Africa is well-known for her breathtaking landscape, majestic wildlife and favourable weather. She is the second youngest and populous continent and harbours 54 sovereign states. She offers different climates and sceneries. From sunny and dry weather in Southern African, hot and arid weather in Northern Africa, warm and humid in West Africa, pleasant and cool in East Africa and in winter, snow in Lesotho, Morocco, Algeria and a few parts of South Africa.
However, what makes Africa is not a great landscape or variation in weather, but her people. With over 1.2 billion people, over 3 000 native tongues and hosting the largest diversity of ethnicities and cultures, Africa births greatness through and through. Her people show her beauty and majesty. Today, we look at those who were still able to make it in Africa, equipping themselves with what Africa is known and admired for – authenticity.
Hamamat Montia is a Ghanaian model, entrepreneur and a former Miss Malaika Queen. She is the owner and founder of Hamamat African Beauty, a brand of skin care products which are all handmade with raw, authentic natural ingredients with freshly unadulterated Shea Butter being the main ingredient. Her technique takes people on a journey on how Ghanaian ancestors had a deep and rich connection with the land, and how they utilized on its produce. The focus of her brand is to utilize ingredients from the three regions of Northern Regions of Ghana and a mixture of Africa’s best kept natural remedies. She aims for men and women around the world to maintain a youthful, healthy and natural skin glow, and to make skincare regimes simple.
She has grown her empire in Ghana and has expanded it by opening a village spa and hotel called “Hamamat African Village”. She has helped her village by creating employment as they help with the processing and making of the raw shea butter products. She runs one of the most successful self-made and African based skin care companies and the first online-based retail to ship freshly handmade shea butter directly from Ghana to the world.
Maxwell Chikumbutso is a 27-year-old Zimbabwean who invented the world’s first ever green power generator which can produce electricity using radio frequencies. He has designed and built an electrically powered vehicle and a hybrid helicopter which uses six different types of fuel.
Having dropped out of school at 14 years old when he was a Form 2 at Kuwadzana High School, Maxwell has no formal training in technology or science, he has it all comes from revelations of blueprints and visions which he has used to formulate his inventions. He is the owner of the company SAITH Technologies. In July 2017, he closed up shop in Zimbabwe and moved to California, USA. However, it is reported that after he made his announcement, he was never heard from again and he has actually gone missing.
Sherrie Silver is a Rwandan creative editor, dancer and actress who is best known for her choreographing of “This is America” by Childish Bambino. She moved from Rwanda to England when she was 5 years old. Having been inspired by African church culture of dance, Sherrie was always been passionate about dancing and performing; which her mother did not view as a profitable career but through her hard work and drive, she persevered.
Before catching the attention of millions, Sherrie got her start recording dance videos and uploading them on her YouTube channel. She travels the world to bring African dance to the world and regularly makes appearances at festivals and also host small group dance classes. She is also a dedicated advocate and activist, who has financed 200 Rwandan citizens’ healthcare, holds community events and donates the proceed to various charities and on her own, she rents out a home in Rwanda to shelter displaced and underprivileged children.
Peter Tabichi is a Kenyan science teacher and Franciscan friar, who is the winner of the 2019 Global Teacher Prize and the prize money of $1 million. He is a teacher at Keriko Mixed Secondary School in Pwani Village. The school is in a semi-arid village in Rift Valley, a region affected by famine and drought. He gives 80% of his pay to support pupils at the school, who could not afford uniforms or books. Most of his students are orphaned and almost all come from underprivileged households.
When asked at the why he sacrificed his income selflessly, he said, “It is not about the money but as a teacher, working on the front line I have seen the promise of the young people, their brilliance, belief and spirit of inquiry.” The award had 10 000 other nominations from 179 countries.
On receiving his speech, Brother Tabichi exclaimed, “It is morning in Africa. The skies are clear and the day is young. There is a blank page waiting to be written. This is Africa’s time”.
(Image from Pinterest: Chipo and Tonderai as a married couple.)
P.S: Brace yourself as this is one of those “quite long” short stories.
I held her hand as she laid on the bed, snoring softly. I took in every inch of her face, the chocolate skin that masked her body, the once long and bouncy curls that were now patches on her oval shaped head. I traced her nose which I kissed each morning before she woke up, the full lips which produced malicious words when her brilliant brain could not solve a problem or when I could not understand what she meant, even after explaining it to me numerous times. The lips I loved to kiss, the lips that uttered I love you first before I was ready to say it.
I won’t lie, I was taken back by her boldness. Not because I did not know that I loved her, but because I was so used to the typical Zimbabwean girls who showed their feeling by being passive aggressive or ignoring you. Chipo was different. She knew what she wanted and she was never afraid to speak her mind. She made me uncomfortable, her boldness I could not fathom, her resilience and mysterious mental agility kept me wanting to unveil her for my own understanding. She was a breath of fresh air, but she suffocated me sometimes. I can never say I have fully known or understood her. She cannot be defined by one word. She is both an introvert and extrovert, shy and outspoken, kind and selfish, sweet and has the temper of two-year-old. She kept me on my toes, and I loved that, I still love it.
As I sit here seeing her weather away, I can not help but think God is playing a cruel joke on me, I can not stop thinking about the time I wasted looking for something I already had. I can not stop thinking about the first day I met her. It was a blind date, Mazvita had set us up. I had known Mazvita to like me for a very long time, but I never engaged. I do not know if she set me up with Chipo because she was genuinely wanted me to find someone or she was being passive aggressive, subtly telling me that she wanted me by making this move. Typical Zimbabwean girls, they can never say what they really mean. Haphazardly, Chido and I got along quite well. I took her out for ice cream, it was May but summer was still very much around although the breeze was cooler. She wore a dusty pink top that shaped her torso, had a red maxi skirt and yellow pumps. Her hair, God, her glorious hair, was big and free. I could not stop looking at her. She, well, at first she seemed a little shy but as I got to know her, it was not because she was shy, she was studying me.
” Tonde, you just don’t start yapping about around new people. You study them, sense their energies, then you engage.” She told me when we started dating. On our first date, I did all the talking. She asked questions here and there. My occupation, how I knew Mazvita and other basic things. We sat on a bench at Africa Unit Square, a bit clichè, yes, but I did not know where to take her. She would lick on her ice cream and observed the people in the park. Just across us, there was a couple who were having their picture taken. They were posing awkwardly, the lady was trying to sit on her lovers’ legs, but they were too short to support her bountiful bottom. We both involuntary laughed and looked at each other.
” So, how is this going for you so far?”, she asked me. To be honest, I was not having the best time but I was comfortable. I was not really feeling anything, to be honest, she was attractive yes, smart and creative but I did not have a flutter in my chest or sweaty palms. I was planning to drop her off at her house, delete her number and try my luck elsewhere.
” Well, it’s fun. Nothing beats sitting next to a beautiful lady and eating ice cream in a park.”, I said trying to charm her. She did not look amused.
” Hhhmm, so you think there is going to be a second date?”, she asked me so calmly, looking into my eyes. I was uncomfortable and to top it off, I was about to lie, which I am very bad at. I remember chuckling and looking away. What is going on here? I thought to myself. I had never been with a girl who was so direct, I was used to girls who would shy about and just do what they thought I wanted. They seemed to want to please me more than to also be pleased but this one was different and I was not equipped.
” Ehm, yeah, yeah. Of course.” I stammered, which made her laugh. I was confused but I laughed with her. The way she threw her head back as she laughed caught my attention. She laughed with the freedom of a child.
” You do not have to lie. I can tell you are not particularly enjoying this.”. I just smiled, I was a loss for words. I licked on my ice cream which was dripping on my hand, hoping for this awkward moment to pass.
” I am looking for consistency, respect, honesty and fun. What about you?”, this woman asked me as if we had known each other for the longest time. Like we had gotten to the stage of calling each other by childhood nicknames, but it was just our first date.
” Ok, uhm, I value openness, sense of humour and stability”. I said.
” Haa! Did you just say the same things I said using different words?”, she laughed, this time shaking her head. Touchè, she had caught me.
” Well, haha..”, I was a loss for words. She seemed to have called my bluff. She was studying me.
” Ok, I will give you another chance. Tonderai, what are you looking for? You know, using your own words this time. Not copying or twisting other peoples words.”, she said as she flashed her carefully arranged dentition. She had, she has a pretty smile.
(Image from Pinterest: Chipo and Tonderai on their first date.)
