shebeen, Tom turned on the light and before them stood 4 policemen with sjamboks and a German Shepard sitting on all fours by the corner. It did not take time for Vongai and Tunga to realise what was taking place. Tunga pulled Vongai and held her tightly close to him.
” So, you are the kaiffars who have been living freely without facing the consequences of your sins, hee?“, a familiar voice bellowed, sending chills down Vongai’s spine. She recognised the voice and seeing the face paralysed her. Her knees almost buckled, but she held on to Tunga who stood their quiet. She imagined he was as terrified as she was, but he would never show it.
” Answer me!”, he barked again walking towards them. ” You kaiffars walk around thinking you own this place. You think you could steal a white baby and not face any consequences?!”. He lit a cigarette standing right in front of Tunga. He could feel the warmth of this breath and the pungent smell of cheap whiskey and a foul tongue. Tunga kept quiet, Vongai began to cry. How had she stolen the baby when she had saved it? How were they on the wrong when they had done the right and humane thing to do? He moved closer to Vongai as she was crying and looked at her. He stared at her for a while then drew on his cigarette.
” You look very familiar, unonzani? What is your name?”, he asked her, but she did not respond.
” Burke, please. You said you were just going to make them pay you then you let them go. Tunga, just give him $50 and he will go. Ok?”, Tom said standing by the door. He looked as frightened as Tunga and Vongai, but he had to do it. This was his ticket out of Mufakose, a chance to give his family a better life and to fulfil the promises he had made to Natsai. Sergeant Burke started laughing, the three men behind him all stood at attention not engaging but ready for any command that would spout out of their superior’s mouth.
” Tom, you are family but you are very naïve. Let them go? They committed a crime of the highest order. These animals stole a child and brought it to this vapid, disgusting dump of a place? I am taking them in, they will be an example to their kind that the UDI is not to mess with. Nothing goes past us.”, he paced around the room, pondering on what would be the best punishment. He had thought of lashing them in front of the shebeen for everyone to watch, but that had become too common. He yearned to do something that would leave a dent in Mufakose, that he was the man to be respected and feared.
” Take th.., but you promised. You said if I found anything suspicious or out of the ordinary, I should let you know and you would fine them. You never said anything about taking them, please they are my frie..” before Tom could finish talking, Tunga punched him in the face. Two policemen all ran and pinned him down and one of them held Vongai against the wall. Tom started to bleed from his mouth.
” Tunga, I am sorry. I had to look out for my family. This was the only way.”, he said. The dog started barking after being alarmed by the commotion. Vongai was crying, pleading with the policemen to let Tunga go. She confessed she was the one who brought the baby, but no one gave her their ear. Tunga was on the ground, fumbling with the officers.
” How could you? Were you not the one preaching about not being like the rest of them? Hausiriwe here wakati…”, one of the officers hit him on the back with a sjambok before he could finish talking. One of the officers held his legs whilst the other pressed his head down with his arm on his neck.
” You see, these people are animals. It is in them, attacking you for doing the right thing. Cis man.“, Sergeant Burke said as he spat on Tunga walking towards Tom who was standing there speechless. ” Do not worry tsano”, Sergent Burke continued putting his arm around Tom. ” I knew those few weeks ago when I came, you would help me bring order in this place. I was drunk but I remember every word I said, except for how I got home. You know, hehehe, early that morning I woke up in the bushes, you know by that big msasa tree?”, he added, but Tom was paying no mind to him.
” Tsano, brighten up. You can now leave this dump and start a new life, a new fami..”, Tom interrupted him before he could finish. Tunga and Vongai were still pinned down, Vongai was still fighting the officer who now had a few bruises from being punched and scratched. Tunga was breathing heavily but not making any movement.
” Urikuti kudini? Another family for what? You said I would bring my family too. Uri kuedza kuti chaizvo Allan?”, Tom snapped, trying to understand what his brother-in-law was trying to say. Was he implying Tom leaves his wife and children, and go by himself? That was not what they had agreed on.
” Hehehe, tsano, you and me both know that is not possible. I only agreed to help you leave. I have found a place for you in Mabelreign, with a pool too. You just leave all this behind and start afresh. I promise you will not miss it, and guess what? Hehe, Hillary is still available.” Sergeant Burke casually said this as Tom’s mind was trying to process all that was being said. The dog had settled down now, sitting and waiting for a command.
” Allan! This is not wh… I can not leave my wife and children. I did this for them! How c..”, Tom was perplexed. He could not believe he had not seen this coming. Mabelreign was a white only residential area, there was no way on earth he was going to go with his family. He had sacrificed two families because of his selfishness. He knew Natsai would never forgive him, even if he stayed, he has ruined other people’s lives. He stood against the wall and slumped himself on the floor. He put his head in his hands and the damage he had caused dawned on him. He was a man trying to save his family but he had ended up breaking it up. He thought of how Tunga and Vongai were just being good people, taking that baby in as if it were their own. He had now been taken to the police office and they did not get a chance to say goodbye.
“Let us take them in.”, Sergeant Burke said lighting up another cigarette. ” Tsano, I will come around later with the paperwork for your house. The UDI thanks you for being at service for your country.”, he added, patting him on the shoulder, heading for the door. Vongai was in handcuff being dragged by the officer, she kicked and spat on Tom on her way out but he did not flinch.
“Sir!”, the officer who was holding Tunga’s head down shouted. ” He is not getting up!”.
” Futsek mhani, get up!”, the other officer barked, kicking Tunga in the stomach but he did not flinch. They could hear Vongai still crying outside as the officer tried to put her in the back of the police car. Tom looked on but was paralysed by the thought of what was happening. He could not muster up the courage to stand up hence he put his head between his knees and stayed there. Sergeant Burke tramped back into the room.
” Get him up, I said!”, he bellowed impatiently waiting for them to move him.
” He is dead, sir”.