” Alright, alright. I see what you did there. You are mocking me, aren’t you.”, I am not proud to admit it, but I was blushing. She made me blush but thank God for my dark skin, one could never tell but the dumb grin on my face betrayed me. We walked in silence to my car which I had parked a few metres from Herald. As we approached my car, I went over to open the door for her so I could drive her home. However the Council had other plans for me, they had clamped my car over a speeding ticket I had forgotten to pay for. She looked at me and shrugged. ” Kombi, I guess?”, she said as she closed the door. I smiled at her sheepishly, embarrassed by the Council exposing me like this and also the fact that we had to walk in silence again, annoyed me. She did not seem annoyed or embarrassed by the situation. From my history with Zimbabwean girls, a car was what made you graduate from a “maybe” to a “definitely”. She appeared not to be moved by the fact that we had to walk from 2nd street to Copacabana where she boarded her kombi.
” Do not worry, I understand how hard adulting is. Trust me.”, she said as we walked past Angwa street, it was rush hour. Harare was its peak with cars hooting, drivers shouting and hwindis cussing in defence of their driver’s manoeuvring. I walked close to her, to protect her from the pickpocketers and waifs, who now prowled the streets hoping for a score, but mostly so I could smell the scent of lavender wafted around her. I do not know why I boarded the kombi with her, but in a few minutes, we were headed to Westgate where she lived. Our silence was filled by the raspy voice of Oliver Mtukudzi as he lamented Pindurai Mambo through the speakers of the kombi. Being the gentleman I am, I paid for the both of us. She was a bit hesitant but she let me pay. She sat by the window and I was wedged between her and a lady was talking on the phone tumultuously, it was as if she was in a tag of war with Mtukudzi, competing over who would be the loudest. We alighted at Westgate shopping mall and began to walk towards her house. She told me about her childhood, growing up an only child and how she was close to her family. She told me about how she was frantic about moving into her own place, but she had gotten used to it now, how she became to discover she loved art and how she was planning on making paintings that would be shown in some of the most popular galleries and museums.
” Even at the Louvre!”, she exclaimed as she stood in front of her door, her keys clutched in her hands. I was amazed by how she talked about painting and art, how her eyes widened and brightened, the excitement in her voice when she told me about her favourite artists and their patterns. I love how she lost herself in her imagination as she explained how much art had been her escape. We were bonding, we were now past the awkward stage.
” This is me.”, she said pointing at her door as if we had not been standing in front of it for the last 20 minutes. She looked at me and smile. She moved closer to me and leaned forward. After our bonding session and her teasing me earlier, I saw my way in and kissed her. ” What do you think you are doing?”, she exclaimed as she moved away from me. ” Well, you leaned in and I thought yo..”, I tried to explain myself. I had misread her leaning into her wanting to kiss me but she was leaning in for a hug.
” Well you thought wrong. I only kiss my husband wanzwa? I clearly do not understand how you thoug..”
” Hold on. Husband? Are you married and you had me take you out on a date in broad daylight?”
” No! I mean to say I am, well, I was saving my first kiss for my husband, now I.. mxm actually, please leave.”, she snapped at me as she struggled to unlock the door.
” Wait, aren’t you like 26 and you are telling me you have never kissed anyone?”, I asked her, making sure I was not misunderstanding her.
” Please leave.”
” Wait.”, I insisted, holding the door which she was about to shut in my face. ” Help me understand. You said you were saving your first kiss for your husband. Where is he?”, I could not fathom what she was saying. Was she in an open marriage? Was her husband Jesus? I had so many questions.
She looked at me for what seemed to be the longest time then heavily sighed. ” Ok, the thing is, I made a vow to God that I would wait until marriage to have an intimate physical connection with anyone.”, she said it so confidently and so matter of factly. I do not know why, but I laughed. I had never heard anything like that before. She was one of those girls who would use these tactics to play hard to get, I thought. She sneered and before I could explain myself, she slammed the door in my face. I knocked but I was reassured this was how the night was going to end by the key I heard turning behind the door. I stood outside her door trying to explain myself for a good 10 minutes, but the only response I got was her turning off the light on the porch where I was standing. With that, I knew she was not coming out.
I won’t lie, I was annoyed. The whole trip from Westgate to town, leaving my car on 2nd street and walking all the way to 4th street to get a kombi home to Masasa Park. I remember calling Mazvita to tell her how sensitive and uptight her friend was. ” I know you were trying to help and all, but please do not set me up with any of your friends,” I told her as I stood in the middle of my living room, shouting at the top of my voice. ” Wow, she really did a number on you, huh?”, Mazvita said at the other end of the line. ” She is just, I don’t even know what to say.”. I was not very sure why I was so annoyed by it, was it because she had not played to the beat of my drum or because she was hard to read. I too was a bit confused by how irritated I was by the whole ordeal. I thought of texting her and speaking my mind, but I got a hold of myself. She had clearly made it clear she wanted nothing to do with me, so I also wanted nothing to do with her. ” Ah, so if you don’t want me to set you up with my friends, pasara inini.”, Mazvita cooed on the other end of the line. I barely paid attention to her, my mind was still trying to perceive what had happened earlier. ” Haha, Mazvita so. You know you are like a sister to me, you will always be my girl, but these your friends. Please, no.”
For two months, I went on with my life. I did not try to contact Chipo ask about her whereabouts, but I could not stop thinking about her. I could not stop thinking about her, the images of her smile, free afro, gentile but confident air haunted my mind. I tried to go on dates with other girls, I tried to engage with them but I found them lacking something. They all talked about how they wanted to please their man and do whatever he wanted. What do you like? What are you looking for? I wanted to ask. I stopped going on dates and decided to be the bigger person and text Chipo. Technically, she had told me to leave her house but not her. So I still had a chance there. I had to know why she was still on my mind, even after I had blocked her on all the social media platforms to restrict myself from stalking her.
It was a Saturday morning when I decided to text her. I had nothing planned for the day, so I had all the time to plan out my strategy and see how this would work in my favour. I did a few push-ups and lunges before I texted her, I do not know why, but I felt like I needed to be ready for anything.
She blue ticked me and never replied. I spent the day playing Fifa and checking my phone. I decided to be more intentional because I knew texting would not get me anywhere. For all I know, she would have already blocked my number. I decided to go to an Art Exhibition at the Rainbow Towers where Mazvita told me she was showing her art pieces. I saw her standing by one of her pieces, it was a painting of a man, big and strong, his muscled looked as if they were about to pop out of the canvas. He was shielding a woman from what seemed to be a falling building. The woman seemed to be putting a crown on the man’s head. It told a story. She had her hair tied in a huge bun, which I got to learn to do later in the course of our marriage. She had on a white shirt and black cigarette pants that traced every curve and black open-toe sandals. She looked beautiful.
I waited until she had finished her exhibition and when people had displaced. She was packing her things and was not aware of my presence. I stood behind her for a solid 3 minutes, thinking of what to say.
” Need any help?”, I blurted out moving in clear view. She looked up at me and sighed.
” Oh, it’s you. You have come back to laugh at me again?”, she said, shoving the remaining pieces in her carry case. She seemed to have a funny expression on her face, her lips were tight and her eyes opened wide. I could not tell if she was being sarcastic or serious. I did not want to take my chances.
” No, please. Hear me out. I am so sorry for laughing. That was stupid of me. Truly. Let me make it up to you.”, I genuinely meant it. I could not get her out of my mind, I had to know why I was so drawn to her, why a 30-year-old man laid awake in the middle of the night, thinking of what to say to a woman he had only met once.
” And if I say no?”, she said looking at me. She made me nervous, her confidence, it was her confidence and awareness of self that interested me.
” Well, I will keep showing up.”
” You know that is called stalking, right?”, she said, her head tilted slightly. Her responses always left me speechless.
” Ok, will you give me another chance, please. We can go anywhere you want, but let me make it up to you.”
” Hhhhmm, anywhere you say?”, she asked, her arms crossed around her chest, with her index finger tapping her chin.
” Yes, anywhere.”
” Ok, next weekend Sunday you can come to my church.”
” Ok, cool. You go to New Life right?”.
” That is correct.”
” Ok. That will be alright. First service, second or the third one?”
” All of them, I guess.”, she said shrugging. I did not want to protest to the idea of attending to all three services which first started at 7 am, the second at 11 am and the last started at 3 pm. I just nodded my head.
She took her bags and walked closer to me, I straightened up and looked at her. ” Just so you know, I am stretching my hand so we can shake hands. I am not leaning in forward for a kiss, ok?”, she said it with a smile on her face. I laughed as I also stretched my hand to shake her soft hand. I walked her to her car and helped her put her things in her car.
(Image from Pinterest: Chipo at her exhibition.)
I did not contact her the days prior to our meeting. I arrived around 6:50 and found seats not too close to the pulpit. I texted telling her I had arrived and had saved her a seat. She replied and asked me to look behind the pulpit. I turned my gaze towards the pulpit and I saw her sitting amongst people who wear the same coloured clothes as her. She was in the choir. She smiled and waved at me as she was fixing her microphone, I did the same as I took my Bible off the seat I had reserved for her and placed it on my lap. Well played, I thought to myself. This girl was putting me on a test to see if I was serious or not. She was going to be singing at all three services, which meant I would see her after 5 pm. Challenge accepted, I said to myself. What harm would come from hearing the gospel for the whole day? I sat through the first service quietly, listening to the Pastor who was talking about the joy of the Lord. The second service I pay more attention and even took the time to turn to my neighbour and reassure them, their blessing was around the corner. By the third service, I was standing with the church mothers who hollered “Hallelujah” and ” Hameni” when the pastor prophesied that we were no longer slaves of fear but children of God or that victory was already ours. I had even forgotten about Chipo.
We had an early dinner and talked about the service. I told her about how the church mothers reminded me of my mother who had died of cancer a few years back. How she always stood in the church throughout the service, shouting hallelujahs and amens back to the Pastor throughout the service.
” I am sorry about your mom.”, she said as I walked her to her car after dinner.
” It’s alright. Such is life hey.”, I said. ” Thank you for inviting me to your church. I really enjoyed the service.”
” No problem. You should come again.”, she said as she opened her car door getting in.
” Yeah, sure. Definitely.”, I replied, closing the door for her.
” I guess this is goodnight.”, she said as she started her car.
” Yeah, I guess it is. Goodnight.”, I said, thinking she was going to say something else, but she closed her window and drove off.
I stood in the parking lot dumbfounded. This girl had brought me to the church, which I enjoyed, but she had barely said anything in regards to us. I knew there was not much but just leaving me hanging like that was just cruel. As I was walking to my car, I heard a car slowing down beside me.
” Hey.” It was Chipo. She had driven back after driving off a couple of minutes ago.
” Hey.”, I responded, not sure what to say.
” Are you free next Saturday? I have an exhibition at the Meikles Hotel, and I would love it if you come.”, she said looking out her window. I was still walking but a bit slower now. I tried to come up with quick quip to make her laugh, but I could not think of any.
” I would love that.”, I responded.
” I would love that too.”, she said then slowly drove by me to my car. We bid each other goodbye, both in our cars. And from that day, it was smooth sailing.
I will not lie, we had our ups and downs. I remember the other day when she annoyed me. I am a person who hardly holds grudges, but I knew I would not be as lucky again and have her suck up to me. So I took the chance and faked being angry with her. I won’t lie, it was hard waiting that long to reply to her. I wanted to talk to her and text her all day, but I had to stand my ground. It was my time to shine.
I know it was petty, but I saw my chance and grabbed it. We would later laugh about it when I told her.
We courted for 8 months before I proposed. If I am being frank, I took that long because I did not want it to seem as if I was rushing her, but I had been ready from the time we went on our third day. We would go out every Saturday night after her choir practise. We met each other’s friends and families. We spent most of our time with our friends, but Friday night was our day. After our 9-5’s, we would meet and chose a restaurant to go to or watch a movie. At times, we made plans on Saturdays and would drive to any direction and just explored the country. We made sure not to spend too much time alone. The day I asked her to be my girlfriend, she had told me we better not do anything sexual because she was more afraid of disobeying God than losing me. She made sure I knew her deal breakers and I told her mine. She told me if I cheated there would be no talking or reconciliation. Me betraying her like that, simply meant she did not mean as much to me. I knew she meant it and I believed her.
The day I proposed, we were at her house where she was putting the final touches to her art piece. I had overheard her tell her friends she did not want an extravagant but spontaneous proposal. ” I wouldn’t mind being proposed to on a Tuesday at 14:39 or something. I just want it to be me and my future husband, take in the moment of the new chapter and savour it.” So that is what I did. She always listened to 90’s R ‘n’ B when she worked, so that day I made a playlist which included all her favourites, Kci and Jojo, Boys II Men, Joe Thomas, Donell Jones and all the men and women who made us believe in love. She sang along, sitting on her stool, darting different colours on her canvas. I was waiting for Joe Thomas’ No one else come close to play so I could propose. She had been used to wearing headphones when she worked, but I had hidden them, so she listened to the music on the speaker.
(Image from Pinterest: Chipo doing her art.)
I knelt behind her with the ring in my hand. I was so nervous I did not say anything to her or called her to turn around. I kept repeating the song, she sang along as always, until it repeated again for the 6th time.
” Hezvo, what kind of shuffle is this?”, she shouted, thinking I was busy on my Play Station. I remained glued kneeling on the floor. ” Baaaabe.”, she called but I kept quiet, still kneeling, hoping she would turn around soon because my knee was giving way. ” Baabe!”, she shouted again. ” Where is this fine man of mine?”, she said under her breath as she turned, facing me. She froze when she saw me on one knee. She had that look on her face, eyes open wide, stone-faced and holding her breath.
” Chipo, you have been someone I never thought I wanted but someone I definitely needed. You challenge and push me in so many different ways and I-I want that to be the rhythm for the rest of my life. Please, will you make me the happiest man on a Tuesday at 14:39 and marry me?”, I was nervous, I looked down at the ring and extend my hand to ask for hers. ” About time!”, she said as she jumped on me. I dropped the ring as she jumped into my arms. We both fell on the floor as my knee gave way. We stayed on the floor and laughed. ” I am going to need you to say it before you trick me out of it.”, I remarked as I gazed into her eyes. ” Hhhmmm, say what?”, she responded smiling. ” Oh, you are no getting away with this one.” , I laughed, reaching my hands towards her and started tickling her. ” YES!”, she bellowed as I tickled her. ” Thank you! Was that so hard to say?”, I asked as I sat up to look for the ring. ” I love you Tonderai.”, she said as she grinned moving towards me and knelt in front of me. ” And I love you Chipo.” She leaned over and kissed my forehead, I took her hands and kissed them. ” Now, help me look for your ring before I demote you to girlfriend again.” We laughed as we scurried the floor for my mother’s ring which would now be hers.
Most people talk about the three-year itch but never the one year glitch after marriage. We were just off. We were like roommates who shared a bed and the last name. We were not fighting but we never talked. We could not explain what it was, but it seemed there was a dark cloud over us. I no longer woke her up with kisses and made her late for woke with the long showers we took. She no longer waited for me to get home from work, opening the door wearing only lingerie. We became strangers and barely spoke. We were in a mundane place. We both yearned for each other but no one knew how to initiate the conversation or make the first move. She began to paint more and spent most of the day in her in-house studio. I started working late more and that is how it started. Her name was Tsungai and she was my secretary. She reminded me of the Chipo I fell for, the Chipo who never missed a chance to make a joke and leave me speechless. For 3 months, I emotionally cheated on Chipo with Tsungai. I had become bothered about Chipo, she appeared to be more forgetful, disoriented and always complained of being tired. She would spend the whole day in bed and would not be aware of the time or date when she woke up.
(Image from Pinterest: Chipo.)
One day when I came from work, I decided to tell her about Tsungai. I had meant to tell her sooner, but there was never the right moment. She looked at me for a long time, I saw the disappointment in her eyes and I began to cry. ” Why?”, was the only word that came out of her mouth.
” Chipo, I love you ver..”, I belted, walking towards her. She had grown thinner than I remembered.
” No. That is not what I asked you. Ndati why?”, she snapped, walking away from me.
” Baby, we were not talking or anything. I was lonely and I-I am so sorry.”, I begged. I was disgusted by myself. How had I got here? How had I become the person who would hurt the person I vowed to protect.
” So you were lonely and decided to get attention elsewhere? Do you think I wasn’t lonely too? You think I didn’t miss you and yearned for you?”, she said stand further from me.
” Chipo, I ended it and we can work this out. We can work on us.”, I pleaded, I felt my eyes stinging. I was going to lose my wife.
” Tonderai, you remember 2 years ago when you asked me to be your girlfriend? What did I tell you?”, she asked me sternly.
” Chipo please, we are marrie-..”
” So, do you think us being married will make this invalid?”
I do not know why I brought our marital status up, but it made sense at that moment. She began to cry. I wanted to hold her but I knew I was the last person she wanted to be close to. She began to sob so hard I felt my heart ache. I felt helpless and the only thing I could think of was to get her a glass of water. I hate myself for this part because when I came back, she was lying on the floor unconscious. I ran over to her and shook her. She did not wake up. Knowing the terrible medical service here, I did not bother calling the ambulance but I carried her to my car and drove her to the hospital. I shouted for help as I got through the hospital doors, with her lying limp in my arms. The nurses took her from my arms and laid her on a stretcher which they wheeled on a room I was not allowed to enter. I stayed in the waiting area pacing up and down, I was confused and afraid. Was I going to lose her twice? I had caused all this and killed the woman I love.
” Mr Tonderai Moyo?”, a man wearing a white coat called as he approached the waiting area.
” Yes!”, I jounced as he turned towards me.
” Yeah, uhm, your wife is conscious now and we have made her comfortable. However, I am afraid her tumour has advanced and is inoperable. We would suggest you prepar..”
” Wait. What tumour?” Had he mixed up his patience or were there 2 Chipo Moyo’s? It made no sense because Chipo had never informed me or, no, she would never hide something this big from me.
” Yes, sir. I am afraid she does not have long. On our last appointment, we had suggested treatment but her tumour seems to be growing quicker than we expected.”, he explained it so calmly, I wanted to shake him so he would see how this made no sense to me.
” Appointment? Wait, whe- when was this?”
” The appointment? Uhm, about 2 months ago. She had declined treatment anyway. She said something about everything falling apart and being betrayed. We believe she was talking her brain betraying her but we cou..”.
” She knew!” She had known about Tsungai but never once did she mention or say anything. But why?
” If you would like to see her, I can take you to her room now.”, he said gesturing his hand to lead me to her room. Everything felt louder and brighter. How was I going to face her now? I had cheated on my wife when she needed me the most. How could I not tell she was sick? Her sleeping too much, being a bit disoriented and fatigued, was not because she was in a “rut”, my wife was suffering from a tumour and her beautiful mind that I had fallen for and loved so very much, was wasting away.
When I got to her room, I saw her holding a clump of her hair. She was cutting it off and putting it in a bag that was on her lap. I softly knocked on the door, she looked up, looked at me and continued cutting her hair. I walked into the room whose smell brought bad memories I had fought to stash at the back of my mind. Each tube that was connected to her and the white covers that shielded her now bony frame, took me back to 10 years ago when I lost my mother to cancer. My initial instinct was to run away and leave the building, not because of her, but the building I had avoided for as long as I can remember. I gathered all the courage I could scurry for in my being and walked in. I did not know if I should sit or stand, which she probably did not take notice of because she was looking at her self in a hand mirror. I stood beside her but she ignored me. So I knelt beside her bed and reached for her hand. She pushed me away.
” W-why didn’t you tell me?”, I asked her, my eyes itching with tears again. She looked different, her big bright eyes were now hollowed, her once bountiful flesh I loved to touch each morning, had been replaced by a bony frame I could not recognise. And her hair, the hair I loved to run my hands through when I kissed her, was no more. Only patches and bald spots. I wept.
” Would you have stopped cheating?”, she asked me so calmly. I could not read if she was angry or not. She tied the bag with the hair and handed it to the nurse.
” I am sorry, I- I am so sor-. Tell me how I can fix this, please.”, I begged her, kneeling beside her. I was not doing this to manipulate or try and have her to forgive me. I meant it with every ounce of my being.
” I am dying, Tonderai. What is there to fix?”, her demeanour was so calm whilst I was in shambles. I did not want her to bear my mistak-, choice but I am sure it played a part in her tumour growing so fast.
” I am sorry. I didn’t know you were so sic-“
” Please don’t.”
” Are you going to leave me? I understand if you do because I do not deserve y-.”
” I am dying Tonderai. Whether I stay or leave, I am dying.” Each time she said dying, my heart dropped. It was dawning on me that I was losing my wife. I was going to lose the person who had been by my side and who had taught me so much. I was going to lose her twice, first as a wife and eternally. She laid on the bed and switch off the light in the room. I was still kneeling beside her. She turned and faced the wall.
” Can I stay with you here?”
She did not reply, but I stayed. I brought the chair next to the bed and sat there. Staring at her and watching her chest go up and down slowly. When she started snoring softly like she always did when deep in sleep, I reached for her hand and touched it. I looked at the veins that ran across it and I noticed she no longer wore her wedding ring. How had I missed that?
I took in every inch of her face, the chocolate skin that masked her body, the once long and bouncy curls that were now patches on her oval shaped head. I traced her nose which I used to kiss each morning before she woke up, the full lips which produced malicious words when her brilliant brain could not solve a problem or when I could not understand what she meant, even after explaining it to me numerous times. The lips I loved to kiss, the lips that uttered I love you first before I was ready to say it.
They say you never miss a good thing till its gone, but what do you do when it is within reach but you can not have it back? I looked at her breathing softly, connected to different tubes and barely looking like herself. I had so many things I wanted to say, so many wrongs I wanted to make right. I believed her when she said if I cheated there would be no talking or reconciliation, which is why I was not surprised when the nurse woke me up a few hours later and told me my wife was dead.
You know when you feel like you are in a rut and badthings.com seem to have your personal address? It’s depressing, it’s sad and you go through different emotions, and sometimes even create different scenarios where it even gets worse and you brace yourself for it? I know, its a dark and lonely place, but I just want to remind you that it is only a season.
Just like seasons, this too shall pass. There is a time for EVERYTHING, and it might seem like you are not only in a season but more of an era, but it shall pass. You might have been waiting for that big thing that you have given your all to and for, that you pray morning, noon and night but it seems you are so far from it. It feels like you are chasing the wind and grasping in the dark for something you can not touch but dream of, but I just want to encourage, maybe it is not YET the season for you to have it, maybe you are not ready. I will share a story with you.
When I was in high school doing Form 3/ Year 11, I was amongst a group of people who were chosen to go to a leadership camp, to be prepared and selected to be prefects. Just like everyone who went, I was hopeful. We went to this camping site where we did different outdoor exercises eg rock climbing, waking up at 5 am to hike and do exercises, we were tested on our communication skills, leadership skills etc. It was fun but scary at the same time. On the last day of the 5-day training, we were given our results. They mentioned how good I was good at communication, but my leadership skills and risk taker qualities, were quite low. ( P.S: We had to jump into rivers and climb high mountains with a rope around your waist, I already am not a fan of heights and large bodies of water, so I knew I was going to fail.) The prefects and hierarchy were not mentioned on that day but after the holidays. So from the camp, we went on holiday for about 4 weeks. You can imagine the anticipation, the nerves of having to wait that long to know if you were amongst the chosen or not.
The first day of school, I went ready and prepared for the best. I was confident that I had made it and some of my family and friends were also confident that I was going to be prefect. At the assembly, after the national anthem, pleasantries of being welcomed to the new term blah blah blah, our headmaster got to the exciting part- announcing the new prefects and the hierarchy. I had sweaty palms, butterflies and my heart jounced at every name that was being called out. When he got to the last name, I waited in anticipation, overwhelmed by emotions, feeling ready, but it was not my name that was called. I was crushed, I could feel my heart tightening then slowly deflating as I stood there. Most of my friends had made it but I hadn’t, and it hurt. I felt like a failure, like I wasn’t good enough, like this was my life. I remember I cried and I told my sister about it. It didn’t help that people were always stopping me to tell me how it should have been me and how I deserved it. It was a dark time.
Two years later, I was now about to start my 2 years of A Levels, I was amongst the people who were picked again for another leadership camp. The memory of what had happened before was at the back of my mind. I had fun, we did almost the same exercises but this time around it was more intense. At one point we had to build a boat/raft in the water, and I hated that bit. I was so scared for my life, but I made it through with the help of others. The same thing happened, we went home and came back for the next term. At the back of my mind, I was ready for failure, I had dismissed the idea altogether and had decided to skip the first day. I had to prepare for the next day too because we were going to South Africa for a basketball tournament ( to be honest, I was just a place holder, I never played and only went for shopping.🤷🏾♀️)
I was at home sleeping at 9 am when my school called asking me to come to school. I told them I would come tomorrow since I was preparing for the trip, but they insisted I come. So I showered 🙄, took 2 kombis because my dad had gone to work by then. They started the assembly late that day, I stood amongst my colleagues annoyed that I had to come and have my heart broken again. The whole thing was like deja vu until the names were announced. Guess what, I was amongst the “chosen” this time around. I was happy, and I was ok with that. When it got to announcing the hierarchy, they called in ascending order. They called the games captain (was definitely not going to make that cut.), they announced the senior prefects, they announced the vices and to save the best for last- the head girl and head boy. When I tell you I was shocked when they announced me as the head girl! My heart dropped. A whole me was chosen to lead the school and be the head of all the girls from Form 1 to Upper 6. A whole me they rejected 2 years ago, who thought she would never be good enough. Me!
( The official portrait of the heads and vices. From left: Kudzai, Tineyi, yours truly and Alice.)
(Not the exact day but happy nonetheless. With Rachel on the left and Stacie on the right.)
I went through different emotions, friends celebrated with me. Of course, other people came to tell me it should have been them if only they had done something different etc, but this was my moment. They had seen that I was ready. God had seen that I was ready.
( Top row, 2nd from the left, being nosey on our inauguration.)
I will never forget this story/memory because it clearly depicts how God works. 2 years prior to that, I was not ready or rather, I was thinking too small. God has plans way beyond my imagination because I had never EVER thought of being the headgirl of a school. So as much as it seems as if you are not good enough or things are very dark right now, it is only a season and it too shall pass. God had plans bigger and better than what you can ever imagine. I know He has amazing and unimaginable things and it scares me when I think about it. Have friends and family to talk to during your season, but be VERY careful. Not everyone in your bad season is there for you or ready to help, some are there because they want to feel better about themselves. They thrive on seeing you in a bad season because it shows how “better” their lives are, forgetting seasons change. They love hearing about the dooms of your life, but as soon as the dynamics change, when you now also bear good news, you see their true colours. They do not put the same energy they did when you were in the mire, your good news is just browsed through and they quickly segue into other topics apart from you. Be very careful, see how people react to your victories and also your losses. There are also those who will only show up during good times; those who stick around just in case something big happens in your life so they can claim they were always there. Protect yourself in each season, ask God to reveal those who are not part of your journey whilst you are still in this season so they do not contaminate your good season. Also, be careful those who make you feel bad for being excited about your breakthroughs or who quickly make everything about them. Do not share much with them, they will kill your dreams and discourage you from what God has said and ordained you to do. Yesterday at church, the pastor said, the people who kill your dreams or distract you, are not strangers but close friends and family. I pray I am never this friend/family member, I rebuke that spirit n Jesus’ name.
God is on your side, don’t always run to people for help or advise, ask God first. As much as people have different opinions and solutions, God has the plan and the means. He is the one who has promised you, He is the one who has instilled in you. You know what He has assigned you to do, you know. You very much know it. Also, do not wait for people’s validation, do not try and please people to be liked or accepted. Grow and improve yourself, like who you are first and always be authentic, trust me, a lot of things will not get to you. Validate yourself, validate your work, validate your art and if it is the criticism you seek, I would strongly advise you ask experts in your field or someone you know has a bit of knowledge or is excited by what you do. Everyone is not going to like your work, craft or just you in general, but keep pushing forward. You will fail, you will be mocked, looked down on but keep pushing, it is only a season and not your life story. And like the Shona people in my country say Mwari ndewe munhu wese which means God is for everyone. He sees you and He knows you, come on, we can do this. We will cry, attempt to give up, lose friends along the way BUT we know the plans God has for us.
So from one person in a bad season to another, keep your head high and just know your time will come. Maybe you are not ready, maybe what you want is not what God wants you to have or maybe, just maybe, you are thinking too small. Keep doing you, keep thriving to be a good human being, keep drinking water, keep minding your business, keep competing with yourself and keep trusting in God.
My cousin Tamuka sat with his knees folded in front of Mudzimumitatu and spat out the brownish liquid he had been instructed to drink. All the five elders of the village and Musafare; a close friend of Mukoma Zorodzai, congregated in the small thatched hut with the intention of finding out what had caused the sudden death. The men sat quietly and observed Mudzimumitatu cast his lots in front of Tamuka who now sat stone-faced with his head down. I was only allowed to the rite to help Sekuru mobilise, as age had begun to shake hands with his eyesight. Mudzimumitatu the n’anga, was known for his witch hunt expertise and reversing curses all over the villages. He was the one to go to if one wanted a husband, if one wanted to get rid of a husband or if one wanted someone’s husband. He is the reason why I am able to narrate and fully describe what I saw, as he is the one at the helm of restoring my eyesight due to my albinism. He began to lament something in a language which was not amongst the six languages common in the village. The men all sat motionless, gawking at him.
He took a swig from the large clay pot he held in his hands, the same clay pot from which he had instructed Tamuka to drink from. Mudzimumitatu began to dance in a ritualistic style circling Tamuka, as his sidekick, Mhinduro began to clap his hands chanting, huyai, svikai, taurai repeatedly as he sat with his head between his knees. The elders joined in and began to clap and chant in unison. He would dip low and jump so high I thought he would go through the thatched roof. He would circle around Tamuka and stroked him with his staff which had tassels and fur with a golden brown hue. He took another swig and spat at Tamuka and stood behind him. Each swig was met with vigorous claps and louder chanting.
I clapped in unison, not out of awareness of what I was witnessing but out of fear of Sekuru sending me outside to run errands for the women who were in the cooking hut. I made sure I was not to make noise or any sudden movements as Sekuru would see it as a sign of disrespect of the spirits and the importance of the event at hand. The traditional healer raised his right hand, beckoning us to stop chanting and clapping. He took a few steps and knelt in front of Tamuka and held his head in his hands.
” Taura, before the turmoiled spirit of your brother undertakes its own justice. Confess my son.”, he said now in shona. Sekuru slowly nodded his head, as much as he was as blind as a bat; his hearing was still very sharp. Tamuka said nothing with his eyes fixated on Mudzimumitatu, tears brimming in his eyes. He no longer looked like the tall and strong fourteen-year-old who taught me how to make herbal sunscreen for my dry patched skin. We would race each other the long distance to the Growth Point to buy a small Vaseline and on our way back, we would pick the various ingredients in the small forest near the compound. As he sat in front of us, he looked shrunken and helpless.
“Are you sure you have nothing else to confess aside from what you have told the congregation?”, he continued, still holding Tamuka’s head. Tamuka uttered a yes and tried to look down again, but Mudzimumitatu could not let him. He began to make a roaring sound which sounded animated but after a while sounded as real as that of the king of the jungle. It was said to be one of the three spirits that possessed him; shumba introduced himself with a roar and the host’s body would have a menacing facial expression, his body rigidly standing at attention; feet apart, arms hanging and his palms in fist formation. The shumba spirit was known for being stern and interrogatory, leaving its prey on its hands and knees begging for mercy.
Legend has it if angered or deceived; the shumba spirit will ask the sabhuku to have all the elders in the village bring beer made from finger millet to sabhuku’s hozi. Each morning for three consecutive days, Mudzimumitatu will sit at the door of the accused before sunrise and lament to the spirit of the dead to reveal themselves in the house of the accused. A few moons ago, in Hwedza the village east of ours, a woman who was accused of permanently disposing of her newborn children, was asked to confess why all her children died within three weeks of being born. Rumour has it, it was because she wanted constant attention and sympathy from people as her husband worked in Harare and would only come home four times a year. She would always claim she was cursed or unlucky because even after being prayed for by prophets and pastors or being to the traditional healers, all her six children died, at birth or a few weeks after. For the ones that die at birth, I once heard Mai Kwayedza, the village midwife, tell Sekuru that during birth, she would close her legs when the head was out. On the third day in this particular case, Mudzimumitatu had the village crier summon the whole village to the cemetery where they found the woman with five small skeletons carefully placed next to her as if they were asleep, holding a small rotting corpse, which she was trying to nurse.
The shumba spirit huffed and puffed around Tamuka, he asked him to stand and face the west and call Mkoma Zorodzai’s name. Tamuka implemented as instructed. He was told to narrate his story again as he faced the wall. Mhinduro began to take out different objects from Mudzimumitatu’s nhava. Some of the objects looked very strange, there was an object that looked like Sekuru’s nhekwe but it was big and was wrapped around with snakeskin. He unwrapped it and placed a small carving of a snake and positioning it behind Tamuka. My cousin began to narrate the story of how Mukoma Zorodzai was found dead in the Bottle Store after Tamuka had taken his mbuva for that day.
It was last week Friday when Maiguru gave Tamuka Mukoma Zorodzai’s mbuva to take to him at the Growth Point where he spent most of the afternoon playing njuga. It had been Mukoma Zorodzai’s birthday, and to celebrate Maiguru had killed him the last hen on the compound. I remember Tamuka telling me he had been annoyed by this because he had planned to take Sekuru’s cockerel and have it mate with the hen. He recounted how Maiguru instructed him to take it straight to him and not pass through our compound as he always did. She had warned him to deliver the food whilst it was still hot or else Mukoma Zorodzai would be in one of his moods when he came back. He recalled how Maiguru had a black eye and busted lip, evident of the row they had last night as every other night. He had told me he had heard muffled screams and hollow diii diii from his gota. Tamuka confessed that on his way, he had only taken a few minutes off course into the forest to look for matohwe as they were in season. He said as he was walking back to the road, he came across a herb that was a perfect remedy for man’a. The herb would be crushed, mix with water and with just a smidgen of the venom of a chivi. He had learnt all this from his father, who he shared with Mukoma Zorodzai but with different mothers. He said after picking the herb, he stuffed it in his pocket and proceeded to go to the Growth Point. He reported he did not recollect touching the food with his hands knowing how poisonous the herb was, but he remembered shaking hands with Mukoma Zorodzai.
As soon as he confessed this, sneers and hollers broke the silence. Everyone knew Zorodzai never washed his hands. That is why at every gathering, he was always given his own plate. People had made him believe it was because he was well respected amongst the men, but it was solely because of his habit of licking his fingers with every bite and never washing his hands before his meals. It was only a matter of time until his quirk caught up with him. The unfortunate part was Tamuka being inculpated of it.
Tamuka began to cry facing the wall, I wanted to go over to him and comfort him but I knew better. Mhinduro raised his right hand, commanding silence in the room. Mudzimumitatu was, at this moment, sitting on the floor with his knees folded and head down. He uttered a strange noise and within a few seconds, he was hissing. I do not want to believe what I saw, but I know what I saw. His skin began to shimmer and took a darker hue. He began thrusting his tongue in and out of his mouth like how a snake darts its tongue in and out. Mhinduro instructed all of us to cover our heads and to shield our eyes. Out of curiosity, which I now regret, I saw him lying on the floor and began to slither the way a snake does around Tamuka. His sidekick launched a dead rat which I think he had taken from his nhava and threw it towards the traditional healer. Just like a snake, he leapt and clutched the rat whilst still mid-air. I saw him swallow it whole and reposed on the floor. Mhinduro began the chant and rhythmic clap again and we all joined in. He darted his eyes at me but I quickly looked away.
“ Zvakanaka mwanangu. All is well. I know my children very well and soon you shall see their true colours. I, their mother have spoken. You shall see them by their fangs, their scaled skin and their deceitful ways.”, a croaky, female voice spoke. I could not see a woman but when I glanced at Mudzimumitatu, his lips were moving simultaneously. I involuntarily jounced with fear, my eyes and ears could not fathom what I was witnessing. Sekuru, turned towards me, reached for my ear and pulled it hard enough I could feel blood well up. He did not say anything to me but I clearly knew what he meant. I sat up properly and paid attention to the event at hand, slowly rubbing my ear. Mhinduro took out another small container from his nhava, this one was covered in crocodile skin with a string that appeared to have teeth attached to it. He unwrapped it and took out a small carving of a crocodile. He summoned us to start the chant again, louder and with vigour. This time around he did not instruct us to look away. Still lying on the floor, Mudzimumitatu stretched his legs and arms away from his body and slightly lifted himself off the floor. He resembled the posture of a crocodile, but his scraggy figure did not do him justice. His mhapa and shashiko were coming undone due to his action-packed ritual, I quickly looked away as his male member was beginning to show as he began to belly crawl around the room. His eyes were blinking rhythmically and with each blink, the colour of his eyes appeared to be change. Tamuka was still stood facing the wall, he had stopped crying but I could sense his fear from where I was sitting.
Mudzimumitatu let out a loud hiss which caught Sekuru off guard, almost toppling him over from the stool he sat on. I quickly helped him up and went back to my designated seat. We were ordered to be silent. Mhinduro began to sprinkle the liquid that was in the clay pot on Mudzimumitatu. He began to huff and puff, his sidekick sprinkling the liquid gyrating him. ” Why do you summon me when the one before me has revealed the truth?”, his voice thundered across the room. It was no longer the brittle voice that had alarmed me earlier. ” Munondinyaudzirei! I am of the water, return me to the water where I belong”. The elders looked at each other and then at Tamuka. He still seemed as himself and there was nothing out of the ordinary. Was it a hoax? Had Mudzimumitatu now lost his touch? They all began to mumble and grumble amongst themselves. Had they been cooped up in this small hovel for nothing? Mhinduro began to pack their belongings, Mudzimumitatu sat on the floor, leaning against the wall, perspiring and drinking from one of the clay pots filled with water. He no longer looked as menacing as before, his skinny legs were stretched out as he gulped down the water.
” Pangu ndapedza. As you have heard the spirit say. If you may guide Mhinduro to your kraal to fetch my cattle, I would very much appreciate it.”, he suggested, getting up to leave. The elders scratched and shook there heads, loss for words, but afraid to say anything as they feared being cursed. ” Ah varume, what is th-“, Musafare was cut mid-sentence by a loud wail that came from the direction of the kitchen. All the men scrambled out of the hozi to investigate.
” Mwari wangu, Mai Pamidzai kani! Yuwi, heano mashura!”, Mai Kwayedza cried as she ran towards the men. As soon as she approached them, she fainted. Behind her, Kwayedza was not far behind, terror plastered on her face. Musafare ran towards and held her before she collapsed. He interrogated her as she lay limp in his arms.
” What is it? Speak, chii chaitika?”, he asked.
” Mai Pamidzai, she tur-.”
” You mean Zorodzai’s wife? Is it? What happened? Iwe taur-“, he asked, vigorously shaking her so she could stay conscious.
” Vawira musadz-, she fell into the pot of sadza.”, she reported, tears running down her face.
The elders all looked at each other, confused and getting annoyed. These women always made everything dramatic. Mai Kwayedza was still on the ground, motionless and no one attending to her.
” What are you saying? Asi wakupenga? Are you going mad?”, Musafare barked at her. I stood next to Sekuru who listened attentively. Tamuka had now joined us but stood from a distance.
” Mai Pamidzai was cooking sadza a-and as she was mixing the sadza in the big pot, s-she just fell in. I think it was her, I do not know.”, she began to cry, trying to free herself from Musafare’s grip.
” Iwe taura, she fell into the pot? Did you help her out?”
” Y-yes, but instead of her, w-we found a snake.”
At that, the elders hurried over to the kitchen, they could hear the clamour of women and children, shouting and crying. I stayed behind with Sekuru who reached over to Tamuka and held him close.
” My job here is done.”, Mudzimumitatu said as he herded four cattle out of the compound, Mhinduro following not far behind him with his nhava.
( Image from Pinterest: Kurauone)
Waiting outside WHSmith next to a dilapidated structure that used to be a beauty salon, I see Adesua – Kola’s sister- standing across the street. She is hard to miss, with her Afro, regally crowning her head. The olive green pin-stripe blouse and the black pencil skirt which traced every inch of her curvaceous body, made her look almost professional. Howbeit if I am being honest, the print of her curvaceous hips, takes me back to the yesteryears when the three of us would roam around the streets of Oxford after our service to the city, as cleaners at St Margaret’s College. She has not seen me yet, so I am standing here and taking her in. She has aged, she has webs of wrinkles around her eyes and instead of the strides she used to rhythm her walk to, she now has the gait of a pensioner. The green handbag and black pumps with a green flower she is wearing give a youthful touch to her outfit, and the earring carved with the African continent, which I bought for her from this Zimbabwean lady who charged me sixty pounds because they had been handmade and crafted, shipped and “escaped” customs, all the way from Zakarinopisa in Masvingo, complimented the outfit. They still turned heads, the earrings, the nose, chin and back head of the continent holding on to the corners of the earring.
Even after thirty odd years since our liaison came to an end, she still makes my heart flutter under my chest. I examine my posture and choice of attire on the large windows of the bookshop. My beard seems to “connect” as the youth say. I stroke it and as much as I am aware, I am still surprised by how white it had become. I only turned sixty-three last week and even though the lines on my face portray wisdom beyond my years, I am still holding on to the intensity of my boyish charm. My tucked in striped shirt and suspended trousers now make me look ridiculous, as my big bele pokes out, stretching my suspenders to my sides. The overcoat which I am beginning to regret because the heat is giving me vertigo, drapes on my shoulders as if it has been hung on. I ignore the sensation and firm my feet which are sheltered by my only pair of formal shoes. I lean on the window and take a minute to collect myself. I am not going to let my anatomy fail me now, not today and especially not in the presence of Adesua. I shake the feeling off and lean on the window. I wave at Susu ( the sobriquet I had given her) who is standing on the other side of the street obviously searching for my face in the crowd.
” Susu!”, I shout her name walking towards her, but with the earphones plugged in her ears, she obviously cannot hear me. I get closer to her and tap her shoulder. The smile that spread on her face gives me nostalgia, the curl of her lip that reveals her white, carefully arranged dentition, is deja vu of how she expressed her joy when I told her I loved her. Her love language was words of affirmation, and I hope it still is. ” Kura!”, she pronounces the first part of my name in her strong Yoruba accent. The “ra” part comes out like the roar of a lion cub. I do not care, I love the way she says it. I have always loved it. She reaches out for me and I embrace her. She stands on her toes and as much as I am tempted to lift and spin her around like before, I know my back will fail me. I linger and take in the smell of her hair which masks my face, it smells familiar, like the hair conditioner my roommate the Kenyan lady uses for her hair. Kanto, Kanu or Kanyu, I do not remember. She takes a deep breathe and pulls back. I look at her and she tries to look away. I touch her shoulder and keep my hand there, she sniffles and places her hand on top of mine.
” It was unexpected. Too soon, j-just like that he did not wake up shaa.”, my Susu says as she digs for a piece of tissue in her bag. I search my overcoat for my handkerchief and hand it over to her. ” I know, he was in great health and had so much to live for.”, I reply, reminiscing about Kola, her brother, my best friend and the glue between us, who last week had died in his sleep. We stood by the street for a few minutes, ignoring the shoulders that nudged us and the clamour that surrounded us. ” Come.”, I whispered reaching for her hand, ” If we get on the bus now, we will get there before a lot of people arrive. We can catch up for old times sake.” She looks at me and forces a smile, I do the same. We walk through Cornmarket Street on to St Aldates and wait at bus stop 4T for bus number 5 to Blackbird Leys to the Community Hall were mourners will congregate and discuss how to raise money to send Kola’s body back to Nigeria.
We seat in our designated seats – for elderly and disabled people- I look at Susu and laugh. She looks at me confused but smiling. ” Do you remember that day when we were coming from reporting, from uhm, ah Eaton House in Hounslow and we swore we would never be caught dead sitting in these seats because in our forties we would be out of this country and buy a villa in France?”, I continue to laugh, with a mixture of glee and disappointment. Forty years ago we both were undocumented immigrants, in love and invincible. The Zimbabwean government had failed dismally and in West Africa, Nigeria was facing the same situation. A multitude of us had run away looking for greener pastures. I remember the time I had left Zimbabwe, I had been a trillionaire and had marched in more than fifteen rallies by the age of eighteen. Kola and Adesua used to laugh at me when I told them, they could not believe that a whole nation once accommodated trillionaires but no one was rich. They began to call me Mr Trillionare Sir. With their thick accents, the “sir” was pronounced as “sar”.
” Ah, we were so young and naive. If only we had known life would take us here, I would have stayed in Nigeria and Kola would still be alive and I w-“
” And you would have never met me”. I murmur, looking out the window, hurt. I understand where she is coming from, but I can not imagine her thinking of a world where we never existed. Kura and Susu. Kurauone and Adesua. The Zimbabwean and Nigerian couple. The Shona and Yoruba duo. A concoction by the African gods deemed good and pleasant.
” Kura, you know what I mean. I just can not believe I, we, wasted most of our lives hoping and praying for something that was not meant for us”. My Susu is saying this looking down, she can not say it straight to my face because she knows it is not entirely true. We did not waste time, our love was not a waste of time.
” Susu, I know what you mean and you know what I mean too. It so happens over the last years, I have had time to think. Not being documented for over thirty years will do that to you”. I am telling her this and my heart is drumming in my chest. I understand the timing might be off, insensitive even, but I do not want to die the way Kola did. He only got his papers six months ago after battling the Home Office for as long as I have. He died in his sleep from exhaustion. The marathon shifts he took working as a health care assistant also known as BBC (British bum cleaner) had caught up with him. You would think at sixty-three he would be getting ready to retire, but just a year from retirement that is when he started working full time as a “legal” person. Just like me, he had taken small jobs here and there, which was and still is illegal but it was the only way to survive.
He survived with two daughters, Oladayo who he last saw when he left Nigeria, she was only two years old and after forty years, she would see her father again this time around, in a coffin. Adenike was the daughter he begot with Alina, the Romanian lady he had succeeded in getting pregnant but not her papers. He had proposed I take the same route, get a lady from the EU or even better, an English woman, get her pregnant and stick around long enough until they include you on her papers and just like that you are a British citizen. ” Gwam gwam, just like that my broda you are in. This United Kingdom will be yours for the taking in Jesus’ name!”, he would say each time he tried to sway me into following his footsteps. I could not do it, I had Susu. She was the only one I wanted to be the mother of my children and my only life partner. I would always remind him I was in love with his sister and would not disrespect her or myself like that.
” Kura, I like you, you are a fine man and I am grateful for the way you love my sister but my broda, love is only an illusion. Will love give you paper? Will love give you red passport? Eeh?. You need to be wise, by all means necessary get your paper then worry about love later. Ok, even if you choose Adesua, how will you provide for ha eeh? Each day you are playing cops and robbers with the police and Home Office because you are working illegally. Is that life?”, he would question me but would never give me enough time to explain. Which was something that gnarled me about him but I liked how practical he was. He was a man of action, the 007 amongst us and had a license to kill every obstacle in his own way. I had taken his advice once, we both ended up in prison and that was the last time I took his advice.
We had registered with an agency with fake ID’s and documentation to get the jobs. The ID’s almost looked original, Manish the Indian guy from Cowley, was behind the masterpieces after the astounding recommendation from our fellow immigrant peers. I do not know how they noticed or if it was a routine check-up, but the day they called us for training, a SERCO van parked outside and four huge men came in and asked us to produce our ID’s and scanned our fingerprints. Long story short, we were arrested together with four other women who were also using fake ID’s. For two years we shared a cell, not by choice but after my cellmate was released, the correctional officers at HM Prison Bullingdon where we were in remand before our transfer, put us in one cell. That chapter of our lives frayed and strengthened our friendship. After serving our sentences, we were sent to a detention centre awaiting our deportation. I will not lie, that place was worse than prison. Not knowing when you would go out was torturous and heart-rendering. I saw grown men, fit and abled men, kill themselves in that place. It was being caught between a rock and a hard place- living illegally in a country you would never be accepted or surviving in your own country where you were never certain where the next meal would come from. The former was more tantalising but it had its own consequences. I too had begun flirting with suicide, on days when my immigration lawyer, funded by the government, would come and advise me to leave and go back to my country because I had no more further evidence, I would go back to my room and anticipate how long it would take for me to bleed out if I slit my wrists, clench my fists and stood under the shower, a bath would have been better, but that service is not available in detention centres. I know it was cowardice but which other choice did I have? I had no family, no savings and no dignity left, only Susu. Susu was the one who kept me alive, gave me hope and gave me the will to live.
” You know, Adenike says she doesn’t want to be called by her “African” name but prefers Denisa, her second name because it is easier to pronounce.”, Susu ropes me back to reality as we pass Templar Square. I look at her and sigh, words have escaped me.
” Hhhmm, was Kola aware of this?”, I engage in the conversation.
” Yes, he was. He was not very happy about it but I told him what did he expect when she had no idea or had ever been to Nigeria? She only knows of oyibo people as her friends and family.”
” That is true. She has never been exposed to your culture.”
” Well, now no one will paster her to use her Yoruba name now that he is gone.”
” Aika, are you not the aunt? Do you not have a say?”
” Tufiakwa, God forbid! After what that oyibo woman said to me when she was at odds with my brother?! No, they do not exist to me.”
” Susu, you are better than this. Are you not the one who always said, our personal feelings about something do not give us permission to ignore God’s feelings about it?.”
” Nxaa, you know you are ought to start calling me Adesua now.”, she is muttering this as we alight at Balfour Road. She knows I am right but she will not admit it.
” But I love calling you that, you will always be my Susu. Even now as we are wrinkled up with aching backs, you are forever my Susu and y-.”
” And I am a married woman. Remember Steve, he is still alive you know.”
” Oh yes, him. Your husband. How is his rheumatism? You know, he never replied to me when I asked him how old he was when he wrote Leviticus. It still keeps me awake at night.” I am jesting but I mean it. That man is and was still old even back then. He is only four years older than me but still, he wasn’t and still is not good enough for my Sus-, for Adesua. If only I had been released sooner from that hellhole of a detention centre. If only I had not spent six years in that place, I could have married her but she could not wait any longer. The Home Office had denied her appeal, she had nothing else to submit and she was at an impasse. I remember the night she called me, we had just finished our night prayers at the detention and I was on my way back to my room for roll call. She sounded distant and absent-minded, we talked as usual about our day, our future and how strong our love way. ” I am getting married.”, she blurted out. At first, I thought she was teasing me, like the times she would say she was pregnant, then after a few minutes would say with blessings on blessings on blessings. I was waiting for her to say that but she went on to say she had met him online and he just wanted someone to be with and have children with, two maximum, she said. She had no choice, this was her only chance, so she took it.
I still had three more years when she decided to marry Steve. She would still send me money and write me letters, but I never replied and gave the money to those who were being deported to start a new life back in their homelands. I was not going to have another man take care of me. When I was released, I never made an effort to contact her, even though I would stalk her Facebook every night after my shift. It was Kola who had told me she had miscarried three times but Steve had remained by her side because he had fallen in love with her. Who wouldn’t? I did not like how he called her by her full name, Adesua, he was not creative or thoughtful at all. Although I am grateful he did not tread towards Susu or Sue, at least Ade or Sua would have been inspiring.
” You are impossible, you know”, she says this laughing. ” He is a good man, a good husband.”
” But do you love him, the way you loved me?”.
” Kurauone, we are married. So it means there is love there.”
” In the words of Toni Morrison, your favourite writer, love is or is not there is no thin or thick love. So is it there or not?.” , I know I must tread lightly, but I must know. Yesterday I finally got my papers. I found them on my doorstep after coming from work. They were in a large khaki envelope carefully sealed with a signed delivery sticker on it. My name was printed across the envelope in big bold letters: MR KURAUONE NHAMO. After forty-one years of waiting, they had finally decided to grant me papers but was it worth it if I had nothing to account for? Only a year from retirement and here I was trying to win the love of my life back. She is the real reason I have been keeping on and her reply will determine my future.
” We are moving, to France. Steve bought a villa in Lyon and we are retiring and moving there.”
I feel like my soul has been punched out of my body. My ears are ringing and that vertigo feeling is coming back again. She is living our dream with another man, that man is living my life. I stop in my tracks and look at her, I can feel the brim of my eyes burning but I will not succumb to it. My dotage catches up with me as I balance myself on a pole on the side of the road. I do not look at her but I laugh out loud looking at the community hall on the other side of the street. She looks at me confused and I look at her pitiful and ashamed of myself. So this is how it ends? It is either death by work or death by heartbreak. At sixty-three years old, I am standing next to a woman I have loved and chose over myself every time, but she is here choosing herself all over again. I look at her, laughing and cup her face in my hands, I lean towards her and without a doubt, in my soul, I whisper in her ear.
” I am going back to Zimbabwe”.
Remember a few months back when I vowed to read only 12 books this year because I wanted to “study” and fully fathom the writer’s intensions? Well, I failed, DISMALLY! I was very determined to go by my list, and I tried, believe me, I really tried but then new books began to show on my raider. I cheated on my list and to be honest, I do not regret it.
For someone who does 85% of things by the book, this was a bit out of my element, this cheating. I only managed to read 2 books from the acclaimed list: The Narratives or Fredrick Douglas and The Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes. I enjoyed both, took my time to savour the words on each page, took a minute to ponder. I did all that to try and buy time but I ended up realising I am book junkie.
From January till now, I have read (still reading) 7 books. 5 of them were not part of my list and to be quite honest, I knew I was setting myself up for failure. How was I going to read 12 books in one year?! Gosh, 23 year old me was naïve and should have known better.
Let me tell you how it all happened. So, as I was busy committing to my list, someone I follow on Twitter posted about An American Marriage. Me being me, you know, respectful and courteous, I did not want this person to feel as if they were not being heard. You know Twitter can be a cold place; no likes or retweets et cetera. I opted to look at the book, see what it was all about, no harm in that. I was even holding Frida Kahlo at the time, we were about to spend some time together. I quickly read the reviews and even went on to peep at the #anamericanmarriage thread.
I did not mean to, but 3 days later, I found myself in a bookstore buying the book. I do not know what happened, but in 4 days I had read the book from cover to cover. It was so good, like the forbidden fruit, I savoured each word and pleasurably engaged in discussions about it on Twitter. I thought about the characters for a long time, I held on to the last few pages of the book because they were to decide the fate of the characters. I forgot about Frida, not because she did not matter but…
I fell into a rabbit hole and before I knew it, a few days later I found myself at a book discussion. I found out about it on Twitter ( I am beginning to think there is a pattern here), about the highly acclaimed and controversial House Of Stone about Gukurahundi. This one has already stolen my heart, as I write this, it is in my gaze and I have been confined in its pages for the last 5 days, drinking every word. I think this is the only book so far, that has challenged me to know more about my history. My parents history, what kind of people they were before they became my parents; how were their lives altered by the Second Chimurenga; did they have hopes and dreams et cetera. It provoked me to question history and to also realise that Zimbabwean and black history, is also world history, no filter!
I began flirting around with Jazz by Toni Morrison, which has been hard because Jazz demands fully and undivided attention. I appreciate Toni Morrison’s way of writing, she said that she writes for the black audience. Her writing is highly intelligent and supreme, she forces you to look up new words and better yourself. She shows that black people are as smart and intelligent, fearlessly.
I messed around with Ordinary People, it was a window into living in London as a black person. I could see everything that was being described, not that I have been to the areas which the writer was writing about, but because the description was so vivid and crisp I could almost taste it. It was a glimpse into marriage, how at times, love fades and people fall for other people whilst married. Cringe! I am still reading this book, it is welcoming and warm. Takes you through an emotional rollercoaster of love, pain, confusion, guilt and anger but its worth it.
And then last by not least, I have been on and off with this book. Not that there is any bad blood, but because it is mandatory and suitable for any season. It is my go to when my Spirit man is parched. It guides me and helps me find my strength. I feel freer and more hopeful in my faith because this book for the last 2 years has helped me realise I need a personal relationship with God than just being religious. My anxiety is almost nonexistent ( but it shall be HALLELUJAH), I am more hopeful of my future and more confident in who God says I am. It has helped me relearn how to pray and to read my Bible more frequently.
So, this is how it all went down. How I ended up cheating on the other 10 books on my list. I feel them gawking at me from the shelf. Longing for me to flip them open and spend time with them, hoping for me to smile into each page and stain words with my tears. I too hope for that day, not now but soon, because as we speak, my Amazon basket has 19 books waiting to be checked out. I admit, I am a serial cheater but please do not save me.
I am not going to take much of your time but just a quick reminder: YOU ARE DOING GREAT! You know when you feel like you are a failure and you are just pathetic at what you do? You think you are the definition of failure and dead end? If not that’s great and I commend you for that, but if you are, like me 90% of the time, I just wanted to let you know, tell the committee in your head that tells you that to zip it!
Whatever you put your mind to, you can do it and do not succumb to the fear of failure. Just to put it out there, I am talking about heinous crimes like tax invasion or bank robbery. Please, I do not want to be an accomplice and end up being quoted in the Court of Law. I am referring to hopes and dreams that bring peace, joy and all the fuzzy feelings that leave you giddy. That thing that keeps you going and is always on your mind.
I have heard it being said that failure is a bruise but not a tattoo. You are not your failure and it does not define you. I always try, after a few days of ugly crying and wallowing, to find a lesson in my failures. Where and how can I be better? It is not easy because I do not always want to be positive. At times I choose to dream than actually put in the work, and I believe, actually, I am certain that is the one thing that kills most dreams. We spend so much time imagining and fantasising how it is going to be like but hardly put any work towards it. Most people die dreaming and to be honest, that is my worst fear. Well, it is actually a draw with human trafficking, but you get my point.
Do not dream but do. You will feel like you are not good enough, that is guaranteed but just do. Everyone is not going to like your book, song, drawing, dish etc, but just do it. Do it when you do not feel like it, do it when you definitely feel like it. You are the one who knows what is in you and what God has trusted you with. A few months ago, someone suggested I should write in a certain way. That I should structure my writing in the way people would like to read it. As always, well usually, I am open to criticism ( I am working on not taking everything to heart) but the way it was relayed to me, it implied I had to write what people want to read. To be frank with you, I spiralled into a minor identity crisis, I felt like the way I was writing (the authentic and purely Zimbabwean me) was not good enough to produce quality material. Each time I sat in front of a keyboard to write, the words always took precedence to my ideas. I was stuck and every idea that did not go inline with what is perceived as “good”, I quickly eliminated it. I lost myself and my writing lost meaning to me.
It took me time to get back up ( I am still picking myself up), but I realised I was only fooling myself. I am not saying do not take criticism, by all means do. However, be very careful of some of the advice you get. If it involves you completely changing yourself or craft to fit certain people, you might need to take a step back and reevaluate. You more than anyone know what is in you. You know what God whispers to you behind closed doors. You know what you want to say and what you want to be. So start, now and it is guaranteed you will be rejected and sidelined BUT keep going. You are doing amazing and please, do not die with your dream. The one thing that keeps me going is, every day I am quite aware I might die. The worst I can do is die without fulfilling God’s purpose in my life. I do not want to be the servant who buried his talent.
Also learn to take compliments, you might not be used to it, it takes time. At times you do not realise how good you are because you are used to yourself. You do not see your importance because you are ordinary to you but not everyone else. With that in consideration, do not wait for other people’s validation or approval, give yourself validation and permission as Ava DuVernay once said. You do not need permission from anyone but yourself. So start now, start small, start unmotivated. Do not wait for motivation, create bad craft because there is beauty in that. Allow yourself to be crappy and bad, you will get better eventually. I have not got a hold of it but I working towards it, so brace yourself for some bad and crappy stories but I will keep going.
Oh, before I forget ( I wasnt really going to forget but anyway..), I met Novuyo Rosa Tshuma recently and she encouraged me to keep going. I was so happy and what moved me was that she saw something in me. It ignited in me the fire that was almost out because of doubt. It was not validation but more of recognising yourself in someone. Check out what she said:
I know right!? I geeked out for a long time. I just want to thank God for making me go, He knew I needed it. She is one of the most popular Zimbabwean authors and a kindred spirit. She started working on her book when she was 23. She has walked so I can run, just like the other women who inspire me Tererai Trent, Shonda Rhimes, Toni Morrison, Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie, Luvvie Ajayi, Maya Angelou to name a few.
Keep pushing and pray for God to show you the way forward. Be a doer and put in the work, because you are doing great sweetheart.
P.S: Sorry it ended up being long, thats how much I believe in us.
(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”.
(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.